Economists are really bad at predictions, but their views carry sway over large amounts of capital. Their most recent inaccuracies have been in the energy sector. Clean, renewable, energy is making faster progress than previously predicted.
Renewables have seen faster implementation, more investment, and quite massive technical gains in the past few years. And all of these gains have happened despite the fact that oil is so cheap (in terms of money, not carbon).
Each of these trends — cheaper batteries and cheaper solar electricity — is good on its own, and on the margin will help to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, with all the geopolitical drawbacks and climate harm they entail. But together, the two cost trends will add up to nothing less than a revolution in the way humankind interacts with the planet and powers civilization.
You see, the two trends reinforce each other. Cheaper batteries mean that cars can switch from gasoline to the electrical grid. But currently, much of the grid is powered by coal. With cheap solar replacing coal at a rapid clip, that will be less and less of an issue. As for solar, its main drawback is intermittency. But with battery costs dropping, innovative manufacturers such as Tesla will be able to make cheap batteries for home electricity use, allowing solar power to run your house 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Earth Rangers has launched a new campaign for kids to learn about the potential danger of batteries. Battery Blitz Mission encourages kids to collect used household batteries and dispose of them properly. When batteries are improbably thrown out it can cause a lot of harm to the environment due to the dangerous chemicals inside.
Since batteries provide energy for so many of the things we use every day, what to do with batteries once they are dead is a big problem. When batteries are thrown out in the trash, they end up in landfills where they add to solid waste and can also leak dangerous chemicals into the environment. These chemicals are not only harmful to humans but to animals as well.
Even though there are many places where you can dispose of used batteries properly – you can’t recycle batteries in your regular recycling bin – only 5% of alkaline batteries are recycled in Canada each year. In 2010, Canadians threw out 745 million household batteries! Did you know that parts from recycled batteries can be re-used to make new batteries or stainless steel products, like the pots in your kitchen?
Encourage your young Earth Rangers to accept the Battery Blitz Mission and we’ll send you a Mission Brief and a biodegradable bag to keep track of all the batteries. The website will also allow you to find the nearest recycling station and tell Earth Rangers about your mission once you have completed the challenge.
Sign up here
Regular readers know that algae is a potential source of energy (and many other things), and in other small-life form news some researchers have found that bacteria can be used as a battery.
WorldChanging has all you want to know about bacteria batteries.
The system’s active ‘ingredients’ are a combination of tiny microbes and CO2. Placed under an electrical current – for example from an off-grid renewable power source such as wind or solar – the microbes convert the CO2 into methane. Professor Bruce Logan, head of the research team, explains that they work in a similar way to the natural process found in marshes.
He suggests that the initial carbon dioxide needed for the chemical reaction could even come from industrial sources: “CO2 is soluble in water, so the gas stream could be bubbled or transferred” in pipes from factories, for example. The ‘battery’ is designed to work as a closed loop, capturing and reusing the CO2 that’s released when the methane is burned.
You may have heard of the urban rumors that argue Hummers have less of an environmental impact than hybrids because of toxic batteries used in hybrids. So are hybrids more damaging to the environment than Hummers?
The answer is a definitive no.
You can disprove most of the false claims by doing a bit of math. Regarding the hybrid battery, let’s say a Hummer is driven 200,000 miles in its lifetime. Its EPA rating is 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 miles per gallon on the highway. Let’s be real generous and assume it is driven only on the highway at a reasonable speed, yielding the maximum mileage. Divide 200,000 by 18, and you’re talking 11,111 gallons of gas.
Next let’s calculate the Btus in that amount of gasoline and convert them to kilowatt-hours. Gasoline has between 115,000 and 125,000 Btus per gallon, so the Hummer would burn through about 1.3 billion Btus over those 200,000 miles. Since there are 3,412 Btus in a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy, this would convert to almost 400,000 kilowatt-hours, which, at the rock-bottom price of five cents per kilowatt-hour, would be about $20,000, or almost as much as the price of a Prius. If the energy to make the hybrid battery came from fuel oil, which has around 140,000 Btus per gallon, it would take an estimated 9,524 gallons of oil to match the Hummer’s 1.3 billion Btus. At $2 a gallon, that’s also about $20,000.