This weekend, it looked as if a Wizard of Oz-style tornado had blown through California's Orange County Great Park, dropping 15 newly built houses in its wake. In this ad-hoc neighborhood, where the streets had names like Edison International Way and Schneider Electric Street, each house's inhabitants wore matching shirts, smiled a lot, and handed out pamphlets. But this wasn't a creepy planned community. It was the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Solar Decathlon competition, where college teams design and construct full-size houses that run entirely on solar power.
Renewable energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines is great for humans, but not so awesome for flying creatures. There have been reports of solar farms vaporizing birds and wind turbines smashing bats who confuse the turbines for trees. US States are now required to start incorporating more clean energy (and low carbon) solutions into their power supply, but no one wants cleaner air to come at the expense of wildlife populations. So what's to be done?
For the blink of an eye, nuclear fusion appears possible. Nuclear reactors today are fission reactors, where decaying nuclear material heats water to power generators. Fusion reactors, in theory, create a sustained reaction, like at the heart of actual stars. Humans have attempted to create fusion reactors since the 1950s. This decade, Lockheed notably announced a secretive reactor in development in 2013. The typical way to get to the point of fusion is by superheating a ball of gas and then sustaining that heat. Earlier this week, Tri Alpha Energy, located in southern California, announced that they've created a superheated gas ball that lasts longer than expected, a crucial step on the road to fusion. Like Lockheed, instead of using a giant donut-shaped reactor, Tri Alpha is working with a cylindrical device.
There's a big difference between the warm, shallow seawater lapping up against a beach and the icy depths of the ocean. Now, researchers are turning that temperature difference into energy at energy plants all over the world. The newest one opened up in Hawaii last Friday, where it expects to generate enough energy to power 120 homes per year.