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Britain Just Went Nearly Three Weeks Without Coal, a New Record

Renewable Energy
Britain Just Went Nearly Three Weeks Without Coal, a New Record
The Scout Moor Wind Farm in England. Stephen Gidley / CC BY 2.0

Britain just went a record 18 days without coal in the nation's bid to eventually nix the fossil fuel, the BBC reports. It beats the previous record of one week without coal set between May 1 and May 8 in what officials told the publication would be the "new normal."


"Great Britain has now gone over 18 days (432 hours) without coal!" tweeted the country's electricity system operator, National Grid ESO (NGESO), on the same day. "Due to plant availability and system requirements, our current coal run has come to an end at 9:20 p.m. this evening. 18 days and 60 hours."

When the coal sector is put out, the renewable energy sources like solar, wind, nuclear, gas, and some hydro-generated power pick up in its wake, the ESO told the BBC.

"As more and more renewables come on to the system, we're seeing things progress at an astonishing rate," NGESO Fintan Slye said. "2018 was our greenest year to date, and so far, 2019 looks like it has the potential to beat it."

The United Kingdom became the first country in the world to announce a coal phase-out policy in an ambitious move to limit emissions on coal power stations from October 2025 following the 2015 Paris climate meeting. In an update posted earlier this year, Beyond Coal reports that the nation's "coal fleet is already halved from around 30 gigawatts in 2010 and by 2016 the coal share had fallen to 9 percent of the electricity mix, down from 40 percent just four years previously."

"By 2025, ESO will have transformed the operation of Great Britain's electricity system and put in place the innovative systems, products and services to ensure that the network is ready to handle 100% zero carbon," said Slye earlier this year, adding that a zero carbon operation in just six years requires a shift in operations and an integration of newer technologies, "from large-scale off-shore wind to domestic solar panels."

The move looks promising. The UK currently has installed more offshore wind power than any other nation, halving the cost of offshore wind in the last four years, reports Wired. Altogether, it's a dramatic shift from the coal-powered nation that made up Britain just a century ago during the Industrial Revolution.

"Coal was the backbone of the last industrial revolution — but this old technology is being beaten by wind energy, the powerhouse of our 21st century economy. Renewables are providing well over a third of our electricity today, and this is just the beginning. We need to move from fossil fuels right across the economy to avoid the enormous risks of climate disruption and to benefit from modern, clean, technologies," said RenewableUK Deputy Chief Executive Emma Pinchbeck.

Currently, about one-fifth of Europe's operational coal fleet are located in other countries which have joined ranks and similarly announced that they will phase out coal, putting the coal plants located in these nations "on a pathway to closure."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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