National / International News

Is Iran easing its ban on female sports spectators?

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 06:38
Will women finally get to watch a volleyball match in Iran?

In pictures: Royal Ascot Ladies' Day

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 06:25
Royal Ascot Ladies' Day

VIDEO: Who are Battle of Waterloo re-enactors?

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 06:25
The BBC's Robert Hall reports from a re-enactment camp as rehearsals take place to "fight" key moments of the Battle of Waterloo.

Missing man is dead, letter claims

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 06:18
Police are sent a letter by someone claiming a man missing for three weeks is dead.

VIDEO: Women's World Cup: Best goals so far

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 06:06
BBC Sport rounds up some of the best goals so far at the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada, as the tournament moves from the group stage to the knockout phase.

When the power grid fails

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-18 06:05

The nation's system of power plants, utility poles and electrical wires is aging. And compared with other developed countries, it’s less and less reliable. Among the worst hit states: Connecticut.

Three historic storms hit the state in 2011 and 2012. Each time, more than 600,000 residents lost power for days. More than lights went out: household water comes from wells in the town of Marlborough.

“The well runs off electricity,” resident Cliff Denniss says. “And when you lose power you don’t have the pump working to push the water into the house. And you only get about two flushes out of the toilet. ..and when you’re out for a week it can get pretty tough.”

Marlborough went dark for a week in all three storms. Cliff Denniss’s wife, Dorothy, now fills the tub with water when a big one’s coming. Which she admits is not enough for a week-long outage.

“You don’t flush every time,” she says. “Trust me.”

Gas stations in town lost power to pump their gas. Cellphone batteries died. And perishable food … perished. Unless you ate it.

“I had filet mignon all week,” Dorothy Denniss says. “I just bought a brand new one, had it chopped up into steaks. It was in the freezer, we lost the power. I said ‘we have to eat this!’” 

In the average year, New England loses power for a total of three and a half hours, compared with four minutes in Japan. The U.S. fares worse than any other rich country. The cost – in lost work and production – is estimated at $80 billion dollars, more than Google makes in a year. 

The big culprit is weather — say, winds knocking tree limbs into power lines strung along streets. So in Marlborough, backup generators sell rather well.

“We’re still consuming electricity in ways we have done over 100 years in this country,” remodeling contractor Scott Welch says. “I think what we’re doing is antiquated.”

In fact, one joke told frequently in the business: if Thomas Edison came back today, he would recognize the power grid he helped create.

In 1882, Edison built the first electric “utility” system.

Edison's Pearl Street Station.

Courtesy:U.S. Department of Interior

“He invented a light bulb,” Virginia Tech energy historian Richard Hirsh says. “He also invented specialized generators to produce electricity. He developed the wiring system.”

Edison’s very first utility went up in Manhattan. Like a local drugstore, it was a local electric company, with generators and customers in the same place. But this local model lost out. Two of Edison’s rivals, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, developed long-distance transmission, to send power from big sources far away.

“Westinghouse transmitted power from a Niagara Falls hydropower plant to the city of Buffalo about 20 miles distant,” Hirsh says.

Long-distance electricity was more efficient and cheaper. So America ended up with a hub-and–spoke system of poles and wires.

And electricity changed everything.

“It allows you to heat, to cool, to illuminate,” Hirsch says. “In factories, it boosted productivity hugely. In homes, it enables people to do things at day and night in ways that people in the 19th century could only imagine.”

We became addicted to electricity.

But then, the grid aged, and investment didn’t keep up. Power failures have tripled since the 1980s.


Major Electric Grid Outages From Severe Weather, 2000 to 2014

Courtesy: Jordan Wirfs-Brock/Inside Energy

“An experienced electrical engineer, a field operator, once said to me, ‘the whole system is going to fall down some day, it’s just not going to happen on the same day,’”  says Larry Reilly, a former utility executive now with Rosewood Consulting. “That was really the philosophy of operating companies for a long time, to wait 'til failure.”

The electricity infrastructure, Reilly says, went up in a big hurry early on. “People were looking for the fastest, cheapest places to put facilities,” he said. “If we went back and had the ability to do it again, the system would have been designed a little bit differently, but of course, we don’t have that opportunity.”

A case in point: a 1920s substation in the Connecticut town of Branford, on Long Island Sound. It was built right at sea level. So it floods and fails with storm surges.

A substation in Branford.

