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April 4, 2020

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Energy Adviser: Electrifying facts about energy

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School’s out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop learning. Energy is all around us. We use it every day, but we don’t often give it much thought. Here are a few facts about energy you might not know.

• Early power grid: Thomas Edison launched the first commercial power grid in lower Manhattan in 1882. From that, our electrical grid has grown into a complex network of power plants, substations and transformers connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines crisscrossing our country. The power in these lines ranges from a quarter of a million to three-quarters of a million volts.

Clark Public Utilities provides electricity to all of Clark County. The utility covers the county’s 629 square miles with a mix of 55 substations and switching stations, and a grid of 6,600 miles of power lines. In urban areas, many of these lines are underground, but the utility still maintains more than 62,000 poles carrying power overhead.

• Surprising solar powers: Sandia Labs calculates about 274 million gigawatt-years of solar energy brightens the earth every year. This means one year of sunshine exceeds the energy consumed by us by more than 20,000 times. Put another way, an hour’s worth of sunshine could provide the world energy for a year. And, pioneers of solar transportation are putting that sunshine into motion.

Solar airplanes are breaking records. In 2001, a solar prototype, called the Helios, reached a record altitude of nearly 97,000 feet. This was the highest altitude reached by any aircraft not powered by rockets for flight.

Another, the Solar Impulse 2, looks like a high-tech dragonfly and is making its way around the world without a drop of fuel. Flown by a single pilot, the plane has a wingspan of a Boeing 747 and the weight of an SUV. Traveling about the speed of a car, it flew from Hawaii to California in 62 hours and just completed a three-day Atlantic crossing.

• Long-burning lightbulbs: There’s little chance of being burned when you switch to LED bulbs, because they turn most of their energy into light, not heat. Touch an incandescent bulb and you may learn the hard way that 90 percent of its energy is heat. LED technology is now the foundation for the longest-lasting and most energy efficient bulbs ever made, with many types of bulbs lasting more than 20 years.

While LEDs are a vast improvement over older technology, at least one traditional incandescent bulb has burned for more than 100 years, albeit not as brightly, or energy-efficiently.

The world’s longest-lasting lightbulb burns constantly in Livermore, Calif., where the local fire department watches over it. The department claims the bulb has burned for 115 years, and so it’s dubbed the Centennial Bulb. Because the bulb has burned so long, it’s been featured in the Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and by General Electric.

The original bulb was 30-watt or 60-watt and was rarely turned off. It’s dimmer now than then, and emits about the same amount of light as a 4-watt nightlight. It’s made of a carbon-filament inside hand blown glass, both common in bulbs of the era. The Shelby Electric Co. in Ohio made the bulb during the late 1890s.

These days, for those who like the look of old-fashioned bulbs, new LED technology is being used to re-create the look of decorative carbon-filament bulbs. Many uses of LEDs are more modern and even futuristic, but this flexible technology has also been incorporated into a graceful combination of old and new lighting styles.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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