To build a car, basically you need a wheel at each corner, after which you can do what you like. Flexibility comes in how you use the vehicle.
For nuclear power, the reverse of that truism applies. There are many, many ways of building a reactor and fueling it. But its purpose is singular: to make electricity. And making electricity is done in the time-honored way, using steam or gas to turn a turbine attached to a generator.
Around the world, some 460 reactors are electricity makers. Even allowing for events like the tsunami which struck Fukushima Daiichi, they are statistically the safest and most reliable electricity makers.
Yet they are large and built one at a time; one-offs, bespoke. They rely predominantly on two variations of a technology called “light water,” originally adapted from the U.S. Navy. This has left no room for other designs, fuels and materials. ( Continue… )
Discharges of contaminated water have plagued the cleanup of the March 2011 disaster at Fukushima, whose cooling systems failed in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami, triggering meltdowns at three reactors. Japan's nuclear watchdog upgraded Wednesday the severity of those leaks.
What happened at Fukushima is a rare occurrence, many in the industry stress, and nuclear remains one of the safest and most reliable ways to generate electricity. Still, the political fallout from Fukushima – and the fumbling recovery in its wake – has delivered another blow to a nuclear industry that a few years ago seemed to have finally shaken the stigma of the Three Mile Island disaster.
Factor in the competition of cheap, abundant natural gas, and the outlook for nuclear isn't so rosy. But a wave of technological innovation offers hope for a fuel that provides about 12 percent of the world's electricity. ( Continue… )
Since Elon Musk released his designs for the Hyperloop transport system, the idea has been all over the internet as most people laud it for its ambition, and potential to truly change transportation around the world. Musk is so determined to make his idea work that he plans to entirely skip the concept phase and immediately build a 350 mile version of the Hyperloop to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco; basically his home to his office.
René Lavanchy, of the Guardian, does not share the enthusiasm for Musk’s designs, worried that there is no chance the Hyperloop will ever be built. “As far-sighted technology evangelism, the Hyperloop is laudable and deserves deeper discussion. As an intellectual idea, or the groundwork for some speculative fiction, it is fascinating. But as a shovel-ready infrastructure project, it is dead on arrival.” (Related article: Looking at the Hyperloop and its Predecessors)
In his article he offered several reasons why the Hyperloop would never work. He explained that in order to create the air cushion that the pods would float on, the air would have to be compressed rapidly, which would create huge amounts of heat inside the pod and the tube. The tight conditions within the Hyperloop do not allow for air conditioning, which means that that the whole systems could suffer from overheating, just like the London Underground, making travel unbearable for passengers. ( Continue… )
[Editor's note: Paragraph eight below has been updated to clarify Russ Rader's comments. The added weight of batteries are an advantage for electric cars in real-world accidents, not in crash tests, as was previously implied.]
The luxury electric sedan earned an overall safety rating of five out of five stars from the federal agency, Tesla announced Tuesday. It also earned at least five stars in every category, a feat that puts it in the top 1 percent of cars tested by NHTSA.
The Tesla crash test is yet another win for a company that cannot seem to lose lately. Tesla Motors' Model S continues to earn glowing reviews, bolstering its stock price, and drawing the envy of an incumbent auto industry that might rather see it fail. Its stock price was up 2 percent to $148.39 in midday trading.
The design flexibility afforded by an electric vehicle may be a key to the Model S's record safety rating, challenging early public perceptions of electric cars as weak vehicles, prone to battery fires and other mechanical failures. ( Continue… )
What would you expect them to say?
That's the question you should ask whenever spokespersons for the oil and gas industry (or fake think tanks funded by the industry or analysts whose bread is buttered by the industry) announce a new find that is going to be a "game-changer" (or bigger than another well-known world-class field or enough to make America energy independent again).
Prepare yourself for another hype cycle in the U.S. oil and gas industry. The industry says it has found a deposit of oil that may turn out to be the largest in the world. The deep tight oil deposit goes by the name Spraberry/Wolfcamp and is located in West Texas. It's no surprise then that the industry is trotting out the America-as-the-new-Saudi-Arabia theme once again, a theme that many including me have shown to be pure bunkum.
And, the chief executive officer of Pioneer Natural Resources Company, which is currently touting its dominant position in the Spraberry/Wolfcamp deposits, added some bunkum of his own when he told The Dallas Morning News, "We’re more like a manufacturing operation than a traditional oil drilling operation.” This is the discredited notion that in tight oil and shale gas deposits, a company can drill anywhere and extract economical volumes of oil and/or natural gas. The idea has been discredited by the record of every tight oil and shale gas deposit drilled to date, deposits which settle down into a pattern of tightly focused "sweet spots" where drillers can make money and vast areas that are not profitable to drill--mainly because the oil and natural gas are too difficult to get out. ( Continue… )
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated the geographical location of Balcombe.]
