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Have you ever wondered what exactly is the “Food-energy-water nexus”? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities by the Department of Energy

Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus by Wikipedia

Nexus Food Water and Energy by GRACE Communications Foundation

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered what exactly is the “Food-energy-water nexus”? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

KELLY: You may have heard folks use the term “food-energy-water nexus.” This means that food, energy, and water are inextricably linked and that actions in one area often have impacts in one or both of the others. These connections have always been present, and growth of the global and U.S. population has placed an ever-increasing stress on these resources. We heard before from Dr. Jared Cohon on the link between water and energy; today…let’s explore the other links. For instance, agriculture is currently the largest user of water at the global level and the food production accounts for a large part of energy consumption.

HOST: Can you provide an example of these linked resources, and how they affect me?

KELLY: Think about how a slice of pizza gets to your plate. The ingredients probably all came from a farm, which uses water to feed the crops and livestock, and energy to harvest the ingredients. Then…the ingredients had to be transported to the pizza shop, which might require energy input. Finally…the pizza was assembled and cooked in an oven, which requires energy to operate. So, without water and energy, your food – the pizza – would never have made it to your plate.

HOST: Will knowing about the food-energy-water nexus influence your behavior? (Yes, No, Maybe)? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

cooling-towers-pylon-power-plant-electricity1

We get our electricity from lots of different sources, like coal, natural gas, wind, and nuclear. Which are the cheapest? On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, has some answers.

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Levelized Cost of Energy by U.S. Department of Energy

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 9.0 by LAZARD

Electricity Pricing that Reflects its Real-Time Cost by The National Bureau of Economic Research

Transcript

HOST: We get our electricity from lots of different sources, like coal, natural gas, wind, and nuclear. Which are the cheapest? On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

NATHANIEL: Nuclear and hydro plants are expensive to build, but, once running, they produce electricity very cheaply. Coal and natural gas plants are cheaper to build, but can have higher fuel costs. Wind and solar have no fuel costs, but they can’t run all the time. A nuclear plant might last 40 years, while a wind turbine might only last 10. Finally, fossil plants have health and environmental impacts, which are borne by the public. So the answer depends on what type of cost you care about.

HOST: Isn’t there a way to compare different technologies on similar basis?

NATHANIEL: Economists use a calculation called the levelized cost of electricity to adjust for these differences. Currently, natural gas, wind, and geothermal pencil out with the lowest levelized cost. Government subsidies are an important way to adjust levelized cost to account for things it doesn’t include, like impacts from power plant emissions.

HOST: Do you think about the emissions cost of the electricity you consume, or just the charges on your electricity bill? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Electricity

Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses variable prices of electricity.

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An Introduction to Electricity Markets by Scientific American

Time Based Rate Programs by SmartGrid.gov

Electricity Pricing that Reflects its Real-Time Cost by The National Bureau of Economic Research

Transcript

HOST: Most of us pay a flat rate for our electricity. On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, explains why the cost of electricity actually changes over the course of the day.

NATHANIEL: The electricity powering your coffee maker at 6 a.m. might come mostly from nuclear plants, which tend to run all the time and produce power cheaply. As we go to work and school and start to need more energy, more power plants need to brought online, so by noon, the microwave warming your lunch might use higher-cost electricity from plants running on natural gas or coal.

HOST: How might this affect my electricity bill?

NATHANIEL: If you’re a typical residential customer, it doesn’t: these variations get smoothed out on your bill into a single average rate. However, variable-price electricity has been available in some places since the 1980s. If you paid a price that changed from hour to hour, you would start to pay attention to when you used electricity. You would probably try to avoid using lots of energy when demand and prices are the highest, such as a hot summer day. In this way, passing variable prices on to customers can also help relieve stress on the electric grid.

HOST: Would you consider using a variable-price electricity rate schedule if your utility company offered it? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Online Shopping

Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses if shopping online helps save energy.

