Stories tagged IREE

Dec
16
2011

Ten abandoned mining pits in Minnesota's Iron Range could have new life as pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants, according to a University of Minnesota,* Great River Energy, and Minnesota Power study.

[Hey, now: did you click on the hyperlink above? I don't put hyperlinks in posts for my own amusement, you know. They're for your viewing pleasure and learning enjoyment! Seriously though, click on them for great explanations, photos, diagrams, graphs, and more. You won't be disappointed.]

Match made in Minnesota: Wind and water "play nice" in pumped-storage hydroelectric technology.
Match made in Minnesota: Wind and water "play nice" in pumped-storage hydroelectric technology.Courtesy Steve Fareham

Pumped-storage hydroelectric technology sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but it's really just a neat combination of water and wind energy technology. What makes pumped-storage hydroelectric projects sexy is that they make it possible to store excess energy generated by wind turbines on windy days. This stored energy can then be used during the inevitable calm days -- addressing one of the biggest issues for today's wind energy industry!

How does it work?

It's basic physics, my friends: building potential energy and releasing kinetic energy. Specifically, excess energy generated by wind turbines "is used to pump water from a low-lying reservoir to a higher elevation pool" within the mine pit. This builds the potential energy of the water. Then, when that energy is demanded, "water from the upper pool is released generating hydroelectricity and refilling the lower pool." This releases kinetic energy, which can be turned into electricity.

How effective is it?

Researchers estimated that a pumped-storage hydroelectric facility built in Virginia, MN could output the same electricity as a "modest-sized" generator burning natural gas. However, at a cost of $120 million, the pumped-hydro facility would be more expensive than a comparable natural gas generator.

There are 40 U.S. locations currently employing pumped-storage hydroelectricity technology, but there are no definite plans for any such projects in Minnesota -- yet.

Read the Star Tribune's coverage of this story here.

*Including scientists from UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, and Humphrey School of Public Affairs; and funded largely by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Jul
27
2010

The Smartypants Grid

The smart grid is actually a futuristic collection of technologies that manage electricity distribution. Ultimately, they are "smarter" (more efficient) at generating, distributing, and using electricity than the current industry standards.

The Einstien Meter: Smart meters are a component of the smart grid infrastructure.  They provide the two-way communication between electricity consumers and providers with the goal of enabling consumers to manage their electricity usage and spending.  The utility providers also benefit by experiencing fewer demand spikes.
The Einstien Meter: Smart meters are a component of the smart grid infrastructure. They provide the two-way communication between electricity consumers and providers with the goal of enabling consumers to manage their electricity usage and spending. The utility providers also benefit by experiencing fewer demand spikes.Courtesy Duke Energy

Some people are getting excited about smart grids because cutting back on electricity usage is cutting back on fossil fuel consumption which is cutting back on human-driven causes of global climate change. (Are you still with me or did I lose you there?) Other people are looking forward to smart grids because they should decrease the number of brown- and blackouts experienced in the country, which improves the region's health and economy. Still more people are pumped for the smart grid because it could mean lower electricity bills for their homes.

When will the smart grid reach your hometown? That depends. Some cities already have smart grid technology, but regional adoption is set to take place on a rolling basis during the next five years and is largely dependent on whether the American people get on board.

Scientific American: How Will the Smart Grid Handle Heat Waves?

"Pretty well, once the technology to automatically respond to peak demand and store renewable energy matures."

Smart grid test cites in Harrisburg, PA, Richland, WA, and Boulder, CO have their work cut out for them this week as people across the nation crank down the A/C to battle the heat wave covering most of the continental United States. According to the Scientific American article, a regional smart grid should have the potential to excel under stressful heat wave conditions. In the meantime, utility companies and academics are working toward developing a method to better store electricity when supply exceeds demand thus creating a stockpile of electricity for times of scarcity.

Explore More:

Check out SmartGrid.gov for all things smart and grid-y. Or, if you're looking for something more technical, the Department of Energy's other smart grid website.

If you're looking for a more interactive learning experience, check out General Electric's smart grid webpage complete with narrated animations.

Of course, if you're looking to hear from academics or industry experts themselves, the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment in conjunction with the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, are hosting Midwest's Premier Energy, Economic, and Environmental Conference, E3 2010, at the St. Paul River Center (right across Kellogg Blvd from the Science Museum) Tuesday, November 30.

Nov
26
2006

Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment
Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment

Xcel donates multi-millions to Renewable Development Fund.

What would you do if you were given $16 million each year to develop renewable energy? Minnesota Statute 216B.2423 requires Xcel Energy to donate $500,000 annually for each dry cask containing spent nuclear fuel to a renewables development fund.
To date Xcel Energy has committed to funding nearly $53 million for projects to identify and develop new or emerging renewable energy sources. A third round of funding is to begin by March 2007. A one-time payment of $10 million was made to the University of Minnesota's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment on July 1, 2003.

University of Minnesota creates Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE).

The mission of IREE is

to promote statewide economic development, sustainable, healthy, and diverse ecosystems, and national energy security through development of bio-based and other renewable resources and processes.

In fiscal year 2005 alone, IREE awarded nearly $11.5M to renewable energy research and demonstration projects at the University of Minnesota. These funds were used to support 67 projects and leveraged an additional $9.3M from state, federal and business and industry partners.

IREE's Third Annual Research Symposium is Tuesday

Want to talk to researchers about what they are doing with millions of dollars in grant moneys. University of Minnesota faculty and researchers will showcase groundbreaking new work in the areas of renewable energy and the environment next Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the McNamara Alumni Center.

Don Shelby, news anchor for WCCO TV, and Edward Garvey, Deputy Commissioner for the Energy and Telecommunications Division with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, are scheduled to give the keynote addresses. University of Minnesota Regents Professor David Tilman will give the capnote address at the conclusion of this year's conference.
A poster session featuring IREE-funded projects will also take place throughout the day in the main hall.

I attended last year's symposium and plan to go again this Tuesday. My favorite experience last year was talking to the U of M Solar Vehicle team about their car and their experiences racing it cross-country. Here is a link to the Research Symposium schedule. Online registration is now closed but IREE will be accepting walk-up registrations at the door the day of the conference.

Read more about IREE and their funded projects

IREE funded projects 2005, 2004, 2003.
IREE website index.
IREE objectives and activities.