Category Archives: Fun Off-Topic

In this series of articles, I will highlight some less serious topics related to energy and policy. These topics will be light-hearted and fun, a break from the more data and factually heavy topics, including pop culture depictions of energy topics, looking into the energy related topics of some of my other personal interests and hobbies, or anything else that might pop into my head.

The Green March Madness Tournament: Setting the 2018 NCAA Tournament Field According to Sustainability

With the Super Bowl in the rearview window and the calendar about to turn to March, the attention of the sports world is about to be completely focused on college basketball and the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament (March Madness). Every year, this 68-team tournament captures the attention of people across the country, whether they are diehard fans or non-sports fans who  are simply participating in the office pool.

Not only does the NCAA Basketball Tournament serve as fodder around the water cooler, with billions of dollars of productivity lost in the American workplace every year, not only in watching the games but also in the various (sometimes unconventional) methods people use to pick the winners in their bracket. You may have seen people choose winners based on which team’s mascot would win in a fight, by choosing the schools with the superior academics, or even by choosing winners based on who has the most attractive head coach (shout out to my alma mater, University of Virginia, that AOL astutely points out would win in this last scenario).

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So with the Selection Committee currently watching the last few games of the regular season as teams try to bolster their chances of making the NCAA Basketball Tournament, I thought I’d take a look at how March Madness would look if the field was selected based on each school’s efforts towards sustainability, energy efficiency, and environmentalism– call it the 2018 Green March Madness Tournament!

This article will take all eligible NCAA schools and create the field of 68 for a tournament, but playing it out won’t be all that interesting because the top seeds will obviously ‘win’ each match up until the Final Four. So keep reading to see the 68 teams that make the tournament and find out which top seed comes out on top– but stay tuned once the NCAA puts out the actual bracket for the NCAA Basketball Tournament because I’ll do a follow-up article and revisit this concept to see who would win each of those real-life matchups based on who rated higher on sustainability!



Metrics used

After extensive research, I found three different measurements and rankings that look at the efforts of colleges and universities across the United States to incorporate sustainable practices, energy-saving measures, and environmentally-friendly practices. The latest version of the data for these measures, which are explained in detail below, were pulled to serve as the metrics of who would participate in the 2018 Green March Madness Tournament.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) uses its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) to measure how successfully institutions have been performing in sustainability matters. The mission statement of STARS details how it “is intended to engage and recognize the full spectrum of colleges and universities- from community colleges to research universities- and encompasses long-term sustainability goals for already high-achieving institutions as well as entry points of recognition for institutions that are taking first steps towards sustainability.”

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STARS is completely voluntary, transparent, and based on self reporting. Dozens of different metrics are included in the STARS measurements, including in the categories of curriculum (e.g., whether the institution offers sustainability-focused degree programs), campus engagement (e.g., whether sustainability-related outreach campaigns are held on campus), energy use (e.g., availability of clean and renewable energy sources on campus), transportation (e.g., inclusion of alternative fuel or hybrid electric vehicles in the institution’s fleet), and many more that are found in the credit checklist.

Based on performance based on these metrics, each school can earn up to 100 points and a corresponding rating of STARS Reporter, STARS Bronze, STARS Silver, STARS Gold, or STARS Platinum. Because STARS is self-reported, institutions can continually make improvements and resubmit for a higher score. However for the sake of this Green March Madness Tournament, the latest scores for all schools playing Division I NCAA basketball were pulled as of the beginning of February 2018, with any schools not participating in the STARS program receiving a score of zero.

The Cool Schools Ranking

The Sierra Club publishes an annual ranking called the Cool Schools Ranking to measure which schools are doing the most towards the Sierra Club’s broader sustainability priorities. The data for the Cool Schools Ranking largely comes from the STARS submissions as well, though with some key changes— the Sierra Club identifies the 62 questions of the STARS survey that they consider the most crucial to their definition of sustainability and put that data in a custom-built formula, they only use information submitted or updated to STARS within the past year, and they asked institutions to also detail what moves they have made to divest their endowment from fossil fuel companies (a question not asked by STARS).

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As with STARS, participation in the Sierra Club’s rankings is completely voluntary and transparent, ultimately resulting in a numeric value on the 1000-point scale to use for the rankings.  For the scoring towards the Green March Madness Tournament, all eligible teams had their Cool Schools Ranking score pulled and divided by 10 (so it would be on a 100-point scale like the STARS rating), while schools that were not included in the ranking were given a score of zero.

SaveOnEnergy Green Score

The last of the three rating systems used for the Green March Madness Tournament is the 2017 Green Score given by SaveOnEnergy.com. The goal of this scoring system is to give credit to institutions making “noteworthy progress in eco-friendliness and sustainability.” The SaveOnEnergy Green Score takes the top 100 schools in the U.S. News & World Report and awards them scores based on their Princeton Review Green Score, as well as state data on farmers markets, local public transportation options and walkability scores, density of parks in the area of the school, state data on clean and renewable energy options, and availability of green jobs.

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The data for the SaveOnEnergy Green Score is a mix of voluntary data (e.g., data submitted to the Princeton Review Green Score) and mandatory statistics (e.g., state data on energy options and green jobs). In the end, SaveOnEnergy takes all of these factors to create a final score out of 100– though the score is only published for the top 25 schools, and the remaining schools are ranked without their score displayed. To account for this, a best-fit equation was used to correlate ranking with the score of the top 25 schools and extrapolated that equation to determine a score for the remaining ranked schools. Schools that did not make the SaveOnEnergy Green Score list were given a score of zero.

Final Green March Madness Tournament score

In the end, all 351 schools that participate in Division I basketball (representing 32 different athletic conferences) were given a final score that was the average of the STARS score, the Cool Schools Ranking score divided by 10, and the SaveOnEnergy Green Score, so that the final score is also on a 100-point scale (the final scores for all schools can be found in this article’s accompanying Google Spreadsheet).

Before moving forward, let’s make clear that this ranking system is mostly just for an overview of sustainability scores among schools based on publicly available data, and it should by no means be considered comprehensive. Indeed, each of the three ranking systems make clear that there are many more schools that care about energy and the environment and are also making great strides that do not appear on these lists. These schools might not have the time or resources to submit their data, the submission of the data to these third parties was not a priority, or they simply weren’t included on the U.S. News & World Report Top 100 Universities list and so their data was not included in the SaveOnEnergy Green Score list.

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That being said, schools that take the time to report their sustainability are showing that doing so is a priority to them and demonstrating a commitment to the cause that should be applauded and recognized. While there are many schools that didn’t report their data that are certainly still environmentally friendly (indeed, about half of the schools in Division I basketball ended up with a score of zero for not appearing in any of the three lists, but it would be foolish to believe that none of those 178 schools are working towards energy efficiency and sustainability), the submission of data can be considered a sign that transparency regarding sustainability is important to those in charge and thus the reporting schools earn a well-deserved place in the Green March Madness Tournament scoring. For that reason, the rest of this article will unapologetically use the Green March Madness Tournament Score as the definitive factor to determine sustainability rankings of the schools.

Quick facts and figures

Before moving on to selecting which teams made the prestigious Green March Madness Tournament, let’s take a look at a few quick facts from the scoring:

  • 173 out of 351 teams registered a score greater than zero on the Green March Madness Tournament Score, meaning over 100 schools who registered a non-zero score will still find themselves on the outside looking in.
  • Even rarer, though, are teams that have scores in all three scoring metrics used. Only 33 teams have a non-zero score in all three metrics, while only 112 teams have a non-zero score in two or more metrics.
  • As shown below in the table of conferences and conference champions, the highest score went to American University of the Patriot League with 73.4, while the lowest non-zero score went to South Dakota State of the Summit League with 9.2.
  • Looking at each of the 32 conferences:
    • 4 conferences (Pacific-12, Big Ten, Ivy League, and Atlantic Coast) had 100% of their teams score greater than zero.
    • 2 conferences (Atlantic Sun and Northeast) had only a single team score greater than zero, thus making the crowning of a conference champion rather easy.
    • 5 conferences (Big South, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Southland, and Southwestern Athletic) didn’t have any teams score greater than zero.

Selecting the field

Even though this is mostly a silly exercise, I still wanted to follow the protocol of the real NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee when determining who should make this ‘Big Green Dance’ (and, in doing so, gained some respect for the massive amount of puzzle pieces they must juggle!). The process is famously intense, with 10 committee members spending countless hours keeping up with the college basketball landscape during the year, only to convene for a five-day selection process that requires hundreds of secret ballots.

The entire process is very detailed, but it can be boiled down as follows:

  1. All 32 conference champions receive an automatic bid into the tournament
  2. The next best 36 teams are then chosen as ‘at-large bids’ to bring the total field to 68 teams
  3. All 68 teams are ranked from top to bottom, regardless of their status as a conference champion
  4. The top four teams are ranked as number one seeds in each of the four regions, then the next four are two seeds, the next four are three seeds, etc.
  5. While placing teams into each region, care is taken to ensure that each of the four regions is fairly equally balanced and that teams that played each other during the season are prevented from  having a rematch in the tournament until the later rounds (teams can be bumped up/down by a seed or two to assist in these requirements)
  6. The last four teams to make the tournament in at-large bids and the last four teams to make the field altogether are paired off to compete in the First Four games, with the winners advancing to the remaining field of 64.

While the criteria used to rank teams for the Selection Committee include resources such as the Rating Percentage Index (RPI), evaluations of quality wins based on where the game took place and how good the opponent was, and various computer metrics, things are easier in the Green March Madness Tournament Selection Committee as we only need to use the single number result of the Green March Madness Tournament Score.

The 68-team field

The bracket

For the full suite of teams, conferences, and scores, refer to the accompanying Google Spreadsheet of final figures. Using these numbers and sticking to the above selection guidelines as much as possible, the following bracket is the official result for the 2018 Green March Madness Tournament Bracket:

Click to enlarge

Breaking it down by each region for ease of reading:

The East region

The West region

The Midwest region

The South region

Note that the five conferences that didn’t produce a single team with a non-zero score would still get the automatic bids for their conference champion (four as play-in teams for the First Four and one more as a 16 seed without a play-in game), so perhaps they’ll draw straws to see who gets to go into the tournament. Regardless, they are in the bracket and labeled as that conference’s champion (placed in no particular order), just waiting to be beaten soundly by their respective sustainable opponents.

Analysis of the field

In terms of conferences, we see big winners come from the Pacific-12 (8 tournament teams) and the Big Ten (7 tournament teams), but in third is the surprise conference of the Ivy League (6 tournament teams) who is rarely in the conversation for getting more than a single team in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. On the other end of the surprises, the Big East and the Southeastern Conference (both major conferences that typically nab a handful of bids each) were kept to only one team each in the tournament.

For individual teams, we find some other surprises. A number of perennial stalwarts of the college basketball scene find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being on the outside looking in– 7 out of the 10 teams with the most NCAA Tournament appearances failed to receive a Green March Madness Tournament big (Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Louisville, Duke, Notre Dame, and Syracuse). On the other side of the coin, five teams (Denver, New Hampshire, William & Mary, UC Riverside, and Bryant University) that have never made the NCAA Tournament have finally found success with the Green March Madness Tournament.

Another common exercise leading up to the announcement of the NCAA Basketball Tournament teams is looking at the bubble teams, those that are just on the edge of making the tournament but find themselves potentially falling just short.  The most painfully close bubble teams for the 2018 Green March Madness Tournament were the five teams that fell less than one point shy of an at-large bid: Louisville, Northern Arizona, Ohio State, IUPUI, and Arkansas. Most painful was Louisville who fell just 0.12 points shy of being the last team in (though maybe it was serendipity– who knows if Louisville would have had to vacate that appearance, too).

What did the top performing schools have in common?

Looking at the teams that scored particularly high and scored the best seeds in the Green March Madness Tournament, a couple of trends appear:

  • Sustainability-focused schools: It’s worth noting that every team that was ranked in all three metrics ended up with a good enough score to make the tournament. As previously noted, such commitment to ensuring data is delivered for all three metrics shows the cause of sustainability is a priority and these schools are naturally rewarded by being guaranteed to make the Green March Madness Tournament.
  • City schools: A common theme found in the upper half of the schools that made the Green March Madness Tournament is that the are located in or near major U.S. cities (including one seeds American University and George Washington, three seed Northwestern, four seed Columbia, six seed Boston University, seven seed Denver, and eight seed Miami (FL)). The reason an urban setting might help schools score well in these rankings is because cities are more likely to have local sustainability organizations to partner with the school, access to effective public transportation, high walkability scores, and other nearby resources from the community that can be used for the school as well. Each of these factors positively effects the ratings that go into the Final Green March Madness Tournament Scores.
  • Green states:  Outside of the city in which a school is located, the state a school is in (and the state’s relative ‘green-ness’) has significant impact. The top of the tournament seeding is populated with teams from states often considered particularly green by various metrics. For example, the annual state scorecard rankings from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)  shows heavy representation from the top five states in the ACEEE scorecard in the Green March Madness Tournament: Massachusetts (Boston University, Harvard, Massachusetts), California (UC Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, UC Riverside, San Jose State, UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge, California, San Diego), Rhode Island (Brown, Bryant University), Vermont (Vermont), and Oregon (Oregon State, Portland State, Oregon, Pacific). Together, those five states account for over a quarter of the teams that made the Green March Madness Tournament, reflecting the benefits to institutions in states that commit to green jobs, renewable energy development, and other sustainability initiatives.

The National Champion

The downside of filling out our bracket based on the Green March Madness Tournament Scores is that by continuing through with the tournament, we won’t find any upsets and the top seeds will always win (again, we’ll revisit once the real NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket is released to see which of those teams would win based on sustainability). In the end, our Final Four is made up of all one seeds, as shown below, with the final champion being…

Drumroll…

 

American University! In the three times appearing in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Eagles have gone winless– but once the Green March Madness Tournament comes along they go all the way! Congratulations to them, and best of luck to all schools in the ‘real’ tournament in March, to all schools looking to improve their sustainability scores before next year’s Green March Madness Tournament, and to all of you in finding the best way to fill out the brackets for you office pool this year!

Sources and additional reading

Cool Schools 2017 Full Ranking: Sierra Club

March Madness bracket: How the 68 teams are selected for the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament: NCAA

SaveOnEnergy 2017 Green Report: Top Universities in the U.S.: SaveOnEnergy

The Sustainable Tracking, Assessment & Rating System: Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

About That Tesla Roadster Flying Through Space– What Kind of Gas Mileage Is It Getting?

Elon Musk and his SpaceX team made huge news last week when they successfully completed the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy on the afternoon of February 6, 2018. This launch was such a monumental accomplishment because the private company venture (the heaviest commercial rocket ever launched) could one day be used to take astronauts to the Moon and Mars, and it demonstrated the ability to do so with the ability to guide the rocket boosters back to Earth for reuse.

While all of this news was one of the most amazing accomplishments by a private sector company in terms of scale and implications for humanity, one of the most gripping aspects of the project ended up being the fact that the test payload Musk chose to attach to the rocket was his personal Tesla Roadster, painted cherry red to represent the launch’s step towards getting to Mars. The reason behind launching this $100,000 car into space (never to return) was purely to capture people’s attention and imagination, a goal that was undeniably achieved as Musk was able to give the world this image that mindbogglingly is real and not using any sort of Photoshop and was compelling enough to get everyone to take notice of this amazing accomplishment.

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Given that the mission statement of Tesla is “to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible,” I found it cheekily ironic that fossil fuel– rocket fuel, no less– had to be used to get this Tesla mobile. This not entirely serious thinking led me to the tongue-in-cheek line of questioning– how did the fuel economy of this space-bound Tesla compare with the fuel economies of cars that are restricted to a terrestrial existence? What about the relative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions?

Let’s bust out that handy back-of-the-envelope to scratch out some (very) approximate estimates!



The Tesla Roadster

The car that was sent into an elliptical orbit around the Sun was Elon Musk’s personal 2008 Tesla Roadster, ‘piloted’ by a mannequin in a SpaceX flight suit named Starman. This model of Tesla electric cars weighs in at 2,723 pounds, went for a base price of $98,000, sold 2,400 units before production was stopped, and was notable as the first highway legal serial production all-electric car using lithium-ion batteries and the first all-electric car to travel more than 200 miles per charge.

