Tag Archives: energy

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!

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.  

Deconstructing Units of Energy into Pizza, Fly Push Ups, and Grenades

When looking at energy use in everyday life situations, it is easy to overlook what the units used actually mean. When getting the electric bill in the mail, most people will simply compare the kilowatt-hours from last month to this month and note if their bill has gone up or down. When buying a new energy-efficient dryer, you know the fewer watts used the less energy it will be. The same mental comparisons are used all the time by people who do not have to deal with energy extensively– such as with the horsepower of a car or the calories in a sandwich.

However, it is all too common for people to forget the real significance of and differences between various units of measure related to energy and power use once they pass their high school physics class. Newscasters will constantly use kilowatts and kilowatt-hours as if they’re interchangeable (they’re not). Writers will misrepresent statistics online as if the difference between megawatts and gigawatts are not massive (they are).



For those of us that work in the energy industry, these numbers are much more tangible and easy to understand. However that does not describe a majority of citizens who are having these statistics thrown at them all the time, so this article will serve as a reference and allow you to re-up your energy statistics literacy.

The Basics

Energy vs. Power

The cardinal sin when dealing with energy units is confusing energy and power, a mistake that is unfortunately one of the most common as well. Even in mainstream news articles, it is not uncommon to see the total energy used for something to be listed in watts or vice versa (e.g., this article quotes the rate of energy use of a soccer stadium in kilowatts per hour, which you will shortly understand to be nonsensical if taken literally). So clearing up the confusion here is top priority.

The technical definitions of energy and power, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), are as follows:

Energy: The capacity for doing work as measured by the capability of doing work (potential energy) or the conversion of this capability to motion (kinetic energy)

Power: The rate of producing, transferring, or using energy, most commonly associated with electricity

Put simply, energy is the total work that is done while power is the rate at which that work is done. This concept can still be a bit tricky, so the easiest way to keep it straight is through metaphors. As one example, you can think of the relationship between energy and power as water flowing from a hose to a bucket. The volume of water that has been added to the bucket at any given point is comparable to the total energy use, while the rate that the water is flowing from the hose into the bucket can be considered the power. Another useful metaphor is to consider power to be the speed a car travels along a highway, while the total distance traveled would be the total energy. The main point is to think of power as a rate that is occurring with time (gallons of water per second, miles per hour) while the energy can then be thought of as that rate multiplied by the amount of time to get the total quantity (gallons of water per second times total seconds = total gallons of water, miles per hour times total hours = total miles driven).

To bring it to real world applications of energy and power, think of a light bulb in the lamp of your living room. The light bulb might be rated at 60 Watts, which is the power rating. 60 Watts is the rate of energy use of the bulb, and if you leave it operating for 2 hours then the total energy use is 60 Watts times 2 hours or 120 Watt-hours. Watt-hours, often divided by 1,000 to be expressed in kilowatt-hours, are the total energy use you will see come up on your monthly power bill (for more real-world applications of power and energy calculations, see the recent blog post on the energy used in various Thanksgiving turkey cooking methods).

Once you understand the difference between energy and power, you will start to see them used improperly all too often.

SI units vs. Imperial units vs. every other type of unit

To anyone who has to deal with the variety of units available to measure the same quantity, it can seem very confusing and unnecessary. Certainly it would be easier if everything and everyone used the same units and no conversion was needed. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in for a variety of reasons– everyone has seen or heard how hard it has been to try to get the metric system adopted in the United States.

The reality is that there are many different units because these units originated at different times, by different people/industries, for different uses. The development of the metric system during the French Revolution was the first attempt to create internationally agreed upon units. Prior to that time, the world was a much larger place and it was not uncommon for units that even carried the same name to vary in actual measurement depending on where you were and who you asked. As science and trade expanded with the ever-shrinking global stage, units became more and more standardized until the International System of Units (SI) was created in the mid-20th century. These units are standard and widely accepted across the scientific landscape, no small victory for unit standardization.

Even with that success, however, many industries were already set in their way. For example, even though the automotive industry could use the widely accepted wattage to describe the power of an engine, people already understood horsepower in the context of a car. Because of the inertia and history of units like this, the implementation of the SI system did not take off in all sectors. While this may have been the easiest choice for those industries, it leaves the layperson with an alphabet soup of units and abbreviations to wrap their head around. Hopefully this article will do a small part to clearing that all up.

Prefixes

Another important part of the tangled web of units, particularly among SI and metric units, is the use of standard prefixes. Prefixes are used to take a standard unit and modify it by a power of ten. A familiar example would be the difference between a meter and a kilometer. Kilo- is the standard prefix for a multiplier of 10^3 or 1,000, which is why a kilometer equals 1,000 meters. These types of prefixes, summarized in the table below, can be applied across all sorts of units and the meaning is always the same– look at the power of ten multiplier and apply it to the unit.

The prefixes at the extreme of either end (such as yotta- and yocto-) are rarely used because they are so large/small that they are not needed to describe real, tangible energy/power quantities you’ll come across. The ones that are commonly used include giga-, mega-, kilo-, milli-, and micro-, and in fact some of the units described in the below tables will have those prefixes because the power-of-ten-adjusted units are more commonly used in certain applications than their base units.

Units to know

Energy

With all that background out of the way, we can look at 24 various units used to measure energy. Some of these are more common and will be familiar to most people, others are more niche and relate to specific industries or fields of study, while others still are rarely used but are still interesting to consider. Again keep in mind you may run across more units made up of the measures below combined with one of the prefixes above– simply use the prefix multiplier to modify the designated unit in the below table.

This first table will list these energy-measuring units, from smallest to largest, along with the manner in which they are typically used, the qualitative fundamental equivalence by definition, and the standard quantitative reference.

Table 2: Units of Energy Across Industries and Applications

UnitAbbreviationTypical useFundamental equivalenceStandard Reference
electronvolteVUsed by astronomers to measure energy of electromagnetic radiation, as well as to describe the difference in atomic/molecular energy states.

Also used by particle physicists to measure mass (based on E=mc 2 )
Amount of energy one electron acquires from accelerating through one volt1.602 x 10^ -19 Joules
RydbergRyUsed by chemists and physicists to claculate the energy levels in that are absorbed or emitted as photons as electrons move between energy levels of a hydrogen atomGround-state energy of an electron in the Bohr model for the hydrogen atom13.605693009 eV
HartreeEhUsed in calculating energy of molecular orbitsThe electic potential energy of the hydrogen atom in ground state (and thus double E h )27.211 eV
ergergNot commonly used today, but can still be found in old European scientific papersAmout of energy used when a force of one dyne is exerted over one centimeter 100 nanojoules
jouleJUsed in electricity, mechanics, thermal energy, and other basic sciences on a small scaleAmount of energy transferred to an object when a force of one newton acts on the object in the direction of its motion through a distance of one meter (i.e., one Newton-meter)As the SI unit of measurment for energy, considered the base use unit of all energy and is the common reference for other units of energy
foot-pound forceft*lbUsed to describe muzzle energy of a bullet in small arms ballistsAmount of energy transferred to an object when applying one pound of force over a distance of one foot1.35581795 Joules
thermochemical calorie**cal thUsed in chemistry to describe the energy released in a chemical reactionAmount of heat/energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 o C (at 17 o C)4.8140 Joules
gram calorie**calUsed in chemistry to describe the energy released in a chemical reactionAmount of heat/energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 o C (from 14.5 to 15.5 o C)4.8155 Joules
British thermal unitBTUUsed as a common unit of energy content by industry and analysts to compare energy sources or fuels on an equal basisAmount of heat/energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by 1 o F1,055 Joules
Watt-hourWhUsed commonly in electrical applications Amout of energy used when one Watt of power is expended for one hour3,600 Joules
food Calorie, or kilocalorie**kcalIn common practice, nutritional calories are referring to these kilocalories (or Calorie, capitalized) as a means to measure the relative heating/metabolizing energy contained within a foodAmount of heat/energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 o C (from 14.5 to 15.5 o C)1,000 thermochemical calories
gram of TNTg of TNTUsed to compare the relative size of explosions based on their release of energyAmout of energy in the explosive yield of one gram of Trinitrotoluene (TNT)4,184 Joules
(The real use of a gram of TNT would result in a range of energy outputs between about 2,700 and 6,700 Joules, so the actual conversion was somewhat arbitrarily defined as 4,184 Joules or exactly 1 kilocalorie)
megajoulesMJUsed to describe the energy content of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and natural gas in the context of gas heaters in buildingsOne million times the amount of energy transferred to an object when a force of one Newton acts on the object in the direction of its motion through a distance of one meter (i.e., one Newton-meter)1.0 million Joules
horse-power hourhphUsed in railroad industry to describe a performance-use basis when companies lend locomotives to others (e.g., Railroad A lent Railroad B a 4,000 horsepower locomotive to use for 2 hours, Railroad B now owes Railroad A a payback favor of 8,000 horsepower-hours)Amount of work that can be done (or energy that can be expended) by a horse over one hour2.686 x 10^6 Joules
kilowatt-hourkWhThe common unit of measure used as a billing unit for electricity delivered to consumersAmount of energy if a constant power of one kilowatt is transmitted for one hour3.6 x 10^6 Joules
kilogram of hard coalkg of hard coalUsed within the coal industry to compare the energy output of other fuel types to the output of a standard measure of coalAmount of energy emitted when burning one kilogram of coal7,000 kilocalories
ThermthmUsed by natural gas companies to convert volume of gases to its equivalent ability to heatAmount of heat energy from burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas100,000 BTU
gasoline gallon equivalentGGEUsed to compare the cost of gasoline with other fuels that are sold in different units for internal combustion enginesAmout of energy equivalent to that found in one liquid gallon of gasoline5.660 pounds of natural gas
gigajoulesGJUsed on a global scale to compare the amount of energy used by different nations over given time periodsOne billion times the amount of energy transferred to an object when a force of one Newton acts on the object in the direction of its motion through a distance of one meter (i.e., one Newton-meter)1.0 billion Joules
ton of TNTton of TNTUsed to describe the energy released in an explosionAmount of energy released in the detonation of a metric ton of TNT4.184 Gigajoules
barrels of oil equivalentBOEUsed by oil and natural gas companies (and analysts of those industries) that have access to both fuel types to describe the overall energy content of their reserves in a simple, single numberAmount of energy equivalent to that found in a barrel of crude oil (42 gallons); for natural gas, the conversion is to about 6,000 cubic feet of natural gas5.8 million BTU*
Ton of coal equivalentTCEUsed to describe very large amounts of energy output on a national or global scale with coal as the reference pointAmount of energy generated from burning one metric ton of coal0.697 tonne of oil equivalent (according to World Coal Association)
0.700 tonne of oil equivalent (according to International Energy Agency)
tonne of oil equivalentTOEUsed to describe very large amounts of oil or natural gas, either in terms of trade and transportation or natural production/consumptionAmount of energy equivalent to that found in one tonne (i.e., a metric ton, or 1,000 kilograms) of crude oil7.33 BOE (according to SPE)
41.868 GJ (according to OECD)
10.0 kcal (according to IEA)*
quadquadUsed by the Department of Energy and others in the field to discuss the total energy production and use across the globeEqual to exactly 10 15 BTU, i.e., one quadrillion BTU (quad for short)1,000,000,000,000,000 BTU

*These values are approximate because different grades of oil/gas have slightly different energy equivalents, and thus different agencies/bodies sometimes use slightly different measures of them.

**It’s important to note the difference between calories and Calories– Calories with a capital C are the nutrtional Calories everyone is familiar with counting on diets. These Calories are actually known as kilocalories and are 1000 thermonuclear calories, so do not mix up Calories and calories…

To make some more sense of this array of units, both massively large and incomprehensibly small, the following table puts the units into some more context. In this table, you’ll find a real-world example of what can be done with a single unit of that energy measurement, how many Joules it equates to for comparison’s sake, and the multiplier needed to get from the previous unit of energy to that one.

Click to enlarge

Power

The same exercise can be done for units of power (or rate of energy over time), as there are just as many different units for various industries, applications, and technical necessities. For power, we’ll focus on 17 of the more commonly used units– though remember you might come across all of them modified by the previously discussed prefixes.

Again, this first table will list all the power-measuring units, from smallest to largest, along with the manner in which they are typically used, the qualitative fundamental equivalence by definition, and the standard quantitative reference.

