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What’s Powering Your Phone Battery in Different Parts of the Country?

U.S. Power Plants By Primary Generation Type

Because I worked for an electric utility company during an era of dramatic change in the industry, I was interested in understanding how the generation mix of the United States was evolving and if it was keeping up with technologies that would enable renewables. Also, as a millennial, I take a deep personal interest in anything remotely related to my phone and its battery. So, given the convergence of these two critical issues, I took a look at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s data on power plants. It turns out depending upon where you live, work, study, or travel in the country, you will be hailing Uber, browsing Facebook, or swiping right using a different mix of renewables and fossil fuels power.

What did I find? First off, not all clean energy is created equal. One megawatt of solar powers about 165 homes, versus about 220 homes from one megawatt of wind, or 750 to 1,000 homes from one megawatt of hydro. The actual capacity of these power plants varied by source as well, with the largest hydro plant producing up to 6.77 kilowatts and wind and solar maxing out around 735 and 585 megawatts, respectively. This seems logical since wind and solar are more intermittent and emerging forms of generation whereas hydro is more established and continuous and supplies about six percent of the country’s total energy.

Tornado Alley and the West Coast

But where in the U.S. are the renewables? According to this map of power plants in the U.S. by primary generation source, they’re all over the place, although, the specific type of energy varies based on location. Wind generation is most prevalent in Texas and the midwest where Tornado Alley is located. This means that if you live in Kansas you can harness the same wind power that helped Dorothy defeat the Wicked Witch of the East to scroll and double tap through Instagram all day guilt-free, knowing you’re using renewables. The yellow brick road of solar, on the other hand, seems to lead to California, the northeast, and North Carolina, where the tech industry is most advanced. Finally, hydropower is most popular in the great lakes region, northwest, northeast, specifically Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and upstate New York as well as some parts of the south and rocky mountains where mountains and bodies of water are located.

New England and the Mid-Atlantic

For non-renewables, coal is concentrated in the midwest focused around Kentucky and Illinois. Natural gas is most prevalent in the midwest and south between Chicago and Houston as well as near and between major metro areas in the northeast from D.C. to Boston. Petroleum seems to be prominent in the midwest centered around Iowa. Coal and natural gas each supply about 33% of the country’s power with petroleum adding 1%, meaning fossil fuels still provide about two-thirds of the nation’s energy.

Overall, this energy mix makes sense based on how various natural and technological resources are allocated throughout country. What surprised me, though, was just how immediately apparent this became when visualizing power plant data spatially, magnifying areas of high renewable generation, and zooming out to a thousand foot view. In particular, I was shocked by just how starkly the solar-dominated power plants followed the outlines of North Carolina, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. I’m guessing this phenomenon is supported by specific policies in these states to encourage solar production. Perhaps these east coast congresspeople never forgot the Sunny Delight commercials they were bombarded with as children and personally took it upon themselves as adults to “unleash the power of the sun” through clean energy legislature. That’s my guess anyway. Is your phone solar, wind, or hydro-powered?

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FishViews: Mapping the world’s waterways one mile at a time

Google Streetview has enabled all of us to be armchair geographers, checking out some of the greatest sights in the world from the comfort of our living rooms. One thing that I can’t do with Google is navigate down a river! But with FishViews you can do just that and more.

Scott Gallagher, CEO of FishViews shares more about the startup and their vision, “It’s like Street View for Boaters and Fishermen, with data and exploration features that make it useful for science and conservation as well.”  

At the onset, FishViews sounded a bit like a funny take on Streetview but once you see the gorgeous videos of the waterways that Scott and his team have already mapped (with fish view lens), it all starts to make sense. And yes, you can also explore the waterways with your VR headsets!

An Interactive Atlas of the World’s Waterways

What Scott and his team are working on, isn’t just about sailing down the river with your VR headset, there is a lot more science involved in the background that all the 360 panoramic views of the waterways distracts us from.

Scott is a former US Navy Fighter Pilot and his partner, Brian Footen is a Fishery Research Scientist. Their main focus at the start of Fishviews was to map the waterways for the scientific community, something that they still very much plan to do. They started out working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, mapping rivers in Texas. The addition of a 360 camera was an idea to get the general public involved and excited about waterways, in a way that graphs of dissolved oxygen content in the waterway wasn’t going to.

Virtual tour of Guadalupe river

Scott and his team have personally mapped over 300 miles of waterways so far. Not an easy feat, considering the challenges in navigating the crooks and corners of the waterways, whilst ensuring all your data collection devices are still working. What better place to have battery issues than in the middle of a river 😉

Their rafts or boats are fully equipt with an array of water quality measurement sensors, a Sonar and 360-degree cameras – and obviously a GPS/GNSS device to ensure that all their data is accurately geotagged to be visualized on a map. Each of their maps has data related to water temperature, depth, flow, depth, salinity, dissolved oxygen content – data that any environmental or fisheries scientists would love to get their hands on!

Currently FishViews hosts data from over 20 waterways on their website, so definitely go check out their interactive tours. Here’s the link to the interactive waterways map from the Guadalupe River in Texas, US.

Visualizing the data on a map is where their partnership with Esri comes into focus. Fishviews turns to the ArcGIS Platform in order to convert all their geotagged data into a map and let us explore and perform additional analysis in a manner that Google Earth has not allowed us to do. In fact, Fishviews is also a member of the Esri Startup Program.

There are more than 3.5 million miles of waterways in the USA alone. Scott and his team are taking it “one mile at a time” – hoping to serve as the technology partners for more environment or governmental agencies that might want to use their technology and execute the data collection themselves.

Creating a snapshot of the waterways for generations to come

Seeing as it is that waterways are not that well documented besides the usual dash of blue on our maps, it is important to observe and record their current state and how they look today so that we can understand the impact of climate change on these fragile ecosystems in the years to come. We’re excited to see how all the data FishViews has collected is going to make a difference!

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