Are you ready for the ‘Super Bowl of the Sky’?

Today’s the day!

Time to bust out your stylish eclipse glasses, head to the closest community in the path of totality, and belt out your own rendition of “A total eclipse ...

Tagged: eclipse, total eclipse of the heart, solar, Natural Gas

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Are you ready for the ‘Super Bowl of the Sky’?

Total solar eclipse August 21, 2017

Think of the moon as that tall guy with a big head who sits right in front of you at the movie theater. But since solar panels need sunlight to make energy, when the moon blocks the sun, it will do more than just block the view.

Key Points

  • Today is the solar eclipse.
  • Thanks to advanced planning, most of us won’t even notice the dip in solar energy available.
  • Natural gas is expected to help compensate for the lost solar energy.

Today’s the day!

Time to bust out your stylish eclipse glasses, head to the closest community in the path of totality, and belt out your own rendition of “A total eclipse … of the sun.”

And don’t even pretend that you’ve never sung the lyric “turn around bright eyes” in the car when no one was watching.

While we’re out gazing at what has been called the “Super Bowl of the Sky,” energy providers will be working behind the scenes to make sure electricity is still available — even when solar energy goes off line.

Think of the moon as that tall guy with a big head who sits right in front of you at the movie theater. But since solar panels need sunlight to make energy, when the moon blocks the sun, it will do more than just block the view.

At the movies when you can’t see the screen, you might change seats to see better. But energy companies can’t just move their solar panels to peer around the moon. They have to find an alternative source to make energy. Most providers will depend on natural gas-powered turbines to fill in the gaps.

The Department of Energy believes that thanks to lots of advanced planning, most of us won’t even notice the dip in solar energy:

“The National Renewable Energy Laborabory (NREL) conducted a study of Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) territory, which covers the vast majority of the Mountain and Pacific Time zones including 14 Western states.

“Examining the WECC as a whole, and assuming the worst case scenario — a bright and sunny day — the rolling effects of the eclipse are expected to have the biggest impact at approximately 10:30 a.m., when PV output is projected to drop 5 GW below typical generation levels. This represents the amount of energy needed to power approximately 1 million homes and, if not already anticipated, could create difficulties for portions of the grid network that use solar to meet a significant fraction of electricity demand during the day. The burden of compensating for the lost energy from solar generators will fall mostly on natural gas powered turbines, which are able to ramp up ahead of the eclipse.” 

And thank goodness they planned ahead to make sure the electrons will keep flowing. It would have really hurt my viewing party’s mojo if I couldn’t crank up Spotify and bust out “once upon a time I was falling in love, now I’m only falling apart …”

Enjoy the total eclipse of the sun.


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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Car talk: Electric vehicles in news

Electric vehicles are making more news than a Kardashian sister this month. Here’s a roundup of the biggest headlines.

Electric vehicles are going to take over the auto ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles

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Car talk: Electric vehicles in news

Line of electric vehicles all charging

Bloomberg New Energy Finance released a report that predicts electric vehicles will start to cost the same as their conventional car counterparts by about 2025 thanks to price drops for lithium-ion batteries.

Key Points

  • Electric vehicles are all over the news.
  • Volvo seems amped up on electric, and Tesla’s Model 3 is here.
  • A new report is more optimistic about electric vehicles than ever before. 

Electric vehicles are making more news than a Kardashian sister this month. Here’s a roundup of the biggest headlines.

Electric vehicles are going to take over the auto industry — Bloomberg New Energy Finance released a report that predicts electric vehicles will start to cost the same as their conventional car counterparts by about 2025 thanks to price drops for lithium-ion batteries. The authors expect electric vehicles to account for more than half of all new car sales by 2040. Read an interesting article about it from Fast Company here, and see the full report here.

Volvo is doubling down on electric — The Swedish automaker recently announced that starting in 2019, every car it manufactures will be electrified in some capacity. It really charged some people up. Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson called it “the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.” Read more about it from Popular Mechanics here. Some critics let sparks fly and accused Volvo’s PR peeps of going into overdrive since the company would have had to do something like this to meet European emissions requirements anyway. Read a good breakdown of what Volvo’s announcement means for the industry here.

Elon Musk got a new car — And it’s not just any car. It’s the first Tesla Model 3. Thirty more drivers will do the Electric Slide at a big launch party on July 28, and then production on the $35,000 electric vehicle will ramp up in the fall and winter. According to Bloomberg, if Tesla meets its targets, it will build more battery-powered cars next year than all of the world’s automakers combined in 2016. Read more here.

