The country is more divided than you thought: Here’s the surprising way how

Did you know that the grid isn’t one big web covering the country?

I know, right?

It seems like it should be one, seamless web of wires that delivers electricity, ...

Tagged: energy grid, electricity

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The country is more divided than you thought: Here’s the surprising way how

Power lines and a power plant on an open prairie

Think of it this way: If our interstate highway system worked the same way, roads from the Midwest would only let you drive in the middle of our country, then you’d have to go hundreds of miles out of your way to find a connection point to get to another region’s highway system.

Key Points

  • The U.S. electric grid is made of three interconnections.
  • Each region is independent, with a few connection points between them.
  • A new study is looking at ways to connect them better and make the grid more flexible.

Did you know that the grid isn’t one big web covering the country?

I know, right?

It seems like it should be one, seamless web of wires that delivers electricity, but it’s actually three individual webs that only connect in a few spots.

Think of it this way: If our interstate highway system worked the same way, roads from the Midwest would only let you drive in the middle of our country, then you’d have to go hundreds of miles out of your way to find a connection point to get to another region’s highway system.

And you thought your kids asked “are we there yet?” too many times before.

Here are the three primary electricity interconnections (interconnection is a fancy way of saying web of wires that connect electricity within a region):

  • The Eastern Interconnection – spans east of the Rocky Mountains and a portion of Texas
  • The Western Interconnection – covers areas west of the Rockies
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas – powers nearly all of the state.

Having three, completely independent interconnections has some pros and cons.

On the bright side, utilities and power providers can act locally to meet power needs nearby.

But the drawback is that it’s difficult to transfer energy from one area to another area across the country.

So for instance, if Iowa is having a really windy day and there’s surplus wind energy being produced, it’s hard to ship it to a population center on the West Coast that could use it.

The Department of Energy is spending $220 million during the next three years in research and development to explore grid modernization.

Some of the research will focus on an Interconnections Seam Study, which will look at ways to increase the points connecting Eastern and Western Interconnections.

The hope is that more connections could help the grid be more flexible, more reliable, and better able to accommodate renewable energy like wind and solar that increase and decrease depending on the weather and time of 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’s surprising impact on energy (and it has nothing to do with Trump)

One in five Americans will soon have access to legal marijuana.

On Election Day, the citizens of California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine voted to legalize the recreational ...

Tagged: marijuana, electricity, election

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Election’s surprising impact on energy (and it has nothing to do with Trump)

Growing light

Even before the recent election results, some were estimating that the [marijuana] industry was on track to buy as much as $11 billion of electricity a year.

Key Points

  • Four more states voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
  • Cannabis is an energy-intensive industry.
  • Some experts are suggesting that states should regulate the type of energy pot producers use.

One in five Americans will soon have access to legal marijuana.

On Election Day, the citizens of California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. They can now puff, puff, pass with Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska and Washington, D.C.

And that could mean big changes for the energy industry; growing marijuana takes a lot of energy.

Even before the recent election results, some were estimating that the industry was on track to buy as much as $11 billion of electricity a year.

According to High Country News, Xcel Energy, which serves most of urban Colorado, sells 300 gigawatt hours of electricity to pot growers per year — enough to power some 35,000 homes.

A recent article in the Washington Post shed some light on the energy needed to light up:

The published statistics on energy use from indoor marijuana production will blow your mind (whether or not you use the stuff). In a 2012 study of the “carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production” published in the journal Energy Policy, researcher Evan Mills noted that “on occasion, previously unrecognized spheres of energy use come to light,” and marijuana is a textbook example.

“One average kilogram of final product is associated with 4,600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, or that of 3 million average U.S. cars when aggregated across all national production,” wrote Mills.

The reason is simply the technology required. “Specific energy uses include high-intensity lighting, dehumidification to remove water vapor and avoid mold formation, space heating or cooling during non-illuminated periods and drying, pre-heating of irrigation water, generation of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuel, and ventilation and air-conditioning to remove waste heat,” writes Mills.