Table 4: Units of Power Across Industries and Applications

UnitAbbreviationTypical useFundamental equivalenceStandard Reference
erg per seconderg/sNot commonly used today, but in old scientific papers could be used to express power on an atomic scaleAmout of power used when a force of one dyne is exerted over one centimeter in one second100 nanowatts
milliwattmWUsed to measure the power needed by very small electrical components, such as small lasers to read CDsEqual to one thousandth of a Joule per second, or the work/power needed to hold an object's velocity constant at one meter per second against a constant force of one thousandth of a Newton0.001 Watts
dBmdBmUsed as a measure of power in wires in radio, microwave, and fiber-optic networksdBm is measured as the decibals relative to one milliwatt on a logarithmic scale, where the dBm of a power P in millwatts equals 10 x log(P)Not applicable because of the log-based scale. While 1 dBm is about 1.3 milliwatts, 50 dBm is 100 Watts and -50 dBm is 10 nanowatts.
Foot-pounds per minuteft*lb/minCommonly used as a mesaure of power in the foot-pound-second (FPS) unit system, which was the most common scientific unit system in English publications until the mid-1900s. The work done to apply a force of one pound-force over a linear dispalcement of one foot over the course of a minuteConsidered the base use unit for power in the FPS system, others reference the foot-pound per minute
kilowatt-hour per yearkWh/yEnergy consumption of some household appliances is often expressed based on the kilowatt-hours used over the course of a year given certain assumptions (kWh/y of a washing machine based on 180 standard cleaning cycles). While this may appear to be an energy unit and not a power unit, the time component of hour of kWh and the year cancel out to leave you with a measure of power-- which is what this measure really is, an understandable way to compare the power rating of various appliances Based on the assumptions given by the particular appliance label, each additional kWh/y is another expected kilowatt-hour to show up on your power bill over the course of an entire year with typical appliance use1 kilowatt-hour per year divided by 8,760 hours per year, or about 0.114 Watts
British Thermal Units per hourBTU/hOften used as the power rating for furnaces and other large heating systemsAmount of power needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by 1 o F over the course of an hour1,055 BTU/hr divided by 3,600 seconds/hr, or 1055/3600 Joule/second which equals about 0.293 Watts
WattWUsed as the basic measurement of electrical power in small household-sized applicationsEqual to one Joule of energy per second, or the work/power needed to hold an object's velocity constant at one meter per second against a constant force of one NewtonAs the SI unit of measurement for power, considered the base use unit of all power and is the common reference for other units of power
kilocalories per hourkcal/hUsed to measure the metabolic rate of the human body, that is the amount of Calories your body will burn per hour doing various activities (e.g, exercising, sleeping, etc.)The amount of work needed to increase the temperature of one liter of water by 1 o C over the course of an hour1,000 calories per hour
calories per secondcal/sUsed by chemists when describing the rate of heat/energy transfer in chemical reactionsAmount of power needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 o C (at 17 o C) over the course of 1 second4.184 Watts
Metric horsepowerPSUsed for advertising in the same applications as mechanical horsepower but in countries who use the metric system (often leading to confusion and mixing up the units, though the official horsepower ratings of engines are typically conservative enough that it's not overpromising power0Equal to the power required to raise a mass of 75 kilograms over a distance of one meter in one second75 kilogram*meters per second
Mechanical HorsepowerhpUsed to measure the output shaft of an engine, turbine, or motor in applications from cars and trucks down to chain saws and vacuum cleanersWhen invented by James Watt (inventor of the steam engine), it was derived by calculating the average work a pony at a coal mine could do in a minute and then increasing that by 50 percent33,000 foot pounds per minute
Electrical horsepowerhp(E)Used in the United States for the nameplace power output capacity of electrical motorsIntended to be equivalent in use to the mechanical horsepower, but is defined as exactly 746 Watts746 Watts
kilowattkWTypically used to describe power output of engines, motors, and other machinery. The work done to apply a force of one thousand pounds-force over a linear dispalcement of one foot over the course of a minute1,000 Watts
Tons of refrigerationTRUsed to rate the power of commercial refrigeration systemsThe power needed to freeze a short ton of water at 0 o Cover a 24 hour period12,000 BTU/hr
Boiler horsepowerhp(S)Used to denote a boiler's capacity to deliver steam to a steam engineEqual to the thermal energy rate required to evaporate 34.5 pounds of fresh water at 212 o F in one hour33,475 BTU/h
megawattMWUsed to describe the power used by very large electical equipment and vehicles, such as warships, super colliders, electric trains, or large commercial buildingsThe work done to apply a force of one million pounds-force over a linear dispalcement of one foot over the course of a minute1,000,000 Watts
gigawattGWDenotes the power output of large power plants and electrical capacity on a national scaleThe work done to apply a force of one billion pounds-force over a linear dispalcement of one foot over the course of a minute1,000,000,000 Watts

Again, a useful way to make sense of all these power units is to give them more meaningful context. The next table shows some of the real world examples of these different levels of power output, converts them all to Watts for the sake of comparison, and the multiplier between two consecutive units.

Click to enlarge

Conclusion

Armed with the knowledge of these units of energy and power, you’ll be well prepared to tackle statistics anew– you’ll have useful context for how much energy was in the recent 5,000 barrel oil spill on the Keystone Pipeline (using the above information, we can calculate that 5,000 barrels of oil is over 30,000 Gigajoules– or equivalent to the average annual electricity consumption of over 700 American households), or you’ll also have not so useful (but fun!) context for the energy content of a gallon of gasoline (the same as over 127 slices of large cheese pizza or 30 kg of TNT).  Either way, being literate in your scientific and energy-related units will make you a more informed consumer of the news– if only everyone editing the news could do the same and stop using ‘Watts per hour’!

Sources and additional reading

A Megajoule or MJ Probably Isn’t What You Think: Elgas

Aqua-calc: Conversions and Calculations

Arkansas State Energy Profile: Energy Information Administration

Ask Trains from December 2007: Trains Magazine

Atomic Units: Nature

Barrel of Oil Equivalent: Investopedia

Blast effects of external explosions: Isabelle Sochet

Bluetooth range and Power: Electronics Stack

Brief history of the SI: National Institute of Standards and Technology

British Thermal Units (BTU): Energy Information Administration

By gum! Chewing to power your hearing aid: CNBC

Calorie: Encyclopedia Britannica

Choose the right charger and power your gadgets properly: Wired

Coal conversion statistics: World Coal

Coal equivalent: European Nuclear Society

CODATA Recommended Values of the Fundamental Physical Constraints

Conversion factors: Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

Electron Volt: Universe Today 

Elephants: San Diego Zoo

Energies in Electron Volts: Hyper Physics

Energy Conversion Calculators: Energy Information Administration

Energy Examples: Genesis Now

Energy Units: APS Physics

Energy Units and Conversions: Dennis Silverman

erg: WhatIs.com

Eu Energy Labels: What does kWh/Annum mean?

Exploding Laptop Batteries

Foot-Pound Force Per Minute: eFunda

Frequently Asked Questions: Energy Information Administration

Glossary: Energy Information Administration

Horsepower-hour: Collins Dictionary

Horsepower: Encyclopedia Britannica

How Hard Does It Hit? Jim Taylor

How Horsepower Works

How Many Calories Are Burned By Coughing? LiveStrong

How Many Calories Do You Burn Doing Everyday Activities?

How Many Flies Would It Take To Pull A Car? Neatorama

How much electricity does a solar panel produce? Solar Power Rocks

How much energy do my household appliances use? Energy Guide

Is it really worth my time to eat that last grain of rice?

Joule: techopedia

Launching satellites: Science Learning Hub

Measuring energy: IEEE 

Metric Conversions

Nanotechnology Introduction: Nanotechnology Now

NIST Guide to the SI: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Nonconventional Source Fuel Credit

One Calorie is Equivalent to One Gram of TNT In Terms of Energy: Today I Found Out

Papa John’s Nutritional Calculator

Physical Phenomena: University of Sydney

Physlink

Projectiles, Kinetic/Muzzle Energy and Stopping Power

Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science

Rydberg: Wolfram Research

Rydberg Constant: National Institute of  Standards and Technology

Rydberg Unit of Energy: Energy Wave Theory

The Adoption of Joules as Units of Energy: FAO

Tonne of coal equivalent: Business Dictionary

Tonne of oil equivalent: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Turning sweat into watts: IEEE

Understanding Energy Units: Green Building Advisor

Unit Conversion Factors: Society of Petroleum Engineers

Unit converter: International Energy Agency

USB Flash Drives: AnandTech

watt-hour (Wh): WhatIs.com

What’s a hartree? National Institute of Standards and Technology

What is a Joule? Universe Today

What is a GJ? Natural Resources Canada

What is a Ton of Refrigeration: Power Knot

What is a Watt, Anyway? Building Green

What is a Watt Hour? SolarLife

What is resting metabolic rate?

Why Do We Use a Dumb Unit to Measure Explosions? Gizmodo

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.  

Talking Turkey: Thanksgiving Dinner Energy Use and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Thanksgiving is one of the most wonderful time of the year, when families gather and spend time together while the smell of turkey seeps in from the other room. You’ve probably never given much thought to the energy use or environmental impact behind that intoxicating turkey smell coming from the kitchen, and in fact the country’s overall energy use drops on Thanksgiving because the increase in kitchen power use is offset by the drop in energy use from office and commercial buildings that are closed for the holiday.

However it’s always interesting to look at the actual energy numbers behind various regular activities and consider if there’s a way to do it better. Especially these days when online cooking forums and the Food Network is constantly making it trendy to cook your Thanksgiving turkey in new and novel ways. Your grandmother’s recipe isn’t the only one in town anymore (though I’m sure it’s still the best). Those cooking the turkey now have deep fryers and smokers, while Turducken is being eaten by NFL players after the Thanksgiving Day games.



With so many new cooking methods for Thanksgiving dinner, it got me to wonder what the energy cost was to cook turkey using these different methods. While there were investigations on the total energy use across the country to cook Thanksgiving dinner (linked later in this article), I could not find anything about the energy cost or associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of an individual turkey cooked using different methods, so I thought I’d run through them myself!

Recipes

After searching across the Internet, I settled on seven different methods to cook your Thanksgiving turkey– the traditional roasting of a turkey and six newer and trendier options that the hip or contrarian chef might utilize. These seven methods are the following:
  • Roasting;
  • Braising;
  • Deep frying;
  • Grilling;
  • Smoking;
  • Spatchcocking; and
  • Sous vide.

For each of these cooking methods, I’ve sought out a recipe either from a well-known chef of repute or directly from the manufacturer of the turkey or the cooking apparatus in question. By using these recipes, ideally these authorities will have an air of authority to them. Because each recipe offers cooking times based on various size turkeys, this analysis will normalize each recipe for a standard 15 pound (lb) turkey as the size recommended for a dinner of 12 people.

If you want to skip the details of the recipes and the calculations, click here to go straight to the results!
 
Note: For all of the below recipes, there are additional energy consuming steps that are not going to be included in the calculations. These steps include removing turkey from the oven to baste, pre-refrigeration, sauteing after the turkey is fully cooked to get crispy skin, etc. The point is the calculations below will focus on the energy needed to fully and safely cook the turkey, and any energy used before or after that process will be ignored for simplicity and uniformity. Of course you will be making side dishes and putting on finishing touches, so your mileage WILL vary compared with what is calculated here. The goal of this exercise is just to get a back-of-the-envelope approximation for how the different cooking methods affect the energy required– they are definitely not going to be exact or completely robust. You’ve been warned! 

Roasted turkey

Since this is the traditional cooking method, it seemed criminal to use a recipe other than the one championed by Julia Childs. Her traditional recipe for a 10 to 13 pound turkey calls for the oven to be preheat to 450oF and then the turkey roasted for 30 minutes before reducing the oven to 350oF and roasting for another 2 to 2 hours 30 minutes.
Normalizing for a 15 lb turkey, we’ll use the higher time estimate and add 15 minutes for the extra weight and say the turkey will be cooked in the oven for 3 hours 15 minutes.

Braised turkey

 Braised turkey is a great segue from the traditional to the more novel turkey-cooking methods, as it doesn’t stray too far from the original whole turkey roasting method. You are still cooking the turkey fully in the oven, but with the main difference that the turkey is sitting in a pan of vegetables and stock to bring in more moisture to your turkey.

For the braised turkey, we’ll stay with household names and use Bobby Flay’s recipe for herb roasted and braised turkey. This recipe calls for an oven preheated to 450oF with the 17 pound turkey and a bed of vegetables cooked for 45 minutes before the temperature is reduced to 350oF and cooked an additional 2 to 2 hours 15 minutes longer (while basting with warm chicken stock). After the whole bird is cooked, the legs are removed and braised in a roasting pan with stock for an additional 1 hour at 350oF.

To normalize to a 15 pound turkey, we’ll say the braised turkey cooks in the oven for a total estimated cook time of 3 hours 30 minutes.

Deep fried turkey

If you can manage to get it done without an explosion or trip to the hospital, deep frying turkey has become one of the more exciting and talked about cooking alternatives. Bobby Flay’s colleague at Food Network, Alton Brown, has one of the most used deep fried turkey recipes for those who love the science and Internet-trends of cooking.

For a 13 to 14 pound turkey, Alton has you heat up a 28 to 30-quart pot of oil to 250oF, add in the turkey and raise the temperature to 350oF, and once at that temperature cooking for 35 minutes.

