Geothermal power is the perpetual also-ran of renewable energy, chugging along in the background for decades, never quite breaking out of its little niche, forever causing energy experts to say, “Oh, yeah, geothermal … what’s up with that?”
Well, after approximately 15 years of reporting on energy, I finally took the time to do a deep dive into geothermal and I am here to report: This is a great time to start paying attention!
After many years of failure to launch, new companies and technologies have brought geothermal out of its doldrums, to the point that it may finally be ready to scale up and become a major player in clean energy. In fact, if its more enthusiastic backers are correct, geothermal may hold the key to making 100 percent clean electricity available to everyone in the world. And as a bonus, it’s an opportunity for the struggling oil and gas industry to put its capital and skills to work on something that won’t degrade the planet.
Vik Rao, former chief technology officer at Halliburton, the oil field service giant, recently told the geothermal blog Heat Beat, “geothermal is no longer a niche play. It’s scalable, potentially in a highly material way. Scalability gets the attention of the [oil services] industry.”
In this post, I’m going to cover technologies meant to mine heat deep from the Earth, which can then be used as direct heat for communities, to generate electricity, or to do both through “cogeneration” of heat and electricity. (Note that ground-source heat pumps, which take advantage of steady shallow-earth temperatures to heat buildings or groups of buildings, are sometimes included among geothermal technologies, but I’m going to leave them aside for a separate post.)
Before we get to the technologies, though, let’s take a quick look at geothermal energy itself.
What is geothermal energy?
Fun fact: The molten core of the Earth, about 4,000 miles down, is roughly as hot as the surface of the sun, over 6,000°C, or 10,800°F. That’s why the geothermal energy industry is fond of calling it “the sun beneath our feet.” The heat is continuously replenished by the decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements, at a flow rate of roughly 30 terawatts a year, almost double all human energy consumption. That process is expected to continue for billions of years.
The ARPA-E project AltaRock Energy estimates that “just 0.1% of the heat content of Earth could supply humanity’s total energy needs for 2 million years.” There’s enough energy in the Earth’s crust, just a few miles down, to power all of human civilization for generations to come. All we have to do is tap into it.
Tapping into it, though, turns out to be pretty tricky.
The easiest way to do so is to make direct use of the heat where it breaks the surface, in hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles (steam vents near volcanic activity). The warm water can be used for bathing or washing, and the heat for cooking. Using geothermal energy this way has been around since the earliest humans, going back at least to the Middle Paleolithic.
Slightly more sophisticated is tapping into naturally occurring reservoirs of geothermal heat close to the surface to heat buildings. In the 1890s, the city of Boise, Idaho, tapped one to create the US’s first district heating system, whereby one central source of heat feeds into multiple commercial and residential buildings. (Boise’s downtown still uses it.)
After that came digging deeper and using the heat to generate electricity. The first commercial geothermal power plant in the US was opened in 1960 in the Geysers, California; there are more than 60 operating in the US today.
The technology for accessing deep geothermal is developing at a dizzying pace these days. Let’s take a look at its basic forms, from established to experimental.
Four basic types of geothermal energy technology
Once it reaches the surface, geothermal energy is used for a wide variety of purposes, mainly because there are many different ways to use heat. Depending on how hot the resource is, it can be exploited by numerous industries. Virtually any level of heat can be used directly, to run fisheries or greenhouses, to dry cement, or (the really hot stuff) to make hydrogen.
To make electricity, higher minimum heats are required. The older generation of geothermal power plants used steam directly from the ground, or “flashed” fluids from the ground into steam, to run a turbine. (The water and air pollution that has been associated with first-generation geothermal projects was all from flash plants, which boil water from underground and end up off-gassing everything in it, including some nasty pollutants.)
Flash plants require heat of at least 200°C. The newer, “binary” plants run fluids from the ground past a heat exchanger and then use the heat to flash steam (meaning the underground water isn’t boiled directly and there’s no air or water pollution). Binary plants can generate electricity from around 100°C up.