Some are citing the industry’s large energy needs as reason to regulate the type of energy it uses. It’s already a highly regulated industry, so adding stipulations on its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions isn’t that much of a stretch. According to the article, Boulder County in Colorado is already set to require marijuana facilities to “directly offset 100 percent of electricity, propane and natural gas consumption” through renewables or other means.

Whether the industry’s energy use ends up being regulated or not, one thing is for sure: This growing industry will increase demand for energy. It will be interesting to see how our communities and utilities respond.


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 delightful light: Watch this sweet couple get power back after 20 years in the dark

Meet Milka and Stevo Balac. They live in a remote village in Croatia. When they were young, they lived without electricity. During their lifetimes, their village was connected to ...

Tagged: electricity, the grid, solar, UNDP, Croatia

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The delightful light: Watch this sweet couple get power back after 20 years in the dark

Couple stands outside their home

My favorite quote from the video was when Stevo says "I will live like a king now!"

Key Points

  • This couple’s genuine excitement over getting power back will make your day.
  • They lost power when war destroyed their village’s infrastructure in the 1990s.
  • Now, thanks to a solar energy system, they can turn their lights back on. 

Meet Milka and Stevo Balac. They live in a remote village in Croatia. When they were young, they lived without electricity. During their lifetimes, their village was connected to the grid, and they quickly became accustomed to life with power.

Then in the 1990s, local infrastructure was destroyed by war, and as described by Fast Company’s Co.Exist, it was too expensive to rebuild.

Watch this video to brighten your day and see these two finally get power restored to their home.

The effort was part of a project led by UNDP Croatia. The group installed a solar system in the Balacs’ home. In this case, solar was reportedly 30 times cheaper to install than connecting the home to the grid. That’s not always the case, but it does show just how expensive all those poles and wires in a full grid system are to build and maintain.

My favorite quote from the video was when Stevo says "I will live like a king now! I'll have all sorts of meat. And sausages.” Thanks for the reminder, Stevo, of just how lucky I am to live like a queen, every day. 


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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Where is the dam tour?

Well, it might be a lot closer than you think. When you hear about hydropower, your mind probably goes to one of the biggies, like the Hoover ...

Tagged: hydropower, Hoover Dam, electricity, renewable energy, dam

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Where is the dam tour?

Hoover Dam

The U.S. doesn’t need to build any new dams to expand hydropower.

Key Points

  • There’s potential to generate more electricity from hydropower.
  • The U.S. has more than 80,000 dams, but only 2,000 of them have power production.
  • A new report found that just improving our existing dams could increase hydropower by 50 percent by 2050. 

Well, it might be a lot closer than you think. When you hear about hydropower, your mind probably goes to one of the biggies, like the Hoover Dam, which, no doubt, was the star of your own “Vegas Vacation.”

But did you know that the U.S. has more than 80,000 dams? And only 2,000 of them have power production? Energy experts see that as a huge opportunity to increase our use of this renewable energy.

Hydropower already accounts for 6 percent of our electricity. That makes it fourth place for our power sources. A new report from the Department of Energy explored the options for making hydropower an even bigger part of the energy mix.

Hydro has a lot of benefits. A dam can provide consistent energy, unlike wind and solar. And it’s one of our most abundant resources. On the other side, there can be significant environmental impact to the natural landscape and wildlife when building a dam.

The good news is the report determined that the U.S. doesn’t need to build any new dams to expand hydropower. Just improving the existing dams could grow it by 50 percent by 2050.

“The future of hydropower is not in building new dams. It’s in re-powering existing dams, adding power generation to those dams that don’t have it and upgrading and improving the dams that have hydropower in them,” Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “That’s the kind of future we ought to be looking at, where we can invest in responsible hydropower, while making sure we don’t destroy any of the remaining rivers we have.”

The report did not make any policy recommendations, instead leaving the dam question up to the next administration. 


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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See how much a Gilmore Girls binge costs in 27 countries

I know I’m a little late to the game, but I can’t get enough Gilmore Girls. I’m only on season two of my Netflix binge, but I’m totally hooked. And you better believe I have ...

