Energy Everyday and around the World

Photo collage of how we interact with energy systems in our every day lives, and across the world. These photos are taken by myself in various places and parts of the world. As you browse through the photos, reflect on your relationship with energy and the infrastructure that is critical to supporting it. I hope you enjoy!

Saudi Arabia 2024. Located in the Al Masjid an Nabawi in Madina, Saudi Arabia, these beautiful umbrellas provide a critical purpose: shade and protection from the intense heat and intensity of the Madina sun. Umbrellas are built throughout the entire Nabawi Mosque, covering the courtyard as Muslims arrive for the 5 daily prayers (the interior of the mosque has air conditioning). With average temperatures reaching 43 degrees Celsius (up to 110 F  for our American friends) during the hottests months of June through August, solutions like umbrellas and water misters are critical to maintaining bearable outdoor conditions. These solutions consume low energy as compared to fully closed and air conditioned corridors. For regions experiencing increased heat due to climate change, low-cost and low-energy solutions to support daily life become ever-important. 

Saudi Arabia 2024. Umbrellas at the Al Masjid an Nabawi in Madina, Saudi Arabia, during the daytime. These umbrellas are typically folded during the nighttime and re-opened when the sun is at its peak and through the afternoon. They provide a tree-like canopy and are ornated as such. The Al Masjid an Nabawi holds a significant importance in Muslim history, and is visited by Muslims from around the world. [Photo credits JE]

Türkiye 2024. The beautiful Istanbul skyline is dotted with minarets from the city's numerous mosques. For energy-minded folks like myself, the side-by-side visual of towering minarets, electric towers, and power lines provides a unique and energizing view. Above, a large transmission tower in close proximity to a mosque and residential neighbourhood. To the right, two pairs of minarets dot the skyline with a criss-cross of wires and lampposts in the foreground.

France 2024. Harnessing the power of the sun: it's not just solar photovoltaic. Predating electrification, solar energy was channeled creatively through architectural elements to provide light. The next time you go to turn on a light during the day, think about whether natural light from your windows can be used instead.

The Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Chartres, France. The church is an architectural gem, composed of the original Romanesque base, and more "recent" additions in High Gothic and Flamboyant Gothic architectural styles. Notably, the High Gothic architecture is an engineering marvel, where high arches and structural pieces create expansive ceilings. Not only are these beautiful to look at, they let in an abundance of natural light which would have been essential in the decades predating electrification. The well-lit church served not only as a religious building, but served as a center for community and social activities. This is yet another example of how energy, architecture, and human behaviour are inexplicably interconnected.

France 2024. The Paris-Orly Airport had multiple notices on how they are working towards a greener system. Changing fuels is necessary for decarbonization -- from traditional jet fuel to biofuels, and even electrified aircrafts -- but isn't the only pathway forward. Changing operations and improving energy efficiency of existing systems -- such as by supporting continuous descent airplanes -- is necessary to achieve sustainability. 

What habits can you change in your everyday life? Turning off lights, raising temperatures on AC thermostats in the summer,  and walking/biking/taking public transit are all ways each individual person can move towards more sustainable living.

Georgia (USA) 2024. Electricity infrastructure can have a profound impact on the natural landscape and vegetation of a region. Pictured here is an aerial view from the monitor of a Boeing 787-9 arriving at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The strip outlined in red shows a transmission corridor, with the red arrow pointing to a transmission tower. Notice the break in vegetation required to build this transmission corridor, necessary to safely and reliably transmit power to load centers. As we know, vegetation management is a critical part of maintaining power system reliability -- many outages in the US are a result of downed power lines, including the Northeast blackout of 2003 (high voltage power lines in Ohio came into contact with overgrown vegetation, among other causes in this cascading blackout).

Saudi Arabia 2024. An aerial view from arrival to Madina's Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz International Airport. A significant number of transmission lines can be seen in and around the airport. Different terrain, geology, and climate have a profound impact on construction and infrastructure. The city of Madina is a desert oasis surrounded by the Hejaz Mountains and volcanic hills. Notably, the city is surrounded by and built close to lava fields part of the Harrat Rahat -- Saudi Arabia’s largest volcanic field, the size of Lake Ontario. This story by Adam Voiland for NASA Earth Observatory describes the expansion of the city around the lava fields and some of the engineering considerations needed when building on basalt and geographically young lava flows. All infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, is heavily influenced by local geographies. [Photo credits JE]

Georgia (USA) 2024. Utility crews were quick at work to clear up tree debris and restore power from downed power lines. The outage from the high winds lasted a little over an hour for my building, but could have been much longer if the damage had been more extensive, and if I didn't live in the populous Midtown Atlanta area. Restoring power remains a very manual process, and much care must be taken to ensure worker safety. 