And now you’re “plugged in” to the electric car industry.


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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Separating energy fact from fiction

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when something isn’t true — like when my daughter tried to convince my husband that “mommy always lets me brush my hair with steak knives.”

Other ...

Tagged: energy solutions, renewables, science

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Separating energy fact from fiction

Crazy scientist plays with magnets to shocking results.

Energy is a complex issue, and some scientists are concerned that trying to simplify it into one magic-bullet solution might actually hurt some of the advancements in engineering and technology that we still need to continue improving our energy mix.

Key Points

  • When something seems too good to be true, there’s probably more to the story.
  • Wine can’t replace your gym membership, and there’s no magic bullet to solve all our energy problems.
  • Hopefully, more in-depth conversations will support the technology and engineering advancements we need to find solutions. 

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when something isn’t true — like when my daughter tried to convince my husband that “mommy always lets me brush my hair with steak knives.”

Other times, it’s a little trickier to tell fact from fiction — like studies that show drinking wine has as many health benefits as going to the gym, coconut oil is poison or coffee cures cancer.

These headlines usually require more in-depth analysis to figure out what they really mean. Sure, wine might have some health benefits, but does that really mean you should trade in your gym membership for a wine of the month club (no matter how enticing that sounds)?

Studies about the future of our country’s energy mix are no exception. A popular study published a few years ago talked about how America could easily switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

The author, Mark Jacobson of Stanford, believes that we could use mostly wind and solar — and keep energy affordable — if certain political policies were changed.

Although that sounds as good as skipping the gym for a glass of wine, now many scientists have added to that conversation, questioning Jacobson’s statistics and conclusions.

Energy is a complex issue, and some scientists are concerned that trying to simplify it into one magic-bullet solution might actually hurt some of the advancements in engineering and technology that we still need to continue improving our energy mix.

Here’s an interesting article outlining Jacobson’s study and some of the questions that have come up from the scientific community — including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the International Energy Agency, and most of academia who see a need for energy diversity including nuclear, hydro, and some natural gas.

In short, always question the toddler holding a knife (who, for the record, really isn’t allowed to comb her hair with sharp objects), keep your gym membership, and read the fine print. 


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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Wind energy: When ‘more is better’ doesn’t apply

My daughters and I like to take things up a notch in the kitchen. Our chocolate chip cookies have an extra scoop of chips. Our banana bread weighs more than my 2-year-old from all ...

Tagged: wind energy, wind turbines, baking

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Wind energy: When ‘more is better’ doesn’t apply

Toddler tips baking bowl up over her face and head

After winds get opening-scene-from-Mary Poppins strong, the turbines eventually shut down to keep the blades from spiraling out of control and causing damage.

Key Points

  • June marks the beginning of hurricane season.
  • All that extra wind isn’t necessarily a good thing for wind energy.
  • Wind turbines turn off during extremely high winds to avoid damage. 

My daughters and I like to take things up a notch in the kitchen. Our chocolate chip cookies have an extra scoop of chips. Our banana bread weighs more than my 2-year-old from all the bonus banana mush we include. And at Christmas, Santa gets to choose from a buffet of cookies decorated with enough sprinkles and frosting to put him in a sugar coma.

But this “more is better” approach doesn’t work for everything in life. 

Exhibit A: Wind.

Hurricane season started this month, marking six months of severe storms and high winds. All those extremely blustery days must be great for wind turbines, right?

Well, not always.

 Turbines have a sweet spot to make energy. The wind speed needs to be at least 6-9 miles per hour to get the blades turning. As the wind speed increases, the blades turn more quickly, producing more energy. But once the wind reaches what’s known as a rated speed, the amount of energy produced flat lines even as wind speeds go up.

After winds get opening-scene-from-Mary Poppins strong, the turbines eventually shut down to keep the blades from spiraling out of control and causing damage.

That point of “whoa, this is more wind than I can handle” varies by turbine. It’s kind of like those extra chocolate chips; an extra scoop gives you amazing cookies. Two scoops gives you cookie dough that won’t stick together because it’s basically a bowl of chocolate. #experience.

Turbines have anemometers that measure wind speed (and yes, you should definitely work that word into a casual conversation today). Once the anemometer detects that winds have died down enough, then they’ll get the turbine back to work again.

Want to learn more? Check out this animation from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy about how wind turbines work.

And here’s the banana bread recipe Annie was working on in this picture. We recommend adding an extra banana. Or two. But not three.

It’s all about that sweet spot.


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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