British energy company Cuadrilla Resources issued an apology last week to the residents of Balcombe, a village in West Sussex, England. Campaigners flocked to the region by the thousands and set up camp to protest against hydraulic fracturing. The company said it suspended its operations as a safety precaution on the advice from local police in light of the protest. British Prime Minister David Cameron came out in favor of fracking, saying the controversial practice was worth the risk. The only problem is that, so far, for all intents and purposes, fracking doesn't exist in Balcombe.
Cuadrilla issued an apology to Balcombe residents for causing a stir. Advocacy group No Dash for Gas set up camp during the weekend near the drilling site to protest the energy company's drilling campaign.
"Cuadrilla acknowledges and regrets the disruption and inconvenience Balcombe villagers will experience as a result of the No Dash for Gas action camp," the company said in a statement.
The company has endured nearly two weeks of campaigns against its operations but pledged local villagers would hardly notice the work. Green groups managed to stop freight trucks from getting to the drilling site, though the company managed to get enough work going to install its rig. Last week, the company said the site was good for exploration but might yet turn into a full production site. ( Continue… )
The outlook at the pump is getting brighter for Labor Day motorists.
Gas prices dropped by roughly a penny from a week ago, according to AAA. It's a slight decline, but it follows a general slide in gas prices over recent months, and some hope the downward trend will continue through Labor Day's travel weekend. But a hurricane, or heightened unrest in the Middle East, could change that.
"If there’s any sort of disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico, it obviously could have a significant impact on gas prices," Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, said in a telephone interview.
In 2005, hurricane Katrina made landfall in the last week of August, upending gas prices that were approaching $3.00 in many parts of the country. The devastation wreaked on the Gulf region – which accounts for about 23 percent of the nation's oil output – sent gas prices higher by as much as 50 cents. ( Continue… )
Cars are not what they were 40 years ago, but some gas-mileage rules are.
That has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rethink how it rates the fuel economy of new cars. Traditionally, the EPA has allowed companies to use the same fuel-economy rating for cars with the same engine, transmission, and weight class.
But today's highly efficient hybrid cars are more sensitive to minor design differences, even when the core of the car is virtually identical. That can cause discrepancies between estimated and actual mileages, which rankle consumers looking to save on gas costs.
Ford is the latest in a string of auto companies that have scaled back mileage claims. It acted after customers complained that the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid did not live up to its label values of 47 miles per gallon (m.p.g.) for combined highway and city driving.
Ford based its rating for the C-Max on the test done for the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which has the same engine, transmission, and test weight. But the C-Max has a bulkier design than the Fusion, analysts said, which could account for the difference in their actual mileages. ( Continue… )
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto unveiled plans this week to amend articles of the Constitution that prohibit private investment in the country's oil industry. The state company Pemex would remain in government hands, as would the oil reserves themselves, but the government would break the monopoly on production, in order to attract private investors.
It is not yet clear that the proposed reforms will pass. But the Mexican industry clearly needs help. Oil production has fallen 30 per cent in the last eight years. The country has impressive natural gas resources but is dependent upon imports. The pipeline system desperately needs to be modernized.
All this means that the electricity generation and distribution systems lack capacity to promote industrial expansion. The high price of electricity and energy costs in general are a drag on industrial output. (Related article: What's the Future for Your State Monopoly?)
According to government estimates, an annual investment of $20 billion in infrastructure and new production is required to start the modernization of the industry and its networks. ( Continue… )
Energy companies and commodity traders are keeping a close eye on weather reports around the Gulf of Mexico as the Atlantic hurricane season moves into its most active phase and the risk of powerful storms, that could threaten activity in the Gulf, increases.
The Atlantic hurricane season begins at the beginning of June, with the most active stages between 20th August and October. Traders follow the storms due to their potential to destroy crops, and disrupt oil and gas activities.
Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc., explained to Bloomberg that the wind shear, which normally breaks young storms apart, has been dropping away, and the potential of strong tropical waves, necessary to create a hurricane, has been growing. (Related article: Junior Time in the Gulf of Mexico Shelf)
RECOMMENDED: US energy in five maps (infographics)
The US National Hurricane Centre is currently tracking the progress of a tropical wave just off the coast of Africa, appointing it a 70% chance of turning into a tropical storm over the next five days. As well as a number of thunderstorms spread across a broad area in the southwestern Caribbean Sea, which they have given a 50% chance of turning into a large weather system over the next five days. ( Continue… )