Category Archives: Formats

Trial and error in a Mexican beach town

When general store owner Melchor Villanueva leans on his countertop he can see his whole world under his hands. The counter’s glass surface displays photos of his community: young soccer players, teens in their coming-of-age quince años finest, and bandanna-wearing fishermen. Many descend from survivors of Hurricane Janet, which in 1955 killed a third of the population of Xcalak, a beach town on the Mexico-Belize border, and destroyed the town’s coconut plantations. “It left only sand,” Villanueva recalls. Continue reading

Big Data vs. Bad Air

In mid-October 2016, officials from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection counted five illegal trash-burning sites and hundreds of thousands of vehicles exceeding emission standards in Beijing alone. For the first time since last winter’s pollution high season, city officials issued a yellow air-quality alert, which required shutting down power plants and reining in Beijing’s frenetic factories and road traffic. If this winter is anything like past winters, the city will have to pull out the yellow card again—and may even have to reach for its red card.

Read the rest of this news story in the January issue of IEEE Spectrum or the updated online version: [html] [pdf].

Europe’s New Satellite System Will Improve Your Phone

Galileo, a global navigation satellite system that will reach more places and work more precisely than today’s GPS services, is now available for free public use. When it is complete, expected by 2020, Galileo will have taken two decades and an estimated $10 billion to build. But the system, created by the European Union, will make your phone run better and offer new possibilities for both corporate and government users.
Continue reading

How a New Middleman Might Help Balance Electricity Grids

A few years ago almost two thousand bold households on the Danish island of Bornholm joined a surge pricing experiment run by their electricity utility. It was supposed to empower the utility and consumers with a simple, direct market (“The Smartest, Greenest Grid,” IEEE Spectrum, April 2013).

The EU-funded project, called EcoGrid, won widespread buy-in from residents, who could also earn small payoffs when they reduced demand.  Yet researchers reported last year that they could reduce demand by only 1.2 percent of peak load, despite early predictions of up to 20-percent reductions for so-called virtual power plants. The market model was missing something. Continue reading