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Fuel Economy

The official fuel economy rating of the Tesla Roadster from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 119 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe), being able to travel 245 miles on an eight-hour charge (the MPGe value compares the amount of electricity needed to move an electric car with the amount of gasoline needed to move a gasoline-powered car using the energy equivalence of one gallon of gas matching 33.7 kilowatt-hours of electricity).

As a comparison for the fuel economy of a Tesla Roadster:

The following table summarizes this range of fuel economies of the Earth-restricted vehicles:

Carbon dioxide emissions

While the use of electricity when driving a Tesla (or any electric car) is indeed carbon neutral in that no CO2 is being emitted from a tailpipe, it is not entirely true to rate the CO2 emissions per mile driven as zero. The simple reason behind that is that the generation of electricity that ends up in the vehicles come tied to the CO2 emissions at the electric power generation plants. While the portion of the U.S. power sector that is driven by carbon neutral sources like wind, solar, and nuclear is growing, fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and petroleum still accounted for over 60% of U.S. electricity generation in 2017. As such, whenever a Tesla gets plugged into the grid it is likely receiving electricity that comes from CO2-emitting sources (not to mention the inefficiencies that come from the transmission & distribution of the electricity, the charging losses of the batteries, and the ‘vampire losses’ of charge when the car is not plugged in and not in use). Because of this, the CO2 footprint of driving a Tesla, or any electric vehicle, is intrinsically tied with the energy makeup of the particular electricity supplier.

The Nissan Leaf, another all-electric vehicle, accounts for about 200 grams of CO2 per mile (g CO2/mile) on average across the United States, while California (with one of the highest proportions of clean electricity in the country) comes in at 100 g CO2/mile and Minnesota (a state that is very dependent on fossil fuel) comes in at 300 g CO2/mile. For the sake of this exercise we’ll use these readily available Nissan Leaf numbers as the benchmark CO2 emissions per mile of an electric car, even though the Tesla Roadster is likely slightly different due to different charging rates and battery technologies.

As a comparison for this rate of CO2 emissions of an electric car:

The following table summarizes this range of CO2 emissions for non-rocket fueled vehicles:

Launching Starman’s Roadster

At pre-launch, Musk noted that ultimately the payload (i.e., Starman’s Tesla Roadster) would get 400,000 million kilometers (almost 250,000 million miles) away from Earth, traveling at 11 kilometers per second (almost 7 miles per second), and would orbit for hundreds of millions, or even billions of years (see below graphic of the initial orbit that Musk tweeted out after the launch). To accomplish this, the Falcon Heavy generated 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff (making it the most powerful liftoff since Nasa’s Saturn V). Generating this amount of power is no small feat.

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To estimate exactly how much fuel was used (and how much that would be in the equivalent gallons of motor gasoline) requires some estimates, but we have enough information to get at least in the ballpark.

When fueling its rockets, SpaceX uses a highly refined type of kerosene (also known as RP-1) because of its high energy per gallon, in addition to liquid oxygen (LOX) needed for combustion (the amount of LOX required is about double the amount of RP-1). The first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket (another type of rocket used by SpaceX) uses 119,100 kilograms (kg) of RP-1 and 276,600 kg of LOX, while the second stage uses 27,850 kg of RP-1 and 64,820 kg of LOX (see graphic below for what that multi-stage launch sequence looks like). A simplified explanation of the Falcon Heavy is really that it’s composed of three Falcon 9 rockets merged into the first stage and the second stage consisting of disconnecting from the three Falcon 9 rockets and a single stage 2 rocket (along with the payload) continuing on. Making rough estimates, this means the Falcon Heavy required three times the fuel of the first stage and one times to fuel of the second stage of the Falcon 9, or a total of 385,150 kg of RP-1 and 894,620 kg of LOX (this is admittedly a simplification of the fueling process, but I’m also admittedly not a rocket scientist. In attempting to keep these estimates as rigorous as possible, see the citations and links contained here and let me know in the comments if I got something wrong– particularly if you are a rocket scientist!).

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Musk, when discussing the potential dangers of the Falcon Heavy launch, noted that the fuel on board was 4 million pounds of TNT equivalent. In fact, the energy contained within looks like it could be over double that (whether this is a sign of Musk simplifying for the sake of giving the press a quote, speaking approximately without reference to the exact calculations beforehand, or missteps in my calculations, I’ll let you decide). While the total weight of the LOX is over double the weight of the RP-1, the LOX is simply there to allow for combustion and maximize the efficiency with which the rocket is burned. As such, the energy density of RP-1 is what we care about. Using an energy density of 43.2 Megajoules (MJ) per kg, we find that the energy contained in the Falcon Heavy’s fuel tanks was over 16.6 million MJ, which is equal to about 126,000 gallons of gasoline equivalent (or over 8.7 million pounds of TNT— so while our estimate is over double Musk’s offhand remark, we can take solace that we’re in the same order of magnitude!).

In terms of the CO2 released by burning this much fuel, we can use the “well to wake” emissions number of RP-1 of 85 grams of CO2-equivalent per MJ to estimate that the total CO2 emissions were over 1.4 million kg (or 1,400 metric tons) of CO2.

Comparing Starman’s Tesla with Earth vehicles

First things first– that’s definitely the most fossil fuel used and CO2 emitted ever in getting a car from point A to point B. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Starman’s Tesla is the least efficient or most harmful to the environment. That’s because once the fuel is burned and Starman’s Tesla  was set into orbit in perpetual motion, logging millions of miles on the odometer while traveling 25,000 miles per hour, the rest of its journey was all without additional energy input.  Even the camera and communication equipment on board were attached to a battery with 12 hours of life with no other sources of energy, so after the 12 hours the equipment went dark and there was no more energy input to Starman’s Tesla– just momentum and gravity working their magic. So despite this initial abundance of fossil fuel and related CO2 emissions to set the Tesla in motion, on a per mile basis (which is how fuel economy and emissions are calculated) it will inevitably becomes the most efficient and clean car of all time!

But how long will it take for this to be true?

Fuel economy

In terms of fuel economy, the MPGe of Starman’s Tesla improves linearly with every mile traversed through space. After 1,200 miles, the Falcon Heavy and its payload of Starman and his Tesla left Low Earth Orbit, but the massive amount of fuel means it barely even registers as a blip on this graph at about 0.0095 MPGe.

After two days when Starman’s Tesla had traveled 450,000 miles, the fuel economy had risen to a little less than half that of the freight truck. You can also note in the graph that at the point of the 36,000 mile warranty of the Tesla Roadster the fuel economy aws still less than 0.3 MPGe– you’d certainly have a lot of angry Tesla owners if that’s all they were able to recoup on gasoline costs by the end of their warranty!

Lastly, after teasing out how far Starman’s Tesla would have to travel to become the most fuel efficient car (that is or ever was) on Earth, we find that it would take:

  • About 900,000 miles to beat the fuel economy of freight trucks;
  • About 2.9 million miles to beat the average of the U.S. light-duty stock fuel economy;
  • About 3.7 million miles to meet the 2018 light truck standards;
  • About 5.0 million miles to meet the 2018 car standards;
  • About 7.3 million miles to meet the most efficient gas powered car available;
  • About 15 million miles to meet the efficiency of an Earthly Tesla Roadster; and
  • About 17.2 million miles traveled to equal the 136 MPGe of the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, the most efficient car available.

As previously mentioned, the equipment on board Starman’s Tesla was attached to a battery that only had 12 hours of life, after which there was no functioning equipment on the Roadster. As such, there is no inherent tracking or communicating with Starman’s vehicle as it continues on its journey, making its exact tracking through space difficult.

But fear not– a great tool was launched after the Roadster was launched into orbit called ‘Where is Roadster?‘ Using the knowledge available regarding the position, orbit, and speed of the Tesla, this tool shows approximately where in its orbit the Roadster is and how far it has traveled in aggregate. This tool does not allow going back to see when exactly certain distances were passed, but from watching the site myself I can attest that Starman’s Roadster passed 17.2 million miles on the afternoon of February 14, 2018– meaning it only took eight days for this Tesla Roadster to become the most efficient car ever! Any distance it continues to travel will only increase the overall fuel economy (if you want to calculate this for yourself at any given moment, divide the current miles from ‘Where is Roadster?‘ by 126,279 gallons of gasoline equivalent).

CO2 emissions

In terms of CO2 emissions per mile, Starman’s Tesla improves according to a power equation– meaning in this case that there are drastic improvements in CO2 emissions per mile initially that flatten out over time. By the time Starman’s Tesla leaves Low Earth Orbit, not nearly enough miles have been traveled to offset the massive amount of CO2 emissions from the rocket launch, with Starman’s Tesla coming in at a mindblowing 1.2 million g CO2/mile at 1,200 miles– the equivalent of 182 freight trucks moving a mile at a time.

After two days and 450,000 miles traveled, the CO2 emissions per mile had dropped to 3,143 g CO2/mile, blowing way past the average freight truck emissions after about 219,000 miles. After the 36,000 mile warranty, the emissions still averaged over 39,000 g CO2/mile– another tidbit that would enrage an environmentally conscious electric car owner if it happened to them.

Again projecting out how far Starman’s Tesla would have to travel to become the cleanest car in existence, we find that it would take:

  • About 3.4 million miles to be cleaner than the average passenger vehicle;
  • About 4.7 million miles to be cleaner than an electric vehicle charged in fossil-fuel-dependent Minnesota;
  • About 5.0 million miles to meet the emissions standards for light trucks in 2018;
  • About 7.0 million miles to meet the emissions standards for cars in 2018;
  • About 7.1 million miles to be cleaner than the average electric vehicle in the United States; and
  • About 14.1 million miles to be cleaner than an electric vehicle charged in renewable-energy-heavy California.

Again by watching the ‘Where is the Roadster?‘ tool, I found that Starman’s Tesla also became the cleanest car ever (on a g CO2/mile basis) on February 14, only 8 days after launch. As with the fuel economy, this figure will only get better and better as Starman racks up the limitless miles circling the Sun for millions or billions of years (to calculate an updated emissions per mile, divide 1,414,270,800 grams of CO2 emissions by the updated miles traveled from ‘Where is Roadster?‘).

Conclusion

So there you have it, despite the massive amounts of fuel and resultant CO2 emissions required to launch the Tesla Roadster in space, it only took eight days of traveling faster than any car ever before to become the most fuel efficient and least CO2-emitting (on a per mile basis) ever made. But that fact was inevitable given that it’s in orbit around the Sun and will likely be for the rest of humanity’s existence– so what really is the point of crunching the numbers like this? Hopefully you’ll come away from this article with a handful of takeaways and topics/issues on which to do some more reading and learning:

  1. The impressiveness of this feat accomplished by Musk adn the whole team at SpaceX cannot be overstated. The Tesla Roadster weighs just 2,723 pounds, but this launch was testing a rocket system whose ultimate payload capacity extends to almost 141,000 pounds sent to Low Earth Orbit, 37,000 pounds sent to Mars, and 7,700 pounds sent to Pluto– all at decreased cost compared with historical launches that really opens up doors. That is the most important takeaway from the Falcon Heavy launch, a huge step towards what Musk hopes to be the next great space race.
  2. Beyond that, running through these tongue-in-cheek calculations should hopefully serve to pique your interest and give some information on the relative fuel efficiency electric cars are able to achieve, but also some of the current shortcomings in terms of using them as a way to reduce CO2 emissions. A lot of interesting pieces have been written on the true environmental impact of electric cars, as well as how that might evolve in the future. I’ll recommend a couple (from Green Car Reports, Wired, The Union of Concerned Scientists, and Scientific American, just to name a few), but it’s an important topic with much more out there to be read and debated.
  3. In addition, given the relative fuel economies and CO2 emissions of various vehicles (as wella s regulations covering these measurements), let that be a reason to look more into the efficiencies and emissions of your vehicles. In particular, you’ll note the average passenger vehicle has twice the emissions per mile as a new Model Year 2018 car that complies with EPA regulations, while the new cars will also get up to 74% more MPG compared with the average for the U.S. fleet of light-duty vehicles. Keep these types of figures in mind the next time you’re in the market for a vehicle, and consider how much fuel and emissions savings are being protected and increased by these existing regulations (both fuel economy and car emissions regulations are being considered for rollbacks by the Trump administration) as automotive regulations and policies continue to make the news.

Sources and additional reading

Can Driving a Tesla Offset the Impact Of A SpaceX Launch? Clean Technica

Electric Cars Are Not Necessarily Clean: Scientific American

Elon Musk says SpaceX has ‘done everything you can think of’ to prepare Falcon Heavy for launch today: Business Insider

Falcon 9 v1.1 & F9R Launch Vehicle Overview: Spaceflight 101

Falcon Heavy: SpaceX

Falcon Heavy: SpaceX stages an amazing launch — but what about the environmental impact? The Conversation

How Much Fuel Does It Take To Get To The Moon? Huffington Post

Musk’s Falcon Heavy Packs a Huge Payload: Forbes

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket: By the Numbers: Space.com

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket nails its maiden test flight: NBC News

SpaceX launch: Why is there a Starman spacesuit in the Tesla Roadster? Express

The Falcon Heavy Packs A Huge Payload: Statista

Where is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with Starman?

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

How Much Power Is Really Generated by a Power Play?

As a huge sports fan who works in and writes about the energy industry, stumbling across this article that compared the kinetic energy produced by the high velocity projectiles in different sports got my creative juices flowing. By the estimates in that article, shooting a hockey puck produces the highest kinetic energy in all of sports.

Not only does it appear that hockey can take the ‘energy crown’ in sports, but a common occurrence during a hockey game is a ‘power play.’ A power play occurs when the referee determines that a player has committed a foul and that player is sent to spend a set number of minutes in the penalty box. During that time in the penalty box, the opposing team has the advantage of one additional player and are said to be on a power play– and if they score during that time then it is called a power play goal. While this power play has absolutely nothing to do with power plants or power generation, the idea that hockey pucks have the most kinetic energy in sports got me to wondering about what sort of power generation could be harnessed by power play goals in the National Hockey League (NHL).



If we wanted to harness the power of power plays (why would we want do do that? Maybe it’s the part of a plot by a wacky cartoon villain!), how much would that be? Why don’t we sit down and do the math!

Energy from a hockey puck

To start, we need to determine what the energy of a single hockey shot should be assumed to be (as the previously mentioned article does not include all of the necessary assumptions for academic rigor). High school physics class taught us that the kinetic energy is determined by taking one half times the mass of the object times the square of the speed of that object.

Source

Official ice hockey pucks weigh 170 grams, so we just need to figure out what to assume as the speed of the puck. Obviously every shot of the puck comes at a different speed depending on who is shooting, what type of shot is used (e.g., slap shot vs. wrist shot), how fatigued the player is, the condition of the ice, and many other factors. But for the sake of this back-of-the-envelope calculation, we can look at a couple of data points for reference:

  • The official NHL record for shot speed is 108.8 miles per hour (MPH) by Zdeno Chara in the 2012 All-Star Skills Competition;
  • Guinness World Records recognizes the hardest recorded ice hockey shot in any competition as 110.3 MPH by Denis Kulyash in the 2011 Continental Hockey League’s All-Star Skills Competition;
  • When discussing the benchmark of a particularly strong slapshot, 100 MPH is often used as the benchmark of a player getting everything behind a shot;
  • Finding benchmarks for the wrist shot is not as prevalent (people like to discuss the hardest shots possible, hence data on slap shots and not wrist shots), but some estimates show that wrist shots can reach speeds of 80 to 90 MPH; and
  • Estimates put wrist shots as accounting for 23 to 37 percent of all shots taken in professional hockey.

Given those figures, a rough estimate of average NHL shot speed can be determined by assuming slap shots are about 100 MPH and account for 70 percent of shots, while wrist shots are about 85 MPH and account for 30 percent of shots:

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll call the speed of a NHL shot 95.5 MPH, which equals about 42.7 meters per second (m/s). Plugging that speed and the 170 gram weight of the puck into our kinetic energy equation leaves us with an assumed ‘Power Play Power’ of an NHL power play goal of 154.9 Joules (J)– just over 0.04 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

For the rest of this article, we’ll refer to the energy gathered from power play goals, 154.9 J at a time, as ‘Power Play Power’– though please keep in mind the cardinal rule that power is the rate of energy over time, while the Joules and kilowatt-hours we’re talking about is total energy

Source

How much power can be harnessed from power plays?

