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Computer security is a continuing process

While on vacation recently, I left my laptop backpack on a train and got it back 12 days later from Lost and Found. Everything was fine. However, I took many precautions to ensure security in case it had been stolen, and as a result is my security is vastly improved. Here’s what I did.

First off, I took the laptop off all lists of known devices used by Microsoft and Google. These are also known as trusted devices, meaning Microsoft and Google allow you to log on to them easily, without doing two-factor authentication each time. TFA means if you log onto a device it doesn’t know about, it will send a text or alert to your mobile device, and you authorize the new device by entering a number or clicking something on the mobile. (Entering numbers is getting old school and less secure. Clicking something on a mobile is more secure.)

I use Win 10, so it was essential that the laptop no longer be trusted while it was missing. You can do this on another computer or on your mobile. That way, if someone somehow guessed the Win 10 password, they still couldn’t get in because the laptop now sends a message to the Microsoft Authenticator app on my iPhone asking me to confirm the new device.

Ditto for Google. It also has trusted devices and auto-logins to trusted devices. So, I removed the laptop from Google’s list of trusted devices too. They also have an Authenticator iPhone app. Google also suggested I change my password, so I did. For most of us, Google is the key to many things. If a hacker get gets a Google password, they can access Gmail and change passwords on multiple systems by using password hints going to the Gmail account. They can of course also change your Google password, in which case you are probably screwed.

However, by using 2FA and Authenticator mobile apps, all that goes away. It becomes much harder to hack accounts because the hacker doesn’t have the mobile to authenticate.

I also decertified the Kindle in the backpack, on the off-chance Amazon might not ask for a password when accessing the account itself. I re-certified the Kindle in less than a minute once I got the backpack.

To be absolutely safe, I also changed the password for LastPass, my password program, because it is possible to recover a password if that device had used it.

Yes, all of this is a big hassle. However it is way less work than trying to get back important accounts that have been hacked. 2FA is important. If you don’t use it, you are much more vulnerable.

Storing excess energy in firebricks for later use

In some areas, like Germany, California, and Iowa, so much renewable energy is sometimes generated that the price of electricity drops to nearly zero. This is uneconomical for power plants. Storing energy for later use means the power plants get a better price and the grid doesn’t fluctuate as much. Stored energy now is primarily done with pumped hydro and batteries, plus molten salt (in some solar thermal plants.)

Researchers are now looking at the ancient technology of firebricks. Excess electricity is converted to heat and stored in firebricks enclosed in insulated casing. The heat can be used for industrial purposes or converted back to electricity. A big advantage of firebricks is the cost is way less than batteries or pumped hydro.

Firebrick technology isn’t there yet for grid-scale power. However, it probably will be soon.

But by diverting much of that excess output into thermal storage by heating a large mass of firebrick, then selling that heat directly or using it to drive turbines and produce power later when it’s needed, FIRES could essentially set a lower limit on the market price for electricity, which would likely be about the price of natural gas. That, in turn, could help to make more carbon-free power sources, such as solar, wind, and nuclear, more profitable and thus encourage their expansion.

Once the amount of generating capacity provided by solar power reaches about 15 percent of the total generating mix, or when wind power reaches 30 percent of the total, building such installations can become unprofitable unless there is a sufficient storage capacity to absorb the excess for later use.

At present, the options for storing excess electricity are essentially limited to batteries or pumped hydroelectric systems. By contrast, the low-tech firebrick thermal storage system would cost anywhere from one-tenth to one-fortieth as much as either of those options.

Molten salt nuclear reactors are safe, clean

Molten salt reactors are becoming a reality. Not only can they generate electricity safely, they produce large amounts of excess heat which heavy industry can use. Plus, solar and wind plants can store power as heat in the molten salt for later use and these reactors are especially good for providing cheap power for desalination.

Researchers at NRG, a Dutch nuclear materials firm, have begun the first tests of nuclear fission using thorium salts since experiments ended at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the early 1970s.

Thorium has several advantages over uranium, the fuel that powers most nuclear reactors in service today. First, it’s much harder to weaponize. Second, as we pointed out last year in a long read on thorium-salt reactors, designs that call for using it in a liquid form are, essentially, self-regulating and fail-safe.

Molten salt reactors have many uses.

Desalination of seawater and brackish water is extremely energy intensive. The IMSR is uniquely suited to provide clean, heat energy and electric power on an industrial scale needed at cost-competitive prices to enable far greater deployment of desalination technologies today.

In addition to utilizing heat energy for desalination, hot industrial salts can be directed to a hot salt mass energy storage, a method that is already in use today. These hot salt thermal energy reservoirs supported by IMSR heat can be used as a grid sink for excess Wind and Solar electric power production. This system negates any need for grid-based electric power storage and is highly complementary to wind and solar power production. The cheap and effective salt-based thermal storage would act as an energy battery that will allow the demand curve to be supplied at the appropriate service levels without damaging surges taxing the grid system.

A US company is building them.

Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor is designed to meet the rapidly rising demand for breakthrough energy technologies that can deliver clean, scalable, and cost-competitive heat and power to displace fossil-fuel combustion starting in the 2020s. The IMSR® is a fundamentally different reactor. It employs advanced molten-salt technology, which creates a far superior system to harness clean bountiful energy of the atom simply, safely and economically.

Safety.

Also the fuel in an MSR is already in liquid form, it cannot melt down and in an emergency situation it can be quickly drained out of the reactor into a passively cooled dump tank. MSRs designs have a freeze plug at the bottom of the core—a plug of salt, cooled by a fan to keep it at a temperature below the freezing point of the salt. If temperature rises beyond a critical point, the plug melts, and the liquid fuel in the core is immediately evacuated, pouring into a sub-critical geometry in a catch basin. This formidable safety tactic is only possible if the fuel is a liquid.

Installing new renewable energy requires upgraded grid

California utilities are confident they will reach the state-mandated goal of 50% in-state renewable energy by 2030. Their real challenge is upgrading the grid to handle power coming both ways, not just one way. Another issue is Community Choice Aggregation, where local entities, like cities, essentially form a co-op and buy their energy on the open market or from alternate sources, cutting down what the utility can sell to them.

SCE’s request includes spending on equipment that would enhance its ability to monitor its grid in real time. Irwin said that need comes from the changes that rising levels of DERs [Distributed Energy Resources] bring to the grid. For instance, most substations on its system are designed to channel one-way energy flows, but DERs result in two-way flows. SCE also says DERs have rendered most of its 4 kV circuits obsolete and in need of replacement.

Current regulation allows investor-owned utilities to impose an exit fee on CCAs to provide reimbursement for the costs of serving customers still on their system. One of the fronts in the battle over renewable integration is over the nature of those fees. It is an area of growing concern to the state’s utilities.

New installed solar blows the doors all other new energy

Renewable installations in 2016 accounted for two-thirds of all new energy. Solar PV accounted for 43% of that. Worldwide, new coal and natural gas plants are lagging way behind new renewable energy.

Solar PV is entering a new era. For the next five years, solar PV represents the largest annual capacity additions for renewables, well above wind and hydro. This marks a turning point and underpins our more optimistic solar PV forecast which is revised up by over one-third compared to last year’s report. This revision is driven by continuous technology cost reductions and unprecedented market dynamics in China as a consequence of policy changes.