A few years back, Tesla built a giant battery in southern Australia. Now, the company may be doing the same thing in Texas. The Australian battery has been hailed as a success since coming online, and someone in Texas has evidently had a similar idea.
Bloomberg reports that the new battery installation will be larger than 100MW and will store enough power to provide 20,000 homes with an hour of electricity on a hot summer day. The facility is being built by Gambit Energy Storage LLC, but Gambit’s headquarters are listed at the same address as a Tesla building near its Fremont auto plant.
This new battery installation is adjacent to a Texas-New Mexico power substation, but the utility’s name is a bit misleading in this case. TNMP moved all of its New Mexico-based business to a sister company back in 2006 and currently provides service only within Texas. The company claims some 255,000 customers. Interestingly, TNMP was itself recently acquired by Avangrid. The renewable energy division of Avangrid, Avangrid Renewables LLC, is said to be the third-largest wind power operator in the United States.
These particulars go some way to explaining why TNMP, specifically, might be investing in a large battery backup system, even before Texas’ massive winter storm. The Bloomberg story doesn’t say if the new battery installation was commissioned before or after the storm, but the additional stored energy could have been used to buffer demand as Texas struggled to keep its power generation capabilities online.
Tesla’s ‘Megapack’ battery. We presume this is an artist’s conception, given that nine out of ten experts agree: Putting a giant battery in the middle of the road is a bad idea.
Texas’s woes are an excellent argument for battery backups regardless of whether said battery is deployed as part of a renewable installation. Texas didn’t lose power because it relies partly on renewable energy to meet its energy needs. It lost power because the vast majority of its energy-generating equipment wasn’t winterized. Wind turbines and natural gas wellheads both froze in the storm, cutting off the supply of energy right when Texans needed it the most. The new 100MW+ facility won’t just be useful during freak cold snaps. It can also deliver additional electricity for air conditioning at times when conventional generation facilities are strained by demand.
The advantage to batteries, in these instances, is that they can deliver peak power instantly, with no spin-up period. The battery is then recharged when demand is lower, typically through the night and into the early morning hours.
The 100MW battery Tesla installed in Australia has performed well enough that a different Australian company, Neoen, has partnered with Tesla to build an even larger facility. A new 300MW/450MWhr facility is under construction in Victoria. In addition to providing backup power, it will serve as a load-balancing facility, ensuring peak power can be delivered to Victoria and New South Wales. There’s also a new facility in California, the 250MW Gateway Energy Storage. Like this new Tesla project in Texas, the Gateway Energy Storage project is designed to provide instantaneous power at peak demand and to help prevent the rolling blackouts that hit California last year.
It is difficult to find hard data on how the various efforts to create battery-backed microgrids have performed, long-term. The grid that Tesla built on American Samoa back in 2016 appears to be performing well. COVID-19 disrupted plans to expand the use of microgrids and solar there, but work is expected to resume in 2021. Puerto Rico has also approved plans that call for the construction of microgrids across the island to improve its energy security. Negative and more positive reports have covered the long-term impact of microgrids in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, but the island is betting on microgrids as a key part of its future. Solar power currently accounts for just 1.4 percent of Puerto Rico’s power generation, but there are plans to add 2.7GW of solar capacity by 2025.
The feature image shows Tesla battery installation on the island of Ta’u.
Humanity launched the first satellite in 1957, and since then we’ve put thousands of objects in orbit with little regard for the future. Along with about 3,000 active satellites, we now have 900,000 pieces of space junk larger than 10 centimeters. The results could be catastrophic if even a tiny piece of debris collided with a crewed spacecraft or merely inconvenient if it hit a satellite. In either case, that’s something you want to avoid. Cleaning up space to prevent collisions is a tall order, but the ESA has just funded a giant space claw that could show the way forward.