To account for the weight of a 15 pound turkey, we’ll say this recipe cooks with a propane heater for a total of 40 minutes.

Grilled turkey

The grilled turkey recipe chosen comes straight from Butterball, the turkey supplier that accounts for 20 percent of total turkey production in the United States. Among grilling aficionados, the debate to grill by charcoal or by gas is one of the most heated. In addition to differences in taste, ease, and convenience, the choice of grill type also affects the end energy use to cook. Luckily for us, Butterball provides instructions for both a charcoal and gas grill.

Butterball’s recipe for charcoal grilling says that the 10 to 16 pound turkey will be cooked over 50 to 60 charcoal briquettes (after those initial briquettes have been burned for 30 minutes). At that point, the turkey is to be placed on the grill for 2 to 3 hours, with 12 to 16 briquettes being added every 45 minutes to 1 hour. To normalize at the 15 pound turkey, we’ll estimate that initially 60 charcoal briquettes will be used and, during the cooking process, 50 more briquettes will be added for a total cooking fuel of 110 charcoal briquettes on a charcoal grill over the course of 3 hours.

Butterball’s recipe for gas grilling says the same 10 to 16 pound turkey is cooked over indirect heat (after 10 to 15 minutes of preheating) at 350oF for 2 to 3 hours. For the 15 pound turkey we’ll assume the turkey is cooked on a gas grill at 350oF for the whole 3 hours.

Smoked turkey

Where deep frying or grilling the turkey may have once held the title as the ‘macho’ way to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey (whatever that may mean), smoking the meat might just have taken that crown. Using lower heat over longer periods of time, smoking turkey evokes the expert barbecue pit masters of the country to impart full flavor without drying out the turkey. Butterball once again provides authoritative guidance to smoking your Thanksgiving dinner, again allowing the consideration of two different fuel types.

Butterball’s recipe for preparing a turkey in a water smoker uses 10 pounds of charcoal briquettes (pre-burned for 30 minutes) to start the cooking process, adding in 12 to 14 more charcoal briquettes every 1 hour 30 minutes to ensure the temperature remains at 250oF through a total cooking time of 6 to 10 hours for a 12 to 18 pound turkey. For our 15 pound turkey, we’ll call that cooking fuel of 10 pounds plus 70 briquettes of charcoal over a cooking time of 8 hours in the water smoker.

When using an electric smoker, Butterball’s recipe calls for the smoker to be set at 225oF and the 8 to 18 pound turkey to be cooked for 8 to 12 hours. Normalizing to our 15 pound turkey, we’ll say the final cook time is 11 hours at 225oF in the electric smoker.

Spatchcocked turkey

If Julia Child was the first queen of celebrity chefs, Martha Stewart eventually took her crown, and so we have to include a recipe of Martha’s.  Martha Stewart’s magazine featured a recipe for a spatchcocked turkey, a method of cooking poultry in which bones are removed so the bird can be flattened and cooked more evenly and quickly.
Martha Stewart’s recipe has the oven preheated to 450oF, with a 12 pound and fully spatchcocked turkey roasted for 1 hour 10 minutes. For our 15 pound turkey, we’ll adjust this to be cooked in the oven at 450oF for 85 minutes.

Sous vide turkey

Sous vide cooking, or the process of cooking food that is vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch by placing it in heated and circulating water bath, has been around for decades. The method has gained traction more recently, however, as home cooks are increasingly getting their hands on the cooking equipment necessary that was previously only available in professional kitchens. The cooking method allows meat to be cooked at lower temperatures and thus cooked more evenly, safely, and while retaining moisture.

If you are in the market for a sous vide immersion circulator, one of the first places you might go is Williams Sonoma. To aid the new owners of this equipment, they also offer up a sous vide turkey recipe by Michael Voltaggio. The water of the sous video immersion circulator is preheated to 150oF and the vacuum sealed turkey pieces then placed in and cooked for 2 hours 30 minutes.

Calculations

These recipes use a wide variety of cooking apparatuses and fuels, so the methodology of calculating the total energy use and associated CO2 emissions will vary. Much like the Halloween-themed post on the most sustainable way to light your Jack-O’-Lantern, this post will thus be calculating very rough estimates using educated choices of data and assumptions. The final numbers should be considered back-of-envelope calculations and not scientifically or rigorously tested. There are also various aspects to the cooking process that would impact the end result that will not be accounted for, as well as variables to your individual cooking efforts that would change the final result (e.g., size of oven or grill, the energy mix of your power supplier, what type of propane or charcoal you buy from the store).

All that said, if you have ideas or suggestions on how to refine any of the numbers calculated here, then please reach out and/or leave a comment! (For one, I’ve assumed an oven is using a uniform amount of power regardless of the temperature at which it is set. While the difference of power use at 350oF and 450oF is not likely that much, it is definitely measurable. However, after much digging I was still unable to find any way to estimate the power difference among different temperatures, so a uniform power consumption was chosen and used for all use of the oven.)

Regardless of fuel type, all final energy numbers are calculated in kilowatt hours (kWh) and all CO2 emissions are calculated in lbs.

If you don’t care about going through the calculations and just want to jump to the final numbers, click here to jump to the results!



Roasted turkey

We are assuming the use of an oven for 3 hours 15 minutes. The oven will also need to preheat the oven, which we’ll assume to take 15 minutes. All together, the energy use and CO2 emissions will be associated with using an oven for a total of 3 hours 30 minutes.

In the United States, ovens are commonly powered by either electricity or by natural gas (though electric stoves are almost twice as common as gas stoves). The fuel type will affect the end energy use and CO2 emissions:
Electric oven:

Electric ovens use about 2.0 kilowatts (kW) of power. Assuming this power usage for the entirety of the recipe, the energy use of roasting the turkey in an electric oven is about 2.0 kW times 3.5 hours, or 7.0 kWh.

The latest data available from the Department of Energy says that for every kWh of electricity produced in the United States, 1.096 pounds of CO2 are released. Thus for this recipe in an electric oven, the CO2 emissions are equal to 1.096 lbs/kWh times 7.0 kWh or about 7.7 pounds of CO2.

Electric ovens use about 2.0 kilowatts (kW) of power. Assuming this power usage for the entirety of the recipe, the energy use of roasting the turkey in an electric oven is about 2.0 kW times 3.5 hours, or 7.0 kWh.

The latest data available from the Department of Energy says that for every kWh of electricity produced in the United States, 1.096 pounds of CO2 are released. Thus for this recipe in an electric oven, the CO2 emissions are equal to 1.096 lbs/kWh times 7.0 kWh or about 7.7 pounds of CO2.
Gas oven:

Gas ovens use about 0.112 therms of natural gas per hour. Over the course of the 3 hours 30 minutes, this would result in the use of 0.392 therms. In order to convert this amount of natural gas to kWh for comparison’s sake, we use the energy equivalence of one therm being about 29.3 kWh, meaning the energy use of a gas oven for this recipe is 11.5 kWh.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a handy carbon footprint calculator you can use to analyze the CO2 emissions of all sorts of household activities. Included among its assumptions is the emission factor of cooking with natural gas, at 11.7 lbs of CO2 per therm of natural gas (this is another place where your specific situation may vary– some gas stoves use propane or other flammable gases as fuels, but we’ll assume natural gas for the sake of this calculation). Based on this assumption, the roasted turkey recipe in a gas oven would result in CO2 emissions of about 4.6 lbs of CO2.

Braised turkey

The braised turkey recipe also uses a oven, but this time for 15 minutes of preheating and 3 hours 30 minutes of cooking for a total of 3 hours 45 minutes. Again, this process can be done in an electric or a gas oven using the same assumptions as the roasted turkey.

Source

Electric oven:

Using the same assumptions as above for 3 hours 45 minutes of 2.0 kW power usage, the braised turkey recipe uses 7.5 kWh. Using the same assumption of 1.096 lbs of CO2 per kWh results in the CO2 emissions of the braised turkey in an electric oven being about 8.2 lbs.

Gas oven:

Repeating the assumptions above again gives an approximate energy use of 0.420 therms, or 12.3 kWh, and would result in emissions of about 4.9 lbs of CO2.

Deep fried turkey

The deep frying recipe calls for a propane heater to preheat a pot of oil to 250oF, adding in the turkey and raising the temperature to 350oF, and then cooking for 40 minutes.
 

The assumptions we can make here are that a propane cooker uses 65,000 British thermal units (BTUs) per hour and preheating deep fryers takes about 30 minutes. That means the total energy use would be 65,000 BTU/hour times 1 hour 10 minutes for a total of 75,833 BTU. Converting the propane use in BTU to approximate energy use in kWh gives a final result of approximately 22.2 kWh.

To calculate the CO2 emissions from this cooking process, the EPA’s carbon footprint calculator again gives us the needed information of CO2 emissions for cooking by propane. With the EPA assumption that every million BTU of propane burned emits 136.05 lbs of CO2, the deep fried turkey’s 75,833 BTU emits about 10.3 lbs of CO2.

Grilled turkey

Charcoal grill:

When the grilled turkey recipe for a charcoal grill is used, 110 charcoal briquettes are used over the course of 3 hours (after 30 minutes of pre-burn of charcoal).

Experiment shows that the energy content of charcoal is 7.33 kilojoules (kJ) per gram, while a single briquette of charcoal weighs about 25.7 grams. All together, this means a charcoal grilled turkey takes 20,733 kJ, which is converted to about 5.8 kWh.

For the CO2 emissions of charcoal grilling, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has found that the amount of charcoal needed to operate a grill for an hour emits 11 pounds of CO2. For this recipe that uses the grill for a total of 3 hours 30 minutes, that amounts to 38.5 pounds of CO2.
Propane grill:

When prepared on a gas grill, propane is needed to preheat for about 15 minutes and then cook the turkey for 3 hours.

The rate of propane use in propane grills varies, but a standard gas grill is rated at about 36,000 BTU/hour. That means for the full 3 hour 15 minute operation, the Butterball grilled turkey recipe requires 117,000 BTU or approximately 34.3 kWh of energy.
 
As with the recipe for deep fried turkey, we can use EPA’s assumption that every million BTU of propane burned emits 136.05 lbs of CO2, meaning this propane grilled turkey accounts for 15.9 lbs of CO2.

Smoked turkey

For the smoked turkey recipe, we again have two options for cooking fuel– either a charcoal fueled water smoker or an all electric smoker.

Charcoal powered water smoker:
This recipe required the burning of 10 pounds plus 70 briquettes of charcoal for 8 hours (after 15 minutes of preheating).
Using the same assumptions as with the charcoal grilled turkey, we find that at 7.33 kJ/gram of charcoal and 25.7 grams of charcoal per briquette gives a total energy use of the charcoal for a turkey smoked with a water smoker of about 12.9 kWh.
For the CO2 emitted, we again assume that grilling for an hour emits 11 pounds of CO2 per hour, meaning for a total grill time of 8 hours 15 minutes we get 90.8 lbs of CO2.
Electric smoker:
The electric smoker will be set at 225oF and the turkey cooked for 11 hours. Common electric smokers are rated at about 800 Watts, meaning 11 hours of use would use 8.8 kWh.
Since this is all electric, we can reuse our assumptions from cooking in an electric oven. Assuming 1.096 lbs of CO2 are released for every kWh of electricity produced in the United States, the electric smoker would account for about 9.6 lbs of CO2.

Spatchcocked turkey

The recipe for spatchcocked turkey brings us back to the oven, but with the distinct (and intentional) advantage of a greatly reduced cooking time compared with the other methods. The 15 pound turkey will cook in the oven at 450oF for 85 minutes, after 15 minutes of preheating, for a total oven use time of 1 hour 40 minutes.
Electric oven:
Reusing our electric oven assumptions, 1 hour and 40 minutes of 2.0 kW power usage means the spatchcocked turkey will require about 3.3 kWh of energy. At 1.096 lbs of CO2 per kWh, that means the recipe accounts for about 3.6 lbs of CO2.
Gas oven:
If instead the spatchcocked turkey is cooked in a gas oven, which uses 0.112 therms of gas per hour, the energy use of this recipe would be about 5.5 kWh, while the CO2 emissions associated with this cooking process would be 2.2 lbs.

Sous vide turkey

Last but not least is the sous vide turkey, which requires the use of an immersion sous vide immersion circulator for 2 hours 30 minutes (after a 15 minute preheat time). Given that the power rating of a sous vide from Williams Sonoma (the source of our recipe) is 1,100 W and the total operating time is 2 hours 45 minutes, the electricity use comes out to about 3.0 kWh. At 1.096 lbs of CO2 per kWh, that means the sous vide turkey accounts for about 3.3 lbs of CO2.