Tagged: electricity, Gilmore Girls, television, price, appliances

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See how much a Gilmore Girls binge costs in 27 countries

Mother and daughter watching tv

Running my TV for five hours a day would cost the typical viewer in the United States about $8.35 annually, but I’m sure Rory already knows this.

Key Points

  • The cost of electricity varies greatly worldwide.
  • This chart compares the cost of running appliances in 27 countries.
  • Mexico’s electricity prices rank as the cheapest. Denmark and Germany have the highest electric costs. 

I know I’m a little late to the game, but I can’t get enough Gilmore Girls. I’m only on season two of my Netflix binge, but I’m totally hooked. And you better believe I have the tissue ready for when Rory graduates. I’m a little choked up just thinking about it.

According to an interactive chart from National Geographic, running my TV for five hours a day would cost the typical viewer in the United States about $8.35 annually. In Germany that would cost $25.45, and in Mexico it would be $6.32.

Check it out here.

National Geographic notes that while $6.32 may seem like a bargain in Mexico, it doesn’t take into account that the median household income there is less than one-sixth that of the United States, so it’s actually a large percentage of a household’s expenses. On the other end of the spectrum, keeping the TV on in Germany costs so much because more than half of power bills there are made up of hefty taxes and utility fees.

I’m sure Rory already knows about all this from her advanced-placement Chilton classes, but she’d probably enjoy checking out these comparisons as research for her post-graduation backpacking trip with her mom. 


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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Could iPower be coming to an outlet near you?

The same company that sold you your iPhone might someday also sell you the electricity you need to charge it. Or at least that’s what some people are speculating anyway.

Apple ...

Tagged: Apple, sell, electricity, Generation

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Could iPower be coming to an outlet near you?

Apple energy grid

Apple electrons could be called ilectrons.

Key Points

  • Apple Energy wants to sell electricity.
  • Apple already generates electricity to power its own data centers and buildings.
  • Now it’s starting the process to sell electricity to consumers. 

The same company that sold you your iPhone might someday also sell you the electricity you need to charge it. Or at least that’s what some people are speculating anyway.

Apple already generates some electricity to power its own data centers and other buildings, and it’s working with suppliers to install more than 4 gigawatts of new clean energy by 2020.

But until now, all the electricity Apple makes has only been used within the Apple family.

This month, Apple formed a new subsidiary, Apple Energy LLC. And that subsidiary took a big step toward being able to sell energy to consumers by filing an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Those are the guys who regulate power companies.  

There are two theories as to why Apple is looking to sell energy:

  1. It wants to use up the extra energy it’s already making. Apple relies heavily on solar. On really sunny days, it might have more energy than it needs, so it makes sense that it would want to sell that extra energy to make some more dough. They already invested in the equipment, why not maximize that resource?
  2. It’s looking to get into the energy game. Apple already makes most of your electronic devices, why not also sell you the electricity you need to use them? With other interests like smart homes and cars on the horizon, it seems to fit with where the company is heading.

But don’t go stand in line at your local Apple store to buy designer energy any time soon. Selling electricity is a highly regulated business, so it won’t happen overnight.

You gotta wonder though, will Apple electrons be called ilectrons? Catchy. 


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 energy: Coffee

Coffee is always there for me. It starts my day off with a smile. It gives me an afternoon pick-up when I’ve been up all night with a sick kid. It’s delicious.

And ...

Tagged: coffee, recycled energy, electricity, heat, recycling energy

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Unlikely source of energy: Coffee

coffee latte art

Two students in Copenhagen were no doubt hyped up on the magical elixir when they noticed that far too much heat is wasted when they sip their cup of joe.

Key Points

  • Coffee. It’s magical.
  • Not only does it make mornings better, it could make electricity.
  • Lost heat from your cup of joe could be recycled into energy. 

Coffee is always there for me. It starts my day off with a smile. It gives me an afternoon pick-up when I’ve been up all night with a sick kid. It’s delicious.

And now, it might also help make electricity.

Two students in Copenhagen were no doubt hyped up on the magical elixir when they noticed that far too much heat is wasted when they sip their cup of joe. Think about that hot mug with beautiful ribbons of steam coming off the top. All that heat could be made into electricity.

