Volume 5, Issue 1
February 11, 2017 – February 16, 2017
Jason Mulderrig '18 | Will Atkinson '18 | Anushka Dasgupta '19 | Joe Abbate '18 | Amy Amatya '21


Fission has been commercially viable and actually powering the grid since the mid-1950s, and currently produces a fifth of the power in the US and 72% in France. The basic process is the following: a neutron is shot into a fissile isotope (like Uranium-235, Uranium-233, or Plutonium-239). The neutron combines with the nucleus and is excited to such a high level that the newly formed (and highly unstable) atom promptly splits into fission fragments (e.g. Krypton or Barium). A relatively large amount of energy is released (100,000 as much as coal per unit mass), along with 2 to 3 further neutrons that each have a probability of impacting another fissile atom to initiate the process for new atoms. The energy released throughout the resulting chain of reactions is absorbed by a flowing fluid (like water) surrounding the reactor, which heats up to form gas, which in turn generates electricity via a turbine. TL;DR: fission is an extremely complicated physical process (the decay of atoms to form fast neutrons) which simply provides heat for an extremely low tech process (heating water to power a steam generator). The downsides to fission are high start-up costs for reactors and the problem of what to do with waste. On the other hand, fission represents a reliable (unlike solar/wind) and emission-free energy source to help balance the grid. -JAA

Fission has been commercially viable and actually powering the grid since the mid-1950s, and currently produces a fifth of the power in the US and 72% in France. The basic process is the following: a neutron is shot into a fissile isotope (like Uranium-235, Uranium-233, or Plutonium-239). The neutron combines with the nucleus and is excited to such a high level that the newly formed (and highly unstable) atom promptly splits into fission fragments (e.g. Krypton or Barium). A relatively large amount of energy is released (100,000 as much as coal per unit mass), along with 2 to 3 further neutrons that each have a probability of impacting another fissile atom to initiate the process for new atoms. The energy released throughout the resulting chain of reactions is absorbed by a flowing fluid (like water) surrounding the reactor, which heats up to form gas, which in turn generates electricity via a turbine. TL;DR: fission is an extremely complicated physical process (the decay of atoms to form fast neutrons) which simply provides heat for an extremely low tech process (heating water to power a steam generator). The downsides to fission are high start-up costs for reactors and the problem of what to do with waste. On the other hand, fission represents a reliable (unlike solar/wind) and emission-free energy source to help balance the grid. -JAA

  New Jersey Embraces an Idea It Once Rejected: Make Utilities Pay to Emit Carbon January 29, 2018 | New York Times | Brad Plumer Led by new governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey is rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program that includes nine other northeastern states. In these states, power plants must buy permits for the carbon dioxide they emit, with the revenue often going to energy efficiency programs. RGGI states have reduced electricity emissions by 40% since 2009, without increasing electricity prices. New Jersey had left RGGI in 2012, but it now joins the states that aim to price carbon in the absence of federal climate policies. -WA Note: In addition to RGGI’s cap-and-trade program, Princeton Student Climate Initiative is exploring a carbon fee and dividend policy for New Jersey. Read the group’s draft white paper here, and email Jonathan Lu (jhlu@princeton.edu) if you’re interested in working with them! Germany Is Abandoning Its Climate Goals for 2020. What Happens Next? January 10, 2018 | QZ | Akshat Rathi Germany recently decided to give up its plans made to reduce “emissions” by 40% of 1990 levels by the year 2020. Optimists say Energiewende, or energy transition, would have been possible if not for the closing of nuclear plants and use of fossil fuels to account for the intermittency of renewables. However, most point out that Germany’s failure to reach its climate goals makes prospects bleak for other countries, given Germany’s historic push for renewable energy and their purchase of half of the world’s solar cells at one point. This outcome has us questioning the likelihood of claims that renewables can power 50% of Europe’s power by 2030. -AA

 

