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Glossary of Energy Terms

Investor-owned: This is a utility that is privately-owned and whose stock is publicly traded on a stock exchange. The rates it charges customers are regulated by a state or local government body (usually a utility commission), and it is allowed to achieve a profit or "rate of return".

"More work out of less energy": the classic definition of energy efficiency. Examples include lightbulbs that provide more illumination while using less power than traditional incandescent bulbs; refrigerators that store and cool more food while using less electricity; cars that travel farther while consuming less gas.

"Jude, you wrote the story about this": a reference to the "BPA's Roundtable on Non-Wires Solutions." This initiative is charged with exploring energy saving or redistribution strategies -- such as energy efficiency, demand-side management, and distributed generation -- so that BPA might avoid building any more transmission lines. See, for example, this brief description (.pdf) as well as the materials other materials on the BPA website. Noland wrote an early description of it in "CLEARING UP."

Weatherization: simple construction technologies, such as caulking and weatherstripping, that reduce the exchange of air between the inside and outside of a building. Keeping cool air inside and warm air outside during the summer reduces the need for energy-hungry air conditioners; doing the reverse during the winter lessens the load on heaters.

Seattle Master Builders program: reference to BUILT GREEN, "an environmentally-friendly building program of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, developed in partnership with King County, Snohomish County, and other agencies in Washington State."

Northwest Power Act: a ground-breaking 1980 Act of Congress designed "to assist the electrical consumers of the Pacific Northwest [Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington] through use of the Federal Columbia River Power System to achieve cost-effective energy conservation, to encourage the development of renewable energy resources, to establish a representative regional power planning process, to assure the region of an efficient and adequate power supply, and for other purposes [such as protecting fish and wildlife affected by the Columbia and Snake River dams]." The Act created the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which carries out most of the work of the legislation (full text).

Incandescent light bulb: These lights use an electrically heated filament to produce light in a vacuum or inert gas-filled bulb.

Base generation: Also called "base load." This refers to the amount of power a utility must put out to meet its customers' minimum day-to-day needs. This is in contrast to "peak load," the maximum amount of power demanded by customers. During the day, peak loads typically occur around morning and evening mealtimes; over the course of a year peak loads typically occur on the hottest summer and the coldest winter days. Base load is provided by plants that can produce power at a steady, continuous, 24/7 rate; these are most often coal-fired and nuclear plants. Peak load is typically generated by facilities that can be powered up quickly, such as natural gas turbines, or that use a variable fuel, such as solar panels.

Market transformation policies: these are policies designed to change the types of choices available to consumers and producers in a market. Typically, these policies are enacted by governments, and consist of two main features: incentives and regulations to change consumer and producer behavior; and education to explain to consumers and producers why the new behaviors are a good thing. An example is the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance's WashWise program, where, for example, manufacturers were required to produce washing machines meeting certain energy standards; retailers were trained in how to sell the energy-efficient machines; and consumers were offered incentives to buy them.

"Experiment in deregulation": Johnson is referring to general movement over the last two decades to give consumers some choice in who they buy their electricity from and utilities more leeway in how they conduct their businesses. The classic example is the aborted California experiment that led to steeply rising prices and blackouts in 2.

demand-side management: There are two sides to the energy equation: how much is produced (supply) and how much is used (demand). "Demand-side management" focuses on users: what kind of energy we use, how much we use, and when and where we use it. The idea is that if individuals and businesses use less energy, then we won't need to worry as much about finding more oil or digging more coal (supply).

bill: reference to the Energy Policy Act of 2003. The House and Senate passed different versions. When this FocusWest discussion took place, a conference committee was negotiating a compromise version, which was issued on November 15 and passed by the House on November 18. However, the bill was filibustered in the Senate and declared dead the following week (though leaders have vowed to bring it up again when Congress reconvenes in January 2004). Text of the bill is available with the House Conference Report.

". . . the Pew Trust has recently come out with a [study] . . .": U.S. Technology and Innovation Policies: Lessons for Climate Change. Pew Center on Global Climate Change, November 2003.

". . . that same Pew Charitable Trusts you just invoked . . .": Cavanagh is referring to a whole range of Pew-sponsored grant programs and studies on energy efficiency.

base-load programs: See "base generation" above.

