What is causing the California Wildfires and What Can We Do About It?
“Why are there so many wildfires in California now and how can we fix them?”
I love living in Northern California. Whether it be the myriad of different natural wonders I can visit, the passionate people who want to change the world, or the wealth of scientific opportunity that is available. But things are definitely changing and it’s not just the housing prices. It seems like wildfires are becoming more frequent and even more deadly. And the statistics say that this isn’t just my intuition. 13 of the 20 greatest fires in recorded Californian history have taken place since the turn of the millennium, and the average cost to fight them has only grown.
Why is this happening? There are many reasons. Increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall have left much of the state arid and prone to combustible accidents. Aging transmission infrastructure has resulted in power lines becoming more prone to failure, often times resulting in a fire occurring. Suburban sprawl has also led to overdevelopment in fire-prone areas.
So what can we do about this? Well, we can adapt our infrastructure and society to climate change to increase our resilience to climate change. This can be accomplished by repairing grid lines, restricting development in fire-prone areas, and reducing reliance on the grid through distributed energy resources such as building integrated solar. If California can take action to solve these problems, then it can provide an example for other areas facing similar catastrophes such as Portugal and India to follow. Only through these actions can we ensure the safety of our society.
The fact that I couldn’t see the Santa Cruz mountains from San Jose or breathe the fresh marina air in Berkeley in the way I used to take for granted troubles me greatly. I want to ensure that the next generation will have the same privileges I had during my early years in the Bay.
Solar Savings Fraction
“How can we measure what percentage of the energy to appliances is provided by solar?”
Household appliances automatically become greener when they are supplied by solar energy. But solar energy may not provide all of the energy to a system. So how can we quantify how much energy an appliance receives from solar? Well, we can simply represent this by the Solar Savings Fraction which gives the ratio of solar in the system. A solar fraction of 1.0 means that the entire system used solar energy while one of 0 means that no solar is present. Energy efficiency measures can increase this fraction by reducing the load required from non-renewable resources.
Solar Thermal Collectors
“How can we intake the fluid in a Solar Thermal System?”
Solar Thermal Systems are amazing machines that can heat a home using solar energy. However, how can we take in the air or heat-absorbing fluid in the first place? Well, what if we were to encase the solar panels in solar thermal collectors which could intake the fluid, move it around the solar panels to absorb the heat, and then transfer it? Well, this is known as Solar Thermal Collectors and are a vital component for solar thermal systems.
How We Can Use Natural Gas to Generate Electricity
“How is natural gas used to make electricity?”
Natural gas is one of the fastest growing energy resources out there. But how exactly does it generate electricity? Well, natural gas can be burned in a boiler that heats up water into steam which turns a turbine with a generator attached. Some of the steam at the end of the cycle can even be put through another turbine in a combined cycle generation system to increase the energy efficiency. This way, we can use natural gas to generate electricity!
Solar Water Heating
“How can we warm our homes using solar energy?”
Solar panels are famous for providing clean and cheap energy. However, that’s not the only thing they can give. A typical solar panel will convert 14% of the energy it receives from the sun into electricity, while the rest is dissipated as heat. This extra heat can be used to heat incoming air which can then be funneled down a vent into an energy transfer module which not only warms a building’s water supply but also provides nice filtered air to the interior space. This system is known as Solar Water Heating and is one of the most exciting technologies in development.
Phase-Change Materials for Solar PV Cooling
“What is an innovative way to cool solar PV?”
Solar PV has the highest growth rate amongst all forms of energy. However, in order to operate effectively, it must be at a stable temperature. One way to do this is to use something known as Phase-Change Materials. Phase-Change Materials are high heat coefficient materials at their phase-change temperature. Because they have a high heat coefficient, they can absorb a large amount of heat without fully changing their state. Phase-Change Materials are employed in Building-Integrated Solar PV Systems to keep them at optimal temperatures.
“How can we control the moisture in a transformer?”
Transformers are some of the most fundamental pieces of critical infrastructure. However, they can also be quite delicate. If there is too much moisture near the insulating material, it can induce a fault. So how can we use our engineering mindset to solve this problem? Well, what if we were to attach a cylindrical filter filled with silica gel at the entrance of the transformer so that any air that passes through will have its moisture taken out? Well, this is known as a Transformer Breather and is vital for transformer operations.