Getting the heat to the surface is the trick. For that purpose, it’s useful to think of geothermal energy technology as falling into four broad categories.
1) Conventional hydrothermal resources
In a few select areas (think parts of Iceland, or California), water or steam heated by Earth’s core rises through relatively permeable rock, full of fissures and fractures, only to become trapped under an impermeable caprock. These giant reservoirs of pressurized hot water often reveal themselves on the surface through fumaroles or hot springs.
Once a reservoir is located, exploratory wells are drilled until a suitable location can be located for a production well. The hot water that rises through that well can range from just over ambient temperature to 370°C, depending on the field (to get into temperatures hotter than that requires going deeper; more on that later). Once heat is extracted from them, the fluids are cooled and returned to the field via an injection well, to maintain pressure.
Almost all conventional geothermal projects, most of what’s now running, make use of high-quality hydrothermal resources.
One problem with hydrothermal reservoirs is that their visible manifestations — hot springs and fumaroles — remain the only reliable way to identify them; exploration and characterization of new fields is expensive and uncertain. (This is one area of furious technological development.)
Another problem is that they are extremely geographically concentrated. In the US, geothermal electricity is mostly located in California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Alaska, where tectonic plates are grinding beneath the surface.
Where hydrothermal resources are readily available, the advantages of geothermal energy are well-understood. The global geothermal electricity fleet has an average capacity factor — time spent running relative to maximum capacity — of 74.5 percent, and newer plants often exceed 90 percent. Geothermal can provide always-on, baseload power; it is the only renewable resource to do so.
As of the end of 2019, global installed geothermal electric capacity, dispersed across 29 countries, reached 15.4 GW, with the US in the lead.
The final problem is that most of the big, well-explored, well-characterized fields have been tapped out, at least with conventional technology. Geothermal that relies on high-quality hydrothermal resources remains a niche solution, difficult to standardize and scale. That’s why it has lagged behind other renewable resources for so long.
Which brings us to …
2) Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS)
Conventional geothermal systems are limited to specialized areas where heat, water, and porosity come together just so. But those areas are limited.
There’s plenty of heat stored down in all that normal, solid, nonporous rock, though. What if geothermal developers could make their own reservoirs? What if they could drill down into solid rock, inject water at high pressure through one well, fracture the rock to let the water pass through, and then collect the heated water through another well?
That, in a nutshell, is EGS: geothermal that makes its own reservoir.
To be clear, the line between a conventional hydrothermal resource and a resource that requires EGS is not sharp. There are many gradations and variations between wet/porous and dry/solid.
“What you really have is a supply curve, where the variables are temperature, depth, well permeability, and reservoir permeability,” says Tim Latimer, founder and CEO of the EGS company Fervo Energy. “Everything between the two extremes exists.”
To put it simply, as the resource gets deeper and the rock becomes hotter and less porous, the engineering difficulty of accessing it rises.
The basic idea has always been that EGS would start off within existing hydrothermal reservoirs, where fields are relatively well-characterized. Then, as it learned, honed its technology, and brought down costs, it would branch out from “in field” into “near field” resources — solid rock adjacent to reservoirs, at similar depth. Eventually it would be able to venture farther out into new fields and deeper into hotter rock. In theory, EGS could eventually be located almost anywhere in the world.
That’s been the game plan for a decade now, and it’s still the game plan, as laid out in the magisterial 2019 GeoVision study on geothermal from the Department of Energy. The EGS industry has had trouble, though, getting all the ducks in a row. There was a burst of activity around 2010, based on Obama stimulus money and binary power plants. But by the time the drilling technology from the shale gas revolution had begun making its way over to geothermal, around 2015, capital had dried up and attention had turned away.
It’s only been in 2020, Latimer says, that everything has finally lined up: strong public and investor interest, real market demand (thanks to ambitious state renewable energy goals), and a flood of new technologies borrowed from the oil and gas industry. EGS startups like Fervo are growing quickly and bigger, established companies are running profitable EGS projects today.