Most launch operators don’t usually go into a mission intended to clutter up the space around Earth. Nevertheless, defunct satellites, booster engines, and smaller bits of machinery can remain in orbit long after their useful life. Some objects will fall back to Earth naturally as their orbit decays, but the volume of space debris is still moving in the wrong direction, and space is about to get a lot more crowded with megaconstellations from SpaceX and others.
To combat the increase in space junk, the ESA has awarded a €86 million contract to Switzerland-based ClearSpace SA to run the first-ever active debris removal operation. The ESA will provide expertise and money, but ClearSpace SA will do all the engineering and design work. It will also seek additional funding for the mission from commercial investors.
The target of the ESA mission is a Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter), which was left in a 400-mile-high orbit since 2013 when it helped launch a Vega rocket in 2013. The team chose this object because its orbit and composition are well understood, and it’s about the size of a small satellite.
The mission, known as ClearSpace-1, could launch as soon as 2025. The claw-shaped spacecraft will rendezvous with the Vespa debris and lock onto it with the grapplers. After that, it simply drags the object down into the atmosphere where it and the claw burn up. You would, of course, need a lot of these devices to clear Earth’s orbital traffic jam, but this is just an initial test. If ClearSpace-1 is successful, the company can design more efficient versions of the claw for capturing junk.
Only time will tell if ClearSpace’s approach to removing space junk is viable, but we will need to do something. The more cluttered space becomes, the more dangerous it is. Some scientists even worry that a chain reaction of space collisions know as the Kessler effect could render the space around Earth unusable for years or decades.
An elderly woman who died from dehydration and a urinary tract infection — caused by sitting in wet diapers — was abused by staff at an Alberta nursing home who admitted they were too overworked to care for her properly, according to a scathing government report.
Josephine Ewashko had been a resident at Extendicare Viking in Viking, Alta. — southeast of Edmonton — since 2016.
She was rushed to hospital in November 2018 and died two weeks later, just shy of her 80th birthday.
“Sometimes I feel like a hitman, because we were paying to have our mother killed,” said her son, Dana Ewashko.
“It’s sickening, is what it is,” he said. “If somebody doesn’t get enough water? Somebody doesn’t get changed? They didn’t do their job.”
Shortly after his mother’s death, he complained to Alberta’s office of Protection for Persons in Care (PPC) , which recently issueda report, obtained by Go Public, describing Josephine’s slow deterioration due to the staff’s neglect.
As a result, says the report, she experienced “serious bodily harm” leading to her death.
“I used to work in the financial world and for a lot less than a life we would have our licenses stripped if we … didn’t follow protocol,” said Dana, 57. “Doesn’t seem like the health industry has any consequences to something like this.”
Markham, Ont.-based Extendicare — one of the three largest nursing home chains in the country, with 96 homes in four provinces — has not been fined in this case.
Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only two provinces in the country where regulators can issue fines when nursing home operators don’t meet standards of care, although Go Public has learned that neither province has ever done this.
A prominent seniors’ advocate says financial penalties are the swiftest way to ensure nursing home operators keep residents safe, and she’s urging other provinces and territories to grant regulators the ability to hit nursing home operators in the pocketbook when they fail in their duties.
“We need to ensure that there is a quick and unequivocal system in place to bring operators into compliance,” B.C.’s seniors’ advocate Isobel Mackenzie told Go Public. “And I think that’s fines — a monetary penalty.” .
Repeated bladder infections
Dana says in the months leading up to his mother’s death, he and other family members spoke to Extendicare Viking staff many times about her repeated bladder infections, which he says exacerbated her dementia symptoms.
“Her cognitive ability was greatly affected. She would sleep a lot — even fall asleep mid-sentence sometimes,” he said. “It was a lack of care.”
He recalls helping his mother out of her wheelchair three months before she died and looking at its seat cushion.
“It looked kind of an odd shade of black,” he said. “I reached down and touched it and it was soaked in urine. It was as though you took a sponge out of the tub.”
He says when he and other family members asked staff to help their mother get to the bathroom, or change her foul-smelling diaper, it would often be hours before a nurse or aide responded.
