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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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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Could motorcycles powered by electricity be the next big thing?

My family spent the weekend welcoming summer with a camping trip to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. While driving around searching for the park’s infamous ...

Tagged: electric vehicle, motorcycle, Harley Davidson, Zero Motorcycles, Livewire

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Could motorcycles powered by electricity be the next big thing?

Electric motorcycle illustration

Change could be coming to the iconic motorcycle industry, as many of the world’s top manufacturers launch electric motorcycles in the next few years.

Key Points

  • Many traditional motorcycle manufacturers are working on electric-powered models.
  • Harley-Davidson, BMW, Honda and Yamaha all have plans in the works.
  • Zero Motorcycles has electric motorcycles available now that go over 100 mph and have a 200 mile range. 

My family spent the weekend welcoming summer with a camping trip to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. While driving around searching for the park’s infamous buffalo herd, we saw a lot of motorcyclists out enjoying the scenery. The roar of a Harley is a sound of summer that reminded me it’s officially motorcycle season.

Change could be coming to this iconic industry, as many of the world’s top manufacturers launch electric motorcycles in the next few years. Harley-Davidson is developing Livewire, an electric sportbike. The company hasn’t announced when the prototype will go into production, but some speculate it could be within a year. And I know what you’re thinking: no, it won’t be silent. In true Harley fashion, it will sound more like a jet turbine than a Prius. BMW, Honda and Yamaha are all working on electric motorcycle plans too.

Surprisingly, the current leader in electric motorcycles is a company you probably haven’t heard of. California-based Zero Motorcycles already has electric motorcycles on the road throughout the U.S.. The company started in 2006 and has six electric bike models to choose from, ranging in price from $8,495 to $15,995. According to Cool Hunting, the company has now designed a bike it believes will be appealing to even more customers. Its 2017 models can go over 100 mph and have a 200-mile range. Plus, these motorcycles can be charged using the same type of outlet where you would plug in a lamp or a toaster.

Zero Motorcycles has also gotten creative with its marketing. Fearing that customers might put off an electric motorcycle purchase until Congress decides if it will resurrect electric vehicle purchase incentives, the company started a Don’t Wait for Washington promotion. If you purchase a bike now and the Electric Motorcycle Federal Tax Credit doesn’t get renewed this year, Zero Motorcycles will send you a check for 10 percent of the purchase price..

Would you consider trading in your current motorcycle for an electric one? Or, would having a good electric motorcycle option get you to buy a motorcycle if you’ve never been the leather-wearing, hair-blowing-in-the-wind type in the past? I’m curious to see if options like the ones Zero Motorcycles offers might bring people into the motorcycle market who wouldn’t have been interested in them in the past.

Oh, and before I forget, if you do happen to motorcycle through Custer State Park this summer, don’t get too close to the buffalo.


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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Angie k
I see you are as wonderful as your as Bob Folsland.... Great job Angie k
1 week 6 days ago

Pool prep: What you need to know before taking the plunge

Memorial Day is just around the corner, marking the unofficial start of summer and the opening of most neighborhood pools.

Between barbecues and bike rides, take a moment ...

Tagged: pool, Energy Efficiency, summer safety

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Pool prep: What you need to know before taking the plunge

Little girl in sunglasses floats in a pool

Between barbecues and bike rides, take a moment to make sure you and your family are ready to take the plunge this summer.

Key Points

  • Pools are fun, but they use a lot of energy.
  • Use a pool cover to conserve water and save on pool-heating costs.
  • Keep safety top of mind while at the pool. 

Memorial Day is just around the corner, marking the unofficial start of summer and the opening of most neighborhood pools.

Between barbecues and bike rides, take a moment to make sure you and your family are ready to take the plunge this summer.

Consider the energy costs:

  • If your neighborhood watering hole is more than 10 years old, talk with the staff to make sure their systems are up to date. Updated pool pumps and filters turn off automatically if someone’s hair gets caught in it. These safer systems also tend to be much more energy efficient than the systems used a few decades ago.
  • If you have a pool at home, make sure to use a pool cover when you’re not using your pool to reduce water loss through evaporation and save up to 50-70 percent on your pool-heating costs. Also, consider installing an efficient swimming pool heater. Learn your options and estimate the costs for gas, heat pump or solar pool heaters.
  • Determine the best temperature for your pool to make sure you’re operating your pool for maximum efficiency. Most pools are kept at 78-82 degrees; each degree rise in temperature will cost 10-30 percent more in energy costs, depending on your location. If you have a pool at home, consider the energy costs when setting the water temp.

Keep safety top of mind:

  • Remember that electricity and water don’t mix. Never operate electrical equipment in or near the pool.
  • Never leave a child unattended in or near water, and teach children how to swim.
  • Install proper barriers, covers and alarms on and around your pool and spa.
  • Know how to perform CPR on children and adults.

Reapply sunscreen frequently and consider wearing sun protectant clothing. 


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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Don’t fall for these summer savings scams

Some people call it gullible, but I call it choosing to trust people.

Sure, I’ve fallen for my fair share of jokes, like the time I truly believed that I could catch ...

Tagged: energy savings myths, summer, Saving Money

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Don’t fall for these summer savings scams

Woman's face and hair freeze as she's blasted by cold air from an A/C unit.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m very wise and definitely won’t fall for things like these summer energy efficiency myths.

Key Points

  • There are plenty of myths about energy savings.
  • Your home won’t cool more quickly if set your thermostat really low.
  • Fans cool people, not rooms, and shutting vents in unused rooms is hard on your system. 

Some people call it gullible, but I call it choosing to trust people.

Sure, I’ve fallen for my fair share of jokes, like the time I truly believed that I could catch a “snipe” bird by staying out all night with a garbage bag and flash light at summer camp. I was determined. And also bore the brunt of a lot of jokes when I was the last kid who figured out it was all an elaborate scheme.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m very wise and definitely won’t fall for things like these summer energy efficiency myths.

  1. Cool your house down quickly by setting your thermostat really low — You get home from work. Your house is really warm and stuffy, so you head over to the thermostat and set it to 55 degrees to cool it down quickly. Great idea, right? Wrong. Setting it to a lower temperature does not speed up the cooling time. The HVAC will work at the same pace until it reaches a certain temperature. Plus, you’ll be wasting a lot of energy if you forget to reset your thermostat later. Instead, just set it where you want it. Or better yet, get a programmable thermostat. That way you don’t have to keep your A/C running all day, but the HVAC can kick in right before you get home.
  2. Save energy by shutting the vents in unused rooms — We hardly ever use the spare room in the basement, so I should just shut the vent in there, right? Nope. Turns out that shutting vents can actually put extra strain on your system. Most central air systems are designed to distribute air throughout the entire house. Blocking vents messes with them and can lead to more system break downs.
  3. Run ceiling fans all the time to help keep the house cool — Fans cool you down, so you decide to keep them on all the time as a major cooling source — even when you’re not there. Bad idea. Fans make you feel cool because the breeze they create cools your skin. But they don’t change the temperature in the room. So, if there isn’t anyone there to benefit from the breeze, you’re better off turning it off and saving some electricity.

Now you don’t need to worry about falling for these myths ever again. And as a bonus tip, never trust an overly enthusiastic camp counselor who thinks it will be really fun to go on a snipe hunt.


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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