So those students made a device called the “Heat Harvest.” It’s a pad that sits on your table or can be built right into your furniture. It recycles all that heat — whether from your coffee, a casserole out of the oven or even your warm laptop — and makes it into energy.

The technology is still in the experimental phase, but if successful, the applications could be endless. Many of our devices like game consoles and televisions put off heat, and this could help capture some of that wasted energy.

Thanks, coffee. As if I needed another reason to love you more. 


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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A rainy-day solution for solar

Solar power is becoming a bigger part of our energy mix. But it comes with its challenges. Mainly, how do we get energy when the sun isn’t shining?

Some researchers in ...

Tagged: solar power, electricity, energy from the rain

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A rainy-day solution for solar

Rainy-day solar solution

The researchers hope that someday, solar cells will be able to produce electricity in all weather.

Key Points

  • Solar energy is only available when it’s sunny.
  • Or is it?
  • Researchers are developing a solar cell that can also create energy from the rain. 

Solar power is becoming a bigger part of our energy mix. But it comes with its challenges. Mainly, how do we get energy when the sun isn’t shining?

Some researchers in China are working on a project that could help address that problem. They are developing a solar cell that can also create energy from the rain.

So, how do you generate energy current from rain? 

Here’s how the smart people at IEEE break it down:

“Raindrops are not pure water. They contain salts that split up into positive and negative ions. To manipulate that bit of chemistry, the Ocean University researchers turned to graphene, the one-atom-thick sheets of carbon. Graphene’s electrons can attract the positively charged ions, such as sodium, calcium and ammonium. The result: separated layers of positive and negative ions that act much like a capacitor to store energy.

“With that in mind, the scientists added graphene to a dye-sensitized solar cell, a kind of inexpensive thin-film solar cell, then put them on a flexible, transparent backing of indium tin oxide and plastic. The resulting flexible solar cell demonstrated a solar-to-electric conversion efficiency of up to 6.53 percent, and generated hundreds of microvolts from slightly salty water that was used to simulate rainwater."

Before you get too excited, keep in mind that it generated microvolts. Microvolts are one-millionth of a volt. But still, it’s energy, even if just a tiny bit of it.

The researchers hope that someday, solar cells will be able to produce electricity in all weather. And that would be a big deal, microvolts and all. 


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 answer to all our energy problems might be right in front of us

Mine!

I heard this at least a gazillion times this morning. Toddlers like to stake claim to things. Minnie Mouse plush toy? Mine! Building blocks? Mine! My empty coffee ...

Tagged: Grid, NOAA, electricity, renewable energy

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The answer to all our energy problems might be right in front of us

Overhead power lines

Wouldn’t it be great if we could share extra solar power from one area of the country having sunny day with another region that’s having a cloudy day?

Key Points

  • Sharing might be the answer to keeping energy affordable.
  • Researchers found that a national grid would keep energy affordable and reduce emissions.
  • A national grid would allow sunny areas to share solar energy with cloudy regions.

Mine!

I heard this at least a gazillion times this morning. Toddlers like to stake claim to things. Minnie Mouse plush toy? Mine! Building blocks? Mine! My empty coffee cup? Yep, even that was claimed by a 1-year-old daughter today (and yes, I did pry that mug out of her sticky little hands. Don’t mess with my morning coffee routine).

As toddlers eventually learn, life can go a little easier for you if you learn to share. And the same might be true for keeping energy affordable.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could share extra solar power from one area of the country having sunny day with another region that’s having a cloudy day?

Researchers are looking into it. NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory recently published a paper that found switching to a national grid would make electricity cheaper and cut emissions. Being able to share our power around the country could mean that instead of trying to find a solution for storing energy, we could just move it around to meet everyone’s needs.

Let’s back up. If you’re not down with the ins and outs of the grid, here’s a quick refresher from the Department of Energy: The grid is made of three smaller grids. They’re called interconnectors that move electricity around the country. The Eastern Interconnection operates in states east of the Rocky Mountains, The Western Interconnection covers the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountain states, and the smallest — the Texas Interconnected system — covers most of Texas.