Another nagging concern for the family — that Josephine’s water glass was often several feet away from her wheelchair.
“She couldn’t reach it,” said Dana. “We always thought Mother was thirsty.”
Family members raised their concerns two months before Josephine’s death, in an October 2018 meeting with nursing home staff. They later learned those concerns were never recorded in their mother’s care program.
“The nurse said he was just too busy to do that type of paperwork,” Dana told Go Public.
A month later, his mother became increasingly weak, was often incoherent and slept for long periods of time. On Nov. 22, 2018, he insisted that she be transferred to hospital.
The PPC investigation into Josephine’s death found:
She was “barely responsive” upon arrival at the hospital.
She was “extremely dehydrated.”
Blood work detected “critically high sodium levels” — an indication of dehydration and kidney disease.
The skin in her mouth “was sloughing off due to dryness.”
The report also noted that, in the weeks leading up to her death, a computer system at Extendicare Viking issued a dozen alerts, noting changes in her condition — but none was reviewed by a nurse or care aide. Among other things, the alerts signalled:
“New or worsening lethargy.”
“New or worsening disorganized speech.”
“New or worsening altered perception.”
The report does not include any details of interviews with managers, but a nurse told investigators: “We often don’t have time to read [the alerts] or review charting.”
Another nurse said: “We are supposed to check the alerts … but this is difficult [due to workload].”
Two aides also said they didn’t have time to check the alerts.
Josephine’s family doctor had concerns she put in a letter last February to Alberta’s Ministry of Health.
“I do believe … that Josephine’s needs were neglected, not on purpose but due to staff shortages and lack in experience,” wrote Dr. Marna Hagan, who went on to say that her concerns about staffing were not new.
“This is not the first time I feel there was a lack in care and experience,” at the Viking location, wrote Hagan. “Shortage of staff and experience is lacking.”
The province’s investigation also reported concerns about staffing and training, noting that employees needed better education about nutrition, hydration and monitoring infections.
It also directed the facility to develop policies that ensure staff review and respond to computer alerts. It gave the facility until Feb. 29 to comply. If it doesn’t, it could potentially face fines.
Dana points out that Extendicare is a for-profit business that answers to shareholders. It is partly funded by Alberta Health Services (AHS).
“They’re caring about their profits … I don’t think you can have profit and care in the same sentence,” he says, adding that Extendicare’s CEO received total annual compensation of about $ 4 million last year.
According to AHS, there were 273 allegations of abuse at seniors’ homes it funds between April 2018 and March 2019. Most were determined to be unfounded, but many still prompted suggestions for improved care.
Extendicare’s head office declined a request for an interview with Go Public, and would not comment on Josephine’s case.
Instead, a spokesperson for the Viking facility wrote that it is “very sorry” about her death and that she is “dearly missed by the team and residents.”
Spokesperson Darlene Thibault also said Extendicare Viking has “taken steps to address the situation” and is working “to provide the highest quality of care, dignity and safety to our residents.”
Thibault would not elaborate on what has been done to ensure other residents aren’t neglected, and would not address concerns that the home is not adequately staffed.
Outside of Alberta and Nova Scotia, the only options available to regulators when nursing home operators put residents at risk is to shut down the home — rarely done, as it can displace hundreds of people — or put it under government management — a lengthy and rare procedure, though it was recently done to three homes owned by Retirement Concepts in Victoria, B.C.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Mackenzie, the seniors’ advocate, who says it’s time to introduce financial penalties across the country so nursing homes don’t just focus on the bottom line.
“You need to ensure in publicly funded nursing homes that the contracted operators are operating in the public interest,” she said.
She points out that publicly funded nursing homes in the U.S. have been subject to fines since 2002.
“Just because something is unpopular with some people doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do,” said Mackenzie. “And we have to remember that our duty is to the protection of the people who we have entrusted to that care home.”