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Known unknowns: indirect energy effects of information and communication technology by Nathaniel C. Horner, Arman Shehabi and Inês L. Azevedo

Is Online Shopping Really the Green Alternative? by Jennifer Konuik

What’s more energy efficient, shopping online or in stores? by Time De Chant

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered if ordering something online instead of going to the store to buy it saves energy? On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

NATHANIEL: It depends. If you usually drive to the store, ordering online might save energy, since a truck making deliveries to you and your neighbors on the same route consumes less fuel than if everyone drives individually to the store. But if you usually walk to go shopping, then having the truck drive to your house could use more energy. And you have to look at the entire system: how the product is manufactured, packaged, and shipped in each case.

HOST: It sounds complicated!

NATHANIEL: We haven’t even mentioned “ripple effects” yet! If the ease of buying online makes you buy more stuff, or you use the time it saves you to drive to a vacation spot, you might use more energy. But if you spend the time taking a nap, you could save energy on balance. Now think about the broad impacts of people and companies making these kinds of choices individually, and you get a sense of how hard it is to determine if e-commerce saves energy overall!

HOST: Does energy use inform your shopping habits? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Vampire Load

Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses vampire electrical loads.

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4 Ways to Slay Energy Vampires this Halloween by the Department of Energy

What is Phantom Load? by Efficiency Vermont

Latest Research on Comatose Servers by Jonathan Koomey

Transcript

HOST: On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, warns us about vampire electrical loads!

NATHANIEL: Vampire loads—also called phantom loads—are electrical appliances that consume electricity when they are not being used. Not to scare you too much, but they’re everywhere! Your cable box draws power when you aren’t watching TV, and your sleeping laptop and laser printer are quietly sucking power in the dead of the night. These phantoms aren’t just in your home. Legions of so-called “zombie servers” sit idling in data centers long after they should have been unplugged.

HOST: Yikes! What can I do about these energy vampires, phantoms, and zombies?

NATHANIEL: The department of energy estimates vampire devices could suck one of every ten dollars you pay for electricity, so it’s worth taking action. Look for appliances that have ENERGY STAR ratings. Shut down devices completely rather than putting them in standby. You can also buy “smart” power strips that cut the power to your game console, DVD player, and cable box when your TV is turned off.

HOST: Do you exterminate vampire loads in your house? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org

Data Centre

Nathaniel Horner, a research associate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses how much electricity is consumed by the data centers.

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Data Center Energy Consumption Modeling: A Survey by M Dayarathna and Yonggang Wen

Here’s How Much Energy Data Centers Consume by Yevgeniy Sverdlik

How A Data Center Works by SAP

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered how much electricity is used to power the data centers that make your digital life possible? On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

NATHANIEL: Very few of us make it through a day without using email, browsing the Internet, streaming a TV episode, or buying something online. None of this would be possible without large groups of computers called data centers to store, process, and exchange all of this digital information. As you can imagine, the amount of data center traffic grows exponentially! In the early 2000s, data center electricity consumption also grew very quickly, but, over time, growth has slowed. Data centers use just under 2% of total U.S. electricity.

HOST: How is it possible for data center electricity consumption to grow so much more slowly than the amount of data we use?

NATHANIEL: Industry leaders like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook have improved the efficiency, design, and operation of their data centers. At the same time, more of our data is stored in huge, highly efficient data centers that make up “the cloud.”

HOST: Would you move your data to the cloud if it meant saving energy? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Wind Energy Coastal Region

Julian Lamy, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses how coastal towns feel about offshore wind projects compared to onshore ones in their community?

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Offshore Wind Energy by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Onshore Wind Energy: What are the pros and cons? by The Guardian

Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy by the Department of Energy

Frequently Asked Questions About Windy Energy by the Department of Energy

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered how coastal towns feel about offshore wind projects compared to onshore ones in their community? On this week’s Energy Bite, Julian Lamy, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JULIAN: We found that residents of coastal communities strongly prefer having an onshore project in their town instead of an offshore project 5 miles at sea. We estimate that the value of this preference is equivalent to $5.6 million per year. The main objection to offshore was the changes to the ocean landscape, which many participants thought defined their community. This demonstrates the massive challenge that state governments will face when trying to build offshore wind projects, like Massachusetts which requires about 1,600 megawatts of offshore capacity in the next 10 years.