Here’s a great video on how the grid works. It’s worth a watch. It’ll make you laugh out loud. No really, it’s more entertaining than cats wearing tights.

Switching to a national grid might be more difficult than it sounds. Updating the infrastructure would be comparable to building a new interstate highway system. A big project that would require lots of investment and cross party political agreement. And yes, that might be even more difficult than getting a toddler to share her favorite toy.

Read more about the research here


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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Power for healthy babies

We had birth plans for each of our two daughters. The plans included some important things like how I wanted to manage the pain and what to do in case of an emergency. But in hindsight, ...

Tagged: Zimbabwe, health, electricity, solar power, solar panel

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Power for healthy babies

Baby boy

When women in rural Zimbabwe pack their hospital bags, it includes candles — those candles can be the difference between a healthy delivery and tragedy.

Key Points

  • Access to electricity can be the difference between life and death.
  • Solar panels are providing power to help improve health care in remote villages.
  • The cost of providing candles for nighttime births was deterring mothers from seeking medical help. 

We had birth plans for each of our two daughters. The plans included some important things like how I wanted to manage the pain and what to do in case of an emergency. But in hindsight, I also included some things that might not have been necessary, like making sure I had cookies and other snacks to offer the nursing staff and our doula. This was actually one of my main concerns during labor, and my husband likes to make fun of me for the fact that I made him go back to the car — between contractions — to fetch the snacks. He almost missed the birth.

Nowhere in the plan was making sure we had electricity so we could turn on the lights and the doctor could see what she was doing. But in other areas of the world, this is a real concern. When women in rural Zimbabwe pack their hospital bags, it includes candles. And those candles can be the difference between a healthy delivery and tragedy.

Many of Zimbabwe’s health clinics lack electricity. As a result, doctors often perform medical procedures by the light of a candle. And you can imagine how tricky it can be to find a vein or sew stitches in those conditions.

What’s even more troubling is that many women don’t even make it to a clinic because they’re deterred by the cost of the candles they have to provide. A candle costs about the same as dinner for the family, so women will wait to go to the clinic until daylight. As a result, many babies are born on the side of the road.

But that is changing. Clinics are getting access to solar panels for power. This power allows them to provide clean water to patients, refrigerate vaccines and use lights for medical care at night. Staff can now see to carry out life-saving procedures, and women are no longer deterred by the cost of a candle.

The panels are part of the Rural Sustainable Energy Development Project in parts of the Gutu district in southern Zimbabwe. The group is working on expanding the project to other villages.


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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This herb isn’t as green as it looks

Lots of people are smoking doobies (That’s what the kids are calling it, right? I’m very hip with the lingo).

And marijuana is turning into big business. In Colorado ...

Tagged: marijuana, Energy, cannabis, electricity

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This herb isn’t as green as it looks

Marijuana plants

There’s widespread debate about the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana. But one thing we don’t often discuss is the new industry’s impact on the environment.

Key Points

  • Marijuana is a growing industry.
  • One study estimates that cannabis growers use $6 billion worth of electricity every year.
  • Some experts are suggesting that states should regulate the type of energy pot producers use. 

Lots of people are smoking doobies (That’s what the kids are calling it, right? I’m very hip with the lingo).

And marijuana is turning into big business. In Colorado last year, $700 million of the herb was sold.

There’s widespread debate about the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana. But one thing we don’t often discuss is the new industry’s impact on the environment.

A recent article in the Washington Post sheds some light on the energy needed to light up:

"The published statistics on energy use from indoor marijuana production will blow your mind (whether or not you use the stuff). In a 2012 study of the “carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production” published in the journal Energy Policy, researcher Evan Mills noted that “on occasion, previously unrecognized spheres of energy use come to light,” and marijuana is a textbook example.

The study estimated that indoor cannabis (both illegal and legal) uses $6 billion worth of electricity every year, amounting to 1 percent of overall U.S. electricity. And in some production-intensive states like California, it was much higher — 3 percent, Mills found.

'One average kilogram of final product is associated with 4,600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, or that of 3 million average U.S. cars when aggregated across all national production,' wrote Mills.

