Imagine being able to take an instant-by-instant look at your energy usage, set a monthly energy budget and get an alert when you get close to that figure, remotely shut off appliances like air conditioners during times of peak energy demand, or sell the excess energy generated by your solar panels or wind turbine back to the power company. And if you plan to purchase a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle to avoid the pain at the pump, you could use the car’s battery pack to deliver power back to the grid when demand is high or to run your house in the event of a blackout. These were among the selling points that got residents of Boulder, Colo., enthused about their city becoming the test bed for the coordinated introduction of a group of technologies that will make Boulder the first city in the United States to be powered by a so-called smart grid when the two-year project is completed in December 2009.

The effort is the brainchild of Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, an energy utility whose service territory covers eight midwestern U.S. states. What’s in it for Xcel? In the wake of the 2003 blackout that left a large swath of the United States and Canada in the dark, there was a renewed call for improvement in the outdated, poorly configured patchwork that is the U.S. power grid. Electric utilities and power pools have been under pressure to improve the networks’ infrastructure, including long-distance transmission lines and the control systems at substations. Advances in the form of new materials for cables, sensors and software designed to detect and even predict faults, and the ability to incorporate inputs from residential solar and wind generation are gradually being installed.

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Here’s How We Could Brighten Clouds to Cool the Earth

"Ship tracks" over the ocean reveal a new strategy to fight climate change

12 min read
Silver and blue equipment in the bottom left. A large white spray comes from a nozzle at the center end.

An effervescent nozzle sprays tiny droplets of saltwater inside the team's testing tent.

Kate Murphy

As we confront the enormous challenge of climate change, we should take inspiration from even the most unlikely sources. Take, for example, the tens of thousands of fossil-fueled ships that chug across the ocean, spewing plumes of pollutants that contribute to acid rain, ozone depletion, respiratory ailments, and global warming.

The particles produced by these ship emissions can also create brighter clouds, which in turn can produce a cooling effect via processes that occur naturally in our atmosphere. What if we could achieve this cooling effect without simultaneously releasing the greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants that ships emit? That's the question the Marine Cloud Brightening (MCB) Project intends to answer.

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