HOST: Does that mean that offshore wind development is doomed from the start?

JULIAN: No. A solution could be to locate offshore wind projects further from shore where they are not visible at least 30 miles out. Floating offshore turbines, as opposed to traditional turbines cemented to the seabed, could enable such projects. Our work suggests that the additional cost for floating offshore is worth it.

HOST: If you lived near the ocean, would you prefer an offshore or onshore wind farm? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Wind Energy Project Location

Julian Lamy, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses where most people prefer to have wind energy projects located

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Siting wind farms requires choosing a proper location by American Wind Energy Association

Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy by the Department of Energy

Frequently Asked Questions About Windy Energy by the Department of Energy

Transcript

HOST: Where do most people prefer to have wind energy projects located? On this week’s Energy Bite, Julian Lamy, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JULIAN: We systematically tested with surveys whether people care more about having a wind project in a distant town compared to in their community. Surprisingly, we found that most people prefer having a wind project in their town, so long as there are economic benefits such as reduced energy bills and increased tax revenue to the local government. There is however a slight preference to avoid living within 1 mile of the project, but otherwise, people seem OK with a project in their town.

HOST: What is the minimum safe distance from a house to a wind turbine?

JULIAN: In Massachusetts, we found that a wind project must be built more than 1000 feet from residential buildings. This is to prevent damage due to freak accidents. Furthermore, it’s required that noise from the rotating blades at nearby homes can’t exceed 10 decibels above existing ambient noise levels. To put this in perspective, 30 decibels is a like a quiet whisper in a library.

HOST: Do you prefer wind projects be located in a certain area? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Wind Farm in Iowa

Julian Lamy, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses what people think of the prospect of having a wind farm in their community.

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Among Many Successes, Some Community Wind Projects Experience New Challenges by the Department of Energy

Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy by the Department of Energy

Frequently Asked Questions About Windy Energy by the Department of Energy

Transcript

HOST: What do people think about the prospect of a wind farm in their community? On this week’s Energy Bite, Julian Lamy, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JULIAN: We interviewed and surveyed residents in coastal Massachusetts communities and found that the biggest factors people care about are economic benefits from the project and visual changes to the landscape.

HOST: So, why are these factors a concern?

JULIAN: Typical power plants, like coal or gas plants, can be tucked away in hidden locations that are not visible. However, wind turbines are typically over 400 feet tall, making a distinguishable mark on the landscape. Therefore, study participants wanted to know how the project would look, and whether they could see it from their home. Many participants also wanted to know the economic benefits both to them individually and to the town, like reduced energy bills and increased tax revenue to the local government. It’s important to point out that visual and economic benefits aren’t standardized by project nor are they regulated. So, it’s critical for communities to work with project developers to learn them.

HOST: Would you want a wind farm built in your community? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Wind Turbines

Julian Lamy, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses the advantages of adding energy storage to wind projects.

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The Role of Energy Storage in Accessing Remote Wind Resources in the Midwest by Julian Lamy, Ineš L. Azevedo and Paulina Jaramillo

Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy by the Department of Energy

Frequently Asked Questions About Windy Energy by the Department of Energy

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered how energy storage, like large-scale batteries, could help make wind energy projects more economical? On this week’s Energy Bite, Julian Lamy, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JULIAN: Wind projects generate electricity intermittently depending on when the wind is blowing. In some hours, the project produces 100 % of its max capacity, but in other hours it produces 0 energy. But if the project could store energy, then it could deliver power more consistently throughout the day, for example, 50% of its capacity in each hour. One major advantage of this scenario is that the amount of transmission capacity needed for the project now reduces by 50% since the maximum power produced in each hour decreases. This can save millions of dollars in transmission investment costs for big wind projects.

HOST: So, when is this application of batteries economical?

JULIAN: Current costs for storage, like Aquion Energy’s batteries, are about 3 to 5 times what’s needed to make this application economical. So perhaps this would make sense in the future…but storage is a bit too expensive today.

HOST: Would you be willing to pay more for wind energy to incorporate the cost of energy storage? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org