This frightening fall reading list is powerfully spooky

I’m part of a very serious book club.

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

OK, ...

Tagged: books, energy grid

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This frightening fall reading list is powerfully spooky

Young woman looks scared as she reads a book.

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

Key Points

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

I’m part of a very serious book club.

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

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

Fine, truth police, you got me.

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

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

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

No really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

How can you tell if someone does CrossfFit?

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

“Ready for the meeting?

“Yes, but I can ...

Tagged: crossfit, solar

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

Woman appears exhausted after CrossFit workout

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

Key Points

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

How can you tell if someone does CrossfFit?

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

“Ready for the meeting?

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

Or

“Want to go grab lunch?”

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

You get the idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Robots could grow your future fuel

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

No, this is not the storyline ...

Tagged: biofuel, kelp, alternative energy

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Robots could grow your future fuel

Cartoon robot in flotation rings

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

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where Marine BioEnergy comes in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think I’ll pitch it to Amazon.


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

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Did our electric grid earn a passing grade?

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

Not even our nation’s electric grid.

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

Tagged: energy grid

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Did our electric grid earn a passing grade?

Apple sits on a report card full of passing grades

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

Key Points

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

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

Not even our nation’s electric grid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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