"Energy Policy Act of the early '90s": reference to the Energy Policy Act of 1992, signed into law by President Bush (Senior) in October 1992. To read the Act, go to . This should take you to a page that says, "102nd Congress (1)." Key in "H.R.776.ENR" (without quotation marks) into the top box labeled "Bill Number." Click on "Search." The page that comes up should be an index page with links to each major section of the bill.

least cost planning: an approach to planning that 1) Considers demand management solutions equally with strategies to increase capacity; 2) Considers all significant impacts (costs and benefits), including non-market impacts (i.e., the so-called externalities; and 3) Involves the public in developing and evaluating alternatives.

Generation IV nuclear reactor research: Gen I: early prototype reactors (1950s and 1960s); Gen II: commercial power reactors (1970s and 1980s); Gen III: advanced light water reactors with passive safety features (current). According to proponents, Generation IV reactors are designed to be safer, produce less radioactive waste, be cheaper to build and operate, and be proliferation resistant.

Three Mile Island: accident at the nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, March 1997. The Washington Post offers a good overview of what happened.

Yucca Mountain: the proposed federal repository for nuclear waste in Nevada. See the Project website.

renewable energy: "Energy derived from resources that are regenerative or for all practical purposes cannot be depleted. Types of renewable energy resources include moving water (hydro, tidal and wave power), thermal gradients in ocean water, biomass, geothermal energy, solar energy, and wind energy. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is also considered to be a renewable energy resource." From http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energyglossary.html#R

"500 megawatt light water [LWR] reactor with passive safety features": a nuclear reactor that uses water as the primary coolant and moderator, with slightly enriched uranium as fuel. "Passive safety features" refers to safety features that are achieved not with humanly engineered emergency systems, but through the laws of nature and behavior inherent in a reactor's materials and design.

fluidized bed techniques: "A method of burning particulate fuel, such as coal, in which the amount of air required for combustion far exceeds that found in conventional burners. The fuel particles are continually fed into a bed of mineral ash in the proportions of 1 part fuel to 200 parts ash, while a flow of air passes up through the bed, causing it to act like a turbulent fluid." (from: http://www.eia.doe.gov/glossary/glossary_f.htm)

gas cooled reactor: reactor that is cooled by a gas (usually helium) under pressure (from: http://www.eia.doe.gov/glossary/glossary_g.htm)

"six reactor types": 1) Very-High-Temperature Reactor; 2) Molten Salt Reactor; 3) Sodium-Cooled-Fast Reactor; 4) Supercritical-Water-Cooled Reactor; 5) Supercritical-Water-Cooled Reactor; 6) Lead-Cooled Fast Reactor. For descriptions of these, go to docs/factsheets/03-ga50736.pdf (.pdf, requires the Adobe Reader)

very high temperature reactor: a graphite-moderated, helium-cooled reactor with a once-through uranium fuel cycle. From: /gen-iv/vhtr.shtml

"President's hydrogen initiative": announced by President Bush during his 2003 State of the Union address. Goals are to double federal research money to develop hydrogen, particularly as an automobile fuel, map out a fuel distribution system, and help auto companies overcome some of the remaining barriers to making affordable cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

"500 megawatt thermal": power plant that uses heat energy (from burning coal or gas or from nuclear reactions) to turn a turbine and create electricity.

"$3.50 a million BTUs": BTUs -- British thermal units. A BTU is defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.

"non-proliferation resistant reprocessing of fuel.": it is possible, though not a trivial matter, to transform the plutonium produced in power reactors into plutonium suitable for nuclear weapons. McNeill is referring to attempts to avoid using plutonium altogether in reactors or minimizing the amount of plutonium present in spent fuel. See the discussion below and this article, "Building Proliferation-Resistance Into The Nuclear Fuel Cycle"

capacity factor: The ratio of the average load on (or power output of) a generating unit or system to the capacity rating of the unit or system over a specified period of time (from: http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energyglossary.html#c)

"we've utilized 7% of the potential energy in that uranium ore and thrown 93% away.": a reference to the fact that, in the United States, most spent fuel from nuclear power plants is currently stored as waste rather than reprocessed to extract more useable fuel from it. Reprocessing is controversial for, among other reasons, fear that it will create more plutonium and heighten the risk of proliferation (i.e., make the raw material for nuclear weapons more available). See articles on how nuclear power works and on the nuclear fuel cycle, and a collection of materials on "fissile material".