Graphical results and conclusions

With all those calculations and assumptions out of the way, we can finally look at all the results in one table:

Click to enlarge

These numbers can also be displayed graphically to show the overall level of ‘green-ness’ of each cooking method:

Click to enlarge

Looking at these results, there are a number of points of interest and interesting conclusions to draw:
  •  In terms of the amount of CO2 emissions, the two options that use charcoal (smoked in a charcoal smoker and grilled on a charcoal grill) are by far the greatest emitters. This result shouldn’t be surprising, as charcoal (with anthracite coal as one of its ingredients) is one of the more carbon intensive fuels you can use in your homes. However it is interesting to note that, despite their higher CO2 emissions, they are in the same ballpark in terms of energy use as the other cooking methods. This result shows how charcoal is an efficient fuel source, it just happens to also be dirty.
  • In terms of the total energy use, the two options that use propane (deep fried and grilled on propane grill) require the greatest energy. The higher energy needed is likely due to the cooking source being less efficient than others, with gas/propane burners typically being only 40% efficient with the remaining 60% of energy output being lost to heating the surrounding air or as visible light.
  • The two best cooking methods in terms of both minimal energy use and CO2 emissions are the sous vide turkey and the spatchcocked turkey (in either a gas or electric oven). The reason these reign supreme is telling, and different for the two of them.
    • For the sous vide turkey, the turkey is vacuum sealed and cooked in heated water the size of a typical pot. The result is that a smaller volume has to be heated up when compared with a larger oven, deep fryer, smoker, or grill that needs to heat up and keep heated the larger surrounding area. By focusing the heat in a smaller area, the total energy use is greatly reduced. In all cooking, the smaller the area you are heating up the more energy efficient the cooking process will be, which is why it is actually advisable to cook using smaller, dedicated appliances (e.g., toaster ovens, panini press, etc.) than to use the oven or stovetop for everything.
    • For the spatchcocked turkey, the reduced energy use and associated CO2 emissions is simply attributed to the largely reduced cooking time. Outside of the deep fried recipe, which uses the aforementioned inefficient propane, the spatchcocked recipe is the only one that takes under two hours of cooking. Obviously, the less time you have to have your appliances working, the less energy you’ll use. So while spatchcocking may have become popular due to the convenience of reduced cooking time, the relative efficiency is also among its virtues.
  • When comparing the recipes that use either the gas oven or the electric oven, the final figures show that the gas ovens use more energy but emit less CO2. What is important to note about the CO2 difference, however, is that the numbers are based on the average U.S. figure for CO2 emitted per kWh. This number can vary greatly depending on your power company and where you live. For example, if you live in Vermont then your power likely comes from a greater proportion of renewable energy than in other states, which would reduce the relative CO2 emissions of your electric oven. Of course the opposite is true if your power company uses more coal in its fuel mix than the national average.
  • One last point is that the relative energy use here does not correlate to the relative cost to the consumer for preparing the turkey. Certain fuel types are much cheaper than others, which is part of the reason they are popular to use in the first place. For example, just because grilling by propane uses almost six times the energy as grilling by charcoal, the relative prices of the fuels actually results in grilling by gas being less costly per hour for a consumer.

According to the National Turkey Federation, 46 million turkeys are roasted each Thanksgiving. Various outlets have attempted to estimate the actual energy use of those turkeys cooked in aggregate, with answers ranging from 48 million kWh to 792 million kWh (quite a wide range, showing just how uncertain the true number is). Using the numbers calculated here, if all 46 million turkeys were cooked sous vide then that would be 138 million kWh, whereas if they were all grilled on a propane grill then that would be over 1.5 billion kWh. Concerning CO2 emissions, the 46 million turkeys could account for 152 million lbs (sous vide) or over 4 billion lbs (grilled on charcoal grill)– for context, a passenger vehicle emits about 10,000 lbs of CO2 per year. That’s all to say, the small decisions everybody makes individually can add up to make a large difference in total energy use or CO2 emitted– even when talking turkey.

In the end, though, there isn’t too much reason for you to stress. There are plenty of methods you can use to cut down on energy use while cooking if you choose to do so(see some examples here and here, or you can even invest in a solar cooker that uses just the sun and reflectors to cook at temperatures up to 400oF!). But again, the overall energy use on Thanksgiving is lower than the average Thursday. It’s a time to relax and be grateful, not necessarily to measure out your exact briquettes to minimize energy spent. But you can come to the Thanksgiving table with some of these fun facts handy to impress your family, just be sure to praise the cooking of the chef first– he or she spent plenty of time making that dinner!

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Sources and additional reading

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.  

Energy Efficiency in the NFL: Declaring a Champion

The National Football League (NFL) has been making immense strides towards implementing strategies for energy efficiency and sustainability in recent years, recognizing the money that could be saved on stadium power bills as well as the influence of being stewards of environmentally friendly practices (taking a page out of the books of the number of beers brewed with renewable energy that are served in NFL stadiums!). Whether these efforts are marked by using recycled materials or installing solar panels in stadiums, sponsoring events for the recycling of electronic waste, or using interactive digital media guides instead of printed guides, it seems that NFL teams are constantly working to one-up each other for the title of greenest, most energy-efficient team.

So why keep that hypothetical?!

What if the 2017-18 NFL season played out according to the teams who performed best on a (admittedly pretty arbitrary) ‘green scale?’ That’s exactly what I do in this article, playing out the whole 16 game schedule for all NFL teams, making my way through the playoffs, and ultimately declaring a Super-Efficient Bowl Champion!



Methodology and rankings

A note before starting—this analysis is pretty subjective, could go any number of ways depending on types of data chosen to analyze, and is merely meant to be a fun exercise praising teams who have put effort into energy efficiency. Nothing is meant to be taken overly serious, so don’t be offended if your team rates lowly or there are certain energy efficiency efforts of your team I was unaware of and thus didn’t account for. That said, if there’s additional interesting information I haven’t captured, please do let me know in the comments!

To play out the season, several pieces of data were gathered and then quantified for each team to determine which team was the most efficient. A team’s efficiency score comprised the following:

  1. The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score of each team’s home city, as determined by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE);
  2. The level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification achieved by a team’s home stadium, as determined by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), or, when LEED certification was not reached, the presence (or lack thereof) of significant sustainability practices at the stadium;
  3. The total round trip distance traveled by the team during the 2017-18 season to all eight of its away games; and
  4. The distance to a team’s stadium from the geographic center of the home city.

These various factors are normalized on a scale of 0 to 100 to determine a team’s efficiency score.

To make things more interesting than just having a single list of teams ranked from 1 to 32 of most-efficient scoring to least efficient-efficient scoring (and thus making the ultimate champion obvious before the games are even played out), each team is awarded a ‘Home-Efficiency Score’ (HES) and an ‘Away-Efficiency Score’ (AES). The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score and the LEED certification factor into both the HES and AES, however the round trip distance traveled (which pertains to teams traveling to their away games) only factors in to the AES, while the distance to a team’s stadium from the city’s geographic center  (which pertains to the average distance home-team fans are likely to travel to watch a home game) only factors into the HES.

As such, the HES is the simple average of above factors 1, 2, and 4, while the AES is the simple average of above factors 1, 2, and 3.

1. 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score

Again, these scores are on a scale of 0 to 100 and are awarded by ACEEE. In determining the City Energy Efficiency Score, ACEEE takes into account local government operations, community-wide initiatives, buildings policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation policies.

Most NFL teams either play in or clearly represent one of the cities that is scored by ACEEE in this annual list. However, there were a few notable exceptions that had to be addressed separately:

  • The Packers play and represent Green Bay, Wisconsin. Green Bay is an extremely small city compared with typical cities with professional sports teams,and wasn’t on the list. The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was used from the ACEEE score card due to it being the closest major metropolitan area to Green Bay and the high concentration of Packers fans throughout the state of Wisconsin.
  • The Raiders play and represent Oakland, California (though they are soon moving to Las Vegas, Nevada—but that is for another season so it won’t affect their 2017 score). With Oakland not in the ACEEE list, the next best city to use was San Francisco, California due to the proximity of these metropolitan areas.
  • The Bills play and represent Buffalo, New York. There were no representative cities in the ACEEE scorecard in the Upstate New York region. This analysis used ended up using the average of all NFL cities since it seemed fair to avoid rewarding or punishing Buffalo for the lack of data on its performance and instead award it a middle of the pack rating.

The following table summarizes the scores received for each of the 32 NFL teams based on the ACEEE score of their designated cities:

Click to enlarge.

2. Stadium LEED certification or other initiatives

While an NFL team might not have much it can do to influence its city’s ACEEE City Energy Efficiency Score, one thing they can control is how energy efficient their stadium is. Each team will typically play eight games in their home stadium during the course of an NFL season (more if you count preseason and playoffs). Football teams sometimes fall under more scrutiny for the sustainability (or lack thereof) of their stadiums compared with other sports that have dozens of home games per year, because so much land and so many resources are being used for the bigger football stadiums that get used a fraction of the time.

Such factors make the energy efficiency and general sustainability of football stadiums more crucial, and in recent years there have been a handful of stadiums that have pursued LEED certification for their stadiums. LEED is a program from the USGBC that certifies all sorts of buildings, including stadiums, based on their design, construction, operation, and maintenance. New buildings often strive to be LEED certified before blueprints are even drawn up, though existing buildings can also be retrofitted to comply and be certified as a LEED building.

Based on the points awarded (out of a possible 100), buildings can be classified as:

  • 40-49 points is LEED Certified;
  • 50-59 points is LEED Silver;
  • 60-79 points is LEED Gold; and
  • 80-100 points is LEED Platinum.

These 100 possible points are awarded based on the categories of Location & Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation in Design. There are an additional 10 points that can be earned based on Regional Priority and Innovation.

As such, the points awarded in this analysis to NFL stadiums that are LEED certified will correlate with the minimum points necessary to reach that level of certification (e.g, a team with a LEED Silver stadium will be awarded 50 points). Additionally, many stadiums do have significant sustainability efforts in their stadiums but they have not yet pursued or achieved LEED status. To give due credit to these initial steps, stadiums who are found to have other efficiency and sustainability initiatives at their stadiums will be awarded 10 points (representing the additional 10 points LEED makes awardable outside of the base 100 points).

The following table summarizes the scores received for each of the 32 NFL teams based on the LEED certification or sustainability initiatives found for their stadiums*:

Click to enlarge.

*The sources for all of these stadium initiatives can be found in the ‘Sources and additional reading’ section at the end of the article. One stadium worth noting is the AT&T Stadium of the Dallas Cowboys. It is possible to find literature citing that they are aiming to reduce energy use by 20% per year, they were still counted without any major initiatives. The reason for this is because any concrete completed projects towards this goal could not be identified, in addition to the fact that at peak draw the energy-use starting point was using three times the amount of energy the whole nation of Liberia can produce—this idea makes it hard to award points just yet until the stated goals are realized.

3. Total round trip distance traveled to away games

Another large energy expense of every NFL team is that amount of travel required for each team to go to each of its away games. Some teams are centrally located compared with their common opponents and thus able to take buses or trains, while other teams find themselves in cross country trips several times a year that require the use of a privately chartered airplane. The traveling process varies team-by-team, but the total number of people traveling to each game ranges from 135 to 200, bringing with them up to 16,000 pounds of equipment (which will travel by 18-wheeler truck for all but the longest of trips). Most traveling is done by privately chartered planes, at a costs high enough that the Patriots found it cost-effective to become the first team to own their own team planes.

All of these factors use up a massive amount of transportation fuel, and the best proxy available for how much energy each team’s travel will account for in the 2017 season is to look at who is traveling the furthest distance to games away from their home stadium (accounting for traditional away games in other teams’ stadiums as well as any games taking place at a third location, such as a number of games taking place in England during the 2017 season).

The following table summarizes the total travel miles for each of the 32 NFL teams during the 2017 season, as well as a score normalized out of 100—where 0 represents the number of miles traveled by the team with the most road miles and 100 representing a hypothetical team that would travel zero total miles:

Click to enlarge.

4. Distance from city center to stadium

The last factor considered in this analysis examines how far fans would have to travel to get to a home game of their favorite NFL team. While the ideal data for this would be to find the average distance that fans who bought tickets, or even just season ticket holders, lived from the stadium of their team. Unfortunately, this type of data set does not seem readily available. Instead, a proxy for this distance traveled that was used in a 2014 analysis I came across was the distance from the city center of each team’s implied/representative city and its stadium. This data (which I have updated for stadiums or teams that have moved since that analysis) would give a rough idea how much (and what type of) game day travel is needed by an average fan in that city—whether they would have to use a lot of fuel drive a long distance (because their beloved San Francisco 49ers are actually 43 miles away in Santa Clara) or if they could walk or use more efficient public transportation to get to their local team (such as the New Orleans Saints who are positioned a mere half mile from city center and the typical pre-game restaurants and bars of their avid fans).

The following table summarizes the distance from city center to stadium for each of the 32 NFL teams, as well as a score normalized out of 100—where 0 represents the number of miles of the stadium that’s furthest from its implied city center and 100 representing a hypothetical team that would travel zero total miles:

Click to enlarge.