The next step in reality would be to figure out how exactly you intend to extract ‘Power Play Power’ into actually generated energy, though that can be left up to the hypothetical cartoon villain who would be using such odd methods to create energy for his evil plots, as he did with the champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve (Side note, if I continue to write articles about the bizarre energy sources only thought up by a misguided cartoon villain, he needs a name– so in the spirit of villains like Megatron, Megamind, and Mega Shark, the energy-obsessed villain will be named Megawatt!)

But ignoring the question of how or why we would be extracting energy from ‘Power Play Power,’ let’s just look at what type of power will be generated based on 154.9 J per power play goal. Also note that there’s nothing special about the energy generated by a power play goal compared with a regular goal or even a shot that misses the goal– but where would the fun be without wordplay? POWER play goals only!

Most individual power play goals in a season

Note that all of the statistics pulled for this analysis are current as of January 1, 2018. Any power play goals scored after that date will not be accounted for in these statistics and calculations.

Pulling the top 10 individual player seasons with the most power play goals in NHL history, and assuming each of those power play goals account for 154.9 J, gives the following results:
Despite an impressive 34 power play goals in the 1985-86 season, Tim Kerr’s NHL record season would only generate enough ‘Power Play Power’ to run a large window-unit air conditioner for one hour at almost 1.5 kWh.

What about considering single players over their entire career?

Most individual power play goals over a career

As of January 1, 2018, the top 10 power play goal scorers for an entire career are as follows (note that as of writing, Alex Ovechkin is still active, as is Jaromir Jagr who is only two power play goals behind him in 11th place):
Looking at Dave Andreychuk, the individual with the most career power play goals in NHL history, his career ‘Power Play Power’ accounts for almost 11.8 kWh. Despite being an incredibly impressive number of power play goals, it’s only enough to power an energy-efficient refrigerator for about a week and a half. That’s a useful amount of energy to use in your home, but when it takes 274 career power play goals that that might be more work than it’s worth…

However looking at these first two charts, one aspect really jumps out– players who come from Canada appear to dominate ‘Power Play Power’ generation! Let’s dig into that a bit more.

Most power play goals by country of origin in the NHL

To start, Quant Hockey’s data shows that there are only 25 different home countries across all the players who have ever scored a power play goal in NHL history. Those 25 countries are listed in the below chart with their respective ‘Power Play Power’ totals generated:

Now we’re talking about some real energy. Canada, as predicted, dominates with almost 2,250 kWh of ‘Power Play Power’ since the beginning of the NHL. This amount of energy equates to about 20% of the average annual electricity used by an American household in 2016.

So that’s a pretty significant amount of energy on a micro-scale, but because we’re talking about the total ‘Power Play Power’ generated by all Canadian NHL players over nearly a century of play it is still not terribly impressive. For reference, the smallest nuclear power plant in the United States has a generation capacity of 582 Megawatts, meaning the 2,250 kWh of ‘Power Play Power’ of Canadian NHL players would be generated in under 14 seconds by the smallest U.S. nuclear plant operating at full capacity. Even if we included all power play goals scored by players of any nationality, the total ‘Power Play Power’ would only reach 3,339 kWh– or almost 21 seconds from the smallest U.S. nuclear plant.

Source 1, Source 2

Obviously the actual energy generation of each of these 25 nations will be much greater than the ‘Power Play Power’ generated by their respective NHL players– but is there some sort of correlation between ‘Power Play Power’ and actual energy production of the nations? Using the silly initial premise of this article as an example of the type of information available from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, and how to find that data, we can pull the total primary energy production for these 25 countries and get a rough idea! While the NHL started recording power play goals in the 1933-34 season, EIA’s country-by-country energy production data dates back to 1980 (measured using quadrillion British thermal units, or quads), but we’ll still use these two complete time frames for the comparison’s sake. Putting the two energy figures on one graph for a relative comparison provides the following:
This graph presents a couple of interesting points:

  • Among the 25 eligible nations included in the survey, Canada, the United States, and Russia all find themselves in the top 4 countries in terms of both ‘Power Play Power’ and Total Primary Energy Produced by the nation;
  • In an interesting coincidence, when the two types of energy being measured here are put on comparative scales, Canada and the United States appear to be almost mirror images of each other, swapping relative strength in ‘Power Play Power’ and Total Primary Energy Production;
  • In another similarity between the two measures of energy, the totality is dominated by the top three nations, and the relative scale of any nation after about the halfway point shows up as barely even a blip on this graph.

But other than that, it can be considered fairly unsurprising that NHL power play success doesn’t directly translate to Total Primary Energy Produced by nation. And even if Canada saw their NHL power play prowess as their opportunity to increase energy exports (which would only serve to increase the fact that Canada is the largest energy trading partner of the United States), translating ‘Power Play Power’ into real energy, their 2,250 kWh over NHL history would only translate to 0.00000004% of Canada’s primary  energy produced in 2015 alone. Unfortunately, I do not think I’ve discovered a viable energy to be harnessed by the villainous Megawatt.

Source

More benevolently, it would also appear that ‘Power Play Power’ will not serve as a reliable new renewable energy source for hockey-crazed areas (in this scenario, are we to consider penalty minutes a source of renewable energy?? If so, Tiger Williams might be the most environmentally friendly player in major sports history). However, at 419 billion kWh of renewable generation in 2015, Canada is the fourth largest renewable energy producer worldwide (with the United States and Canada being the only nations this time to finds themselves in the top four of of renewable energy and ‘Power Play Power,’ as North America accounts for majority of NHL players and has collectively agreed to generate 50% of electricity from clean sources by 2025). Following the link for EIA international renewable energy data to bring this back to educational purposes, you’ll find other top-15 ‘Power Play Power’ nations that also account for the top-15 in global renewable energy production, including the United States, Germany, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Coincidence? Probably.

Interesting and informative, nonetheless? Definitely!



Sources and additional reading

Appliance Energy Use Chart: Silicon Valley Power

Comparing Sports Kinetic Energy: We are Fanatics

How much electricity does a nuclear power plant generate? Energy Information Administration

How much electricity does an American home use? Energy Information Administration

Iafrate breaks 100 mph barrier: UPI

International Energy Statistics: Energy Information Administration

Most Power-Play Goals in One Season by NHL Players: Quant Hockey

NHL & WHA Career Leaders and Records for Power Play Goals: Hockey Reference

NHL Totals by Nationality – Career Stats: Quant Hockey

Now You Know Big Book of Sports

Ranking the 10 Hardest Slap Shots in NHL History: Bleacher Report

Saving Electricity: Michael Bluejay

Scientists Reveal the Secret to Hockey’s Wrist Shot: Live Science

Score!: The Action and Artistry of Hockey’s Magnificent Moment

Sherwood Official Ice Hockey Puck: Ice Warehouse

Slap Shot Science: A Curious Fan’s Guide to Hockey

Total Renewable Electricity Net Generation 2015: Energy Information Administration

Wrist Shots: Exploratorium

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

The Hidden Energy of New Year’s Eve Celebrations, Measured in Joules

As a final post for the year, I thought I would channel some of my earlier holiday/energy crossovers (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa all got energy-related analyses this year!) and have a fun and quick look at some energy figures associated with celebrating New Year’s Eve. Whether you head out to a wild and exclusive party, stay in and toast a quiet New Year with your family, or fall somewhere in between, you’re sure to stumble across one of the users of energy described here. So toast to a good 2017, and even better 2018, and learning more mostly-pointless but still-fun energy trivia!



Popping champagne and the Times Square Ball

A surprising amount of scientific research has been done on the science of champagne bottles– filling them, storing them, and opening them. Fortunately for the purposes of this article, there was even a fairly extensive research paper conducted on the physics of popping the cork of the champagne bottle.
According to the study published in the Journal of Food Engineering, the velocity that a champagne cork shoots out of a bottle of champagne varies based on the temperature of the champagne. Consistent with the idea that increased temperatures correlate with increased pressures, the study found that at 4 degrees Celsius the cork shot out at about 38 kilometers per hour (km/h), but that speed increased to about 48 km/h at 12 degrees Celsius and about 54 km/h at 18 degrees Celsius.

Source

By consulting Wine Spectator, it appears the optimal temperature at which to serve champagne is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 12.8 degrees Celsius. If we assume a roughly linear relationship between temperature and cork speed (as shown in the graph below), that would mean the ideal champagne bottle’s cork would pop at about 47.6 km/h.

The basic formula to calculate the kinetic energy of a moving object is 1/2 times mass times velocity squared. Plugging in the mass of the cork (which the study gave at about 10 grams) and the velocity (47.6 km/h or 13.2 meters per second), the cork has a kinetic energy of about 0.9 Joules (J).

While 0.9 J does not sound like that much (as discussed in the post about energy units, a single Joule is the energy required to lift an apple 1 meter off the ground), keep in mind that flying corks can still be dangerous, and if one hits you in the eye it can ‘cause a shockwave that can lead to hemorrhage, disruption of tissues, a cataract, even retinal damage.’

Also worth noting is that the flight of the champagne cork is only a small part of the energy in opening a champagne bottle. The same study that looked at the speed of the cork also found that only about 5% of the energy released when a champagne bottle is opened gets transferred to the kinetic energy of the cork, with the rest being converted to the ‘pop’ sound, a small amount of generated heat, and a cloud of gaseous carbon dioxide (CO2) gushing out of the bottle. If the 0.9 J behind the cork is only 5% of the total champagne opening energy, that would mean the total energy associated with the opening of a champagne bottle is about 17.5 J.

Given this knowledge, what if we wanted to calculate something ridiculous– like how many champagne corks popping it would take to power the Times Square Ball that’s dropped on New Year’s Eve (seems like this could loosely be the plot to an odd children’s book, or the first part of a plan hatched by a cartoon villain)? For the 100th anniversary of the Times Square Ball drop, the ball was updated with over 32,000 state-of-the-art LEDs, which made the lit up ball 80% more efficient than it previously had been with halogen bulbs. The end results is that the lit ball now only requires 50 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy for the New Year’s Even celebration. Converting that figure to Joules gives a total energy use of 180,000,000 J.

Source

So what does that mean for our ‘power the Times Square Ball by opening champagne bottles’ scheme? If we’re harnessing the energy of just the corks flying out of the bottles (at 0.9 J per cork), then 205,687,545 bottles of champagne will need to be uncorked. Given that 2 million people attended the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration to ring in 2017, that would mean every person in attendance would need to uncork just under 103 bottles of champagne each. BUT– if we instead are able to harness the entire energy from the champagne uncorking (which brings the total energy per bottle to 17.5 J), then only 10,284377 bottles of champagne are required, or just over 5 bottles per attendee of the Times Square celebration. That’s much more doable! In fact, the Guinness World Record for champagne bottles opened in one minute is 10, so all that’s left is for these misguided champagne powered villains to figure out is how to harness all that energy.

Party poppers and fireworks in Sydney

Another common feature to midnight celebrations are party poppers– those mini explosive doodads that explode with a loud bang and a pop of confetti and/or streamers when you pull on the string. Many people don’t realize that these party poppers actually contain explosive powder, though in small enough quantities that they are not legally considered fireworks and can thus be old in any grocery or party store. But given the limited firepower allowed, exactly how much energy is contained in these almost-fireworks that we give to children and drunken party-goers alike?

Source 1 Source 2

While most real firecrackers are limited by law to 50 milligrams (mg) of gunpowder, the party poppers that are sold in stores are capped out at 16 mg of gunpowder each. Given that gunpowder has a specific energy of 3.0 Megajoules per kilogram, we can calculate that each party popper contains 48 J of explosive energy.

Now what if we considered the firepower of these party poppers in the context of another explosive New Year’s Eve tradition– fireworks! Among the largest and most famous New Year’s Eve fireworks displays (also famous due it taking place in one of the earliest time zones to celebrate the New Year) is the annual Midnight Fireworks in Sydney, Australia. How many of the dinky party poppers would it take to equal the firepower in this massive fireworks display? This calculation is the most ‘back-of-the-envelope’ type one here, but some reasonable estimates can be made.

Source

First, start with the knowledge that the Midnight Fireworks to celebrate 2017 in Sydney featured 8 metric tons of fireworks. Then take the rule of thumb that the explosive flash powder of fireworks makes up about 25% of the weight of the overall weight of the fireworks, leading to an estimate that the Sydney fireworks required 2 metric tons (or 2 million grams) of explosive flash powder. Combine that with with energy density of flash powder of 9,196 Joules/gram to arrive at an estimated energy content of the Sydney Midnight Fireworks of 18.292 Gigajoules, or 18.392 billion J.

Over 18 Gigajoules is a massive amount of explosive energy, an an equally impressive number of party poppers. Given each party popper supplies 48 J of energy, you’re looking at 383,166,667 total party poppers. What would be required for those in attendance at the Sydney fireworks display to match the firepower of the fireworks with party poppers (yes, our cartoon villain with poorly designed schemes has come back and is trying to take over the world with party poppers!)? Since the 2017 fireworks display in Sydney clocked in at 12 minutes long, that means the crowd of people popping party poppers would need to average 31,930,556 party poppers per minute. Combine that figure with the attendance of the Sydney Midnight Fireworks (which was about 1.5 million) to find that, in order for the crowd in attendance to equal the firepower of the actual fireworks, each person would need to pop just over 21 party poppers per minute. While a party popper every 2.82 seconds for 12 minutes by 1.5 million different people seems like a crazy high number, the Guinness World Record for party poppers popped in a minute (because of course that’s a record) is 78 in one minute. As such, the 1.5 million in attendance would only need to go at 27% of the world record pace– once again, totally doable. Though be careful, because the party poppers are also known to cause ocular injury— especially when a million and a half people are each firing off over 250 poppers each in such close proximity.

Sources and additional reading

Are Fireworks Legal in Your State? Laws and Regulations: Something About Orange

Ask Dr. Vinny: Wine Spectator

Champagne cork popping revisited through high-speed infrared imaging: Journal of Food Engineering

Chemical Potential Energy: The Physics Hypertextbook

How Dangerous Are Champagne Corks, Really? Motherboard

How do Party Poppers Work? eHow

How Much Energy Do Fireworks Generate on July 4th? Ecovent

Incredible rainbow waterfall from the Harbour Bridge using eight tonnes of fireworks: Sydney’s New Year’s Eve 2017 set to be the biggest ever: DailyMail

LEDs Light up New Years Eve 2010 in Times Square NYC! inhabitant

NYE History & Times Square Ball: Times Square Official Website

Party popper: Wikipedia

Pressure Systems Stored-Energy Threshold Risk Analysis: Pacific Northwest national Laboratory

Renewable ‘pedal power’ to light Times Square ball tonight: VentureBeat

Sydney’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks Pay Tribute to Prince, David Bowie and Gene Wilder: Time

‘The energy here is like out of conrol’: Times Square kicks off American New Year celebrations: CBS News

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Powering the Holiday Symbols: Energy and Emissions of Christmas Trees, Hanukkah Menorahs, and Kwanzaa Kinaras

The holiday season has a handful of hallmark indicators that announce its arrival– the immediate overtaking of popular radio, jack frost forcing you to bust the heavy jackets out from the back of the closet, and the increased crowds at malls everywhere. But if those harbingers of the upcoming festivities elude you, the season has one surefire signal that pops up everywhere to grab your attention– the decorations!

Specifically, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, youwould have to live under a rock not to notice the twinkling lights adorning storefronts, lamp posts, and porches across the country. Whether they’re for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, lighting is an important part of the holiday season. That got me to pondering, naturally, about the relative energy use of lights and candles for each of these three holidays and their signature decorative centerpieces– the Christmas tree, the Hanukkah Menorah, and the Kwanzaa Kinara. I was interested not only in the question of how the energy use required by these three decorations compare with each other, but also what is the most efficient way to light each of them for the energy-conscious celebrator? Also, how do these three symbols of their respective holidays stack up in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions?

If these questions have been nagging you since you first spotted Christmas decorations for sale at Target in October (and I know they have), then you’re in luck. Keep reading for some estimates, assumptions, back-of-the-envelope math, and analysis and conclusions!