The reason is simply the technology required. 'Specific energy uses include high-intensity lighting, dehumidification to remove water vapor and avoid mold formation, space heating or cooling during non-illuminated periods and drying, pre-heating of irrigation water, generation of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuel, and ventilation and air-conditioning to remove waste heat,' writes Mills."

Some people debating the issue cite the industry’s large energy needs as reason to regulate the type of energy it uses. It’s already a highly regulated industry, so adding stipulations on its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions isn’t that much of a stretch. According to the article, Boulder County in Colorado is already set to require marijuana facilities to “directly offset 100% of electricity, propane, and natural gas consumption” through renewables or other means.

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Spring break is over. Time to hit the books.

College coeds across the country spent last week basking in the sun during spring break. Well kids, beach time is over and it’s time to hit the ...

Tagged: Energy Information Administration, power plants, electricity

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Spring break is over. Time to hit the books.

Kids jumping

Whatever stage of life you’re in, you’ll find some of the Energy Information Administration’s new data on generators and power plants around the country interesting. No really.

Key Points

  • The Energy Information Administration released new data on generators and power plants around the country.
  • The data helps map our nation’s diverse energy offerings.
  • Test your knowledge and post your results.

College coeds across the country spent last week basking in the sun during spring break. Well kids, beach time is over and it’s time to hit the books.

I talk like I know what it’s like to be on spring break. I spent last week determining how many green beans my toddler is required to eat before she can leave the table to show me her latest dance to her favorite song, “Royals.” (We settled on three after some very heated negotiations.)

Whatever stage of life you’re in, I’m sure you’ll find some of the Energy Information Administration’s new data on generators and power plants around the country very interesting. No really. It’s interesting. 

For instance, did you know that in the South, one industry uses liquor for its power needs? And no, it’s not moonshine. It’s black liquor and it just happens to be a by-product of paper production. Many mills burn it as a primary source of their electricity. As a result, the paper pulp industry is one of our country's more carbon-neutral industries.

You can take a really fun “Know Your Power Plants” quiz to test your knowledge about electricity generation in the U.S.

Think you know what the leading electricity source is in the U.S.? Or what areas of the country are most likely to use landfill gas? How about what renewable energy source has the most capacity and generators? Prove it, and post your results below.  


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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Saving lives and making energy

Three billion people still cook their daily meals over smoky indoor fires, and 2.5 billion have little to no access to electricity.

That’s according to BioLite, ...

Tagged: BioLite, camping stove, electricity

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Saving lives and making energy

Biolite Camping Stove

Women who spend much of their day cooking over indoor fires are exposed to the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes daily.

Key Points

  • Three billion people still cook over indoor fires.
  • More than 2.5 billion people have little to no access to electricity.
  • BioLite cookstove is working to bring clean flames and electricity to families around the world. 

Three billion people still cook their daily meals over smoky indoor fires, and 2.5 billion have little to no access to electricity.

That’s according to BioLite, the makers of a cookstove who are working to bring clean air and electricity to people all over the world.

The BioLite stove started as a camping solution, but the creators soon saw that the need was greater. The BioLite stove uses wood to create an efficient fire with hardly any emissions and to generate enough electricity to charge your cellphone and other devices.

Women and children who spend much of their day cooking over indoor fires are exposed to the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes daily. Exposure like that leads to 4 million premature deaths a year from respiratory and cardiac-related diseases.

Watching this inspiring video reminded me of just how lucky I am to have access to electricity. I take the convenience of flipping a switch for granted and never thought about how being connected to the electric grid and natural gas pipelines are keeping my little girls healthy.

To the linemen, engineers, accountants and customer service representatives working every day to keep my lights on, stove working and furnace running, thank you for making my family’s life better. And thanks to the makers of BioLite for bringing health and energy to families around the world.

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The truth about Daylight Saving Time (it’s not what you think)

The end of Daylight Saving Time is like a cruel joke. Not only does it start getting dark before most people even start the drive home from work in the evening, but parents everywhere ...

Tagged: Daylight Savings Time, South Dakota, legislature, electricity

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The truth about Daylight Saving Time (it’s not what you think)

Daylight Savings

I’m always looking for ways to save energy, so if keeping DST would help our electric demand, I’d be all for it. But many studies have shown that there really isn’t any energy savings associated with DST.