 

Putting together these four factors as described earlier the following final scores for each team’s efficiency at home (HES) and away (AES):

Click to enlarge.

Notes on methodology

Before playing out the 2017 NFL season using these Home and Away Efficiency Scores to determine the winner of all 256 regular season matchups, a couple of notes about the methodology used:

  • The average HES is 50.5 while the average AES is 37.6. This setup clearly favors the average home team in each matchup, due to the fact that the ‘city center to stadium distance’ scores are significantly higher than the ‘road miles traveled’ scores.’ This fact is seen as realistic, since in any given NFL game the home team is more likely to win (an average 3 point swing is given to the home team in an NFL game by sports odds makers).
  • There are some clear favorites heading into the season, as the HES of the several of the teams with LEED stadiums have a HES higher than the AES of every team, while a number of teams at the bottom of the AES ranking have scores so low they can’t beat the HES of any team.
  • Through it all, this is an inherently silly but fun exercise. We could instead just assign point values for all the sorts of factors an NFL team can control and declare the top 10 teams in those rankings—but isn’t it more fun to be a bit arbitrary and go through to declare a champion? Read on if you think so!

Regular season results

I used the NFL Playoff Predictor tool to plug in the results of all of the regular season matchups of the 2017 NFL schedule. This tool then uses the NFL’s rules to determine what teams make the playoffs and in what seeds.

You can see a saved version of what this played regular season would look like on a game-by-game process by following this link, but the final standings for the playoffs come out as follows:

Source

It is worth noting that after the first 7 weeks of the NFL season, the results based on this scoring system were already incorrect 52% of the time. But nonetheless, we have our twelve playoff teams in the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New England Patriots representing the AFC, while the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, and New York Giants represent the NFC.

By highlighting the playoff teams in the below table, we can find out what carried teams to the playoffs and what caused teams to miss the playoffs:

Click to enlarge.

A few things stick out:

  • The Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons were the only team that overcame a below average ACEEE score to make the playoffs, with the Titans seeming to rely on their extremely high city center to stadium distance score and the Falcons were carried by their new stadium being the only one certified as LEED Platinum while also being so close to city center.
  • Every team that has some sort of LEED certification on their stadium had enough of a leg up to make the playoffs. Further, no teams that had zero points from the lack of any significant energy initiative ended up making the playoffs.
  • Half of the playoff teams that scored below average on the road miles traveled, while one third of the playoff teams scored below average on city center to stadium distance (including the San Francisco 49ers who’s stadium is the furthest from city center, but luckily for them was certified as LEED Gold).

Playoffs

Playing through the first three rounds of the playoffs, we’ll continue to use the NFL Playoff Predictor tool and our HES and AES figures, as teams with a higher playoff seed still host the games.

Wildcard Round

Source

The Wildcard Round finds the Broncos, Steelers, Vikings, and Eagles moving on to meet the top four seeds from the regular season.

Divisional Round

Source

The Divisional Round finds all four home teams, bolstered by their LEED certified stadiums that aren’t too far from city center, advancing to the Conference Championships.

Conference Championship

Source

The pre-season favorites in the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons advance to the Super-Efficient Bowl. Both of these teams are carried by the energy efficiency and the central location of their stadiums, as the ACEEE score for both Baltimore and Atlanta are average while they also have significant road miles traveled as they are both on the East Coast and find themselves traveling to the Midwest and the West Coast.

Super-Efficient Bowl

Again, the two teams left standing at this point are the ones with the highest level of LEED certification on their stadiums, and they both come into this game with compelling story lines.

For the Atlanta Falcons, this marks a return to the Super Bowl after being victims of the largest comeback in Super Bowl history last year. However, last year they had not yet opened the Mercedes-Benz Stadium—the LEED Platinum certification of which propelled them back to the big game. Is this bump in sustainability enough to overcome the ghosts of last year’s devastating loss? Was the missing ingredient to last year’s team a stadium that set the bar as far as energy-efficient stadiums go?

For the Baltimore Ravens, the last time they were in the Super Bowl was five years ago—and this was a notable game in the energy world. It was this Super Bowl where the a power outage caused a half hour stoppage in play, the cause of which was later discovered to be a recently installed relay that was actually supposed to prevent just such a blackout. This lack of energy did not derail the Ravens, as they won the game with a goal line stand towards the end of the fourth quarter. Perhaps this caused a realization that they could win it all even without energy pumping into the stadium, as it was the following season that M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, earned LEED Gold certification. But that LEED Gold Certification is no longer the gold standard in the NFL, with their opponents only this year achieving LEED Platinum.

How will this play out?!

For the Super-Efficient Bowl, since neither team is playing at its home stadium, we should determine an efficiency score without the home or away components. That means the score of the Super-Efficient Bowl will be determined by the average of ACEEE City Score and LEED Points awarded. Using that as a basis we find a champion and final score to the inaugural Super-Efficient Bowl to be….

Source

 

 

The Atlanta Falcons have received redemption and won the Super-Efficient Bowl! Despite Baltimore jumping out to an early lead with a higher ACEEE City Energy Efficiency score, but it wasn’t enough to hold back Atlanta with their state-of-the-art LEED Platinum stadium. Let the confetti rain down (but make sure it’s made of recycled paper)!

Conclusion

Because of the year-to-year volatility of several of the metrics used to determine the energy-efficient winners, anyone could come out of the pack to take the title of Super-Efficient Bowl Champion next year. As shown by Atlanta and Baltimore’s success in this inaugural season, though, the key is to get a LEED certified stadium and to locate it as close as possible to the center of your city. The number of LEED stadiums has grown to account for almost 20% of stadiums in the NFL, and that’s after the first one was certified only six years ago. More and more teams seem to be finding the value of a LEED stadium, and now maybe the Super-Efficient Bowl will prompt more to join the trend.

And best of luck to the Dallas Cowboys, who finished last in the league. Worry not, they’ll be awarded the first draft pick in next year’s draft—which maybe they can spend on the top prospect in energy-efficiency!

Sources and additional reading

Can Stadium Sports Really Be Green? Mother Jones

Chiefs Focus on Solar Energy Solution: Chiefs

Cleveland Browns Begin Initiative to Convert Food Waste Into Energy: Waste Today

Does Cowboys Stadium Use More Energy on Gameday Than Liberia? Sports Grid

Eagles & Ravens Receive LEED Certification Just in Time for Greenbuild Conference: Green Sports Alliance

Going Long and Going Green: How the NFL is Embracing Sustainability: Georgetown

Guide to LEED Certification: United States Green Building Council

How AEG Is Bringing Energy Storage To LA’s StubHub Center With Tesla Powerpacks: SportTechie

LEDs Take Over Tampa Bay’s NFL Stadium: Facilitiesnet

LEED Certified Green Building: Soldier Field

LG Electronics and Nissan Stadium Win Big in LED Lighting Overhaul: PR Newswire

Levi’s Stadium Achieves LEED Gold Certification for Operations and Maintenance of an Existing Building: Levi’s Stadium

Los Angeles Coliseum “Modernizes” With Zero Waste: Green Sports Alliance

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Falcons’ new home, to sport state-of-the-art sustainability: USA Today

NFL Stadiums Attempt to Lower Energy Costs: 24 of the Most Energy Efficient Stadiums in the League: Electric Choice

Patriots Become 1st NFL Franchise to Buy a Team Plane: Bleacher Report

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Truths About Traveling in the NFL: Bleacher Report

Playoff Predictors

Seahawks To Travel Sixth-Most Road Miles in NFL In 2017: Seahawks

Some NFL Teams Are Going Green: Wall Street Journal

Super Bowl LII E-Waste Recycling Rally: MN Superbowl

Team travel directors preparing as if there will be a 2011 season: NFL

The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

“Timing is everything”: Behind the scenes of an NFL team’s travel day: CBS News

U.S. Bank Stadium goes for the green: Finance & Commerce

Which NFL Stadiums Are The Most Convenient To Drive To: Deadspin

 

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 altE Store: Providing Solar Powered Disaster Relief in Puerto Rico

During times of disaster and tragedy, a quote from Fred Rogers (who you probably know better as Mr. Rogers of the eponymous children’s television show) often circulates to show the power of people banding together in difficult times.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words an I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in the world.’

Among the ‘scary things’ that hit the world recently were the series of hurricanes that hit the Caribbean and southeast United States. While there are countless examples of helpers during these hurricanes, one story came to my attention recently that merged the helpers with the world of energy. When Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico in early September, more than 1 million power outages were reported across the island. Less than a month later, Hurricane Maria hit the island (before power was able to be fully restored from the first storm) and left Puerto Island almost entirely without electricity.



While reading about this humanitarian crisis, I learned of a company, the altE Store, that was using its abilities and expertise in solar power to help design and implement affordable solar powered energy solutions in the impoverished regions of Puerto Rico. These areas were the ones that were likely be lower on the list of priorities regions for the utilities to restore power, and thus the ones that could use a helping hand the most in such a turbulent time.

When I heard about this project, two things came to mind. The first thought was how right Fred Rogers was about looking for the best in humanity who go out of their way to help when disaster strikes. The second was that I wanted to learn more about the organization behind these efforts. So I reached out to them and was able to speak with Amy Beaudet, self-described Solar Queen at the altE Store to learn about the company, their charitable and humanitarian efforts, and the future of solar power.

About the altE Store

The altE Store, or the Alternative Energy Store, was founded in 1999 to sell off-grid solar systems to people in remote locations (think islands off the coast of Maine). The altE Store has evolved with the ever-changing solar industry, growing to also provide systems that are tied into the grid, systems that are tied to the grid but also have on-site storage (see: microgrids), as well as systems that exist completely separate from the grid. The altE Store exists as a completely web-based enterprise with no physical locations. Because of this, they have been able to establish a global reach, having done business in all seven continents.

Source

As a customer of the altE Store, you have lots of options at your fingertips. Any piece of equipment that you might need for your solar system is sold at the altE Store, including solar panels, racking, inverters, charge controllers, batteries, breaker boxes, PV wire, and more. You can purchase pre-designed systems in one package with a schematic on how to put it together, or you can have a design custom made for you. Lastly, you can purchase the solar equipment and install it all yourself, or you can have professionals come and assist in the installation as well. Through it all, the altE Store strives to provide flexibility to its customers, making headway towards their goal of “making renewable do-able.”

Education and outreach

Recognizing the value of having an educated customer base, the altE Store has been creating informative videos on solar power and solar systems for 10 years and has shifted even more focus into this side of the business in the past several years. The results have been pretty staggering, with viewers in over 200 different countries and extensive questions and requests frequently brought in the comment sections. Their goal has been to make sure accurate information is available for people getting started in solar power, curious potential customers, do-it-yourself enthusiasts, and anyone else interested in solar power– including technical information, product overviews, solar installation processes, and more. Engaging with these videos and blog posts ensures customers have a trusted and friendly face they can turn to with their solar needs, and spreading the message about the renewable energy source only helps the spread of the emerging technologies.

Response to Puerto Rico

The altE Store’s mission statement reads “Empowering the world one person at a time by providing renewable energy products, services and education.” That’s not just a lofty goal to them, though, and the situation in Puerto Rico that brought the altE Store to my attention demonstrates just that.

As the devastation from Hurricane Maria unfolded and many, including the people at the altE Store, watched from television and computer screens thousands of miles away and yearned to find something they could do to help. The team at the altE Store got in touch with a solar instructor who had worked with the company in the past and was working with a group in New York City looking to help in Puerto Rico as well. The New York City group was looking to send solar equipment to Puerto Rico, along with teams of people to install them, to help bring a source of immediate power to those who were looking at being left in the dark for weeks, if not months. Given the altE Store’s mission to bring renewable power where it is needed, this looked like a perfect opportunity for them to get involved.

Not only was this a great fit for the altE Store to get involved in the Puerto Rico recovery efforts, but that involvement happened at a pretty breakneck speed– for which the beneficiaries in Puerto Rico are surely grateful. Hurricane Maria made its way through Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. It took a few days to truly understand the toll the storm took on Puerto Rico, and specifically the electrical system. The altE Store’s representatives first talked to the New York City group on Monday October 2. By Friday night, 2,000 pounds of equipment (inverters, charge controllers, and batteries) had been picked up from the altE Store facilities. This literal ton of equipment, which the altE Store provided at a heavily discounted price and at their own cost to provide, was combined with equipment donated from other sources. By Monday October 9, teams of solar technicians with the New York City group were on the ground ready to install the equipment that was en route to Puerto Rico. Not only that, but altE Store provided design work and schematics for the technicians to follow to install the equipment completely free. All of this work happened within just a few weeks of Hurricane Maria, and for absolutely no profit to the altE Store.