Preemptive notes

  • As had to be recognized in the other holiday posts (Most Climate Friendly Way to Light Your Jack-O’-Lantern and Talking Turkey: Thanksgiving Dinner Energy Use and Carbon Dioxide Emissions), these calculations are based on some liberal assumptions and over generalizations that are traced to readily available information. There will obviously be differences in the final calculations depending on a variety of factors– number of lights, how long the lights and candles are left on and lit, and numerous other variables that differ from household to household. While each assumption will have a citation to where it originated, rest assured that the final answers will still only be general back-of-the-envelope estimates. If one of the numbers or assumptions looks off, please comment below and discuss! Otherwise, just recognize that the goal is to find these rough estimates based on available information and general conclusions that are in the right order of magnitude for the sake of comparison, discussion, and general insight.
  • Also, it goes without saying that there are many more uses of energy associated with the holidays that are not being accounted for here– especially if you factor in outdoor Christmas lighting (e.g., were you to go as crazy with the outdoor illumination as Clark Griswold, you would be staring at an additional 27.7 kilowatts of additional power usage). This article is ignoring those other uses and is just interested in answering to the average energy use of Christmas trees, Menorahs, and Kinaras, including the range for both the less-efficient and more-efficient options among those three.

Christmas tree and lights

Basic assumptions

To break down the energy and carbon costs of lighting your Christmas tree, a number of very simplified assumptions need to be made about the average Christmas tree and its use. Again, keep in mind that these figures can vary greatly depending on the choices made by the individual household, but we’ll use the following assumptions:

  • There is no standard number here, but for the sake of calculation we will assume that the Christmas tree lights are on for 5 hours every night, as estimated by Christmas Lights Etc.; and
  • Much discussion exists out there for how many days a Christmas tree should be up in a house, with some sources estimating the average tree gets put up the first week in December and taken down sometime between Christmas and the New Year. Another traditional time to put up your tree is the first day of Advent, which this year falls on December 3 (coinciding with the first weekend of December). For 2017, we’ll assume families put up their tree on Sunday December 3 (first weekend of December, first day of Advent) and take them down the first weekend after Christmas– Saturday December 30– for a total of 27 nights the tree will be decorated (obviously this is a key variable that can change based on household habits).

Energy use of Christmas lights

For the Christmas lights used, let’s examine two options using traditional incandescent lights and one using more efficient LEDs. The actual wattage of these options will also vary depending on the specific light chosen, but for the sake of calculation we’ll use the following:

  • As our starting point, we’ll use the top hit on Amazon.com for incandescent Christmas lights. This package comes with 25 bulbs at a power of 7 Watts (W), meaning these lights use 0.280 W/bulb;
  • We’ll also look at the mini incandescent lights that are more common for interior use on Christmas trees, again selecting the top hit of Amazon.com to serve as our proxy for average and popular wattage. This package comes with 50 bulbs at a power of 20.4 W, or 0.408 W/bulb;
  • Lastly, we’ll look at the efficient LED Christmas lights that an energy-conscious consumer might choose. Going back to Amazon.com to find the most popular basic LED Christmas light (ignoring those with additional energy-using functionalities like timers and light effects), we find this package that comes with 100 bulbs at 4.8 W for 0.048 W/bulb;

For each of these three types of lights, we can use the same basic formula to calculate the total energy use of the Christmas lights over the course of the holiday season:

Referencing our above assumptions, we plug in the number of bulbs as 700, the hours lit per day as 5, and the days lit as 27. Combining those numbers with the Watts/bulb of the three types of lights previously calculated gives the following energy uses:

  • Large incandescent lights: 26,460 Watt-hours (Wh), or 26.4 kilowatt-hours (kWh);
  • Mini incandescent lights: 38,566 Wh, or 38.56 kWh; and
  • LED lights: 4,536 Wh, or 4.54 kWh.

Carbon emissions of Christmas lights

As described in the post about the energy use and CO2 emissions associated with cooking your Thanksgiving turkey, Department of Energy data indicates that 1.096 pounds (or about 0.497 kilograms (kg)) of CO2 are released for every kWh of electricity produced in the United States (on average, this figure varies based on where consumers live and their power providers’ energy mix). Multiplying each of those figures the energy use of each of the light types by 0.497 kg of CO2/kWh gives the following CO2 emissions from lighting the Christmas tree:

  • Large incandescent lights: 13.15 kg of CO2;
  • Mini incandescent lights: 19.17 kg of CO2; and
  • LED lights: 2.26 kg of CO2.

Putting these numbers together with the energy use data gives the following results for lighting the Christmas tree:

Click to enlarge

Carbon emissions from the Christmas tree

In addition, the environmental effects of selecting a Christmas tree are something that we can measure and calculate. In fact, a Montreal-based consulting firm put together a life cycle assessment of artificial vs. natural Christmas trees. This analysis will pull out the final numbers they calculated for CO2 emitted, but the entire report is really worth a read.

The life cycle assessment factors in the average life of each type of tree (natural trees have a lifetime use of one holiday season, while artificial trees are used for six years on average before being replaced), how far people travel to get their trees, the CO2 released when a natural tree is properly burned and recycled, the CO2 absorbed by a natural tree while it’s alive, the land occupation and fertilizers required to grow natural trees, the production of artificial trees, the transport of artificial trees from production (oftentimes overseas)to point-of-sale in North America, and more. In the end, the assessment determined that buying a natural Christmas tree accounts for 3.1 kg of CO2 for the year, while purchasing an artificial tree averages out to 8.0 kg of CO2 per year over the course of its six year lifespan.

Adding the artificial and natural tree CO2 emissions to the previously calculated emissions from lighting gives the following environmental and energy impact of your choice of tree and light types:

Click to enlarge

Note that while it takes energy to produce both a natural and artificial tree, for the sake of this exercise it’s assumed that the effects of that energy use is captured in the CO2 output calculations rather than try to estimate the exact energy use of tree production. Similarly, this analysis only considers the energy used to light the tree and not the energy used or CO2 emitted while manufacturing and transporting the lights, because 1) the information on energy intensity to manufacture and transport the lights is not readily available, and 2) the lights are assumed to be reused over and over again (particularly the LEDs with 25,000 hour bulb life), making the portion of energy to manufacture negligible when distributed over each Christmas season they are used. 



Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah

Basic assumptions

To start off the energy and CO2 calculations for the Menorah, we’ll again start with several basic assumptions:

  • On the first night of Hanukkah, the Shamash (the attendant candle used to kindle the other flames) is lit along with one other light for the duration of the night’s ceremony. On the second night, the Shamash is lit along with two other flames. On the third night, the Shamash and three other lights are lit, and so forth until the eight night when the Shamash and eight other flames are lit.

Energy use of the Hanukkah lights

For the Hanukkah lights, we’ll examine three different lighting options that are widely used to light the menorah– lamps lit with olive oil, traditional paraffin candles, and the increasingly used and environmentally friendly beeswax candles.

Olive oil lamps
While using olive oil lamps, we’ll assume the burning of the Menorah for 30 minutes per night and 90 minutes on Friday night (which is the fourth night of Hanukkah in 2017). Given that a single wick in olive oil will burn through 0.4 and 0.5 ounces of oil per hour, we’ll assume a burn rate of 0.45 ounces per hour per wick. Counting each individual wick that is lit on a given night separately, the total number of burn minutes is calculated as follows:22 wick-hours times 0.45 ounces of olive oil burned per hour gives a total olive oil burned of 9.9 ounces.

The only data point I could find on the energy content of olive oil comes from Wikipedia, giving an average specific energy of olive oil of 39.535 megajoules (MJ) per kg.

Finally then we can calculate the energy of olive oil burned as the following:

But that’s not it– as previously noted there is on Shamash candle that will also be lit each night in order to kindle the other flames. We’ll assume a standard paraffin candle is used as the Shamash for 30 minutes each night (plus an additional 60 minutes on Friday night) for a total of 300 minutes, or 5 hours. Using the standard energy content of paraffin wax of 42.0 kilojoules (kJ) per gram (g) and a standard burn velocity for paraffin wax of 7.5 g/hour, we calculate the energy in the burning of the Shamash candle each night to be the following:

Adding the Shamash tot he olive oil lamps gives a total energy use of about 3.52 kWh.

Paraffin candles
For the energy use of paraffin candles for all eight of the Hanukkah lights plus the Shamash, we simply use the same assumptions used before.

For the 8 candles lit for a cumulative 22 hours over the course of the Festival of Lights:

Add that to the previously calculated 0.44 kWh for the paraffin Shamash candle, and the total energy use is 2.36 kWh.

Beeswax candles
Calculating the energy use by the beeswax candles follows the same process as the paraffin candles. The difference this time is that beeswax, which is more energy-rich than paraffin but burns more slowly, has an energy content of 12.7 kilocalories per gram, or about 53.14 kJ/g (over 26% higher than paraffin candles) and burns at 4.0 g/hour (over 47% more slowly).

Plugging those values into the calculations at a total of 27 wick-hours (22 from the 8 candles and 5 from the beeswax Shamash) gives the following:
Thus, using all beeswax candles corresponds to an energy use of about 1.59 kWh.

Carbon emissions from lighting the Menorah

To determine the total CO2 emissions associated with our three Menorah light options, we already have a total time of burn and a total amount of fuel that is burned and we just need to line those up with the carbon output associated with the fuel types.

Olive oil lamps
Going back to the Wikipedia page on biofuels, we see that the CO2 content of olive oil as a fuel is 14.03 MJ per kg of CO2. Using this we can calculate the CO2 emitted by the olive oil when burned to be the following:

We also need to factor in the CO2 emitted by the Shamash over the eight nights, which we can calculate based on the knowledge (which was discussed in the Jack-O’-Lantern candle burning post) that paraffin candles emit about 10 grams of CO2 for every hour they are burned.

Since the Shamash is burned for 5 hours, this adds 50 grams (0.05 kg) of CO2 to bring the total up to 2.89 kg of CO2 emitted.

Paraffin candles
The data point of 10 grams of CO2 per hour of paraffin candle burned makes this calculation easy. We already established a total cumulative candle burn time (including the eight candles and one Shamash) of 27 hours, so the total CO2 released is 270 g (0.27 kg) of CO2.

Beeswax candles
Lastly, emission calculations for beeswax candles are even easier, as they are generally considered to emit zero CO2. Beeswax candles are touted as the renewable and green candle for just this reason, and while they do literally release CO2 upon their burning, this is CO2 that was recently absorbed by plants in the atmosphere and then transferred to beeswax. In such instances where the path from CO2 absorption to re-release is so traceable and quick, common carbon accounting practice is to count such products as carbon neutral.

Taken together, the energy and environmental impact of how you light a Menorah is given as follows:

Click to enlarge

Note that while the production of the candles and oil uses energy and accounts for CO2 emissions, for the sake of this exercise we’ll assume that the effects of that energy use and CO2 emissions are minimal compared with the energy/CO2 content of the fuel itself, rather than try to estimate the energy use of production and transportation. Similarly, the Menorah that is selected by a family is supposed to be ‘the most beautiful one that is within [their] means,’ up to and including Menorahs made out of silver. Because of this tradition, we can assume that a Menorah is reused year after year, possibly even handed down over generations, and the energy and CO2 emissions associated with creating the Menorah are small enough to ignore due to how small they would be on a per year basis.

Lighting the Kwanzaa Kinara

Basic assumptions and calculations

Last but not least is the lighting of the traditional Kinara for Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a seven day celebration that also uses the lighting of candles as a celebratory symbol. The Kinara has seven candles (representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa). In similar fashion to the Hanukkah Menorah, the Kinara starts the first day with one candle lit and then proceeds with two candles the second day, three candles the third day, all the way to lighting all seven candles on the seventh and last day of Kwanzaa.

From my research, it does not appear that there is any minimum or standard amount of time that the candles of the Kinara must be lit as there is with the Hanukkah Menorah. However, as a way of estimating the total burn time I looked at the most popular listings for Kwanzaa candles on Amazon.com. One listing had candles that would have a six to eight hour burn time, while another listed a burn time of five to seven hours. From this information, we can assume that the first candle lit (and thus the one that is lit for all seven nights of Kwanzaa) is expected to burn a total of five hours because the candle in the second listing might not have enough fuel to last longer than that. If this first candle is burned for five hours over the seven nights of Kwanzaa, that implies about 43 minutes of burn time per night.

Multiplying by the number of candles lit each night as we did with the Menorah, we get the following:

These candles can again be made either of paraffin or beeswax. Without going through the step-by-step calculations again (just refer to the Hanukkah calculations for reference), the choice of candles would result in the following energy and CO2 numbers:

Click to enlarge

Note that while the production of the candles and oil uses energy and accounts for CO2 emissions, for the sake of this exercise we’ll assume that the effects of that energy use and CO2 emissions are minimal compared with the energy/CO2 content of the fuel itself, rather than try to estimate the exact energy of candle production and transportation. Similarly to the Menorah, we’ll also assume that a Kinara is going to be reused year after year and as such the energy and CO2 emissions associated with creating the Kinara can be ignored because of how small it would end up on a per year basis.

Comparison

Just because plotting and comparing numbers after all these calculations is interesting and fun, let’s see how the energy use and CO2 emissions of the various options among the three holidays discussed look on a graph:

Click to enlarge

Obviously this graph shows that the Christmas tree comes in (ironically) as the least green among the three holiday decorative centerpieces, which is unsurprising considering its the largest, the one lit the most hours per night and most nights during the season, and the type of fuel required to light it (electricity vs. wax or oil).

If we zoom in on the cluster of Menorahs and Kinaras to get a better view of these options, it looks like this:

Click to enlarge

Even the most sustainable Christmas tree option (using LED lights and a natural tree) come out as less energy- and environmentally-friendly than any of the options of Menorahs and Kinaras. When looking at just Menorahs and Kinaras, olive oil is a less sustainable choice compared with candles, the type of candles make a measurable (though in the end not entirely significant) difference, and, by virtue of needing seven candles instead of nine while lasting only seven days instead of eight, the Kinara ends the holiday season more sustainable than the Menorah.

Conclusion

So what was the point of doing this– should you not put up a Christmas tree or should you not observe the holidays because of the energy implications? Of course not– while these celebrations all have an energy and environmental impact, that’s not a reason to abstain from them. Looking at it all like this is just an interesting exercise. If you do find any of the numbers here alarming, then you can definitely take them to heart and switch to the more environmentally-friendly options– buy natural trees instead of artificial trees, use LED Christmas lights instead of incandescent, or switch from paraffin candles to beeswax candles.

And hey, if any additional use of energy or cause of CO2 emissions nags at you as you sip cocoa by the fire, keep in mind that there is an alternative holiday you can observe that accounts for no energy use or emissions. All you need is a non-decorated aluminum pole and the desire to air your grievances and overcome the feats of strength.

Source

Whatever holiday you observe and however you choose to celebrate– take time to reflect on what the holiday season means, give back to those less fortunate, and share in the joy of being with your family.

Have a happy holiday season!

Sources and additional reading

Beeswax Candles: Alive

Candle Burn Time Calculator

Comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Artificial vs. Natural Christmas Tree: ellipsos

Earth Hour 2013: Does It Really Save Energy? CSMonitor

Energy Content of Biofuel: Wikipedia

How Many Christmas Lights for Christmas Trees? 1000Bulbs.com

How Much Does It Cost To Power Your Christmas Lights? Wired

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree: Lowes

How to Light the Menorah: Chabad.org

How to Make Your Own Olive Oil Lamp: Instructables

Lighting the Kwanzaa Kinara: Holidays.net

So, How Much Electricity Do Christmas Lights Use? Christmas Lights Etc.

State Electricity Profiles: Energy Information Administration

The Energy Content of Fuels: University of Virginia

Tips and Tricks for Using Oil Lamps: Preparedness Pro

Trees by Height: Balsam Hill

Weird Questions About Beeswax: Beesource

When Should I Put My Christmas Tree and Decorations Up, When Should I take them Down and When Does Advent Start? The Sun

When Should You Put Up the Christmas Tree? Professor’s House

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Never Tell Me the Watts! Energy and Power Use in the Star Wars Universe

As is quickly becoming my favorite holiday season tradition, a new film in the Star Wars franchise is about to be upon us with the release of Episode VIII- The Last Jedi on December 15! Star Wars has officially been in the cultural consciousness for over 40 years, and as someone who has grown up at any point during those 4 decades, I am a huge fan. Among the many great aspects of a series so long-lasting and deep with rich canonical story-telling, be it through films, books, or video games, is the prevalence of debate it offers for the real-life implications of a fictional universe. Star Wars is the at the pinnacle of such analyses and debates– from economists calculating the cost to build the Death Star (an analysis even cited in an Official White House document) to scientists debating the reality of lightsabers— so it only seems right that this blog dives into the real-life energy implications of various notable Star Wars scenes.