Dana says it’s hard to deal with the grief of knowing his mother’s death may have been preventable, and that Extendicare didn’t pay a financial price.
“People go to jail for treating their pets in the same way,” he said. “It’s pretty shocking that nothing [no fine] has happened.”
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New York’s attorney general is accusing Exxon Mobil of lying to investors about how profitable the company will remain as governments impose stricter regulations to combat global warming.
The lawsuit, which is set to go to trial Tuesday, claims the Texas energy giant kept two sets of books — one accounting for climate change regulations and the other underestimating the costs — to make the company appear more valuable to investors.
Exxon denied the allegations, calling them politically motivated, and said the company looks forward to being exonerated in court.
At stake is how much value investors will still see in oil and gas companies once the impact of climate change — and the stepped-up efforts to curb it — become more apparent.
“If companies like Exxon accurately account for the necessary degree of regulation to prevent even more dangerous global warming from happening, it will make less and less sense to continue to invest in developing fossil fuel projects,” said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.
While there are hundreds of lawsuits filed against companies about climate change, this is one of the first to go to trial, according to the Sabin Center.
Downplaying impact of new regulations?
At the heart of the case is a question about whether Exxon was downplaying the impact regulations may pose on its ability to make money in the future.
The complaint says that in order to account for future climate change regulations, Exxon told the public it was applying an estimated cost — or “proxy cost” — of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to its investment decisions. It also said it would apply the proxy cost when it evaluates the value of its assets and estimates future demand for oil and gas.
But the complaint says that instead, Exxon applied lower or no proxy costs for years when making investment decisions or assessing its oil and gas reserves. As a result, the company may have been exposed to far greater risk from climate change regulations than investors were led to believe, the complaint said. An expert witness for the state estimated potential damages to shareholders of $ 476 million to $ 1.6 billion.
The state also claims Exxon inaccurately concluded that it faced little risk associated with a “two degrees scenario,” in which the consumption of fossil fuels was severely curtailed to limit global temperature increases to below two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The complaint says Exxon claimed its oil and gas reserves face little risk of becoming too expensive to operate and that the company would be able to profitably exploit those assets well into the future.
Exxon said that because there isn’t a uniform, globally accepted cost of carbon, the company uses two distinct metrics to account for the impact of existing and potential climate-related regulations.
The first, a “proxy cost,” reflects climate policies that could reduce demand for oil and natural gas globally, Exxon said in an emailed statement. The other, a greenhouse gas cost, reflects actual costs that could be imposed on emissions of oil and gas projects as a result of a specific jurisdiction’s laws.
Company says case is ‘misleading’
Exxon takes into account both types of costs to make sound business decisions and meet its responsibilities to shareholders, the company said.
“The New York Attorney General’s case is misleading and deliberately misrepresents a process we use to ensure company investments take into account the impact of current and potential climate-related regulations,” the company said in a statement.
The New York Attorney General’s office declined to elaborate beyond the documents it filed for the case.
If the state wins, Big Oil will be on notice that a business-as-usual approach to the extraction of fossil fuels is an increasingly fraught enterprise.– Lee Wasserman, Rockefeller Family Fund director
The securities fraud case does not accuse Exxon Mobil of playing a role in accelerating climate change but focuses on whether the company misled investors.
“The notion that the company can continue to pump oil and gas with abandon while the climate crisis causes ever greater human suffering and harm to communities across the globe is a destructive fantasy,” said Lee Wasserman, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, which has funded research investigating what Exxon and other oil companies knew about climate science.
“This case will focus on one element of Exxon’s alleged deception — whether the company misinformed investors about the risks climate change poses to the value of its oil and gas assets. If the state wins, Big Oil will be on notice that a business-as-usual approach to the extraction of fossil fuels is an increasingly fraught enterprise.”
Earlier this month, Health Canada issued a warning about the connections between vaping and pulmonary illness, and last week a Quebec resident was diagnosed with the nation’s first case of severe vaping-related breathing illness.