With regard to the equipment and teams sent down, their focused priority are where the most good can be done. This means getting power and light to central locations, like community centers and schools, so people can come to recharge their phones, radios, and lights, in addition to battery chainsaws needed to clear debris from roads. Additionally, locations integral to the sick and elderly, such as hospitals, are receiving solar power systems for cooling, medicine refrigeration, and the like. One interesting tidbit is that the word has been getting to the altE Store that the houses in Puerto Rico that already had solar panels installed in them are the ones that ended up keeping their roofs, while those without solar were more likely to lose their roofs. While this is anecdotal and might simply indicate that those who could afford solar also could afford more strongly reinforced buildings, it does provide a counterpoint to arguments that solar panels are no optimal for roofs within hurricane zones.

Despite the swiftness with which these great groups were able to react to get equipment and teams of technicians in place to install it, make no mistake that this will be a very long rebuilding process. Many homes need to be rebuilt before solar systems can be installed, and beyond that there are still only so many people on the ground to install the equipment that it will take time. But that is why it is great that groups like these are going down to service the more needing locations with solar power while the utilities in Puerto Rico work to rebuild the existing grid system. Through it all, the hope is that in the end the electrical system will come out of it all more resilient, cleaner, and more affordable. Much has been made about the dire state the grid system of Puerto Rico was before Hurricane Maria, so the silver lining on this whole situation could be the replacement of that old and ineffective system.

In addition to this specific partnership with the New York City group, the altE Store has also been working to find and collaborate with other groups for the same sort of relief effort in Puerto Rico, offering free design and expertise to go along with heavily discounted equipment in order to provide for those who would otherwise be stuck without power.

Other efforts

There is no shortage of opportunities for responsible companies, particularly in the energy business, to get involved in efforts to help out. In addition to the ongoing efforts in Puerto Rico, the altE Store got involved with the International Rescue Group to deliver emergency supplies to Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, specifically to build portable solar generators to charge cell phones of emergency responders, volunteers, and citizens. They even wrote and published for free do-it-yourself instructions for anyone to create their own solar generators for emergencies, preparation, or just as a self-education project.

For the areas of the United States outside of Puerto Rico that were hit by one of the several hurricanes, the altE Store is providing discounts to help them build or rebuild their solar systems to ensure their own power resilience. At 15 percent, this discount represents their biggest discount they’ve ever offered and they are stocking up their inventory to record levels to account for this influx of demand.

 Lastly, the altE Store regularly donates or discounts solar equipment to worthy causes (schools, Boy Scouts troops, etc.). They shrewdly recognize the value in educating the public, creating excitement about the technology, and demonstrating how accessible it can be. On top of that, showing the potential of solar power and sharing it with people who need it the most in times of crisis is simply the right thing to do.

Keeping updated on this story

In addition to the previously mentioned blog posts and videos that the altE Store provides on its website, there are several social media outlets where you can hear updates on the Puerto Rico project as well as everything else the altE Store is doing.

The altE Store’s Facebook pageTwitter account, and Instagram page all provide regular updates on its projects. Additionally, you can sign up for the altE Newsletter through a link on their webpage. If you have any specific questions about this work or if you simply want to get in touch with the altE Store yourself, you can also reach out directly to Amy Beaudet at amy@altestore.com.

Conclusion

In the end, the altE Store is a company who is in the business of selling solar systems to renewable-energy-seeking customers. They have many competitors in this market, they’re surely keeping an eye on government regulation of the solar industry, and they operate as any other business. But through their educational outreach and their desire to provide solar powered relief in the face of natural disasters show that they are also a forward-thinking energy organization who recognize the value of doing good in addition to doing good business. The altE Store should be commended for these efforts, and any other organization in the industry can take a page out of their book for how to use their influence for the common good.

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.  

 

Technology Highlight– Microgrids

As localized sources of renewable energy and energy storage become more prevalent, the spotlight is increasingly being shined on microgrids. But what exactly are microgrids, where did they come from, and why should we care? In this technology highlight, I answer those questions are more to make sure you’re up to speed on everything to do with microgrids.

What is a microgrid?

The Department of Energy (DOE) defines a microgrid as “a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to opertae in both grid-connected or island-mode.”

Similarly, the Counseil international des grands reseaux electriques (CIGRE) defines microgrids as “electricity distribution systems containing loads and distributed energy resources (such as distributed generators, storage devices, or controllable loads) that can be operated in a controlled, coordinated way either while connected to the main power network or while islanded.”



As expressed by each of these definitions, the representative characteristics of microgrids are that they are made up of electricity sources that can operate separately from the traditional power grid (macrogrid) and operate autonomously, though they can also (in fact, they more often than not do) synchronize and operate with the macrogrid.

Microgrids utilize localized, distributed energy sources (including demand management, storage, and generation) to ensure the customers connected to the microgrid get energy that meets their cost, reliability, and sourcing requirements. While microgrids are normally connected to and operate in synchronization with the macrogrid the same as any other part of the traditional grid, what sets them apart is the ability to disconnect and operate autonomously if the conditions dictate.

How microgrids work

The traditional grid system works by connecting all buildings to a central power source through an extensive web of transmission and distribution infrastructure. The basic principles and equipment in a microgrid work the same way and typically operate within this traditional grid, but the key difference is the ability of the microgrid to break off and operate independently, referred to as ‘islanding.’ While the traditional grid always connects buildings to the main power source (i.e., whatever power plant or company provides the area’s electricity), a microgrid might source its power from distributed generators, batteries or other energy storage, or a source of localized renewable energy (e.g., small-scale solar or wind power).

Source: Department of Energy

Microgrids operate with a few main components– 1) the local generation, 2) the distribution, 3) the elements of consumption, 4) the storage, and 5) the point of common coupling.

Local generation

When communities utilize a microgrid system, one of the main reasons is the opportunity they present to take advantage of local generation. These generation sources are separate from the large power plants that power the traditional grid and typically take the form of generators or renewable energy sources, the use of which present a host of advantages to the community (which will be discussed soon).

Distribution

As with the traditional grid, the generated energy must be sent from the source of generation to where it will ultimately be used. The technology that is used to transmit electricity across the microgrid is more or less identical to the similar technology in the traditional grid, with the key difference that there is typically much shorter of a distance to traverse (which also comes with its unique advantages, to be discussed later in this article).

Elements of consumption

The point of consumption is simply the part of the electricity transmission and distribution process where the generated power enters its ultimate destination—buildings, street lights, electric car charging stations, etc. As with the distribution, the consumption in a microgrid system operates pretty much the same as it does in the traditional grid.

Storage

Because microgrids are so often coupled with renewable energy generation as at least one of the major energy generators, storage becomes a key component to the microgrid system. Storage often takes the form of a battery or system of batteries, but microgrids can also utilize alternative forms of storage, such as pumped hydro storage. The key point of this storage is to allow for the use of extra electricity that is generated during peak generation (such as during the middle of the day when solar capture is at its highest but residential power use is at its lowest) to be used when it is most needed (in the evening when residential power is at its peak). Microgrids can, however, also pump that extra generated electricity to be used by the traditional grid.

Point of common coupling

The point of common coupling, or the PCC, is the intersection where the microgrid meets up with the traditional grid. At the PCC, the microgrid remains connected to the main grid at the same voltage of the main grid but disconnects when there is reason to do so. If a microgrid does not have a PCC, it is completely isolated from the main grid and always operates autonomously. These type of microgrids are less common, but they do exist in certain remote locations.

Microgrids of the past

Microgrids have been around for quite some time. In fact it could be argued that microgrids actually pre-date the traditional grid system. Thomas Edison’s Manhattan Pearl Street Station (the world’s first commercial power plant) was essentially a microgrid, and when it was constructed in 1882 there wasn’t a centralized electrical grid to which it could hook up. Within four years, Edison had installed almost sixty of these early microgrids to create a customer base for his direct current generators.

These separate microgrids, each with their own generator sources and autonomous distribution systems, did not last long. The government stepped in to determine that, in order to protect consumers and guarantee them power, the electric services industry was to become a state-regulated monopoly. In doing so, the incentives for vast grid systems to transmit power were greater than the incentives to develop microgrids. The next century served to further entrench this traditional grid system. Microgrids found some niche applications, in remote locations or already self-contained systems like college campuses. But recently, the ideas behind grid security, smart grids and, subsequently, microgrids, have started to sneak into the public consciousness and change that conversation.

Advantages of microgrids

The ability of microgrids to disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously comes with a number of inherent advantages, and these advantages are the reason for the recent focus on microgrids in certain energy industry circles.

Resilience

In the operation of the traditional main grid, reliability can become an issue due to the widespread effects that a small disruption can cause as it makes its way through the system. In contrast, when there are interruptions or other issues to the main grid, users connected to microgrids can operate independently.

This difference is analogous to the difference between Christmas lights that are electrically connected in parallel compared with connected in series. When lights are connected in series, the burnout of one bulb means the entire strand will not work—but if the bulbs are connected in parallel, the burnout of one bulb will not affect the connection of the other bulbs. Similarly, you can think of microgrids as being connected to the traditional grid ‘in parallel.’ When an issue interrupts the traditional grid, microgrids can disconnect and operate independently.

Source: Department of Energy

A common example is when a severe weather event or even an intentional attack might bring widespread outages to the traditional grid. In these instances, microgrids can island and its customers will not be affected by the outages. Depending on the fuel source and energy requirements, microgrids can theoretically operate in island mode indefinitely outside of the traditional grid. Not only that, but because microgrids operate in parallel with the traditional grid, they are capable of feeding excess power back into the main grid during outages.

The usefulness of microgrids during emergencies was highlighted during the devastating hurricane season of 2017. Examples of microgrids taking over were found in grocery stores in Houston during Hurricane Harvey and hospitals in Antigua during Hurricane Irma, and the devastation to the electrical system in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria has many pointing to microgrids as integral to the future resilience of a rebuilt energy system for the island.

Note that in certain grid systems, protocol dictates that all distributed generation must be shut off during a power outage. This fact can be confusing because it is during these outages that the microgrids could be the most useful, but for the safety of the workers fixing the broken power lines it is vital that no power is unintentionally being sent from a microgrid back into the traditional grid. However, inverter technologies that would prevent this are becoming more common and allow microgrid customers to continue their generation during traditional grid outages. During Hurricane Irma, a rumor circulated that utility lobbyists had made it illegal to use any solar panels during the power outages, but in reality this was just a misunderstanding of the safety protocol and customers who have purchased the necessary inverter technology can always lawfully use their power generation sources.

Efficiency and reliability of transmission

Several of the weak points of the traditional electric grid are tied to the massive web that is the transmission and distribution system, and microgrids can help address some of these weaknesses in ways that benefit both the power companies and the end customers.

In general, the transmission and distribution system of microgrids use the same technology as the traditional grid. However, microgrids are often smaller networks and thus the end destination of power is closer to the point of generation. This proximity allows for a significant reduction in the characteristic transmission and distribution losses associated with sending power over a long distance, meaning the overall energy efficiency of the energy system is improved when using microgrids.

In addition to the benefits of increased efficiency, microgrids improve the reliability of the whole traditional grid system. When a certain portion of customers can operate independently, the opportunity opens up for relieving congestion of the main grid during peak load times. Not only that, but the storage within microgrids allow for regulation of the power quality and distribution of power during these times of peak load.

Energy choice

Outside of the previous reasons for switching to microgrids, communities could also choose to develop microgrid systems to gain control over their energy choices. Because microgrids are connected to their own localized generating sources, customers can choose that source based on its costs, its desire to establish a degree of energy independence, or to opt for an energy source that is clean and/or renewable. When connected to the main grid, customers are for the most part restricted to whatever the electricity companies choose to pump through the power lines. But microgrids allow for customers to take that control back.

Where microgrids are used

Microgrids can be utilized by communities, both rural and urban. These communities are bound by shared geography, and thus proximity to the energy source. In addition, microgrids are commonly installed and used by large consuming entities on their own (i.e., commercial, industrial, or government consumers). The most common types of entities are college campuses, large institutions (like hospitals), and military bases. Each of these applications share the advantages that they are typically owned by a single entity and benefit from a secure and reliable power supply outside of the traditional grid.

Some examples of microgrids in use and being developed across the world include the following:

  • The Santa Rita jail in Dublin, California has its own microgrid, connected to 1.5 MW of solar power capacity, 1.0 MW of molten carbonate fuel cell capacity, and a system of backup diesel generators, allowing the jail to island or reconnect to the main grid at its discretion.
  • The Fort Collins Microgrid in Colorado, on the other hand, connects a brewery, laboratory, city government facilities, country government facilities, a college campus, and more to a microgrid, demonstrating an example of a larger community system that is microgrid-capable.
  • In the wake of an earthquake and tsunami that wiped out the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the city of Higashi Matsushima is working to rebuild with microgrids and create a system of decentralized renewable power sources to ensure reliability in the case of future disasters.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) has made the proliferation of safe and reliable microgrids a focus, with a portfolio of activities intended to advance the research and development of new microgrid technologies and more implementation across communities around the world that can benefit from the improved reliability and resilience of their grid system.