Key Points

  • The S.D. Legislature is considering a bill to make it Daylight Savings all the time.
  • The U.S. first started using DST as a wartime effort to save electricity.
  • Contrary to popular belief, DST might not always lead to energy savings.

The end of Daylight Saving Time is like a cruel joke. Not only does it start getting dark before most people even start the drive home from work in the evening, but parents everywhere struggle to adjust nap and bed times. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, just ask a mom whose toddler won’t go to bed because it feels like an hour earlier. No really. I dare you. Ask her. 

The South Dakota Legislature is considering a bill that would make it Daylight Saving Time all the time. Only two other states — Arizona and Hawaii — don’t observe Daylight Saving Time.

I’ve heard lots of reasons why we have Daylight Saving Time. Farmers, energy savings, “because Ben Franklin said so,” war-time strategy, etc.

And it turns out, there’s a bit of truth to each of those rumors. Here’s a quickie history of DST.

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 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. However, states are not required to follow this guideline, which is why states like South Dakota can consider ignoring it altogether.  That’s how we roll in South Dakota. Or, in this case, don’t roll (the clocks, that is).

I’m always looking for ways to save energy, so if keeping DST would help our electric demand, I’d be all for it. But many 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:

“Assuming that businesses and households maintain their daily schedules (with respect to clock time) after the transition to EDST, extra evening daylight hours may lower electricity consumption because of the delayed need for lighting. Morning electricity use could increase, as people awaken to darker homes and the need for electric lighting is greater. Some parts of the country enjoy cooler or warmer evening weather, and EDST could result in changes in the amount of electricity used for heating and air conditioning.

“Daylight Saving Time also provides people with the opportunity to pursue more outdoor activities during the lighter (and warmer) late-afternoon/evening hours. Consequently, while reducing electricity consumption in homes, extra daylight might lead to more driving, which would likely translate into more miles.”

Overall, it looks like the jury is still out on if DST is an energy saver or not. But even if this legislation doesn’t help us save energy, I’m for any way to keep nap and bed time disruptions to a minimum. Don’t mess with a mom’s bedtime routine.  


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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Homeschool Energy: See why electrons are like magic

Everything is more exciting when you’re 3 years old. Christmas is magical. Birthdays are national holidays. Successfully putting socks on all by yourself is cause for clapping ...

Tagged: electricity, electron, Grid

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Homeschool Energy: See why electrons are like magic

This little experiment is a good reminder that our complex systems start with a simple electron traveling down a wire. And it creates light!

Key Points

  • Electricity is exciting.
  • It all starts with an electron travelling down a wire.
  • Our modern grid does that on a grand scale. 

Everything is more exciting when you’re 3 years old. Christmas is magical. Birthdays are national holidays. Successfully putting socks on all by yourself is cause for clapping and cheers.

Seeing energy from a child’s perspective is a great reminder of just how cool electrons are.

My friend Chris loves science almost as much as I love Downton Abby (that’s a lot). She hosts a group of kids each week for a homeschool science class. They covered electricity recently, and she sent me this sweet video of the kids’ reaction to making their very own electricity.

This little experiment is a good reminder that our complex systems start with a simple electron traveling down a wire. And it creates light!

Our power plants, wind farms, solar panels and other energy generating facilities create the same thing on a grander scale (with less excitement and cheers).

Here’s a great infographic explaining the electric system.  

But that system is aging. Here’s what energy.gov has to say about it:

"Parts of this network are more than a century old — 70 percent of the grid’s transmission lines and power transformers are over 25 years old, and the average age of power plants is over 30 years old. Today, our electricity needs are more sophisticated, and the strain on the grid is higher than ever."

Utilities are working to update the grid to keep it safe and effective, building things like new transmission lines. That’s good for those of us who like to know that the light will turn on every time we flip the switch. But keep in mind that those investments will likely show up on your energy bill. Which, if you look at your energy like a kid, is worth the investment for all the magic it produces.  