Most of the spacecraft in science fiction are ridiculously spacious, but real life is much less luxurious. The International Space Station (ISS) has just 388 cubic meters of habitable space, and future deep-space assignments could have astronauts serving much longer tours of duty. NASA has partnered with Sierra Nevada Corporation to explore ways to make spacecraft a bit less cramped, and the company has now completed a prototype inflatable habitat module with almost as much living space as the entire ISS.
NASA originally funded the NextSTEP-2 program to develop technologies for long-term missions like the Lunar Gateway station and a journey to Mars. The current plan is to make the Lunar Gateway a smaller modular station that will initially have just a small life support area and docking for lunar landers. The inflatable habitat shown off at Johnson Space Center this week could eventually add a lot more living areas to the Gateway and other missions.
This isn’t NASA’s first look at inflatable habitats. The agency partnered with Bigelow Aerospace to deploy a small inflatable prototype module to the ISS called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). The 16 cubic meter volume of BEAM is a far cry from the Sierra Nevada mockup, though.
The habitat measures approximately 26 by 26 feet (8 by 8 meters) with a total internal volume of 984 cubic feet (300 cubic meters). That’s a third of the total pressurized volume of the ISS, and more than three-quarters of its habitable space. The multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, allowing NASA to send the entire module to space in a standard rocket like the Falcon Heavy, ULA’s upcoming Vulcan booster, or NASA’s own Space Launch System.
Once in space, the module can expand into a three-level habitat with room for any necessary activities — Sierra Nevada Corporation doesn’t have a specific purpose in mind, but the prototype is outfitted with a greenhouse, scientific facilities, a gym, and more.
Sierra Nevada hopes to impress NASA and other potential partners with its initial design, but a space-ready habitat could be altered as needed. With all the changes to the proposed Lunar Gateway, the company isn’t sure when or if NASA will want a large inflatable habitat module. The timeline for sending humans to Mars is still very preliminary as well. Sierra Nevada isn’t building Mars-specific habitats until NASA defines mission parameters. However, an inflatable habitat like this could make a months-long trip to Mars much less stressful for the crew.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been studying the red planet since 2006, making amazing discoveries the whole time. As a testament to how much there still is to learn about Mars, the MRO just spotted signs of a huge volume of water ice on the planet. Scientists believe this may be the remains of Mars’ long-lost ice caps.
You may be thinking that Mars has ice caps, and it does. That’s on the surface, but the newly discovered reservoir of water is deep beneath the northern ice cap (about 1.2 miles down), uncovered thanks to the radar scanning instruments aboard the NASA spacecraft. Researchers believe this is the third-largest cache of water ice on the red planet.
The team says that were all this ice thawed, it could cover the entire surface of Mars in five feet of water. What makes this discovery exciting aside from the sheer volume is how the ice is packed away inside the planet. The American Geophysical Union, which published the new research based on NASA data, says that radar data from the MRO shows the ice in layers separated by sand (see below). It’s still mostly ice, though. The team estimates water ice makes up 61 to 88 percent of the formation by volume.
Geologists love layers because it provides a way to analyze conditions over time. Analyzing those layers could provide clues as to how the environment on Mars has changed over the eons, which will inform the search for ancient life there. That’s one of the primary objectives of NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover.
Knowing where you can get a huge volume of water is also vital to future human exploration of Mars. Bringing everything you’ll need with you adds considerably to the cost of a mission. So-called “in-situ” resources like an ocean’s worth of water you can dig out of the ground can be the difference between a viable mission and an abandoned concept.
That said, the ice discovered by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter isn’t exactly easy to get to. The ice caps covering the cache of water are under the planet’s current ice caps, which are a mix of water and carbon dioxide ice. It might still be more convenient to harvest water ice on Mars than ship it all the way from Earth. That’s especially true if we’re going to set up a human colony on Mars as Elon Musk seems intent to do.