Future of microgrids

Microgrids are becoming a major focus in the building of “smart grids,” improving the resilience of the existing grid system, and overall investment in energy systems. GTM forecasts that the capacity of microgrids in the United States will grow from 1.6 gigawatts (GW) in 2016 to 4.3 GW in 2020, while Navigant Research projects the worldwide microgrid capacity to grow from 1.4 GW in 2015 to 7.6 GW in 2024.

The future of microgrids will evolve in the coming years, as research and development dollars continue to pour in and debate continues on issues such as the legality of utilities as microgrid owners, the role of generators and regulators, and the economics of net metering. Regardless of the path microgrids take, they are sure to be a disruptive and revolutionary technology that continues to change the longstanding model of power generation and distribution.

Sources and Additional Reading

About Microgrids: Microgrids at Berkeley Lab

DOE Microgrid Workshop Report: Department of Energy

Fort Collins: Microgrids  at Berkeley Lab

How Do Holiday Lights Work? Department of Energy

How Microgrids Work: Department of Energy

Microgirds: the self-healing solution– General MicroGrids

Microgrids: PikeResearch

Santa Rita Jail: Microgrids at Berkeley Lab

The Role of Microgrids in Helping Advance the Nation’s Energy System: Department of Energy

Think Microgrid: How the Technology Has Changed its Stars– Microgrid Knowledge

 

 

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.  

Best from “Today in Energy” in 2017

Among the wide array of regular articles the Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases, as detailed in this post on navigating EIA’s data sets , one of the most varied and interesting is the Today in Energy (TIE) series of articles released every weekday. According to EIA, TIE articles “provide topical, timely, short articles with energy news and information you can understand and use.”   

What makes TIE particularly compelling to read each day is that the topics it covers range across the spectrum of energy-related topics. Where most of the other reports released by the EIA are restricted to a specific fuel type or survey of consumers, TIE articles bring all of these topics from across EIA into relevant, digestible, and fascinating briefs to give a broad spectrum of information to its readers.



Further, TIE articles feature both stories that are relevant and important to current events (e.g., Hurricane Irma may cause problems for East Coast energy infrastructure) and stories that provide useful background information that can be referenced for years to come (e.g., Crude oil distillation and the definition of refinery). Not only that, but keeping up with TIE articles is a great way to keep up with other EIA publications as well, such as when articles such as the Annual Energy Outlook, International Energy Outlook, or Short-Term Energy Outlook are posted, TIE often includes an overview of some of the relevant conclusions of those articles and a link to read the full version.

To prove how valuable TIE articles can be for all these reasons, I’ve picked a sampling of 13 of my favorite TIE articles thus far in 2017 that are particularly interesting and demonstrate the cross-cutting topics offered by TIE. The ones I’ve chosen are based on the topics I find the most engaging, as well as the graphics that are the most clever and elegant.

1. EIA’s AEO2017 projects the United States to be a net energy exporter in most cases

January 5, 2017

Released the same morning as the Annual Energy Outlook 2017 (AEO2017), this article demonstrates the tendency of TIE to alert the readers of the latest EIA publications, while also providing a good overview to new readers as to what AEO2017 is and what the main takeaways from the report were.

2. Canada is the United States’ largest partner for energy trade

March 1, 2017

Utilizing the latest data from the U.S. census bureau, this article details the energy imports/exports between the United States and Canada broken out by U.S. region and fuel type and demonstrates TIE articles on the topic of trade. Most interesting is the graph showing the difference in electricity trade over the years from each of four U.S. regions.

Source: Energy Information Administration

3. U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell 1.7% in 2016

April 10, 2017

This TIE article from April breaks down carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions data, from the Monthly Energy Review, from 2005 to 2016 by both emitting fuel and industry, while also introducing carbon intensity as a metric and shows the progress made in reducing energy-related carbon intensity over the previous decade. As climate change heats up as an issue in domestic politics, industry, and foreign affairs, this type of window into U.S. CO2 emission data can prove invaluable.

4. Most U.S. nuclear power plants were built between 1970 and 1990

April 27, 2017

I chose this article because it provides a fascinating chart that shows the initial operating year of utility-scale generation capacity across the United States, broken out by fuel type, to demonstrate the relative age of each source of electricity generation and, in particular, the relative old age of the U.S. nuclear generating capacity, while also showing the explosion of non-hydroelectric renewable generation since the turn of the century.

Source: Energy Information Administration

5. American households use a variety of lightbulbs as CFL and LED consumption increases

May 8, 2017

An example of a TIE article getting into the use of energy inside of U.S. homes, this piece takes information from the 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) to show how residential lighting choices have been trending in the face of increased regulation and availability of energy-efficient lighting technologies, highlighting the differences depending on renter vs. owner occupied, household income, and whether or not an energy audit has been performed.

6. More than half of small-scale photovoltaic generation comes from residential rooftops

June 1, 2017

Utilizing data from the Electric Power Monthly, this article breaks out the use of small-scale solar power systems based on the geographic location and type of building, highlighting the rapid rise these systems have experienced in the residential sector, as a great example of renewable energy in the residential sector.

7. Dishwashers are among the least-used appliances in American homes

June 19, 2017

Again taking data from RECS, this TIE article provides insights on the frequency that certain appliances are in American homes, how often they go unused in those homes, pervasiveness of ENERGY STAR compliant appliances, and other data regarding residential energy use of appliances. This article also includes a plug for the 2017 EIA Energy Conference that was to be held a week after its publication, again showing how good of a job reading TIE articles daily can do of making sure you know the latest happenings at EIA.

8. Earthquake trends in Oklahoma and other states likely related to wastewater injection

June 22, 2017

A reason I find this TIE article particularly interesting is that it goes beyond just the energy data collected by EIA and synchs with outside data from the Earthquake Catalog to show additional effects of energy production in the environment. This kind of interplay of data sources demonstrates how powerful EIA data collection can be when analyzed in proper context.

9. Monthly renewable electricity generation surpasses nuclear for the first time since 1984

July 6, 2017

I highlight this TIE article for two reasons. First, the graphic below showing the monthly generation of nuclear compared with the cumulative generation of renewable energies—and the highlighting of 2016-17 particular—is really illuminating. This graph is a great demonstration of the power of data visualizations to convey the data and the message of that data. Second, the reason behind that graphic—that monthly renewable generation surpassed nuclear generation for the first time in over three decades—is a remarkable achievement of the renewable energy sector, showing the trending direction of the U.S. fuel mix going forward.

Source: Energy Information Administration

10. California wholesale electricity prices are higher at the beginning and end of the day

July 24, 2017

This TIE article was identified because of how interesting the topic of wholesale electricity prices varying throughout the day can be. As net metering and residential production of electricity increases across the United States, this will be a topic those in the energy fields will want to keep a keen eye on.

11. Among states, Texas consumes the most energy, Vermont the least

August 2, 2017

Grabbing data from the State Energy Data System, this TIE article presents a graphic displaying the most and least overall energy use as well as the most and least energy use per capita among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Using color to demonstrate the relative consumption and consumption per capita creates a pair of really elegant visuals.

Source: Energy Information Administration

 

12. Solar eclipse on August 21 will affect photovoltaic generators across the country

August 7, 2017

As everyone was scrambling to find their last minute eclipse glasses, this TIE article detailed where, and how much, the total solar eclipse of August 2017 was to diminish solar photovoltaic capacity and an assessment of how local utilities will be able to handle their peak loads during this time (a nice follow up TIE article on this also looked at how California dealt with these issues on the day of the eclipse, increasing electricity imports and natural gas generation).

Source: Energy Information Administration

13. U.S. average retail gasoline prices increase in wake of Hurricane Harvey

September 6, 2017

Another example of TIE addressing energy-related current events, this article not only provides the information and analysis of the effect that Hurricane Harvey had on retail gasoline prices, but it also provides the context of why the effect was being felt, how it compared to previous hurricanes, and what could be expected moving forward.

 

 

If you’ve been sufficiently convinced that Today in Energy articles would be an engaging read to start the day, you can sign up for an email subscription by following this link.

 

 

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.  

DOE in Focus: Strategic Petroleum Reserve

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), owned by the U.S. federal government and operated by the Office of Fossil Energy within the Department of Energy (DOE), is collectively the largest reserve supply of crude oil in the world. These massive reserves of oil are divided between four storage sites along the Gulf of Mexico.
As the name implies, the SPR exists to provide a strategic fail-safe for the United States, ensuring that oil is reliably available in times of emergency, protecting against foreign threats to cut off trade, minimizing potential impacts of price fluctuations, and more. Understanding the SPR, both its history and its present form, are crucial to recognizing the role it may play in the future and understand the implications of its discussion by politicians.



Origin of the SPR

Initial calls for a stockpiling of emergency crude oil began as early as the 1940s, when Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes advocated for such reserves. The idea continued to be brought up and kicked around through the decades– by the Minerals Policy Commission in 1952, by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, and by the Cabinet Task Force on Oil Import Control in 1970– but it wasn’t until the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74 that the concept of a strategic stockpiling of oil really gained traction.

For a detailed history on the embargo itself, I would recommend reading The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin (who also wrote The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World). But in short, the embargo was due to the United States’ support for Israel in the 1987 Arab-Israeli War. In response, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) (not to be confused with OPEC– the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) imposed an oil embargo on the United States, while also decreasing their overall production. U.S. production on its own was not enough to meet the country’s needs, and even in the rare instances when oil originating from the Arab nations made its way to the United States, it came at a price premium three times higher than before the embargo.

While an existing stockpile of oil would not have prevented the United States from paying the market price for oil, the availability of such reserves would be enough to help mitigate the magnitude of the market price jump. Not only that, but having reserves of oil available would buy the government time to continue diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute before the oil shortage caused more devastating impacts on the national economy. Lastly, having a national reserve of oil would reduce the allure of any oil-exporting nations from using the control of their oil exports as a political tool in the first place, as it would not hold the immediate and impactful sway.
With these goals in mind and to prevent the repetition of the economic impacts felt in the U.S. by the oil embargo, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) in 1975. Among the law’s effects was to declare that the United States would build an oil reserve of up to one billion barrels, owned and operated by the federal government. On July 21, 1977, the first shipment of 412,000 barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia arrived and the SPR was officially open.

Operation of the SPR

Storage

The SPR comprises underground storage facilities at four different locations on the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, with each facility in a hollowed out salt dome. The locations in Texas and Louisiana were chosen because of the existence of the salt domes that have proven to be inexpensive and secure storage options and because the Gulf Coast is the most significant U.S. hub for oil refineries, pipelines, and shipments ports. Additionally, the SPR controls the Northeast Heating Oil Reserve (NEHHOR), which stores up to 2 million barrels of heating oil to ensure the northeast is insulated from emergency interruptions in heating oil during the winter months.
The SPR reserves have a storage capacity of over 713 million barrels, with the active amount of oil stored being enough to cover over 100 days of imports since early 2013.

Drawdowns

As the DOE is an executive agency, the decisions regarding when emergency withdrawals from the SPR are needed are made by the President, as specified in EPCA. According to this authorization, the President is only permitted to direct sales from the SPR if he or she “has found drawdown and sale are required by a severe energy supply interruption or by obligations of the United States under the international energy program” or if an emergency has significantly reduced the worldwide oil supply available and increased the market price of oil in such a way that it would cause “major adverse impact on the national economy.”
In addition to this authorization for full drawdowns, Congress enacted additional authority in 1990 to allow the President to direct a limited drawdowns to resolve internal U.S. disruptions without the need to declare a “severe energy supply interruption” or comply with international energy programs. These limited drawdowns are limited to a maximum of 30 million barrels.  Both full drawdowns and limited drawdowns are limited to the President’s authority.

Other SPR Movements

Outside of these authorities of the President over the SPR, the Energy Secretary also has the authority to direct a test sale of oil from the SPR of up to 5 million barrels. The purpose of these test sales is simply to evaluate the drawdown system of physically removing and transporting the oil from storage, as well as the sales procedure. By law, DOE is required to buy back oil from these test sales within a year.
SPR oil can also be sold through a process known as exchanges, where a company will borrow oil from the SPR to address emergency supply disruptions. The terms of the exchange will include the date by when the company is required to resupply the SPR with the amount of oil it borrowed plus an additional amount of oil as “interest.”
Lastly, Congress can enact laws to authorize additional sales of oil from the SPR. These non-emergency sales are typically to respond to smaller supply disruptions and/or to raise funds for specific reasons, such as the Bipartisan Budget Act authorization to sell a portion of SPR’s oil to pay for modernization of the SPR system and a general fund of the Department of Treasury.

Sales process

Regardless of the authority or reason for it, the oil sold from the SPR is done by competitive sale. The DOE issues a Notice of Sale in the Federal Register, detailing the volume, characteristics, and location of the oil for sale, as well as the procedural information for bidding on that oil. After the official authorization for a sale, it typically takes about two weeks to begin the movement of the oil– which can be moved at up to 4.4 million barrels per day.