The engineering challenges remain daunting, especially as the targets get deeper and drier. There are PR challenges as well. Injecting fluids into the ground in order to fracture rock is known as “fracking” in the oil and gas business, and … it’s got a bit of a reputation. In fact, there are whole US states and countries where it is banned.
The industry is keen to distance itself from gas fracking. The fluids used are benign, so there’s little danger of water pollution. Worries about induced seismic activity are somewhat overblown; in oil and gas drilling, it is high-volume water disposal wells associated with seismicity, and EGS doesn’t have those. The fractures are smaller, more controlled, and under far less pressure than in oil and gas fracking. As long as drillers avoid fault lines, which they’re getting better at doing, the risk is modest, especially relative to the benefits. (Ironically, geothermal projects have to meet more seismic safety conditions than comparatively far more dangerous oil and gas projects.)
And, of course, unlike with gas fracking, there’s no combustion of fossil fuels at the end of the line. EGS is benefiting from technology advances in fracking, but it is not doing the thing environmentalists hate. Explaining that to the public and policymakers remains a thorny challenge, though, to say the least.
Still, if the engineering and marketing challenges can be overcome, the prize is almost unthinkably large. Assuming an average well depth of 4.3 miles and a minimum rock temperature of 150°C, the GeoVision study estimates a total US geothermal resource of at least 5,157 gigawatts of electric capacity — around five times the nation’s current installed capacity.
Alternatively, using EGS for direct heat could provide the US with 15 million terawatt-hours-thermal (TWhth). “Compared to a total US annual energy consumption of 1,754 TWhth for residential and commercial space heating,” DOE writes, “this EGS-based resource is theoretically sufficient to heat every US home and commercial building for at least 8,500 years.”
There’s enough heat down there to sustain civilization for generations.
And there’s even more heat deeper down, 6 miles and further.
3) Super-hot-rock geothermal
At the far horizon of EGS is “super hot rock” geothermal, which seeks to tap into extremely deep, extremely hot rock.
At extremely high heat, the performance of geothermal doesn’t just rise, it takes a leap. When water exceeds 373°C and 220 bars of pressure, it becomes “supercritical,” a new phase that is neither solid nor liquid. The science of supercritical water is funky (it’s like … low-density water?) and I’m not going to attempt to explain it, but it is regularly used by industry, including in some advanced coal plants, so its properties are fairly well understood.
For our purposes, there are two important things about supercritical water. First, its enthalpy is much higher than water or steam, meaning it holds anywhere from 4 to 10 times more energy per unit mass. And second, it is so hot that it almost doubles the Carnot efficiency of its conversion to electricity.
“Not only do you get more energy out of your well,” says Eric Ingersoll, a clean energy analyst at the consultancy LucidCatalyst, “you get more electricity out of that energy.”
That means an individual geothermal project at 400°C would have about 50MW capacity, compared to the roughly 5MW capacity of an EGS project at 200°C — twice the temperature, 10 times the power.
You could get more power out of three wells on a 400°C project than you can out of 42 EGS wells at 200°C, using less fluid and a fraction of the physical footprint.
Experience to date shows that the hotter geothermal gets, the more competitive its power price, to the point that super-hot EGS could be the cheapest baseload energy available.
The engineering challenges are hairy. (Oil and gas engineers, the current masters of drilling, did not design for high heat; they didn’t need to.) New casings and cements need to be developed; water chemistry at high heat needs to be better understood; materials that resist corrosion and high heat need to be perfected; drilling techniques need to continue improving. There are even new, “non-contact drilling” methods being developed, including AltaRock’s, which uses frickin’ lasers (“millimeter waves,” technically).
No well is currently producing electricity from supercritical water, but several past wells (in Hawaii and California’s Salton Sea, e.g.) have encountered supercritical water and there are exploratory projects in Japan, Italy, Mexico, and several other counties to learn more. (Here’s a recent review of super-hot-rock history and research.)
