New drone technology might make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer

Last week, we talked about how drones are helping solar plants be more efficient and drive down the cost of solar energy in some areas of the country.

But solar isn’t ...

Tagged: drones, wind turbines, energy technology

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New drone technology might make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer

Drone flies in front of wind turbines

The process to inspect a whole wind farm can take months. SkySpec’s self-piloting drones can do it in 20 minutes.

Key Points

  • A start-up company is using drones to help make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer.
  • Drones with advanced damage identification systems can inspect turbines in minutes.
  • The process used to take months. 

Last week, we talked about how drones are helping solar plants be more efficient and drive down the cost of solar energy in some areas of the country.

But solar isn’t the only kid on the energy block using drones.

Wind companies are using the little guys too.

 A small business with just 12 employees might change the way wind companies inspect turbines for damage.

The traditional method to see if turbines need any maintenance can be time consuming and sometimes dangerous. Someone has to climb to the top, visually inspect the turbine and blades and take pictures of any damage with a cell phone.

The process to inspect a whole wind farm can take months.

SkySpec’s self-piloting drones can do it in 20 minutes. Drones are deployed to inspect the turbine, top to bottom.

According to the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the drones use an advanced damage identification system that can detect wind turbine cracks and collect valuable data.

SkySpecs received a Small Business Voucher Award through the Department of Energy. Through the award, the company is working with Sandia National Lab to validate the damage detection algorithms it uses. They should be done by fall of this year, and hope to go to market with the product.

Automating processes like this can help reduce the maintenance costs for wind companies, and that could make wind energy cheaper.

Go, drones, go! 


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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Alcatraz frees itself from power grid challenge

When you think of Alcatraz, energy efficiency probably isn’t necessarily the first thing to pop to mind.

Second, sure, but definitely not first.

But the island ...

Tagged: alcatraz, microgrid, energy cost

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Alcatraz frees itself from power grid challenge

Alcatraz as shown in the San Francisco Bay

But the island is home to one of the nation’s largest microgrids. ... The $7.1 million project was completed in 2012 and has reduced the island’s fuel consumption by 45 percent, saving 25,000 gallons of diesel a year.

Key Points

  • Alcatraz Island is home to one of the nation’s largest microgrids.
  • The solar-diesel hybrid system reduced Alcatraz’s fuel consumption by 45 percent.
  • Some microgrids can help cut energy costs.

When you think of Alcatraz, energy efficiency probably isn’t necessarily the first thing to pop to mind.

Second, sure, but definitely not first.

But the island is home to one of the nation’s largest microgrids. It has a solar-diesel hybrid system that includes a 305 kilowatt solar array. The $7.1 million project was completed in 2012 and has reduced the island’s fuel consumption by 45 percent, saving 25,000 gallons of diesel a year. 

Alcatraz closed in 1963, in part because of the energy challenge that made maintaining the facility expensive. Because of its remote location out in the San Francisco Bay, it couldn’t connect to the power grid. Instead, ferries (the boat kind, not the magic kind) had to deliver diesel to the island’s power generators.

According to the Federal Energy Management Program, the main components of the Alcatraz microgrid include:

  • 959 photovoltaic solar panels (305 kW)
  • 8 power inverters (100 kW each)
  • 480 batteries (1,920 kW hours of energy storage)
  • 2 diesel generators
  • 1 controller device to coordinate generator operation.   

So other than just being an interesting fact about a prison-turned-tourist-destination, what else can we learn from this?

Well, maybe you want to know more about what microgrids are, especially since some energy experts think microgrids are one way to keep energy affordable.

Glad you asked. Here’s some great information from the Department of Energy.

And about those ferries; I’m still holding out hope that the magic kind exist. 


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

See what it’s like to climb wind towers for a living

Maintaining our energy systems takes a special kind of person. Someone who is smart, hard-working and willing to use power tools while hanging hundreds of feet into the air.

Someone ...

Tagged: wind energy, wind turbines, energy grid

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See what it’s like to climb wind towers for a living

Wind technicians hang from a wind turbine blade while making repairs

Maintaining our grid is part of what makes up the cost of energy, so it’s interesting to see those energy dollars at work.

Key Points

  • Maintaining our energy systems is part of what makes up the cost of energy.
  • When part of the grid breaks down, it needs to be fixed quickly.
  • Check out this wind technician working on a wind blade, hundreds of feet in the air.

Maintaining our energy systems takes a special kind of person. Someone who is smart, hard-working and willing to use power tools while hanging hundreds of feet into the air.

Someone like rock-climber-turned-wind-technician Jessica Kilroy.

When giant wind turbines break down, they need to be fixed fast. That’s where Jessica comes in, as featured on the Weather Channel’s Great Big Story series.

Maintaining our grid is part of what makes up the cost of energy, so it’s interesting to see those energy dollars at work.

There are a lot of behind-the-scenes things that go into keeping our energy available when we need it. Here is a great infographic that explains how the grid transports energy hundreds of miles from the source to your home or office.

It’s not as cool as the video of a daredevil wind technician, but it does make you stop to think about the system that we depend on.


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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These energy topics will guarantee you have the most romantic Valentine’s Day. Ever.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Whether you’re in a new relationship or have lost count of how many V-days you’ve spent with your significant other, it’s important ...

Tagged: Valentine's Day, romantic energy topics, conversation starters

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These energy topics will guarantee you have the most romantic Valentine’s Day. Ever.