Emergency drawdowns in SPR History

Since the embargo of the 1970s, there have been a handful of significant spikes in oil prices and interruptions to the U.S. and world supply caused by international conflict. However, having established U.S. reserves as large as they are has provided a domestic and foreign policy tool during that time.
There have only been three emergency drawdowns in SPR’s history. The first came in 1991, when President George H.W. Bush released 17.3 million barrels of SPR oil for sale to restore stability in world oil markets in response to the Persian Gulf War. In 2005, President George W. Bush called for the second emergency drawdown of SPR supplies, releasing 20.8 million barrels in response to the damage that Hurricane Katrina did to oil production and transportation infrastructure in the Gulf Coast. Most recently President Barack Obama authorized the largest sale by a President yet, releasing 30 million barrels in response to Middle East turbulence and subsequent disruption to the worldwide and U.S. oil supply.

Debate surrounding the SPR

Despite the agreement about the immense negative economic impacts from the oil embargo that prompted the formation of the SPR in the first place, the decisions surrounding the SPR are not without their faire share of critics and controversies.
One notable cause for debate surrounds the meaning of the language in the original authorization, specifically what exactly constitutes a “sever energy supply disruption.” This phrase was initially intended to authorize the SPR to release stocks of oil to resolve discernible, physical shortages of crude oil. However there have been debates about whether to expand that definition– such as the 2011 American Clean Energy and Security Act (which ultimately did not become law) to allow for the SPR to build reserves of additional refined oil products (outside of the already reserved crude oil and heating oil) and use them to mitigate drastic changes in the prices of those products independently of crude oil prices.
Other critics have pointed out that the private stock of inventory in the United States, excluding the SPR, far exceeds the SPR holdings. Some of these people then argue that it would be better to use these private stocks than any government stocks, as the free market would respond in the optimal way to prompt the release of these private stocks. The SPR, on the other hand, is rarely used and is more often positioned as a political tool and thus the role of keeping oil reserved is not one for the federal government, according to these credits
Another critique of the SPR, according to some, is that the government has demonstrated itself as incapable of using the stocks as they should. These critics point to times where oil prices climbed above $100 per barrel, causing significant economic disruption, without the government responding appropriately by releasing SPR oil to mitigate the price jumps. Instead, according to the argument, the markets (and specifically the oil futures market, which was created well after the inception of the SPR) do a better job.
Even as recently as September 2017, in the aftermath of the devastation in the Gulf Coast by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, President Donald Trump and his Energy Secretary Rick Perry disagreed on the importance of keeping the SPR. While President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal called for selling off half of the oil in the SPR to pay off part of the federal deficit, Secretary Perry said the hurricanes were an example and reminder of why the United States needs the SPR. Worth noting is that the Trump administration did make the decision to send 500,000 barrels from the SPR to a Louisiana refinery in order to shield the economy from higher gas prices.

Future of the SPR

In August 2016, DOE reported to Congress on the state and the long-term strategy of the SPR. The main conclusions of this report included the following:
  • To ensure the stability of the SPR going forward, the infrastructure of the system needs further investment and upkeep;
  • Adding marine terminals is critical to the future ability of the SPR to add barrels to the market in an emergency;
  • The SPR continues to benefit the economy moving forward, and further reductions in the SPR beyond those already authorized would hinder those abilities;
  • If the SPR were to expand in inventory, new storage capacity would need to be developed;
  • Expansion beyond the current four-site configuration of the SPR would violate operational requirements; and
  • Certain improvements to the management and operations of the SPR could be made with limited amendments to EPCA.
However, the debate surrounding the SPR, the U.S. oil markets, and the worldwide energy landscapes are in a constant state of flux, so knowing what will come next for the SPR requires constant attention.

Keeping up with the SPR

If you’re interested in seeing the level of the reserves or watching the movement of oil into and out of the SPR, that information is publicly available to you. The Energy Information Administration’s website will let you look at the historical monthly/annual numbers for SPR stock. Additionally, the SPR website gives updates on the current inventory, broken out by sweet vs. sour crude.

The sale of oil from the SPR is uncommon enough that it will always be a newsworthy event. To be sure you keep up to date on any sales, you can sign up for email updates from the Office of Fossil Energy.  Subscribe to their email list here, making sure to select that you want information on “Petroleum Reserves.”

Sources and additional reading

History of SPR Releases– Office of Fossil Energy

History of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

New legislation affects U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve– Today in Energy

Long-Term Strategic Review of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve– Report to Congress

Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve (NEHHOR)

Statutory Authority for an SPR Drawdown

Strategic Petroleum Reserve- Office of Fossil Energy

Strategic Petroleum Reserve sales expected to start this month– Today in Energy

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve: History, Perspective, and Issues– Congressional Research Service

 

 

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.  

Federal Register Notice: Test Procedure for Distribution Transformers: Request for Information

The Department of Energy (DOE) published a Notice of Request for Information (RFI) in the September 22, 2017 issue of the Federal Register (82 FR 44347) on the test procedure for distribution transformers. This article intended to break down what exactly is being requested by the DOE, the steps that have come before and will come after this, and what it might mean for you.

What is this notice?

I’ve covered what an RFI entails my article on the DOE’s RFI for its net metering analysis, as well as the overall federal rulemaking process in the Policy Rulemaking Process for Dummies article—so click on those links to get the background information on those aspects of this process. However I have not had a chance to detail the DOE’s dealing with test procedures.



As detailed in the ‘Authority and Background’ section of the RFI, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA) authorizes DOE to regulate the energy efficiency of a wide array of covered consumer products and industrial equipment. Among that list of equipment is distribution transformers. As such, DOE first established regulatory standards for distribution transformers in 2007, and most recently completed full rulemaking process to update to the energy conservation standards for distribution transformers in 2013, which took effect in 2016. These standards set minimum energy efficiency standards for the equipment based on the type of distribution transformer, the applicable kVA rating, and BIL rating, and those final standards can be found here.

The authority of EPCA calls on DOE to not just set the minimum energy efficiency standards for distribution transformers (and other equipment), though. DOE is also responsible for setting the testing requirements, which manufacturers must use as a basis to 1) certify to DOE that their equipment complies with standards, and 2) make representations of the efficiency of their equipment to the public (e.g., through in manufacturer catalogs). In other words, the official DOE test procedure dictates the testing setup and methods in which the efficiency of the equipment is measured.

DOE currently has test procedures for distribution transformers, which can be found here. These test procedures were published in 2006 when the first efficiency standards for the equipment were published as well. As noted in this RFI, “EPCA requires that, at least once every 7 years, DOE evaluate test procedures for each type of covered equipment, including distribution transformers, to determine whether amended test procedures would more accurately or fully comply with the requirements for test procedures to not be unduly burdensome to conduct and be reasonably designed to produce test results that reflect energy efficiency, energy use, and estimated operating costs during a representative average use cycle.” In fact, during the 2013 update to the energy conservation standards for distribution transformers, DOE did just that and determined that the current test procedures were satisfactory and did not require an amendment. However during that rulemaking process, certain stakeholders took advantage of the opportunity to make a public comment and noted that the requirements for ‘percent of nameplate-rated load’, or PUL, of the test procedure might not be appropriate and should be addressed in a future test procedure rulemaking. This RFI published by DOE is the beginning of that promised future test procedure rulemaking on distribution transformers, set to give consideration to the test PUL requirements.

Background of Distribution Transformers

As detailed in the RFI, a transformer is “a device consisting of 2 or more coils of insulated wire that transfers alternating current by electromagnetic induction from 1 coil to another to change the original voltage or current value.” 10 CFR 431.192  Distribution transformers, according to the DOE definition, are specifically identified based on their input and output voltage and other electrical characteristics. Put simply, distribution transformers are the pieces of equipment that take the high-voltage power from transmission lines and step that power down to its safe, final voltage before it is sent to the customers (in their homes, commercial buildings, etc.). These distribution transformers can be found either on a utility pole or in a locked box on the ground. Depending on the area, a single distribution transformer might serve one customer (in a remote rural area) or it might serve many customers (in a dense urban area). Further, a single large industrial facility might require multiple distribution transformers of its own.

On the left is a utility-pole distribution transformer, while the right is a pad-mount distribution transformer. I can’t be the only one who has nostalgia looking at the one on the right and of using it as a base in kickball or as home base in capture the flag until my mom yelled at us to stop playing on it, right?

The full current test procedure for distribution transformers can be found here, which specifies the test system accuracy required; the methods for measuring resistance, losses, and efficiency value of the transformer; and the test equipment calibration and certification.

What is being requested

This RFI is the beginning of a full rulemaking cycle on the test procedures for distributed transformers, so this is the opportunity for stakeholders to make an early and strong impact on the direction of the rulemaking.

The main issue that was brought up during the 2013 energy conservation standards rulemaking with regard to the test procedure was the appropriateness of the PUL specification. The discussion of this issue centered on the idea that the PUL on which the transformers were tested, and thus the PUL on which the resultant declared efficiencies were based, are potentially not representative of the PUL at which the transformers would operate during actual use. If this is the case, then customers seeking out the transformer that would use the least energy might be misled, and transformers that actually save more energy than others in use might be found non-compliant with regulations. To address this issue, DOE is requesting comment on the following:

  • Issue 1: Any data or information on the PUL used during the first year of service for distributed transformers;
  • Issue 2: Typical PUL values used in the population of distributed transformers;
  • Issue 3: Whether data provided by manufacturers represents first year of service or full lifetime;
  • Issue 4: Whether transformer loads increase over time; and
  • Issue 5: How much the efficiency of a transformer effects the purchasing decision of customers.

DOE is also going to investigate the issue of temperature correction and if the current practice of calculating losses by assuming the temperature inside the transformer is equal to an outside ‘reference’ temperature. The concern is that the temperature inside the transformer is surely higher than an outside temperature, meaning the energy losses in practice would be higher than what is being calculated. To address this, DOE is requesting comment on the following:

  • Issue 6: Any data or information about whether calculating losses at ambient temperature or internal temperature is more representative of real transformer performance; and
  • Issue 7: Whether temperature varies with PUL.

The current test procedure specifies efficiency by a single tested PUL. DOE has engaged in some discussion on whether this is appropriate, if a different reference PUL should be used, or if transformers should be tested at multiple PULs. To this end, DOE is requesting comment on:

  • Issue 8: Any data or information on the continued use of a single PUL test requirement compared with the alternatives;
  • Issue 9: How accurate would testing at multiple PULs be to the distribution of real-use transformer operations and how much would that increase testing costs;
  • Issue 10: How many PULs would be appropriate at which to test in a scenario of testing multiple PULs; and
  • Issue 11: Whether there are alternative metrics that should be considered to determine transformer efficiency.

Lastly, DOE also seeks comment on the sampling process and calculation methods used in the test procedure. The specific types of comments DOE seeks are the following:

  • Issue 12: Whether the sampling requirements of units to be tested should be adjusted;
  • Issue 13: Whether the efficiencies advertised by manufacturers typically represent the minimum efficiency standard, the maximum represented efficiency they are allowed to use, or some other metric;
  • Issue 14: Comment on DOE’s requirements related to alternative methods for determining energy efficiency (AEDMs); and
  • Issue 15: Whether the AEDM provisions are useful and if manufacturers use them.

Again this RFI is just the beginning of the rulemaking process for the distributed transformer test procedure, but it also represents the best time to get involved if these test procedures affect you. The above issues are just the ones that DOE specifically is looking to hear about, but stakeholders are more than welcome to address any other topics they find important. As mentioned in the Policy Rulemaking Process for Dummies article, comment periods such as this one represent the best opportunities to directly impact potential regulations that could have real impacts on you or your business.

Note: I have in the works a post on how to submit the most effective public comments, so if there appears to be interest on this post regarding the net metering RFI then I’ll make sure to move up publication of that subsequent post to be helpful for commenting on this Notice in advance of the comment submission deadline. Update: See here for my post on how to make the most effective public comment on a public rulemaking.

Summary of RFI details

  • DOE published RFI asking for comments on development of the technical and economic analyses regarding whether the existing test procedures for distributed transformers should be amended (82 FR 44347).
  • Some key specific topics DOE is interested in receiving comments on include:
    • Ways to streamline and simplify testing requirements;
    • Measures DOE could take to lower the cost of testing requirements;
    • The relation between PUL being tested and PUL actually used in the field for distribution transformers;
    • Whether current temperature correction in the test procedure is flawed;
    • How testing based on a single PUL affects the final posted efficiency of equipment; and
    • The appropriateness of the sampling and calculation methods currently used.
  • Comments are to be submitted by October 23, 2017.
  • Further information is available at the Notice’s online docket, and questions can be directed to Jeremy Dommu at the DOE Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis or Mary Green at the DOE Office of the General Counsel.
  • As always, feel free to contact me through the Contact page or commenting below if you have any questions you think I could answer as well.

 

Updated on October 10, 2017

 

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.