New Jersey Embraces an Idea It Once Rejected: Make Utilities Pay to Emit Carbon
January 29, 2018 | New York Times | Brad Plumer
Led by new governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey is rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program that includes nine other northeastern states. In these states, power plants must buy permits for the carbon dioxide they emit, with the revenue often going to energy efficiency programs. RGGI states have reduced electricity emissions by 40% since 2009, without increasing electricity prices. New Jersey had left RGGI in 2012, but it now joins the states that aim to price carbon in the absence of federal climate policies. -WA

Note: In addition to RGGI’s cap-and-trade program, Princeton Student Climate Initiative is exploring a carbon fee and dividend policy for New Jersey. Read the group’s draft white paper here, and email Jonathan Lu (jhlu@princeton.edu) if you’re interested in working with them!

Germany Is Abandoning Its Climate Goals for 2020. What Happens Next?
January 10, 2018 | QZ | Akshat Rathi
Germany recently decided to give up its plans made to reduce “emissions” by 40% of 1990 levels by the year 2020. Optimists say Energiewende, or energy transition, would have been possible if not for the closing of nuclear plants and use of fossil fuels to account for the intermittency of renewables. However, most point out that Germany’s failure to reach its climate goals makes prospects bleak for other countries, given Germany’s historic push for renewable energy and their purchase of half of the world’s solar cells at one point. This outcome has us questioning the likelihood of claims that renewables can power 50% of Europe’s power by 2030. -AA

In Trump's First Year, the U.S. Lost Almost 10,000 Solar Jobs February 7, 2018 | The Atlantic | Robinson Meyer The U.S. solar industry has experienced nonstop growth since 2010; during that time, it has also enjoyed widespread public support - 90% in a 2016 poll. Last year, however, solar jobs took a hit. While it’s tempting to ascribe this to the new administration’s stance on solar, experts note that the anticipated expiration of a solar tax credit was more likely to blame. Many companies rushed to install more solar before the looming 2016 deadline. The same effect has been observed with wind energy tax credits in the past. However, some of the new administration’s policies, including a tax on imported solar panels and the revocation of the Clean Power plan, will soon impact the industry further. -AD

In Trump's First Year, the U.S. Lost Almost 10,000 Solar Jobs
February 7, 2018 | The Atlantic | Robinson Meyer
The U.S. solar industry has experienced nonstop growth since 2010; during that time, it has also enjoyed widespread public support - 90% in a 2016 poll. Last year, however, solar jobs took a hit. While it’s tempting to ascribe this to the new administration’s stance on solar, experts note that the anticipated expiration of a solar tax credit was more likely to blame. Many companies rushed to install more solar before the looming 2016 deadline. The same effect has been observed with wind energy tax credits in the past. However, some of the new administration’s policies, including a tax on imported solar panels and the revocation of the Clean Power plan, will soon impact the industry further. -AD

  Thermoelectric Properties and Performance of Flexible Reduced Graphene Oxide Films up to 3,000 K February 5, 2018 | Nature Energy | Tian Li et. al. A thermoelectric material is one in which a temperature change induces a current, and vice versa. While thermoelectric materials currently appear only in niche applications, they could one day generate power from combustion waste heat and replace the complex mechanical engines used in concentrated solar plants. One way to increase the efficiency of thermoelectric generators is to raise their operating temperature. This paper describes a printable graphene oxide film which  is stable up to temperatures of 3000K, compared to the best materials currently used, which are only stable up to 1500K. The development of this material is promising for the future of lightweight, scalable thermoelectric generators. -AD

 

Thermoelectric Properties and Performance of Flexible Reduced Graphene Oxide Films up to 3,000 K
February 5, 2018 | Nature Energy | Tian Li et. al.
A thermoelectric material is one in which a temperature change induces a current, and vice versa. While thermoelectric materials currently appear only in niche applications, they could one day generate power from combustion waste heat and replace the complex mechanical engines used in concentrated solar plants. One way to increase the efficiency of thermoelectric generators is to raise their operating temperature. This paper describes a printable graphene oxide film which  is stable up to temperatures of 3000K, compared to the best materials currently used, which are only stable up to 1500K. The development of this material is promising for the future of lightweight, scalable thermoelectric generators. -AD