Because Star Wars is so entrenched in pop culture, especially among young boys and girls who eventually become scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, many of these topics have already been explored from academic, scientifically rigorous, and painfully detailed perspective. As such, I chose to allow these crusaders of over-analysis do the digging for me and just cite their work instead of doing the number crunching on my own. Not only would it seem that the hours and immense attention to detail these people have poured into these questions would come to a much close answer to the ‘truth’ than my patience would allow me, but it also allows me to spend my anticipatory re-watch of the entire series without diligent note taking!



So strap in and take a tour of a galaxy far, far away as it relates to energy.

Preliminary notes

A couple important preliminary notes about the calculations cited and used below:

  • Certain questions have been analyzed be numerous people across various fields leading to competing answers to the Star Wars questions. For this exercise, I’m choosing to identify the conclusions that I find to use the greatest scientific rigor and attention to detail, as well as those that show their work and cite their sources. My goal was to find the closest to the ‘true’ answer as possible, but if you find a different number or calculation to be more accurate then I welcome the gloriously nerdy debate in the comment section below!

Source

  • It is also necessary to state that almost every data point going into the below calculations are estimates and approximations. Many of the numbers needed for the calculations simply aren’t provided in the source material, so these mathematical Jedi have resorted to options like determining size of equipment by comparing it to the known size of a human standing adjacent, analyzing the known energy required to melt certain earthen material and assuming the materials in the Star Wars universe are the same or similar materials, or even slowing down clips of the movies to get a frame-by-frame rate of speed.  All that’s to say that the resultant numbers are estimates– diligently arrived-at estimates– but estimates nonetheless that do as good a job as possible at determining the relative order of magnitude. So take them with a grain of salt (which is better than a grain of sand, which is course and rough and irritating, not to mention it gets everywhere).
  • And lastly, with that grain of salt comes another huge one– I know these are movies. They are fictional, the directors often care more about how cool a scene looks instead of how it might break the law of physics, and the small details we analyze were probably not overly scrutinized for adherence to reality. These things don’t matter, but who cares? They are fun to think about and talk about and add depth to one of the greatest sagas in pop culture– so don’t strain yourself thinking too hard about them!

Source

Power required for uses of the Force

Emperor Palpatine’s Force lighting

Description: A number of times throughout the saga, we see Palpatine use his Force lighting, a unique aspect of his Force abilities. In the conclusion of Episode VI- Return of the Jedi, he uses the Force lightning on Luke after Luke once again refuses to join the Emperor on the Dark side and replace Darth Vader as his apprentice (click here for a YouTube link to the scene in question).

Calculation: This calculation is a rather tough one, but we do gain several clues from the scene, as pointed out by Joshua Brown.

The first clue is Luke’s reaction while being struck with the Force lighting, as he is able to call out in a plea for help, and though he is in obvious agony the attack is not fatal. Based on the science of the effect of electricity on the human body, this reaction from Luke would suggest he was experiencing between an AC-3 or AC-4 injury from the Force lighting.  Given the evidence that the longest continuous length of time that Luke was being struck exceeded 10 seconds, the below chart would suggest the current coursing through Luke’s body likely didn’t exceed 30 milliamps (mA).

Source

With the current of the Force lighting in Luke’s body established, the other piece of data we would need is the resistance of Luke’s body– which we can assume is about 100,000 Ohms, the upper limit for the internal resistance of the human body (Luke is a trained Jedi, after all).

Referencing our high school physics textbooks, we’ll remember that power equals current squared times resistance. Plugging in a current of 30 mA and a resistance of 100,000 Ohms gives a Force lighting power of 90 Watts.

Real World Comparison: To put that power in perspective, 90 Watts is about the upper limit for power adapters for Macbook laptops. Surely you don’t want that much electricity coursing through your body, but it’s also an amount of power we routinely carry around in our backpacks.

This amount of power might not seem like much, but watch the scene again and consider whether it truly looked like the Emperor was using all his strength to kill Luke– or was he instead using just a portion of his powers to torture Luke as a message to Luke and/or Darth Vader? It also does end up being a deadly amount of power, as it serves as enough to knock out the electronics of Darth Vader’s life-supporting suit and causes his death.

Darth Vader Force choking and throwing into the ceiling a Rebel trooper

Description: Among the many aspects of Darth Vader that makes him such a menacing presence is his combination of raw power and his tendency to use that power to intimidate those weaker than him. This combination is displayed each time he uses the Force to choke a subordinate or adversary without ever laying a finger on them. This power was on display in the final scene of Rogue One, as he laid waste to a number of Rebel troopers who stood between him and the stolen plans for the Death Star, with one poor trooper being lifted and slammed against the ceiling in a fit of rage (one of the biggest on-screen payoffs in Star Wars films, in my opinion, which can be watched here).

Source

Calculation: Rhett Allain, a physics professor, analyzes this scene for Wired to determine the power of this demonstration of the Force. Allain has to make a couple of assumptions and educated guesses– namely that the Rebel trooper is the size of an average man (1.75 meters tall and 70 kilograms in mass) and that the gravity inside the ship is the same as gravity on Earth at 9.8 Newtons/kilogram.

With that information, Allain then uses a video tracker on the scene to determine that the trooper is lifted up to a height of about 1.5 meters in 0.46 seconds at a constant speed of about 3.3 meters per second.

Time once again to employ the high school physics text book to find that the total work done is calculated as the change in kinetic energy (0.5 times mass times velocity squared) plus the change in potential energy (mass times gravity times height). Plugging in the values listed gives a total work done of 1,410 Joules, which when divided by a time of 0.46 seconds gives the total power output of 3,065 Watts.

Real World Comparison:  To put the power output of 3,065 Watts, or about 3.1 kilowatts (kW), in perspective– consider that 3.1 kW equates to about 4.1 horsepower. Commonly found outboard engines for small motorboats, such as this one, are rated at 4 horsepower as well– so at a moment’s notice Darth Vader is summoning the strength of a small motorboat. While that again doesn’t sound particularly scary, the clip shows the effect that this amount of power output can have when put in the wrong (robotic) hands.

Yoda lifting an X-Wing out of the swamp

Description: In Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back, Luke visits the planet of Dagobah to train with Master Yoda. Seeing the small stature and confusing training tactics, Luke begins to doubt the power of Yoda and question whether he is benefiting at all by being there.

Source

Disappointed by Luke’s insolent attitude and lack of faith in the training process, Yoda provides one of the greatest raw feats of Force strength we’re shown in the films– lifting Luke’s crashed X-Wing ship out of the swamp and into the air using the Force alone (again, the scene in question can be found on a YouTube video).

Calculation: Randall Munroe tackles the question of how much power Yoda outputs in this scene in his ‘What If?’ series. Munroe starts with a series of important assumptions, namely that:

  • The X-Wing is about 12,000 pounds (based on the weight of an F-22 fighter jet and the relative lengths of an F-22 and an X-Wing, Munroe scales the weight of an F-22 down to the proportional weight of the X-Wing), and
  • The gravity on Dagobah is 90% the gravity on Earth (according to sources on the highly detailed, extensive, and canonically accurate website Wookiepeedia).

Munroe then also broke down the video of the scene on a frame-by-frame basis, determining that Yoda lifted the X-Wing to a height of 1.4 meters in 3.6 seconds.

By plugging all these numbers into the equation power = mass times gravity times height divided by time, we find a power output of 19,228 Watts.

Real World Comparison: Sticking with the horsepower comparison, this power of about 19.2 kW equates to about 26 horsepower. What’s the first hit on Google when looking for a vehicle that’s 26 horsepower?

Riding lawnmowers!

Sense in you much fear, do I?

Summary
Click to enlarge

Energy Associated with Star Wars Weapons

Lightsaber

Description: Lightsabers are the first and foremost among weapons you think of when you think of Star Wars, possibly of sci-fi in general. They are weapons mastered by Jedi and replicated by kids everywhere for the last 40 years. Lightsabers really don’t need any introduction, but the scene that is used to calculated the power of a lightsaber possibly does– as our best data points for lightsaber power use come from an early scene in Episode I- The Phantom Menace.

Source

In the scene in question, Qui-Gon Jinn uses his lightsaber to get through a thick, metal door– first he makes a significant cut in the door, and then he sticks his lightsaber into the door for a period of time that allows it to melt a hole in the door (here is a clip of that scene that is for some reason repeated for an entire hour). This quick scene was enough to send Star Wars sleuths to the whiteboards to calculate the power output.

Calculation: For this calculation, we again to look to Rhett Allain at Wired who uses this scene to determine the power needed for a light saber.  This calculation is the most complicated yet, so I would urge you to read the full article to learn more. But in summary, Allain uses the color that the door changes to as it heats up, the dimensions of the cut that Qui-Gon cuts initially,  an assumed set of material characteristics for what this door was likely made out of, and the total time taken to make that cut. Put them all together using equations that would require your graduate-level physics books this time, and you get a power requirement of 28 kilowatts.

Real World Comparison: Rather than looking to the power outputs of an engine, it seemed useful this time to compare this power output to as similar a type of weapon as possible. As it turns out, Lockheed Martin created a laser weapon system for the U.S. Army that is rated at a comparable 30 kW. This Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) system has proven capable of shooting down outlaw drones and disabling a truck from a mile away.

Source

Considering the Jedi are carrying around that kind of power in a handheld weapon, you can understand the awe they inspire while expertly and effortlessly wielding lightsabers.

Blaster

Description: While lightsabers get all the buzz, Han Solo is famously quoted as saying that those “ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.” For the non-Force sensitive players in the Star Wars universe, blasters are the go-to firearm and are thus the most commonly used weapon in the galaxy, according to Wookieeepedia.

Source

To determine the energy of a single blaster bolt, the team at Ebates analyzed an escape scene in Episode IV- A New Hope where Princess Leia takes a blaster and shoots a hole through a metal grate for her, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca to crawl through. Not only does Leia succeed in winning the audiences heart by showing that this Princess is no damsel in distress (toward the end of this YouTube clip), but she also gives us the evidence needed to estimate the destructive energy of a single blaster bolt.

Calculation: According to the numbers crunched by eBates, the shot with the blaster created a hole about 3 feet in diameter in the metal grate, seemingly by vaporizing the metal.  Estimating the dimensions and density of the metal that was vaporized (about 54 kilograms) and knowing the energy needed to vaporize a kilogram of iron (6.34 Megajoules) leads to a rough conclusion that the blaster shot yeilded about 342 Megajoules.

Real World Comparison: Because the result of the blaster bolt here appeared to be a literal ‘blast’ of energy, it would be useful to know what would be required to yield the same explosive blast in the real world. Luckily, a unit of such destructive energy is standardized by the gram of TNT and is directly convertible to and from joules (one kilogram of TNT yields 4.184 Megajoules).  Thus for our lovely Princess to have blasted through the iron gate with the same energy of the blaster, it would have required about 82 kilograms of TNT.

Star Destroyer’s turbolaser

Description: The devoted fans at StarDestroyer.net took on the question of the energy from a shot by the empire’s domineering Star Destroyers.  In terms of military might (outside of the megaweapons to be discussed next), the Star Destroyer certainly stands as one of the most intimidating shows of military force in any galactic fleet.

Source

In one particular scene of Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back, a single blast from the turbolaser of the Star Destroyer is shown to clear asteroids right from its path. This show of firepower gives us a good idea of exactly how much destructive energy is contained in these blasts (watch in action in this YouTube clip).

Calculation: This calculation is another fairly in-depth and complicated one, so I would again recommend reading their entire write-up of the topic in full. However, the basic gist is that one bolt was able to instantaneously melt an asteroid (composed of the average asteroid composition) that measured on the order of 20 meters in diameter. Knowing the science behind the melting of such an asteroid leads to the calculation that the energy in a single turbolaser blast is 30 Terajoules or 30 million Megajoules.

Real World Comparison: A single shot of the Star Destroyer’s turbolaser has the destructive energy of 30 terajoules, which for context is about half the total energy released by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima to end World War II. Given that the Star Destroyer was releasing dozens of these shots over the course of its chase of the Millenium Falcon, you would understand why those being pursued might ‘have a bad feeling about this.’

Original Death Star’s superlaser

Description: The Death Star is the Ultimate Weapon of the Empire, the presence of which alone was enough to inspire fear and garner compliance from every corner of the galaxy. That fear is well-deserved because this awe-inspiring weapon was created to have the power to completely destroy planets.

Source

That’s not some sort of hyperbole, as we saw in the scene of Episode IV- A New Hope when the Empire demonstrates the power and unleashes the Death Star to destroy Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan. This show of force gives us the information we need to estimate how much destructive power is unleashed with the superlaser of the Death Star (watch the clip here, trigger warning for anyone who may have had friends or family on the planet formerly known as Alderaan).

Calculation:  Our friends at StarDestroyer.net also did the analysis on how much firepower was behind this blast from the Death Star. These calculations might be the most scientifically detailed yet, so definitely check out the full analysis. In the end, they used three different methods to estimate the energy of the weapon (calculating the surface escape velocity that would be required for planetary destruction, the constant gravitational binding energy that would need to be overcome, and the variable gravitational binding energy that would need to be overcome). Each of these calculation methods resulted in a final figure betweeen 2.2 x 10^32 and 3.7 x 10^32 joules. This range is a wide one in terms of an exact answer, but they are all in the same order of magnitude and thus inspire confidence in their approximate accuracy. For the sake of argument, we’ll go right in the middle and assume the energy of the Death Star is 3 x 10^32 joules, or 3 x 10^26 Megajoules.

Real World Comparison: We’re up at a level of energy that doesn’t have any real Earthly comparisons, as the total annual world energy consumption is on the order of 10^14 Megajoules– many orders of magnitude less than a single shot from the Death Star.

Instead we have to go, rather appropriately, into space. The 3 x 10^26 Megajoules of energy used to destroy Alderaan is equivalent to the total energy output of the Sun over the course of about 9 days.

Starkiller Base’s superweapon

Description; In the first film of the latest Star Wars trilogy, Episode VII- The Force Awakens, the Death Star gets completely outclassed as a weapon. The First Order takes the idea of a planet-sized battle station capable of wiping out a planet and inspiring fear-based obedience and cranks it up to 11, as their Starkiller Base is a superweapon built into a mobile planet that is capable of wiping out an entire star system.

 Source

In this scene that shows the first ever shot from the superweapon, the massive scale of the destructive energy being unleashed is evident and is used to wipe out five planets like they were never there– something never before seen in the Star Wars universe. The energy needed for this weapon is literally siphoned from the energy/plasma of a nearby star and then unleashing it in one blast. As you can imagine, this amount of energy is almost unthinkable.

Calculation: Jason Haraldsen, a physics professor, tackles the science behind Starkiller Base in a piece he wrote from the Huffington Post. Despite his conclusions that there are a number of aspects of Starkiller base that would be scientifically impossible (for one, Starkiller Base and its weapon are hosted on an ice planet– yet the harvesting of energy directly from a star does not end up overheating the planet or even melting the snow on it?) Haraldsen calculates the amount of energy that is needed to charge up the superweapon by converting the mass of the nearby star into pure energy. Keeping things way oversimplified, just converting the mass of the star to energy using E = mc^2 results in an energy output of 2 x 10^41 Megajoules.

Real World Comparison: If the Death Star’s energy required us to go from the Earth to the Solar System, Starkiller Base forces us to go on a galactic scale to find an energy equivalent. The 2 x 10^41 Megajoules of Starkiller Base’s superweapon is equivalent to the energy released by 1,000 supernovas. Talk about unlimited power!

Summary

Click to enlarge

Conclusion

Do the filmmakers put as much attention into the minute details as we fans do in splicing apart and analyzing those details? Probably not. But that’s fine because the debate can be fun and educational and open up our eyes a bit about the comparable calculations in the real world. While thankfully it seems unlikely that any ill-intended human will create a sinister weapon as destructive as the Death Star or Starkiller Base, let us not forget that sci-fi can and has influenced the imaginations in the real world– from President Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense initiative to the ever-increasing presence of droid-like robots in our life.  So pay attention to any new inventions while you’re watching The Last Jedi, and let me know in the comments if you have any other Star Wars (or pop culture in general) energy-related questions you’d like to read about next!

