Virtual Power Plants: The Key to Energy Independence
Since Germany decided to wean itself off nuclear energy, it must find new ways of achieving energy independence. That means connecting small energy suppliers to self-sufficient grids.
What's the Latest Development?
To achieve energy independence, Germany has begun investing heavily in 'virtual power plants', i.e. creating larger electricity networks by linking together small renewable energy producers. Kassel University, for example, has successfully "linked 28 wind turbines, solar systems, biogas-fired generating stations, and hydropower plants from across Germany." Government subsidies encourage producers to connect their renewable infrastructure to a larger grid by offering a premium (an extra $16) on top of the regulated price per megawatthour ($116).
What's the Big Idea?
Last year, in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, Germany decided it would shut down all 17 of its nuclear power plants. The government "now plans to get a third of its power from renewable sources by 2020 and has committed to reaching 80 percent by 2050." It is hoped that the virtual power plant system can eventually run subsidy-free by enabling small producers to join together and create larger grids, thus competing with more sizable utility companies. Private utilities in the US and Canada are "now experimenting with virtual plants in smart-grid demonstration projects."
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Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.
- There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
- CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
- Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
- Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.
Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
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