Love spelled out inside a heart-shaped light bulb

If all else fails, you can always read your date highlights from the Energy Infrastructure Authority’s Annual Outlook. I recommend keeping a printed copy handy for all romantic situations.

Key Points

  • Valentine’s Day dates can be awkward.
  • It’s important to come prepared with awesome conversation starters.
  • These pointers will make this your most romantic V-day yet. Trust me.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Whether you’re in a new relationship or have lost count of how many V-days you’ve spent with your significant other, it’s important to have some good conversation starters for that big date night out.

When you head to your favorite romantic restaurant next week, here are a few ideas to keep the conversation going.

  1. The romantic lighting — Chances are that the lighting will be dim to really set that romantic mood. Did you know that LEDs can be dimmed? They’re energy efficient to begin with, and when you add a dimmer switch, they save even more energy. Less energy, less light, fewer visible wrinkles. That’s what they call a triple win.
  2. Meat storage — You’re sitting across the table from your Valentine. You look adoringly across the table, and the waiter delivers your steak. This is the perfect time to bring up energy-efficient meat storage options. Lean in extra close and say, “I want to talk about that extra chest freezer in the garage. According to the Alliance to Save Energy, a running chest freezer consumes around 103 kWh and costs an average of $14 per month. When your chest freezer is empty, unplug it to save energy and money.” Believe me, as you’ve probably already figured out, I’m very good at the dates.
  3. Turning up (or down) the heat – Let’s be honest. It’s Valentine’s Day. You likely showered. AND put on makeup using a real mirror (not the rearview mirror in your parked car). You. Look. Hot. What better time to talk about the heat setting in your home? Tell your significant other your needs. You need to turn the thermostat down when you leave the house for the day. Contrary to popular belief, it takes less energy to reheat a colder home when you get home in the evening than it does to keep it warm all day while you’re gone. Better yet? Give your date a programmable thermostat for Valentine’s Day. It’s verrrrrrrry romantic. Believe me.

If all else fails, you can always read your date highlights from the Energy Infrastructure Authority’s Annual Outlook. I recommend keeping a printed copy handy for all romantic situations. A good discussion about natural gas prices and energy demand is always a good decision.

Now get ready to enjoy the best Valentine’s Day of your life. You’re welcome.


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 Super Bowl was super energy efficient

Yesterday marked the biggest day of the year for football fans. I hope they all had a good time.

Me? I can’t tell you who played, what the score was or name a single ...

Tagged: Super Bowl, Energy Efficiency, LED

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The Super Bowl was super energy efficient

Lights illuminate a football field

[T]he Houston NRG Stadium was one of the first to install the efficient lights, and as a result, it uses 65 percent less energy on lighting than it did before.

Key Points

  • The Super Bowl was illuminated by all LED lights this year.
  • They used 65 percent less energy than traditional lights.
  • Venues for the 2018 and 2019 Super Bowls are set to be really energy efficient too. 

Yesterday marked the biggest day of the year for football fans. I hope they all had a good time.

Me? I can’t tell you who played, what the score was or name a single player who made a goal/touchdown/point or whatever you super sports fanatics call it (there aren’t baskets in this game, right?).

But I can give you an exciting scoop: The stadium where the match was held was pretty energy efficient.

The field was illuminated entirely with LED lights — 65,000 of them to be exact. Back in the olden days — pre-2015 — big, professional venues like this didn’t use LEDs.

But the Houston NRG Stadium was one of the first to install the efficient lights, and as a result, it uses 65 percent less energy on lighting than it did before.

The LEDs did more than save energy and money. They also made Lady Gaga look good. The lights don’t flicker, don’t have a warm-up time and can be dimmed, which can set the mood and save even more energy.

The future looks bright too. In 2018, the Super Bowl will be at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, an LEED certified venue (which means it is really energy efficient). In 2019, the players will take to the field in Atlanta, where its new stadium, under construction now, is set to be LEED Platinum (that means really, really energy efficient).

Until next year, good job to all you players. I heard the goalie did great.


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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Will the price at the pump go up this year?

A tax hike might be coming to a pump near you.

With low oil prices, we’ve all been enjoying some savings when filling up our vehicles. But thanks to some big state budget ...

Tagged: fuel tax increase, Oil Prices, taxes

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Will the price at the pump go up this year?

Gas tax increase ahead

According to NPR News, 12 states are considering the tax increase, including Alaska, where the governor has proposed tripling motor fuel tax. The revenues from the proposed increases would be used to build and maintain highways, roads and bridges.

Key Points

  • Several state legislatures are expected to increase motor fuel taxes this year.
  • The increases would help states fill budget holes and pay for infrastructure improvements.
  • Many states haven’t increased motor fuel taxes in decades. 

A tax hike might be coming to a pump near you.

With low oil prices, we’ve all been enjoying some savings when filling up our vehicles. But thanks to some big state budget holes, many state legislatures are considering raising taxes on gas and diesel fuels.

According to NPR News, 12 states are considering the tax increase, including Alaska, where the governor has proposed tripling motor fuel tax.

The revenues from the proposed increases would be used to build and maintain highways, roads and bridges. In many states, motor fuel taxes haven’t changed in decades. In Oklahoma, another state considering an increase this year, the rate has been 16 cents per gallon for 30 years.

Political analysts believe this year could be the perfect setting for tax increases like this to pass state legislatures. It’s not an election year, the budget shortfalls are big, oil prices are low, and even groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have OK’d the idea of increasing taxes at the pump, so long as all revenue goes toward infrastructure improvements.

Are you willing to pay a little more to fill your car in exchange for good roads and bridges? 


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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