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How to make sure your white Christmas dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare

I hope it snows. A lot.  The white fluffy stuff is so pretty. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without it.

But with that sparkling beauty comes the threat of ...

Tagged: prepare, storms, electricity

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How to make sure your white Christmas dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare

White out

Part of our energy bills go toward making sure our electric lines can handle winter storms.

Key Points

  • Prepare for winter storms by making an emergency kit.
  • If the power goes out, the food in your fridge is good for 4 hours.
  • Never touch downed power lines. 

I hope it snows. A lot.  The white fluffy stuff is so pretty. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without it.

But with that sparkling beauty comes the threat of severe weather. And our energy providers prepare for this. Part of our energy bills go toward making sure our electric lines can handle winter storms. And when a storm does hit our system, our local utility heroes (some call them linemen) are out there braving the elements to get the lights back on.

If the power does go out this winter, here are some tips to stay safe and warm.

Save the eggnog – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the food in your fridge and freezer are safe if the power is out for less than four hours. Just keep the doors closed to keep the food cold longer. If the power is out for longer than four hours, the CDC recommends moving your dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy and spoilable leftovers into a cooler with ice. The food in your freezer is safe for up to 24 hours. Or you could use my method and just eat everything in your fridge. One man’s power outage is another man’s excuse to gorge.

Make a kit – The CDC recommends making an emergency plan that includes a disaster supply kit. It should include enough water, dried and canned food, and emergency supplies (flashlights, batteries, first-aid supplies, prescription medicines and a digital thermometer) to last at least three days. If you have a baby who relies on formula, make sure you have enough on hand in case roads aren’t passable to buy more. Here’s a good site for more details to get started.

Grilling is for the deck, not for the living room – If a storm hits on Christmas, it’s likely Uncle Tom will use the occasion to bust out his “kiss the cook” apron and try to cook the turkey or ham on the grill.  Keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning by using generators, pressure washers, grills and similar items outdoors only.  The CDC doesn’t address this directly, but I’d venture to say they might recommend steering clear of Uncle Tom’s cooking too.  

Never, ever, ever touch a downed power line – This one I say with my most serious mom voice. You know the one. If I knew your middle name, I’d use it. Do not touch downed power lines. And if a power line falls on your car, stay inside the vehicle until help arrives.

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Sharon Thompson
Very sound suggestions!!
2 years 6 months ago

Electricity Remains a Good Value

While you read this, take a quick look around. How many ways are you using electricity right now? Maybe your electric oven is starting to heat dinner, the kids are playing a video ...

Tagged: affordable, Energy, electricity, devices, connected

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Electricity Remains a Good Value

Meter

Moreover, we do it while trying to keep costs down for you. Take a residential customer that uses 650 kilowatt hours of energy each month. That comes to a little more than $3.00 a day.

Key Points

Energy remains a good value.
An average customer uses 650 kilowatt hours each month.
Currently the average house has 8.7 devices connected.

While you read this, take a quick look around. How many ways are you using electricity right now? Maybe your electric oven is starting to heat dinner, the kids are playing a video game, you’re skimming this while you text your friend, or you’re on the computer paying bills online.

We all use electricity in more ways than we can name every day. It’s a convenience we’ve become so used to, it can be easy to forget the significant work and planning that goes into making sure your electric energy is there when you need it. At Black Hills, we work every day to improve life with energy. We make sure that you don’t have to think about the system of generating plants, transmission and distribution facilities in place behind flipping the switch to turn on the light.

In fact, we spend years planning for your energy needs. We’re planning now to make sure energy is there for today’s kindergarten student and that it will be there when she submits her college applications online. And while we strive to make sure you, our customers, don’t even notice, we are constantly updating our infrastructure, tracking energy needs so we can anticipate what you’ll need and making sure our team is ready to serve you for years to come.

Moreover, we do it while trying to keep costs down for you. Take a residential customer that uses 650 kilowatt hours of energy each month. That comes to a little more than $3.00 a day.

If you think about it, electric energy remains a great value.

In fact, many of the small purchases we make throughout an average day add up to the same amount you pay for an entire month’s worth of power for your home.

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