It wouldn’t take much help to get this technology developing more quickly. “There’s an opportunity to spend a relatively small amount of money to galvanize the industry,” says Ingersoll. The US currently lacks a robust clean energy innovation system, but there’s a super-hot-rock research program at ARPA-E (AltaRock), a spinoff group called the Hotrock Energy Research Organization (HERO), and several demonstration projects pushing things along. More is needed. The reward — cheap baseload power, available almost anywhere — is too big to pass up.
A fourth category of technologies has emerged recently, which holds out similar promise that geothermal power could someday be accessible anywhere.
4) Advanced geothermal systems (AGS)
AGS refers to a new generation of “closed loop” systems, in which no fluids are introduced to or extracted from the Earth; there’s no fracking. Instead, fluids circulate underground in sealed pipes and boreholes, picking up heat by conduction and carrying it to the surface, where it can be used for a tunable mix of heat and electricity.
Closed-loop geothermal systems have been around for decades, but a few startups have recently amped them up with technologies from the oil and gas industry. One such company, started by investors with experience in oil and gas, is the Alberta-based Eavor.
In Eavor’s planned system, called an “Eavor-Loop,” two vertical wells around 1.5 miles apart will be connected by a horizontally arrayed series of lateral wells, in a kind of radiator design, to maximize surface area and soak up as much heat as possible. (Precise lateral drilling is borrowed from the shale revolution, and from the oil sands.)
Because the loop is closed, cool water on one side sinks while hot water on the other side rises, creating a “thermosiphon” effect that circulates the water naturally, with no need for a pump. Without the parasitic load of a pump, Eavor can make profitable use of relatively low heat, around 150°C, available almost anywhere about a mile and a half down.
So far there’s an “Eavor-Lite” demonstration project built in Alberta, meant to prove out the basic concepts and technologies. It has shown that the lateral wells can be precisely targeted, the thermosiphon effect works, and the plant’s costs and output can be reliably predicted in advance. The company has three or four commercial plants in various stages of planning; likely up next is a plant scheduled to break ground in 2021 in Geretsried, Germany. (It will take advantage of Germany’s feed-in tariffs.) In France and the Netherlands Eavor will provide heat; in Japan, electricity; in Germany, a mix.
When I spoke with Eavor president John Redfern and head of business development Paul Cairns, they told me about a recent change in their design that will reduce the physical footprint and enable even more precise drilling. Instead of the two vertical wells being located at a distance, they will be right next to each other. Lateral wells branch out from them, staying parallel until they meet at the end. Like so:
With the wells so close to one another, they can use “magnetic ranging” (with a transmitter in one well and a receiver in another) to remain at a fixed distance from one another. Meeting at the end is easier than meeting in the middle.
As for land use, after the initial drilling, the only part that technically needs to be aboveground is the air cooler that cools the water before it descends. Power lines, even the electric generator itself, could be underground. And if there’s a water cooler rather than an air cooler, that too could be underground. “Theoretically,” Cairns says, “you could have zero surface footprint.”
Since all Eavor needs to work is hot rock, which is pretty reliably located beneath almost any site in the world, it avoids the need for expensive exploration and modeling. “We’re not smarter,” Redfern says, “we just have much simpler theoretical problems.”
An Eavor-Loop can act as baseload (always-on) power, but it can also act as flexible, dispatchable power — it can ramp up and down almost instantaneously to complement variable wind and solar energy. It does this by restricting or cutting off the flow of fluid. As the fluid remains trapped underground longer, it absorbs more and more heat.
So, unlike with solar, ramping the plant down does not waste (curtail) the energy. The fluid simply charges up, like a battery, so that when it’s turned back on it produces at above nameplate capacity. This allows the plant to “shape” its output to match almost any demand curve.
