Miles below the Earth’s surface, there’s enough thermal energy to power all of humanity for the foreseeable future. It’s called geothermal energy, and it’s poised to play an increasingly large role as a source of always available, renewable power. Now, there are a number of startups in the geothermal space, working to figure out how to access this heat in difficult to reach geographies, at a price point that makes sense. And it’s even gotten the attention of oil and gas industry giants, who are interested in greening their portfolios while sticking to their core competencies – extracting energy resources from deep within the Earth.
Texas had a rough winter in 2021. In mid-February, with temperatures dropping to the single digits, demand for electricity hit a record high throughout Texas. Supply ran short, causing the state’s electric grid operator to implement rolling power outages.
At the height of the crisis, more than 4.5 million customers lost power. The freak winter storm caused neighboring states such as Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas to also impose rolling blackouts. Texas residents shivered in the cold, as outages lasted for days at a time. They lost access to water. Some resorted to turning on their cars in their garages to keep warm then died due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
The historic breakdown was a wake-up call — if the power grid in Texas was so fragile, what about the rest of the United States? The U.S. has faced a 67% increase in weather-related power outages since 2000, according to data from Climate Central. Part of the problem is an aging infrastructure. Most of today’s power grid was built in the 1950s and ’60s, with the hopes that it would last for 50 years.
In the past decade, wind power capacity has tripled, and it’s projected to double in the decades to come. Wind is now America’s top renewable source of electricity generation, and the domestic offshore industry is finally taking off, as major manufacturers debut ever larger and more powerful turbines. While the industry faces some challenges with permitting, public opposition from various interest groups, and the obvious intermittency issues, there’s no doubt that wind is poised to play a major role in the energy transition. The question is just how fast it will grow.
The meltdown at a nuclear power station in Fukushima, Japan, ten years ago stoked anxieties about nuclear energy. But nuclear is one of the safest, most reliable and sustainable forms of energy, and decarbonising will be much more difficult without it.
The pandemic’s unequal toll on the research community, and a newly discovered mitochondria-like symbiosis.
In this episode:
00:48 The pandemic’s unequal toll on researchers
Although 2020 saw a huge uptick in the numbers of research papers submitted, these increases were not evenly distributed among male and female scientists. We look at how this could widen existing disparities in science, and damage future career prospects.
09:18 Research Highlights
How a parasite can make viral infections more deadly, and the first known space hurricane.
Research Highlight: Intestinal worms throw open the door to dangerous viruses
Research Highlight: The first known space hurricane pours electron ‘rain’
11:36 Energy without oxygen
Millions of years ago, a microscopic protist swallowed a bacterium and gained the ability to breathe nitrate. This relationship partially replaced the cell’s mitochondria and allowed it to produce abundant energy without oxygen. This week, researchers describe how this newly discovered symbiosis works.
Research Article: Graf et al.
News and Views: A microbial marriage reminiscent of mitochondrial evolution
19:22 Briefing Chat
We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, the weakening of the Gulf Stream, and a new satellite to monitor deforestation in the Amazon.
The U.S. electric grid is outdated. Designed for a world that runs on fossil fuels, our grid needs some major tech upgrades in order to transition to a more distributed, all-renewable system. That means smart, internet connected hardware working in tandem with advanced data analytics software to ensure that supply and demand are balanced, even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
Nuclear energy accounts for nearly 20% of electricity generated in the US, more than wind, solar and hydro combined. But now, new nuclear reactor designs could bring far more widespread use and public acceptance of this powerful form of energy.
X-energy is an American private nuclear reactor and fuel design engineering company. It is developing a Generation IV high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactor design.
A wind turbine, or alternatively referred to as a wind energy converter, is a device that converts the wind’s kinetic energy into electrical energy. Wind turbines are manufactured in a wide range of vertical and horizontal axis.
What if our buildings produced more energy than they used? From the United States to Hong Kong, these projects prove it can be done.
A zero-energy building (ZE), also known as a zero net energy (ZNE) building, net-zero energy building (NZEB), net zero building is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site, or in other definitions by renewable energy sources offsite, using technology such as heat pumps, high efficiency windows and insulation, and solar panels.
In the biggest climate commitment made by any nation, China pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060. While it will be challenging for Beijing to achieve its goal, China’s plan to become a green superpower will have ripple effects around the world.
Illustration: Crystal Tai