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Clean Power Overtaking Fossil Fuels in Britain in 2019

Renewable Energy
Clean Power Overtaking Fossil Fuels in Britain in 2019
The Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm in the Irish Sea in Wallasey, England. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

The birthplace of coal power is changing its ways. For the first time since the industrial revolution, the United Kingdom will generate more electricity from clean energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear power rather than from fossil fuel plants, the country's National Grid said Friday, as the BBC reported.


The milestone has been passed through the end of May this year. National Grid said that clean energy had slightly outpaced fossil fuels, 48 percent to 47 percent for coal and gas. The other five percent is chalked up to biomass burning, which has the potential to be carbon-neutral. The transformation reflects the growing unpopularity of coal energy, as the public increases its appetite for wind and solar power, according to the BBC.

The UK has a long and storied history with coal, which was home to the world's first coal-fueled power plant in the 1880s. Coal was the island nation's dominant electricity source for the next century, which led to economic leaps, but also dangerous air quality.

In a sign of the times, British politicians shunned coal and made the UK the first G7 country to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050. That target compels Britain to invest heavily in low-carbon power and to make drastic reductions in fossil fuel use, according to Reuters.

"The incredible progress that Britain has made in the past 10 years means we can now say 2019 will be the year zero-carbon power beats fossil fuel fired generation for the first time," said John Pettigrew, CEO of National Grid, as Reuters reported.

Coal's decline has been precipitous. According to data from National Grid, coal generation in the UK has plummeted from 30 percent to 3 percent, while most fossil fuel generated power comes from natural gas. On the flip side of coal, wind power has had a meteoric rise from 1 percent to 19 percent of energy power, as the BBC reported.

Along the way, several milestones have been reached. In May, Britain set its own modern day record for record levels of solar power for two days and for two weeks where it was completely coal-free. The government plans to phase out the last of its coal-fired plants by 2025.

"As more and more renewables come onto the system, we're seeing things progress at an astonishing rate," said Fintan Slye, director of the National Grid Electricity System Operator, to the BBC. "2018 was our greenest year to date, and so far, 2019 looks like it has the potential to beat it."

Britain's coastlines, in particular, have been ideal for generating clean wind energy. England's northwest coast houses the world's largest offshore wind farm, the Walney Extension, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

To increase its supply of clean energy power, Britain will rely on interconnected systems with its neighbors. An interconnector with France will help Britain tap into France's nuclear power supply and a planned interconnector with Norway will enable Britain to access Norway's hydropower. It will also allow Britain to export wind power, according to Reuters.

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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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