Sources and additional reading

Ask Us: NASA

BP Statistical Review of World Energy

Death Star Firepower: StarDestroyer.net

How Many Batteries Would It Take to Power a Lightsaber? Or the Death Star? infographic journal

How strong is the Emperor’s lightning attack?

In Which We Literally Calculate the Power of the Force: Wired

Lockheed Martin’s laser weapon takes down 5 drones in live-fire demonstration: New Atlas

Power Source for a Lightsaber: Wired

Supernovae: Hyperphysics

The Physics Behind the Starkiller Base in Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Huffington Post

Turbolaser Firepower: StarDestroyer.net

US Army gets world record-setting 60-kW laser: DefenseNews

What was the yield of the Hiroshima bomb? Warbird Forum

Worker Deaths by Electrocution: NIOSH

Yoda: What if?

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Solar Power and Wineries: A Match Made in Heaven…and California

As the amount of power generation from solar energy continues to rise in the United States, more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of utilizing solar energy on their own properties. This type of small-scale solar generation is rising across industrial and commercial sectors, and no where is it more prevalent than in California, home of 43% of the nation’s small-scale solar output in 2016. California also leads the nation in another crucial area– wine production! If California were its own country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine, accounting for 90% of wine produced in the United States.

Seeing as California tops the list in solar power and wineries, it only makes sense that vineyards in the state have been rapidly adopting the renewable energy source on their properties. Exactly how much solar power is being captured on these wineries, and what wineries are doing the most to implement solar systems? This article will answer those questions. Also, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more of a beer drinker than a wine connoisseur (see this write up on which breweries use the most renewable energy), but the last part of this article outlines a California wine road trip that hits the top 10 wineries by solar energy capacity that has me already looking at flights to the West Coast.



Why solar and why California wineries?

Many wineries across the country and the world, not just in California, have realized the benefits of solar power and installed solar systems to meet part of or all of their energy needs. For example, Lakewood Vineyards in New York,Tenuta Delleterre Nere in Sicily, and Domaine d Nidoleres in France have all installed solar power systems on their wineries.
But this article focuses just on those wineries with solar power in California, as it is the region foremost afforded with the scale, climate, and policy to really promote both the solar and wine industries.

Solar power in California

California is not the only state to be embracing solar power at breakneck speeds, but there are a number of reasons why the state was always primed to become the nation’s leader. California tops the United States as a solar energy generator  so much, in fact, that it’s had to pay other states to take the excess generated power off its hands. California’s dominance in solar power can be attributed to the following:

Wineries in California

California is obviously also not the only state in the wine business, but it completely dominates the U.S wine industry in terms of volume of wine produced, as well as reputation for quality. Not only does 90% of total U.S. wine come from California, but the quality of California wine is considered today to be at it’s highest ever stature in quality according to many experts. The modern boom of the California wine industry has a number of causes, including the following:

Putting the solar and wine industries together

When you look at the massive advantages California has when it comes to cultivating a solar power sector and a wine industry, having the two fields overlap appears to be an obvious marriage throughout the state. Fortunately, the integration of solar power into winemaking is a natural fit.

With California being such a hospitable region for both solar power and winery, the logical question becomes how can the two be combined into a symbiotic and fruitful relationship. Wineries have been installing and taking advantage of solar power for years now due to the various benefits it provides the winery business. Fetzer Vineyards has run on 100% renewable energy since 1999, while Shafer Vineyards have fulfilled all their energy needs with solar power since 2004.
In terms of why solar power works perfectly as a energy source at wineries and related facilities, there are a number of reasons. For one, solar panel technology is at its most efficient at about 77 degrees Fahrenheit and can absorb sunlight even on cloudy days— this warm/temperate climate that optimizes solar technologies also happens to be the right weather in which to grow wine grapes. Beyond that, wineries are operations that typically have a large footprint, making it easier to find area on roofs or in fields on which to place solar panels compared with non-agricultural industries. This abundant availability of solar panels at wineries means that the energy gathered from the sun can be used to power all sorts of facilities of wineries– the primary residence, workshops, tasting rooms, offices, industrial equipment, and more.
Not only does solar work better on wineries than many other industries, but it also provides some unique benefits to those wineries that go out of the way to install solar power systems. The technology itself is reliable for extended periods of time (warranties last 20 to 25 years, while the life of service is 40 to 50 years), with economics so good that wineries have the ability to earn a 20% return on investment in solar panels. In fact, the solar power haul at some wineries can sometimes be even more than is needed to run the winery, allowing these lucky business-owners to sell it back to utilities (though this type of net metering finds itself the subject of heated policy debate these days). Because of this, the technology is even being developed for on-site microgrids designed for self-consumption, load shifting, and peak shaving.
Beyond all that, those who work in the wine business have a personal stake in increasing the use of renewable energy sources in order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Wine grape vines are very sensitive to changes in temperature that climate change would bring, not to mention the difficulty faced by all agricultural businesses as a result of extreme weather and droughts, while the recent wildfires in California (which are more prone to happen as climate change continues) show the devastation that such fires can cause to the wine industry. It behooves the wine industry to embrace clean technologies wherever and whenever possible.

List of California wineries using solar power

Because of all these stated advantages, California wineries are absolute leaders in embracing solar technology. After extensive research and reaching out to individual wineries, I’ve put together the below list of 132 wineries across the state taking advantage of solar power. The capacity of these solar systems range from 2 kilowatts (kW) to well over 1 megawatt (MW), showing that all ranges of sizes are options depending on the level of commitment a winery is ready to make. Taken together, these wineries have a total peak solar capacity of 27.8 MW– which is a greater capacity of solar power than the total electric power industry in 15 different states as of 2015!
So if you’re like me and you have a difficult time at the wine store knowing what wine to buy because you don’t really know what to look for, you can now keep this list handy to support a winery that incorporates clean and renewable solar energy into its operations!
It’s worth noting that there are sure to be plenty of California wineries using solar power that are not included in the above table. Any winery that is listed in one of the cited resources as having an installed solar system but did not include its capacity was not included in the list, as these capacities are crucial to the later analysis of this article (this includes any wineries I reached out to but didn’t hear back from). There are also surely wineries that are using solar that don’t advertise it anywhere, or they do advertise it and my search failed to find it. If you’re aware of any wineries that should be included on this list but are not, please leave a comment below!

Quality and price of wines from California solar wineries

Beyond just finding and ranking the capacity of solar energy systems at various wineries, I thought it would be interesting to take each solar winery and compare them based on a noteworthy wine they produce. With that in mind, each solar winery in the previous list was paired up with the best wine it has (according to the top rating a wine of theirs received from Wine Enthusiast Magazine) along with that wine’s rating and price (both also according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine). That process led to the below table (note that some wineries from the first list are not included in this list because none of their wines showed up in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s ratings).

 

It’s hard to really abstract anything by looking at that in list form. Instead, we can then take that list and look graphically at the solar capacity of a winery and the rating of it’s best wine:
The same can be done to compare the solar capacity of a winery and the cost of it’s best wine:

Looking at these graphical representations, you can see that its not just niche wineries that are embracing solar energy. Every sort of price range and a whole range of sophistication and repute of wine has a wine that comes from wineries with solar installations, both large and small in capacity. The solar capacity of the wineries does not say anything about the wine produced at that winery– the installation of solar cuts across all sorts of vineyards. This shows that there should be no reason solar power at wineries cannot continue to grow to new wineries and expand capacity at wineries already with solar.

Where are solar wineries located in California?

Another interesting data point for each of these wineries is the region of California they are in. The separation of the various areas of California into its wine regions is sometimes a bit of a tricky exercise, with some well-known regions being sub-regions to others, the existence of some gray areas, and different wine region names depending being used depending on the resource being referenced. For the sake of this exercise, I will be using the following five main wine regions of California (recognizing they can and often do get broken down even further into smaller regions):
  • North Coast
  • Sierra Foothills
  • Central Coast
  • Central Valley
  • South Coast
These five regions are found in the following maps:

Source 1 Source 2

Before analyzing each region as a whole, the below graphic shows each city/town in California where the cumulative solar capacity at wineries is above 500 kW. The size of the circles are proportional to the total capacity. Using this visualization, you can already see where the most solar capacity is concentrated, in the North Coast and Central Coast.
If you then total up the capacity for each of the five major wine regions in California, you get the following graph:
This could be a misrepresentation of how dedicated each region is to solar, however, as all the regions are not the same size. It could just be that the North Coast has the most wineries (which it does), but a lower percentage of them are utilizing solar. To test this, the total solar capacity of wineries in each region is divided by the total acreage of planted wine grape vines in that region:
The result is that the North Coast is still the region with the greatest concentration of solar capacity per acreage of winery, still followed by Central Coast (though it’s a more distant second), and then the Sierra Foothills get a boost (while still remaining in third place). In either graph, Central Valley and South Coast lag way behind in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Road Trip

The last piece of analyzing the solar wineries in California I wanted to look at was putting together an epic road trip of California wine country that enables you to hit up the wineries in the state that use the most solar power. Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to find a route that takes you across 372 miles over the course of 6 hours and 47 minutes and visits the top ten wineries in terms of solar power capacity. If you’ve always wanted to tour the best wineries and vineyards that California has to offer, but didn’t know where to start, then look no further!
The first day of the trip can take you to Meridian Vineyards, Estancia Estates Winery, and Carmel Road Monterey with only a bit over two hours of driving total, enabling you to see over 3 MW of solar powered winery. On the next day, after driving about three hours to get to the next batch of wineries, you’ll find yourself at the remaining seven wineries– total capacity exceeding 7 MW– that are within an hour and a half total drive from each other.
If you’re interested in driving this solar winery route (or maybe paying someone to drive you on this winery route– it is TEN wineries, after all), see the Google Maps route linked below.
 

Sources and additional reading

Solar Energy in the Winemaking Industry: Green Energy and Technology (Preview of book herelink to purchase book here)
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Stranger Things Season 2: A Pointed Comment on the Department of Energy’s Nuclear History and Future?

This post is written assuming you have watched both season 1 and season 2 of ‘Stranger Things.’ If you have not yet watched and want to avoid potential spoilers, consider this your warning!

‘Stranger Things’ was the Netflix sensation out of nowhere in 2016, which made season 2 one of the most anticipated TV releases of this year. While this sci-fi mystery thriller seemingly had something for everyone– parallel dimensions, 80s nostalgia, mystical and mysterious forces, pop cultural references– I was also drawn in by the depiction of the Department of Energy (DOE) as the malevolent government forces behind the secretive experiments. Seeing DOE scientists at the fictional Hawkins Lab, rather than the typical Hollywood choices to use the FBI or the CIA for supernatural government cover-ups, was exciting for all of us who have worked in or with DOE and created a buzz in DOE offices and labs across the country.

Leading up to the release of season 2, I wrote about the interesting parallels that existed between Hawkins Lab and the real DOE labs. Some of these parallels appeared to be intentional similarities written by the Duffer Brothers (the show’s creators), while others were likely coincidental. With that in mind, I was very eager to watch for anything DOE-related in season 2 to see if I could gather more information about what it was the Duffer Brothers might have been trying to say about the real government agency, or would season 2 put to rest the connection between Hawkins Lab and the real DOE.



Well after just three nights on the couch, I’ve finished by ‘Stranger Things’ season 2 binge and have two main takeaways:

  1. I can’t believe I’m already done with the new batch of episodes and now have to go through another year at least before getting to do it again with season 3!
  2. One scene in particular has convinced me that the choice to use DOE was intentionally symbolic and is a pointed metaphor for the history and future of the agency.

The scene in question

Honestly, I would have been bingeing this show regardless of the DOE connection. So after a few episodes I had ceased paying terribly close attention to potential DOE parallels and was simply enjoying the story. But a specific scene in ‘Chapter Four: Will the Wise’ hit me over the head with its metaphor enough that I had to pause the episode to excitedly discuss it with my wife.

To set the scene, Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers had called the mother of the missing and dead (from season 1) Barb Holland to admit that they hadn’t been fully honest about the night that Barb went missing (they knew the truth that Barb had been lost and killed in the parallel dimension of the Upside Down, but Barb’s parents had been shielded from this fact). They expressed their hesitation to discuss the matter on the phone, as they were correctly concerned that their phones were tapped by the government monitoring forces, and instead requested to meet in person in public. When Nancy and Jonathan go to the meet up spot, they are sitting ducks and get intercepted by undercover Hawkins Lab agents. They are taken to the lab to speak with Dr. Sam Owens, the new head scientist at Hawkins Lab, replacing the evil and manipulative Dr. Martin Brenner. Immediately, this situation looks like it will end poorly for the teens, as it surely would have were Dr. Brenner still in charge– he was never overly concerned with protecting the citizens of Hawkins and might have resorted to threats of violence. However, Dr. Owens’ approach is instead to explain the difficult scenario he inherited and hope the Nancy and Jonathan understand why the secrets of the lab cannot be made public.

wv_publicity_pre_launch_a_still_3-000001r1Source

The following is a transcript of the dialogue of this scene:

Dr. Owens: Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind. George Sarton said that. You guys know who George Sarton is? Doesn’t really matter. The point is mistakes have been made.

Nancy: Mistakes? You killed Barbara!

Dr. Owens: Abundant mistakes. But the men involved in those mistakes– the ones responsible for what happened to your brother and Ms. Holland’s death– are gone. They’re gone, and for better or worse I’m the schmuck they brought in to make things better. But I can’t make things better without your help.

Nancy: You mean without us shutting up?

Dr. Owens: She’s tough, this one. You guys been together long?

Jonathan: We’re not together.

Dr. Owens: You want to see what really killed your friend?

The three of them enter the area containing open portal to the Upside Down, which has grown much larger and more dangerous looking compared with what we saw throughout season 1. There are tentacles coming from the portal.

Dr. Owens: Teddy– brought you an audience today, hope you don’t mind.

Teddy (lab agent who is getting dressed in a protective suit): The more the merrier, sir.

Dr. Owens: I’d call it one hell of a mistake, wouldn’t you? The thing is, we can’t seem to erase our mistake. But we can stop it from spreading. It’s like pulling weeds. But imagine for a moment if a foreign state, let’s say the Soviets, if they heard about our mistake. Do you think they would even consider that a mistake? What if they tried to replicate that? The more attention we bring to ourselves, the more people like the Hollands that know the truth, the more likely that scenario becomes. You see why I have to stop the truth from spreading too, just like those weeds there. By whatever means necessary.

Teddy begins to spray fire all across the portal and the tentacles of the creature coming from the portal, which leads it to squirm and let out a noise of pain.

Dr. Owens: So, we understand each other now, don’t we?

After this scene when Nancy and Jonathan leave the lab, it is revealed that Nancy had a tape recorder and recorded Dr. Owens’ admission that Hawkins Lab, and thus DOE, was at fault for the death of Barb and all the other ills that had befallen the town due to the opening of this portal.

How does this relate to the real Department of Energy?

After hearing Dr. Owens describe the creation of the portal to the Upside Down and all the associated technology as a mistake and express the fear that enemy nations might replicate it, it immediately signaled that this scene was intended to describe the way many scientists and government officials felt during and after the Manhattan Project was used to develop and deploy the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II, as well as the fear and regret about the continued existence of nuclear weapons since that time.

The Manhattan Project was the government sponsored effort to develop the technology behind nuclear weapons, and it is to this effort that the Department of Energy traces its origins. These efforts were marked with secrecy, espionage, and a recognition of the vast worldwide implications of a potential development of a nuclear bomb.
Manhattan_Project_emblem_4

The quotes from Dr. Owens during this scene, if interpreted as an allegory for the development of nuclear weapons by DOE in the 1940s, provide a number of clues as to the parallels between the Manhattan Project and the ‘mistakes’ to which Dr. Owens refers.

Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind…The point is mistakes have been made.

Noting that all the experimentation and resultant terrors performed by Hawkins Lab during season 1 were mistakes does nothing to change that these mistakes were made. However, such an admission is one way to begin a healing and repair process. Similarly, many of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project have been noted in the years that followed to have found the entire effort to have been a mistake, using such admission to spur discussion about the future use of nuclear weapons, deal with personal guilt, and find any potential good that can come out of the situation.

