Clean Energy

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

Our electricity system is rapidly changing around us. New sources of renewable power are meeting technologies that can crunch unprecedented amounts of data. It's all leading to a major shakeup for how utilities do business.

Fort Collins' small, city government-run utility is trying to stay ahead of that wave. Their experiments may just be a potential model for the utility of the future.

As Coal Wanes, Can Other Energy Sources Meet Its Stalwart Reliability?

Jun 16, 2015
Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

The coal stockpile at the Laramie River Power Station in Wheatland, Wyoming, is so big that you can't really see beyond it. It is similar to standing on the beach and looking out over the ocean, except this is one is made of coal – 35 acres of it. That's enough to produce electricity for about one month.

As a source of power, coal is predictable, easy to store, and well understood. Renewables and natural gas share few of these characteristics and some see that as a huge problem.

As the Environmental Protection Agency puts the finishing touches its proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions – known as the Clean Power Plan – warnings that the transition away from coal will impact grid reliability are getting louder.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

A complex set of government rules meant to spur a renewable fuels industry has fallen behind one of its main goals: cutting greenhouse emissions from gasoline.

Nearly a decade after the rules were drafted, low-carbon fuels have yet to arrive. The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing tweaks to the nation's ethanol policy, marking a crucial point for the next generation of biofuels, which have so far failed to flourish.

"The unknown is, 'Where do you sell it?'" said Rob Mitchell, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher working on crops for cellulosic ethanol. "The market for cellulosic ethanol just isn't there yet. If you want a farmer to do it, it's got to pay the bills and we're fully aware of that."

Wastewater Sourced Methane Powers New Wyoming Data Center

Jan 29, 2015
Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

An experimental Microsoft Data Plant in Cheyenne, Wyoming is the first data center in the country to be powered solely by a wastewater treatment plant next door. Or more specifically, off the methane emitted by what goes down our toilets and sinks.

It sounds a bit gross, but there is a good reason why Microsoft and other tech companies are experimenting with unusual ideas when it comes to powering data centers: Because they use and waste massive amounts of electricity.

Sam Beebe / Creative Commons

As use of wind energy grows in Colorado, industry and energy grid officials are looking for more sophisticated forecasts to tell them when exactly to use the ephemeral energy source. Current weather models are helpful, but researchers know that mountains and valleys can throw off predictions — requiring more complex weather forecasting.

Enter a team from the University of Colorado, which were recently granted $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to improve weather prediction for the wind energy industry.

Poudre Valley REA

Just five years ago, as recession gripped the country, a tiny Colorado energy company, opened up its first solar project. Sited in the rural town of El Jebel, population less than 4,000, Clean Energy Collective's effort was called a community solar garden -- smaller than a solar farm, but big enough to power a neighborhood.

Now, Clean Energy Collective, which just cut the ribbon on a brand new solar garden in Fort Collins, is the fastest growing solar company in the country. Its founder and head Paul Spencer said its roots in the state's rural Roaring Fork Valley (it is now based in Louisville, outside Boulder) are what allowed it to try out a new energy model that is taking root across the country.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

In the rugged peaks outside Silverton, Colorado sits a prime example of the future of hydropower. It's not a behemoth new dam blocking one of America's rivers, it's a humming generator no bigger than a wheelbarrow, pulling in water from a mountain stream and making enough power for about two hot water heaters.

A fledgling industry is taking shape, focused on putting small electricity generation on already existing water infrastructure – known as small hydro. It's a flurry of new economic activity Congress can take a lot of credit for and it's an issue with opportunity for further political compromise as Republicans take control in the U.S. Senate.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

Colorado is a state in the midst of a fossil fuel boom. But it's also a hub for alternative energy businesses and technology.

It's for that reason that a Washington, D.C. clean energy consulting firm, 38 North Solutions, chose Denver as the site for its western regional office.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

Bryan Hannegan is picturing the home of the future. In his imagination, it's not in outer space, or shaped like a giant geodesic dome. This home talks to itself, and to what's around it.

"The dishwasher could talk to the electric vehicle in the garage, it could talk to the solar PV system on the roof," said Hannegan, a scientist at National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

These "talking" appliances can also read a weather forecast calling for a sunny afternoon. This tells them the rooftop solar will be making lots of power, meaning it's a great time to run the dryer and dishwasher.

You may be at work, but your "smart" home doesn't need you. When you pull into your driveway at the end of the day, the dishes are done and the clothes are dry -- all with power generated from your rooftop that afternoon.

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

In terms of energy efficiency, Colorado is doing better than its neighbors.

That's according to a new report out by the energy policy nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The annual report ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia on their energy efficiency policies and efforts. Colorado ranks 13, with Massachusetts leading the pack and North Dakota coming in last.