Most Popular Energy Source? Everyone Loves Solar
By John Rogers
A recent survey shows yet again that solar panels (and wind turbines) have a level of bipartisan popularity that would be the envy of any politician. That means we'll have something safe to talk about at the next barbecue after all.
The survey, from the Pew Research Center, had a lot of fascinating findings about the surprisingly high levels of agreement among Americans on a range of environmental issues, with strong majorities saying that the federal government is doing too little on water quality, air quality and climate change.
What really caught my eye, though, were the pieces specifically dealing with energy. The numbers on public support for expanding different energy sources, in particular, are stunning (figure 1).
Figure 1. Source: Pew Survey on Environment 2018
The survey report calls "[r]obust support for expanding solar and wind power ... a rare point of bipartisan consensus in how the U.S. views energy policies." And here's the breakdown by political leaning showing that bipartisanship (figure 2).
Figure 2. Source: Pew Survey on Environment 2018
Diving in even further doesn't do much to dispel the sense of bipartisanship (figure 3); even self-described "conservative Republicans" overwhelmingly favor expanding solar farms (80 percent) and wind farms (71 percent).
Figure 3. Source: Pew Survey on Environment 2018
While I admit that the strength of all these numbers took me by surprise, they shouldn't have, and the overall finding is consistent with lots of previous polling, and efforts like the green Tea Party in support of rooftop solar rights. The broad support for solar and wind shows up among governors of all stripes and in Congress, with lots of bipartisanship in favor of keeping up wind power's momentum, and against letting the president's ill-conceived trade taxes, for example, hurt solar's. Even the Trump administration now and then admits to having a soft spot for certain renewables.
Love for clean energy all around.
While the data show there are still sharp disagreements over fossil fuels, at a time when divisions are so deep on so many issues, it's refreshing to find things we strongly agree on.
Fire Up the Grill
I'm not advocating that we steer clear of the tough conversations we need to be having as a society (and those are legion). But the next time you're chatting up your neighbor, or a stranger, at a summer barbeque, and aren't interested in talking politics or religion or sports (or fossil fuels), just know that solar panels and wind turbines are likely to be pretty safe ground to tread. The odds are strong that your conversation partner is as excited about them as you are, regardless of political affiliation (or where they come down on the Yanny-Laurel debate).
With the World Cup over, it's great to have teams we're all cheering for: Team Solar, Team Wind. So bring the chips, and the data, or just your enthusiasm, and have at it.
Thanks, solar and wind, for guaranteeing our barbecues some common ground.
John Rogers is a senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies.
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Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
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Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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