Despite the official stance that DOE is “proud of and feels a strong sense of responsibility for its Manhattan Project heritage,” many people would still contend that it was wrong to bring nuclear weapons into the world. In the years that followed, various levels of regret have been expressed by the physicists involved in the creation of the nuclear technology.

  • While Albert Einstein was not directly involved in the development of nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project (the government denied him the necessary security clearance to be involved), it was a letter he wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging him to support the research and development of atomic weapons before Germany could do so that prompted to U.S. government to launch the Manhattan Project. Einstein would come to regret his role in kicking off the age of nuclear weapons after finding that the Germans never did produce an atomic bomb, stating that if he had known that would be the case he “would have never lifted a finger.”

 

 

  • At the same time, 70 scientists who actively worked on the Manhattan Project wrote and circulated the Szilard Petition that asked President Harry S. Truman not use the atomic bomb on populated land. Instead, they urged him to deploy an observed demonstration of the power of the bomb. The hope of these less hawkish scientists was that they were creating a weapon the threat of which would end the war, and if deployed on a remote island for the enemies to see its devastating power then that would be enough to earn surrender (in an odd footnote of history, the petition never made its way up the chain of command to reach the President). Obviously, the efforts of these scientists to delay (or ideally make unnecessary) the dropping of the atomic bomb failed.

 

  • The most famous Manhattan Project scientists who would openly consider the dawn of the age of nuclear weapons a mistake was J. Robert Oppenheimer– considered to be the father of the atomic bomb that came out of the Manhattan Project. At his farewell ceremony from Los Alamos Lab, Oppenheimer speculated that if atomic bombs were now to become a regular part of war then “mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and of Hiroshima.” Even more famously, in a meeting with President Harry S. Truman after the war, a still-shaken Oppenheimer confided that he felt he had blood on his hands. While Truman dismissed those concerns by insisting the responsibility for the deaths of the tens of thousands of Japanese who died was his own, Oppenheimer was instead concerned about the countless potential deaths his atomic bomb could cause to future generations.

While the Manhattan Project scientists like Shachter and those who signed the Szilard Petition were focused on whether the development and use of the bomb was the right move during World War II, Oppenheimer was forward looking and was contemplating if the development of the technology was one of those abundant mistakes that science makes. Several years later, Oppenheimer would confirm this position, stating that “we have made a very grave mistake” in even considering the massive use of nuclear weapons.

 

But the men involved in those mistakes– the ones responsible for what happened to your brother and Ms. Holland’s death– are gone. THey’re gone, and for better or worse I’m the schmuck they brought in to make things better. 

When Dr. Owens says that those responsible for the nefarious actions of Hawkins Lab are gone, he seems to be suggesting that because the original architects are gone that those in charge are largely inculpable. They are gone, and now the new leadership can only do what it can to make things better.

Similarly, in the years that followed the dropping of the atomic bombs, much was made about the need for new leadership behind the research, production, and regulation of the technology. Along with the uncertainty the scientists of the Manhattan Project had regarding the appropriateness of using the nuclear weapons was the uncertainty that that power belonged in the hands of the government. As such, some of these scientists joined and formed the Federation of Atomic Scientists in 1945 and pushed for civilian control of nuclear research and production. These scientists thought it was the scientists, not the policymakers, who were the best stewards for the technology and that a change in this leadership would allow them to make things better.

Another leadership option that was widely discussed in the years following World War II was the possibility of a United Nations Atomic Energy Commission to take worldwide responsibility for atomic energy. The idea was that worldwide leadership would ensure that nuclear technology was only developed for peaceful purposes, rather than the destructive and warring use that was immediately developed under the leadership of the U.S. government. The agreements of the Commission would have called for the United States to destroy its atomic arsenal and a disclosure of the atomic secrets, but disagreements between the Soviet Union and the United States ultimately undermined and tanked the Commission. This failure would point the world towards a future Cold War and a path where the nuclear question still loomed.

In the end, the U.S. government settled on passing the Atomic Energy Act in 1946, which created the Atomic Energy Commission (the predecessor agency of DOE) as a civilian committee that took over responsibility of legacy U.S. nuclear development from the Manhattan Project. While the agency eliminated complete military control, a Military Liaison Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission kept the military involved and there was still a “strict government monopoly on both scientific and technological knowledge, and fissionable materials.”

In the end, despite efforts on the national and international scale, the leadership was never changed completely away from the U.S. government that created the nuclear weapons in the first place. In the absence of such real change, it appears that things have predictably only gotten worse– with nuclear warhead inventories skyrocketing to above 60,000 at their peak during the Cold War and remaining around 10,000 warheads across 9 countries today. Perhaps if a real schmuck, an international equivalent to Dr. Owens, had been given control and leadership, then things would have been made better.
Unknown

I’d call it one hell of a mistake, wouldn’t you? The thing is, we can’t seem to erase our mistake. But we can stop it from spreading. It’s like pulling weeds.

While Dr. Owens and the new leadership at Hawkins Lab were not responsible for the creation of the portal to the Upside Down and the unleashing of the creatures that inhabit it, the job of containing the mistake did fall to them. They couldn’t undo the past even if they wanted to, so instead they continually try to clean up the mess and stop it from spreading.

This weeding metaphor is very apt for the responsibilities DOE continues to manage after the predecessor agency brought for the age of nuclear weapons. As Oppenheimer noted, “the physicists have known sin: and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.” While the scientists cannot take back the knowledge of nuclear weapons and how to create them from the world, they have a responsibility to do what they can to prevent its spread.

During the Cold War, DOE was in charge of nuclear weapons development and production. While the goal since the end of the Cold War has been to decrease stockpiles of nuclear warheads across the world, DOE has remained involved in the fallout of these nuclear weapons of the past. In 2000, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was formed as a semi-autonomous agency within DOE whose jobs include managing the nuclear weapon stockpile, promoting international nuclear safety and nonproliferation, and more. Also included in these efforts is managing the environmental aspects of past and future nuclear development, such as managing and storing nuclear waste. These waste storage sites are managed by DOE across the country, often sparking outrage and controversy wherever they go, and are one of the ongoing containment activities required by DOE after the ushering in of nuclear weapons. DOE also finds itself at the table during discussions of international nuclear issues, such as its role in negotiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in an effort to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons.
Carlsbad-Nuclear-Waste-Isolation-Pilot-Plant
In addition to storing new nuclear waste, a large part of DOE’s mission (and associated budget) is to provide environmental cleanup at “107 sites across the country whose area is equal to the combined area of Rhode Island and Delaware” where nuclear weapons were developed, tested, and stored. Not only that, but DOE also finds itself continuing to pay for healthcare costs to those in the Marshall Islands that ended up affected by radioactive fallout of nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s on nearby islands. The need to perform these actions now and for the foreseeable future are possibly the best examples of DOE’s need to continue ‘weeding’ to prevent the spread of ills from its previously developed nuclear weapons.

But imagine for a moment if a foreign state, let’s say the Soviets, if they heard about our mistake. Do you think they would even consider that a mistake? What if they tried to replicate that?

One of the chief concerns at Hawkins Lab is that an enemy nation will find out about the technology they created and then assume it was done to create a weapon and/or replicate that technology for a weapon of their own. These fears are what drives the massive amount of security, secrecy, and monitoring at Hawkins Lab. These ideas are also directly applicable to the use of nuclear technology– both in its origin in the United States and in modern times across the globe.

In the days of the Manhattan Project, chief among the priorities were keeping the entire program secret from Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union. While fission, the core scientific discovery behind the atomic bomb, was discovered in Germany, the ability to harness the resultant chain reaction and use it as a weapon was what was at stake. The result was a period of extensive espionage between the United States and these enemy nations, with Soviet spies actually successfully penetrating the Manhattan Project at several locations. Between these governments, it was no secret that the technology was actively being pursued and that the goal of doing so was for anything but peaceful means. However, the secrecy about the progress and scientific breakthroughs were critical– and in these ways the Manhattan Project embodied the paranoid secrecy that Dr. Owens and Hawkins Lab felt about their dimension jumping technology falling into the hands of enemy nations.

Even after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended, the efforts of the U.S. government continued to focus on making sure the nuclear capabilities stayed out of the hands of the Soviets and other nations. This secrecy was so important to the U.S. government that one of the main reasons the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission failed to become a reality was due to the proposed requirement that the United States turn over the scientific and technological secrets behind the nuclear bomb. This fear went to such an extent that when the Cold War started to heat up, accusations that Oppenheimer, the central figure in the development of the atomic bomb for the United States, was a communist resulted in a repeal of his security clearance.
Even today, the United States finds itself as the country with the most nuclear weapons in its arsenal but also leading the conversation in ensuring additional nations do not acquire these weapons and working to reduce the existing stockpiles of weapons across all nations. The desire to ensure foreign states do not acquire the technology that the United States developed decades ago rings true to the fears Dr. Owens expresses about the past mistakes at Hawkins Lab.

The more attention we bring to ourselves, the more people like the Hollands that know the truth, the more likely that scenario becomes. You see why I have to stop the truth from spreading too, just like those weeds there.

Lastly, the highly secretive nature of Hawkins Lab is very true to the situation across U.S. towns that were home to Manhattan Project facilities. Despite employing 130,000 workers and spending $2.2 billion during the course of the Manhattan Project, most people across the United States were floored to find the extent to which such a large operation could have been kept such a secret. The entire town of Oak Ridge was built around the secret project, with the existence of the town itself kept a secret as well. Even among employees at the Manhattan Project facilities the end goal of the labs were kept secret, with most lower level workers at the facilities simply performed whatever rote task they were assigned without being explained what its purpose was or the big picture. Many workers simply watched large quantities of raw materials enter the facility, saw nothing coming out, and were tasked with monitoring dials and switches  behind thick concrete walls without knowing the purpose behind these monitors or their jobs. This extent of secrecy was seen as critical to the mission of the Manhattan Project, as any amount of information spreading out to the outside world would put the mission at risk. Secrecy defined the early stages of the nuclear age, as it also defined the work going on in Hawkins Lab. The secrets behind the real DOE and Hawkins Lab only remained secrets, however, until the scientists lost control of their creations as they started to affect the unsuspecting public.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASource

Is this reading too much into one scene of a TV show?

While I don’t particularly like over-analyzing metaphors and symbolism that aren’t intended by creators to be there (shout out to literature teachers everywhere insisting that Fahrenheit 451 is about something Ray Bradbury himself denies), due to my experience with DOE and focus on its depiction in the show I couldn’t help but find some real world parallels that I think might have been an intentional metaphor included by the writers.

Admittedly, it seems that this part of the episode that is midway through season 2 might just be meant to signal shift in the plot. Whereas the antagonists in season 1 were Dr. Brenner and his team, with the Demogorgon being the unintended creation of these bad guys, it seems the Duffer Brothers used this scene as an opportunity to reset and shift the plot. The scientists at Hawkins Lab no longer have nefarious intentions (in a later episode, Dr. Owens is even the voice of reason in not allowing Will to die as a means to an end of defeating the mysterious forces putting the town at risk), and instead the main antagonists of the show are now the forces and creatures that continue to make their way through from the Upside Down.

Despite this function of the scene as a story-telling device that sets up the rest of season 2, it does also appear to speak to advent of nuclear weapons as the reason why DOE was chosen as the dark government agency in the series instead of the more commonly used FBI or CIA (seriously, can you name another pop culture avenue in which the Department of Energy plays a main role in the plot? The only two I could come up with are 1) Captain America, Campbell’s Soup, and DOE teaming up in comic book form for energy conservation and 2) the selection of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ participant Rick Perry as the Secretary of Energy.

imageimage-2

Source 1 Source 2

Because of the seemingly deliberate choice of words for Dr. Owens in this one scene, I believe the Duffer Brothers are pointing to the proliferation of nuclear weapons as the large mistake made by DOE in the past, which to this day requires constant weeding to prevent the effects of this mistake from spreading. Further, the devastating impacts shown by the creatures of the Upside Down when released into our dimension serve as a small reminder of the apocalyptic effects that the use of nuclear warfare could have on the world– a point that is made all the more poignant with nuclear tensions as high as they are today between the United States and certain hostile foreign states. For that, let’s all just hope diplomacy and cool heads prevail, lest the metaphorical Demagorgons of the world show what devastation really looks like.

 

Sources and additional reading
A Petition to the President of the United States: Dannen.com

As Hiroshima Smouldered, Our Atom Bomb Scientists Suffered Remorse: Newsweek

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

How would Hawkins National Lab from ‘Stranger Things’ fit in with the real Department of Energy Labs?

NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE WILL DEAL OPENLY WITH THE PLOT OF STRANGER THINGS SEASON 1, SO IF YOU HAVE NOT YET WATCHED IT THEN THIS IS YOUR ONE AND ONLY SPOILER WARNING

Unless you were living under a rock and/or don’t subscribe to Netflix, you know that the 2016 debut of the television show ‘Stranger Things’ was one of the surprise pop culture hits of the year. The story follows a small town in Indiana where a boy goes missing, a girl with supernatural abilities is found, and it all unfolds in the shadow of dark and mysterious government agents.

While I loved the show and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good sci-fi mystery, what really grabbed my attention was that those dark and mysterious government agents were from Hawkins National Laboratory—a fictional Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory. While DOE’s National Labs are often referred to as ‘crown jewels’ of national science and research, they are not fully understood by the general public. So even though Hawkins Lab is fictional (and sinister), ‘Stranger Things’ shined an unfamiliar light on DOE labs that are not usually recognized outside of the federal energy policy and energy technological research spheres.



With season 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ set to hit Netflix on October 27, 2017, I thought it would be fun to explore the similarities and differences that Hawkins Lab shares with the 17 real DOE labs across the United States. While DOE has already commented on how DOE doesn’t deal with monsters or evil scientists—isn’t that exactly what evil scientists who deal with monsters would say? Seems like some outside research is warranted.

Location

Indiana

In ‘Stranger Things,’ Hawkins National Laboratory is located in a federal complex in Hawkins, a fictional city in Indiana. Depending on where in Indiana the fictional Hawkins is located, since that is never made specific in the series, the closest DOE lab is either Argonne National Lab just outside of Chicago, Illinois, or Oak Ridge National Lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Either way, DOE has labs in the Midwestern states, making Indiana a realistic place for a National Laboratory.

Source

City of Hawkins

The city of Hawkins, Indiana is portrayed to be a small city where everyone knows each other’s business and the local police force is a very small operation. Of the options that are near to Indiana in real life, this type of town is certainly more reminiscent of the town surrounding Oak Ridge National Lab, where the sum of employees, students, visiting scientists, and facility users is equal to over 35% the total city population. The city of Hawkins might even have a much larger population than the non-laboratory citizens realize if they are all housed inside the secret laboratory campus, making the parallels in type of location between Hawkins Lab a real DOE lab even stronger than they initially seem.

One note here is that, originally, the show was going to take place in Montauk on Long Island. If this were the case, it would have placed the setting of the show only 60 miles from Brookhaven National Laboratory, also on Long Island. It appears that even in an alternate dimension (something the kids in ‘Stranger Things’ know a lot about…) where the showrunners ran with Montauk as the location, Hawkins Lab was destined to be located in a place that mirrors where a real DOE lab might be.

Building

Due to the secretive nature of Hawkins Lab, it is hidden in a forest, surrounded by a barbed wire fence and heavily guarded by security and police.

Source

None of these lab complex features could be considered outside of the norm for various DOE labs:

Origin

According to the bits of history peppered in during Season 1 of ‘Stranger Things,’ Hawkins Lab was created in the wake of World War II and the scientific endeavors sponsored by the U.S. government during that time. As was the case during the timeline of the show in the 1980s, Hawkins Lab was formed in secret due to the sensitive nature of the work going on there.

This aspect of Hawkins Lab is probably the most closely mirrored in actual DOE labs. The entire Department of Energy also traces its lineage back to the Second World War and the scientific pursuits of the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project was the government sponsored effort to create the atomic bomb that ultimately brought World War II to an end. Specifically, DOE worked on the research and development of the atomic bomb in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico—present day homes to Oak Ridge National Lab, Hanford Site, and Los Alamos National Lab, respectively. Not only that, but DOE also notes that when the existence of the Manhattan Project and its various sites (accounting for 130,000 workers and $2.2 billion in spending) was made public, it came as a shock that the government was able to run such far-flung secret operations. Hey residents of Hawkins, Indiana, sound familiar?