Scott Tong/Marketplace

“I don’t know what was in the minds of folks as to why it went here,” local resident and journalist Marcia Chambers says. “The flooding of the street has long been an issue.” In two of the big storms –Irene and Sandy – one of Branford’s main Internet providers, Comcast, lost its power. Gone was the whole Comcast bundle: internet, TV, phone.

“The idea that companies are bundling everything and giving you a discount sounds really terrific,” Chambers says. “Except when it goes down.” 

Local cell towers also lost power. The town hospice saw its backup generator fail, so it had to move dying people. Electric wheelchairs could not recharge.

Why did so much of the grid go down?

“We found in Connecticut that half the utility poles were more than 50 years old, did not meet modern standards, and when faced with heavy wind began to snap,” Yale law professor Dan Esty says. He was state energy commissioner for all three storms. “A significant percent of the wires were not insulated, meaning that not only if they were knocked down there was a problem, but if a tree branch touched them they would arc and short out.”

Esty blames state rules aimed at keeping customer rates low, which may have discouraged utilities from investing in reliability.

“We have an antiquated regulatory model that provided limited capital,” Esty says, “and resulted, I think, in systematic underinvestment in grid modernization.”

By the third storm, state lawmakers said enough. They started to consider big changes to the power grid. Esty’s wife had enough, too, by Superstorm Sandy.

“I came home after the first night in the bunker with the governor,” Esty says. “And on the second night, did grill on my outside grill and served my wife dinner by candlelight, and I think it was quite charming. On the third day she was grumbling a bit. And on the fourth day she asked me, ‘Who the hell is the commissioner of energy in the state of Connecticut?’”

At that point, Connecticut passed a law to finance more decentralized, or distributed energy. What’s that like? Take a look at Denmark’s system:

Distributed Generation in Denmark

From "The Smart Grid: An Introduction by Litos Strategic Communication"

 Marketplace is teaming up with Waze to look at transportation infrastructure across the U.S. Click here to find out how you can be a part of our series and report bad infrastructure on your own commute. 

Topley ready for England 'jump'

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 06:03
Uncapped Essex seamer Reece Topley believes he is ready to make the "jump" to international cricket with England.

'Missed test doesn't mean doping'

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 05:48
Athletes on anti-doping regulations after a claim Mo Farah missed two drugs tests before his double gold at London 2012.

'Boko Haram' kills dozens in Niger

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 05:43
An attack by suspected Islamist Boko Haram fighters on two villages in southern Niger kills at least 38 people, the local MP tells the BBC.

Champion Dimitrov suffers early exit

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 05:04
Grigor Dimitrov's title defence at Queen's Club ends with a straight-sets defeat by Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in round two.

VIDEO: Royals mark Waterloo 200th anniversary

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:58
As events take place in Belgium to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister David Cameron attend a memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral.

VIDEO: US church gunman 'was in congregation'

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:57
Police in the United States are searching for a white gunman who killed nine people at a historic African-American church in Charleston in the US state of South Carolina.

Pope Francis: Climate Change A 'Principal Challenge' For Humanity

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:47

In a major encyclical titled Laudato Si, the pontiff calls on humanity to acknowledge a "sense of responsibility" for the Earth and said it was time to stop "masking problems."

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'Attempted abduction' of UK children

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:41
Police are investigating reports of an attempt to abduct British children at a holiday resort in Cyprus.

Battery-swap electric scooter debuts

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:27
An electric scooter with swappable batteries is to go on sale in Taiwan priced $4,140 (£2,600).

Appetite For War: What Napoleon And His Men Ate On The March

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:27

Napoleon is credited with the phrase "an army marches on its stomach," but he likely never said it. Now 200 years after his legendary defeat, it's worth recalling his disregard for feeding his army.

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Fixing Parliament 'could cost £5.7bn'

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:23
Major restoration of the Houses of Parliament without moving MPs and peers out would take 32 years and cost £5.7bn, a report says.

Pepper robot to go on sale to public

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:19
Pepper, the humanoid robot that its makers say can recognise and respond to human emotions, goes on sale in Japan this weekend.

Robson to make Eastbourne comeback

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:18
Former British number one Laura Robson announces she will return to competitive tennis at Eastbourne after 17 months out.

Alonso could face 20-place penalty

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-18 04:05
McLaren's Fernando Alonso will suffer a grid penalty at this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix that could be 20 places.