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Obama Wants More Nuclear Power. Does that Make Sense?

The president said he wanted to support nuclear power, but no new nuclear power plants have come online in years. What's holding us back?


Clean energy advocates may have noticed that President Obama didn't just tout solar and wind in this week's State of the Union address; he also encouraged the construction of new natural gas, clean coal, and nuclear power sites. Natural gas and clean coal aren't all that clean (that's for another column), but nuclear may be a decent option. Should we be paying more attention to it?

Nuclear plants produce power by grabbing the energy released from the nucleus of an atom via nuclear fission, a process that splits atoms into at least two nuclei and creates byproducs of heat and gamma radiation (radiation made out of high-energy photons). Fission is triggered by the absorption of a neutron by a fissile atomic nucleus like uranium or plutonium. At the most basic level, the heat generated from this nuclear reactor is used to boil water, which turns a turbine and creates energy.

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When Will You Have a Car That Drives Itself?

The self-driving car has been a touchstone of futurism for a long time. Is it about to become reality?

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The self-driving car has been a touchstone of futurism for a long time. Is it about to become reality?

Imagine: You're driving down the highway while drinking coffee and reading the newspaper—but you're not putting any of your fellow drivers in danger. Instead, you're letting the car itself take the wheel as it guides you safely down the road, all the while saving fuel. It's not a pipe dream—it's the vision of vehicle manufacturers working on the next generation of autonomous cars.

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Electricty Generating Dance Floors and Other Miracles of Piezoelectricity

Piezoelectricity—the charge that gathers in solid materials in response to strain—has piqued the interest of entrepreneurs and scientists alike.


Even if the planet doubled the amount of solar and wind power available tomorrow, there would still be a shortage of clean electricity. We need to grab energy from wherever we can find it, which is why piezoelectricity—the charge that gathers in solid materials like crystal and ceramic in response to strain—has recently begun to pique the interest of entrepreneurs and scientists alike.

A number of materials are piezoelectric, including topaz, quartz, cane sugar, and tourmaline. That means a charge begins accumulating inside these materials when pressure is applied. Piezoelectrics are already commonly used in a number of applications. Quartz clocks, for example, rely on piezoelectricity for power, as do many sensors, lighters, and actuators. But these are the old uses for piezoelectricity. Scientists today have much more interesting piezoelectric plans in mind.

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In the Future, You Will Use Your Phone to Save Energy

Apps designed to integrate with your electricity meter are just starting to hit the market. What's available, and what's on the horizon?

Apps designed to integrate with your electricity meter and help you save are just starting to hit the market. What's available, and what's on the horizon?

Smartphones are energy hogs. Just think about how much longer the battery in your cell phone from five years ago lasted as compared to your Android or iPhone's battery now. But while smartphones quickly suck up battery power, they can make up for it in other ways—namely, by helping you save energy in other parts of your life. Welcome to the world of the energy app.

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Are Biofuels Ready for the Bigtime?

Electricity isn't the only non-petroleum-based fuel touted as changing the transportation landscape. What's happening with biofuels?

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Electricity isn't the only non-petroleum-based fuel touted as changing the transportation landscape. What's happening with biofuels?

Electric cars are all the rage these days, but another alternative means of powering vehicles has been around for years, and it's still hovering in the background, despite the excitement over the latest plug-in hybrids.

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How to Hook Up Your Home to the Smart Grid Today

This is your house on the smart grid. What the future of home appliances will look like when we're managing our electricity better.

This is your house on the smart grid. What the future of home appliances will look like when we're managing our electricity better.

Smart energy management is becoming common among utilities across the United States. But the smart grid—a catch-all term for an upgraded electrical grid that leverages two-way digital meters to monitor power use, keep track of home electricity costs, and integrate renewable energy sources—is still a nascent technology. That will change quickly, though. In the next five years, smart meters, electric vehicles, and smart appliances are all going to grow in popularity, and when they do, the smart grid will take off.

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