Mission

While never stated explicitly, much of the subtext and fan speculation of ‘Stranger Things’ pins Hawkins lab as being controlled by the CIA– either with the DOE label as a cover or in tandem with the DOE due to the dubious nature of the operations and what would happen if the public found out. Hawkins is the location of the top secret experiments conducted by the U.S. government. Based on the specific projects we know about (discussed next), the mission of Hawkins appears to be pushing the boundaries of science and the understanding of physics by any (dubious) means necessary.

The mission of each particular DOE lab varies depending on the program office it serves. The 10 labs under the Office of Science support the advancement of “the science needed for revolutionary energy breakthroughs, seek to unravel nature’s deepest mysteries, and provide the Nation’s researchers with the most advanced large-scale tools of modern science.” The three labs under the National Nuclear Security Administration serve the mission of “enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science.” The missions of the remaining four labs include energy efficiency and security, national security, and the environment.

Based on these options, it seems reasonable that the mission of Hawkins Lab lines up with the mission of labs under DOE’s Office of Science—as both are focused on using DOE labs to advance science and solve the physical mysteries of the universe.

Projects

From creation in the 1950’s through the 1970’s, Hawkins was home for Project MKUltra, which exposed human subjects to psychedelic drugs and extreme isolation to test the boundaries of the human mind (the CIA actually did conduct a ring of experiments called MKUltra on that aligns with this type of description, though there was never any indication that the Department of Energy was involved).

One of the test subjects at Hawkins was pregnant while undergoing the experiments of MKUltra, leading to her daughter, who we only know as ‘Eleven’, to be born with telekinetic abilities.  The discovery of her abilities led Eleven to be subject to intense testing and experimentation on those abilities. One discovered ability was to connect with other living creatures when she was placed in sensory deprivation, which the scientists at Hawkins worked to leverage to gain intel on a Russian enemy (the show takes place during the Cold War).

While conducting one of the tests on Eleven to gain access to the Russian enemy, Eleven encountered a mysterious monster-like creature (known in show lore as the Demogorgon) from another dimension, called the Upside Down. This discovery led the scientists to aggressively pursue and continue this line of experimentation on Eleven to gain more information about the Upside Down and the Demogorgon.

Source

So in short, at Hawkins you have projects dealing with:

  • Human test subjects;
  • Telekinetic powers;
  • Espionage on enemy nations; and
  • Alternative dimensions containing scary monsters.

For the real-life DOE parallels, let’s break that down:

Human test subjects

Unfortunately, this aspect of projects at Hawkins Lab cannot be unequivocally declared to have no parallel to the DOE labs. The truth is that the Atomic Energy Commission, which became the Department of Energy in 1977, has a history of human experimentation. These shady tests dealt with the effects nuclear exposure had on humans, and a Freedom of Information Act inquisition revealed that DOE still to this day provides “healthcare to people in various Pacific Islands affected by nuclear tests.” So again, the origination of the labs and these tests comes from World War II era science, just like we learn is the case for Hawkins Lab.

Telekinetic powers

The development or research into telekinesis is one aspect of the fictional Project MKUltra that does not appear to have any parallel in the DOE lab system. Though this must obviously come with a caveat of—well, if they did have such abilities, would we as the public necessarily know about it yet?

Espionage on enemy nations

If any sort of actual top-secret espionage activity had technology developed by DOE, odds are that information wouldn’t be publicly available and thus would not end up in this article. However, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has billed itself as the ‘real’ Hawkins Lab and is responsible for “certifying the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent in a post-nuclear-test-world.”

With their state-of-the-art supercomputers, radiochemistry team, and asteroid defense (too bad this is comparing DOE to ‘Stranger Things’ and not ‘Armageddon’), LLNL boasts that its scientists are responsible for “technical guidance to the policymakers who struck the recent Iran deal, they certify airport security equipment to ensure bad things don’t make it onto planes and they are cyber defenders tasked with thwarting attempts to bring down critical U.S. infrastructure.”

If these are the projects they are telling the public about, its only up to your imagination the types of projects that are considered hush-hush…

Alternative dimensions containing scary monsters

On DOE’s website, they admit that the closest DOE labs come to exploring parallel dimensions is contributing to various NASA technologies (such as nuclear batteries for deep space probes) to explore new worlds in this dimension. In contrast to that message, though, former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz did coyly tell Chelsea Handler on her talk show, when asked about whether DOE explores parallel universes like in ‘Stranger Things,’ that DOE’s support of basic science and theoretical physics “looks at things like higher dimensions than three dimensions, and parallel universes.” However, your mileage may vary on how directly to connect that type of research to Hawkins’ research into the Demogorgon and the Upside Down.

Accolades

In its 40-year history, scientists associated with DOE have been bestowed many awards– including a host of Nobel prizes. Accounting for all of DOE and its predecessor agencies, science and research at DOE and DOE labs have accounted for 115 Nobel Laureates across the fields of chemistry, physics, and physiology/medicine.

A key characteristic of Hawkins Lab is its intense secretiveness. As such, it is reasonable to assume that most revolutionary projects in the lab, whether the creation of a human with telekinetic powers or the ability to open up a rift to the Upside Down, are not public knowledge to the scientific community and thus have not received the Nobel prizes such discoveries surely would have warranted.

 

 

So if you take all that information in, and line it up side-by-side as I’ve done below, it becomes clear that the distance between real DOE labs and Hawkins Lab is not as far as DOE would want you to believe. But at the very least, we can breathe easy that it does not appear that the parallels that are still in existence today encompass any of the sinister motivations or human rights violations found in Hawkins Lab. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that no future FOIA’s reveal anything sinister, and, if anything, we simply find out that Barb was found safe and sound.

Click to enlarge

Is there anything about Hawkins National Lab that I missed? Let me know! Also, I’ll do an update of deemed necessary once I’ve completed my binge of the second season. While everyone else is desperate to learn the fate of Barb, find out more about the Demogorgon, and watch to see if Will makes it out of the Upside Down alive, I’ll be glued to my TV to try and get a peek at the administrative structure of Hawkins Lab and find out which DOE Program Office it falls under! (Update: Read about what season 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ might be saying about DOE’s nuclear past and future!)

Sources and additional reading

A government official confirms the scariest thing in ‘Stranger Things’ may actually be real: Business Insider

Come work at the ‘real’ Hawkins Lab

DOE National Laboratories Map: Department of Energy

Hawkins National Library– Stranger Things Wiki

Honors & Awards: Office of Science

Labs at-a-Glance: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Manhattan Project Background and Information and Preservation Work: Department of Energy

Nuke Lab Can’t Keep Snoops Out

Our Mission: National Nuclear Security Administration

Science at its Best Security at its Worst: Department of Energy

Stranger Things: Netflix Official Site

Stranger Things but true: the US Department of Energy does human experiments, searches for The Upside Down

Stranger Georgetown: Declassified: The Hoya

The Office of Science Laboratories: Department of Energy

The Stranger Things creators want some scares with their Spielberg: AVClub

What “Stranger Things” Didn’t Get Quite-So-Right About the Energy Department: Department of Energy

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Brewed with Renewable Energy- Best Beers for the Green Consumer

As microbreweries and craft beers have really blown up in recent years, it’s easy to forget that the beer brewing process goes back millennia.  Archaeologists have noted that nomads may have made beer before making bread, ancient Babylonian’s kept beer recipes on clay tablets, and European monasteries in the Middle Ages took beer brewing out of the home and into centralized production.

All of this ancient brewing was fairly unstandardized, relying on fermentation and chemical reactions and, when needed, cooking by fire.  It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the production of beer scaled up massively, inventions came along to ensure the consistency of brewing, and the energy required to brew beer became substantial, powered by the revolutionary steam engine. Since that time, the energy intensity of brewing beer became substantial– today’s breweries typically use 50-66 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per barrel of beer. With a barrel of beer containing 2 kegs of beer and an average U.S. home using 10,812 kWh  per year in 2015, that means that it takes  less than 400 kegs of beer production to account for an entire household’s annual energy use– while places like Boardy Barn in Hamptons Bay, Long Island can sell up to 600 kegs in a single day!



All this lead up is to get to the question– why do you care? Well at the time that craft brewing has come out of the niche to become mainstream, so has personal responsibility to be energy and environmentally conscious. So at the intersection of these two pushes is the trend of breweries to utilize renewable energy in their production process. This post is meant to not only call out and give props to all the breweries that are incorporating green practices into their fuel mix, but to show you the best tasting beers you can buy that are ALSO incorporating the most renewable energy production.

In short– green beer appears to be a brewery cultural movement (and not just with food coloring you put in one day a year)!

Methodology

As stated in the introduction, the goal of this fun exercise is to cross-list breweries who have publicly available their power generation from renewable energy or their total renewable energy generation capacity with a rating of the most popular beer brewed at that brewery. As such, the methodology can be broken out by energy and by beer:

Energy

Many breweries today are installing renewable energy generation, and luckily for this exercise they also love to talk about it. And why shouldn’t they? Making publicly available your renewable energy generation is not only great PR for a brand, but it can also lead to other breweries making the energy conscious decisions as they follow the leaders in the industry. As such, you can usually count on breweries to advertise their use of renewable energy:

Source

With this in mind, the data collected all came from publicly available sources– a section on a brewery’s website about sustainability, a news article announcing a new solar system install, etc. Based on what data was and was not available, it made the most sense to collect and rate based on total capacity of renewable energy used at the brewery. As a result, the following factors were not considered:

  • The percentage of energy use at a brewery that is accounted for by renewable energy (apologies to the smaller breweries that have a large percentage, or even all, of their energy use come from renewable energy– obviously the larger breweries have more energy use overall and thus have a higher ceiling for total installed capacity, but this analysis is only counting the raw total capacity);
  • Commitments to switch to renewable energy in the future (though there will be a list of ‘honorable mention’ breweries with such initiatives at the end);
  • The installation of renewable energy sources without the listing of capacity or energy generated (sorry to these breweries, you’ll be in the honorable mentions as well); and
  • Energy savings, energy efficiency initiates, and sustainable practices that don’t include installation of renewable energy (these will also be included in ‘honorable mentions’ to give credit where credit is due).

Beer

After assembling the list of breweries with renewable energy capacity, it sounded fun to cross-list those capacities with the rating of the most popular beer at that brewery to find the ultimate beer to reach for at the bar or grocery story that tastes great and contributes to the world’s renewable energy supply. BeerAdvocate.com was used as the repository for information on beer ratings, as it had the most extensive and widely available information for this process.

For each brewery identified on the below list, the beer with the most ratings on BeerAdvocate.com was identified as the most popular beer. The most popular beer was chosen to ensure a high sample size of ratings and to best represent the beer made at that brewery. So while there may be beers more highly regarded at the breweries identified, the chosen most popular beer is more likely to be that brewery’s flagship beer and accounts for the highest portion of the brewery’s production energy compared with any other beer.

Results

Below is a table of the 57 breweries found with advertised renewable energy capacity, with the greatest capacity at the top.  After a quick glance at this table, a few tidbits jump out:

  • Renewable capacities found on this list starts at 10 kilowatts (kW) and goes all the way up to 3,733 kW (or 3.7 megawatts). This wide range shows how varied the efforts are to incorporate renewable energy, from a small solar system that only has minor contributions to overall operations to a massive renewable energy installation that contributes most (if not all) of a brewery’s power needs.
  • Solar power is by far the most prevalent form of renewable energy found at breweries. This may seem striking, but it actually makes sense because solar systems are the easiest and most feasible system to install on a building basis. Other forms of renewable energy (wind power, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass) are not as well suited for individual building complexes to harness.
  • Heineken, as a parent company, appears several times towards the top of the list. Many of these breweries existed for many years before Heineken bought them, but it does appear to be a trend that breweries have become more likely to install renewable energy capacity after being brought under the Heineken umbrella.
  • There is also a clear spread of locations where these renewable energy breweries are located, on both coasts of the United States as well as three other continents. We’ll look into this more in a later graphic.

The next step is to plot these renewable capacities against the rating of the most popular beer. See the below graphs for this visual. When shown this way, a couple more conclusions can be made:

  • It turns out that the beer from the brewery with the highest renewable energy capacity (The Abyss from Deschutes Brewery) is actually the one with the highest rating on this list, making the decision at the bar that much easier!
  • However, dedication to renewable energy does not necessarily correlate with a well-received beer, as Birra Moretti (Heineken) and MillerCoors have discovered.
  • While a smattering of breweries have made the commitment to exceed a megawatt of renewable energy capacity, the majority of breweries have started smaller in the 500 kW range.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The last graphic put together is a map to represent where these breweries are spread across the country and the world. These maps show the top 20 breweries by capacity, with the size of the beer mug icon representing the relative size of that capacity (though note that between the U.S. map and the world map, scale of the maps are accounted for. For example, the Anheuser-Busch brewery has about half the capacity as the Namibia Breweries Limited. However because the U.S. map is about twice as big, both of these beer mug icons appear the same size).

The conclusions to be drawn from these maps include the following:

  • Within the United States, the most breweries with the most renewable energy capacity are mostly focused on the coastal regions. Specifically, the largest capacities are found on the West Coast in California and Oregon. These are two states that are known to have among the most progressive energy policies, so it’s no surprise that breweries in these states have jumped in feet first to the renewable energy revolution.
  • The United States does not have a monopoly at all when it comes to beer brewed with renewable energy. Not only are there a number of prominent breweries with renewable energy in Europe, but both the African and Asian continents are represented as well.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Honorable Mentions

As mentioned in the methodology section, there were a number of breweries that have initiatives in energy efficiency, sustainability, or other ‘green’ practices that were unable to be captured in this exercise that purely focused on renewable energy capacity. However, it only seems appropriate to still give these breweries a shout out for the positive efforts being put forth as well.

(Updated Honorable Mentions after originally posted– please keep these suggestions coming!)

  • Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia became Pennsylvania’s first 100% wind-powered brewery in 2011 (though figures on the total capacity were not available, which is the only reason they’re in the honorable mentions and not the main results).
  • Sawdust City Brewing in Ontario, Canada treats their wastewater on site.
  • Cowbell Brewing Co. is North America’s first 100% carbon neutral brewery.
  • Beau’s Brewery was the first Canadian brewery to be powered by 100% ‘green electricity.’
  • Sleeping Giant Brewing Company uses a host of sustainable practices, including the increasing use of renewable energy.
  • Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto sources its energy from 100% renewable sources (also no mention of total use/capacity, so can’t add to the main results).
  • Rock Art Brewery became Vermont’s first 100% solar powered brewery in 2017.
  • The Alchemist in Vermont also sources nearly 100% of its energy from a local solar farm.
  • Moonraker Brewing Company boasts 1,100 solar panels on site.
If you know any other breweries that should be included in either the main results or these honorable mentions, please reach out to me by commenting here or heading to the contact page to let me know. Hopefully all breweries who deserve their pat on the back can get them!

Sources and Additional Reading

Beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev commits to 100 percent renewable energy: CNBC

Beer History Timeline: BeerHistory.com

BeerAdvocate.com

Carlsberg aims to produce beer with renewable energy: Justmeans

Deschutes Brewery 2015 Sustainability Story: Deschutes Brewery

Early History of Brewing: Michigan State University

Green Beer Not Just for St. Patrick’s Day: Power Finance & Risk

Prost! 5 Breweries Embracing Renewable Energy: Renewable Energy World

Renewable Heating and Cooling for Breweries: Environmental Protection Agency

Renewables roadshow: how the people of Newtown got behind solar-powered beer

Top 50 Solar Beer Breweries: Solar Plaza (and all sources cited therein)

What is the Combined Heat and Power System (CHP)?: Yuengling Brewery

Wind Powered Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Co. 

 

Updated on 10/6/17 to fix units

Updated on 10/8 to include additional breweries (Yard Brewing Co., Sawdust City Brewing, Cowbell Brewing Co., Beau’s Brewery, Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, Steam Whistle Brewing, Rock Art Brewery, The Alchemist, and Moonraker Brewing Company). 

 

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.