MIT study: reference to "The Future of Nuclear Energy: An Interdisciplinary Study" by John Deutch and Ernest Moniz, July 2003. Description at: http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/

magnetohydrodynamics: a method of using coal to produce electricty. Coal is burned at a very high temperature, the resulting gas is ionized, and when ionized, generates an electric current. Unlike a conventional generator, which uses copper windings and a rotating conductor, the magnetohydrodynamics generator uses no moving parts. The technology works, but researchers decided early on that it was too expensive to be practicable. Congress kept funding research anyway for another 11 years (finally ending it in 1993).

synfuels: A program championed in President Carter's 1980's-era energy policy designed to take plentiful American coal and turn it into synthetic natural gas or synthetic crude oil. The goal was to become less dependent on foreign oil. This turned out to be another idea which worked in theory, was too expensive in reality, but kept getting Congressional funding anyway.

distributed generation: Most electricity in this country is produced by large, centralized power plants fueled by fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) or uranium. In the Northwest, large dams with major hydroelectric plants are also centralized sources. Centralized plants produce many megawatts of power and serve hundreds, if not thousands of customers. Distributed generation technologies -- which include microturbines, fuel cells, photovoltaics (solar), and wind -- typically produce power only for single residences or businesses. The advantages of a distributed system are that individuals still have power if a centralized power plant, or the grid that delivers that power, goes down. See, for example, http://www.energyinfosource.com/dg/index.cfm

high voltage transmission lines: "High-voltage transmission lines are used to transmit electric power over relatively long distances, usually from a central generating station to main substations. They are also used for electric power transmission from one central station to another for load sharing. High voltage (HV) transmission lines are made of high voltage (between 138 and 765 kilovolts) overhead and underground conducting lines of either copper or aluminum." from

"Path-15 in California": a recent project to construct an 83-mile stretch of high-voltage transmission grid in California's central valley.

"The whole west is interconnected": 11 western states (WA, OR, CA, ID, NV, MT, WY, UT, AZ, CO, NM) make up the "Western Interconnect" power distribution grid. The Eastern and Texas Interconnects make up the two other grids in the US. A good explanation of the grids is at http://www.eere.energy.gov/der/us_pwrgrid.html

combined cycle gas turbines: This is a two-for-one technology. Natural gas is burned. The combustion produces electricity and waste heat. The heat is then captured and routed to a steam turbine, which in turn generates more electricity. The combined cycle process captures more of the energy from gas than just burning the gas alone does.

liquefied natural gas: natural gas which has been liquefied by reducing its temperature to minus 260 degrees F. The liquid form makes it easier to store and transport.

National Environmental Policy Act: Passed in 1969. Considered the founding document of national environmental law. Its goals: "To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation." Text of the law: forum/nepa/nepalaw.htm

externalities: costs or benefits of an action that are not considered a direct part of an economic transaction. For example, a utility buys coal and generators, builds and maintains a plant, hires people to do the work, then sells the resulting product: electricity. Traditionally, the cost of the product would include only those items that went into making and selling it. But, it turns out, the utility actually produces several products in addition to the electricity, for example, emissions from combustion like CO2 and sulpher. It's not making any money from these products, but society has decided that there are costs associated with them anyway, i.e., the costs involved in preventing them from being released into the environment. In traditional economics, these costs are considered external to the primary activity of making and selling electricity.

CO2 emission: CO2 = carbon dioxide; results from the burning of fossil fuels and is claimed to be a major component of "global warming."

internalize cost: figuring all the costs of an economic activity, not just those to the people directly involved but to the community at large, and making them part of the final price a transaction. See "Externalities" above. Also, see other definitions.

hydrogen economy: reference to a proposed future economy based on energy from hydrogen rather than from fossil fuels like coal, oil, or gas. See, for example, "How the Hydrogen Economy Works" from How Stuff Works (http://people.howstuffworks.com/hydrogen-economy.htm) and "The Hydrogen Economy: After Oil, Clean Energy From a Fuel-Cell-Driven Global Hydrogen Web" By Jeremy Rifkin from E/The Environmental Magazine (http://www.emagazine.com/january-february_2003/0103feat1.html)

fuel cells: "A device capable of generating an electrical current by converting the chemical energy of a fuel (e.g., hydrogen) directly into electrical energy. Fuel cells differ from conventional electrical cells in that the active materials such as fuel and oxygen are not contained within the cell but are supplied from outside. It does not contain an intermediate heat cycle, as do most other electrical generation techniques." From: http://www.eia.doe.gov/glossary/glossary_f.htm

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