Georgia (USA) 2024. Around 5pm on April 11th I got a message that the power was out in my apartment. The number of customers without power quickly went from ~200 to ~6200, as the wind knocked out power distribution lines. The map above shows the approximate region where power outages were experienced. 

Georgia (USA) 2024. While there wasn't a thunderstorm in Tech Square in Midtown Atlanta, the high winds were enough to break tree branches, topple vegetation, and eventually result in the outages we experienced. The photo to the top shows one such culprit: trees debris in my neighbourhood which likely caused some of the outages. 

Arizona (USA) 2023. Driving along AZ-98, you may not realize these massive transmission towers are critical to the electricity supply for many states in the Southwestern US and many tribes on the Navajo Nation. Located nearby is the Navajo Generating Station (coal-fired plant commissioned in 1974 and decommissioned recently in 2019) and the Glen Canyon Dam (producing hydroelectric power since 1964). 

Some numbers from the hydro plant: Glen Canyon Powerplant produces around five billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually which is distributed by the Western Area Power Administration to Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Nebraska. -- U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Arizona (USA) 2023. When you think about "Arizona desert" you may think of the Saguaro cactus (a native cactus to the Sonoran Desert, pictured here). But you probably don't think of power lines. Yet, as you drive through Arizona, you will see the juxtaposition of native ecosystem and wildlife alongside the energy infrastructure powering all of 21st century life. 

Arizona (USA) 2023. Distribution lines along the Arizona State Route 98, between Page and Upper Antelope Canyon. These likely connect to the transmission lines on the left, to supply electricity to individual households and buildings. These distribution lines are connected between poles made of wood. As you compare the two photos, think about how weather, water/wind, and wildlife may impact these levels of the power system (transmission vs. distribution) in different ways. 

Louisiana (USA) 2023. The vibrant city of New Orleans boasts rich history, delicious food, and incredibly imaginative art. I'm not sure crocodiles, alligators, and brass instrument playing birds are quite what we have in mind when we talk about "alternative transportation". But this imaginative mural certainly depicts a fun idea. More realistically, sustainable transportation includes improving public transit, the walkability and bike-ability of cities, supporting the adoption and integration of electric vehicles, and developing low-carbon alternative fuels. 

Belize 2022. Along the coast and cayes of Belize are beautiful mangroves that support a rich and vibrant ecosystem of plants and animals. These plants can uniquely obtain fresh water from salty water, and thrive in saline or brackish water environments. The local communities who have lived among mangroves for generations rely on these environments for food and livelihoods, including fishing and more recently, ecotourism. Many efforts to understand and protect these important ecosystems and water bodies are underway. Various measurement and communication devices make use of on-board power from solar panels, such as the one pictured here. This is of course, no surprise. Among other applications, solar cells have powered satellites since 1958 (see the Vanguard 1 ) and buoys for oceanography.

Morocco 2020. Marrakech is a bustling city in Morocco with rich history, exquisite spices, and lots of rooftop technology. This photo was taken in a typical neighbourhood in the city -- there's practically a satellite dish on each rooftop, and solar water heaters on many as well (the rectangular blue things with the cylinder on top). Again, energy is central to our everyday lives: providing not just electricity, but heating and access to communication.

Morocco 2020. Electricity infrastructure connects remote communities, even along High Atlas (a mountain range in central Morocco).

Morocco 2020. Great weather conditions allow for high solar potential. Many remote communities have installed rooftop solar devices (see the blue rectangle on the house on the left) to supply electricity and hot water

Morocco 2020. Can you see those two shining beacons in the sky? They look like two false suns illuminating the daytime like stars. These are actually reflections from a concentrated solar power station. This photo was taken somewhere between Aït Benhaddou and the Sahara desert. It's likely the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, the world's largest solar power plant, at 510 MW (with additional photovoltaic systems).