Jamie Beard, who runs the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas Austin, is bullish on AGS (she worries about the PR problems facing EGS), but she warns that Eavor — like other promising geothermal startups Fervo Energy, GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems — does not yet have everything figured out, despite its confident claims. “I want them to have it in the bag,” she says, “but they don’t yet have it in the bag.”
Directional drilling in high temperatures, above 150°C or so, remains difficult, with equipment prone to melting (again, oil and gas engineers did not design their technologies with high heat in mind). As rock becomes harder, equipment must also be hardened to additional vibrations. And electronics need to be better insulated.
The Eavor-lite project is only mining heat of about 70°C. (It was not intended to be commercially viable.) To make geothermal work, Eavor and other companies will need to master going deeper and hotter. “You can’t economically produce geothermal energy at 90°C,” Beard says. “150, yeah, you’re getting there. 250, oh, yeah. 300, you’re solid.”
She stresses that there are no insuperable barriers if enough technical know-how and capital are brought to bear. The problem of extracting geothermal from deep, dry, hot rock, she says, “is largely an incremental engineering problem that, when solved, solves energy.”
“Solves energy” might sound like big talk, but in this case, it is not idle.
The extraordinary promise of geothermal
The main problem facing renewable energy is that the biggest sources, wind and solar, are variable. Whereas fossil fuel power plants that run on coal and gas are “dispatchable” — they can be turned on and off on demand — wind and solar come and go with, well, the wind and sun.
Building an electricity system around wind and solar thus means filling in the gaps, finding sources, technologies, and practices that can jump in when wind and solar fall short (say, at night). And the electricity system needs to be extremely secure and robust, because decarbonizing means electrifying everything, moving transportation and heat over to electricity, which will substantially raise total electricity demand.
The big disputes in the clean energy world thus tend to be about how far wind, solar, and batteries can get on their own — 50 percent of total power demand? 80 percent? 100?) and what sources should be used to supplement them. (See this much-cited 2018 paper in the journal Joule on the need for “firm, low-carbon resources.”)
The answer currently favored by renewable energy advocates is more energy storage, but at least for now, storage remains far too expensive and limited to do the full job. The other top possibilities for “firming” electricity supply — nuclear power or fossil power with carbon capture and sequestration — have their own issues and passionate constituencies for and against.
Geothermal power, if it can be made to reliably and economically work in hotter, drier, and deeper rock, is a perfect complement to wind and solar. It is renewable and inexhaustible. It can run as baseload power around the clock, including at night, or “load follow” to complement renewables’ fluctuations. It is available almost everywhere in the world, a reliable source of domestic energy and jobs that, because it is largely underground, is resilient to most weather (and human) disasters. It can operate without pollution or greenhouse gases. The same source that makes the electricity can also be used to fuel district heating systems that decarbonize the building sector.
It checks all the boxes.
“Our challenge is not that we have any enemies,” says Latimer. “If you want to talk to Democrats, we produce carbon-free electricity 24/7 — the last piece of the puzzle for a fully decarbonized electricity sector. If you talk to Republicans, it’s American ingenuity putting our drilling fleet to work on a resource that’s fuel-secure, doesn’t rely on imports, and puts the oil and gas people back to work. It’s a beautiful bipartisan story. The problem is we just don’t get talked about.”
Oil and gas to the rescue?
One thing that might get more people talking about geothermal is the somewhat serendipitous opportunity it offers to the oil and gas industry, which is reeling from oversupply, persistently low prices, and cratering demand caused by the pandemic. Consequently, it is hemorrhaging jobs.
Geothermal is buzzing with startups that specifically need innovation and expertise in drilling technology, the very skills many oil and gas workers already have. They could put those skills to work making the planet safer for future generations. That skills match is what animates Beard’s geothermal entrepreneurship organization and the $4.65 million contest that DOE launched this year to pair geothermal innovations with partners in the manufacturing industry.
There’s never been a better time to start or join a geothermal startup — most of them will fail, but there’s a future billionaire in there somewhere.
Industry veterans have taken notice. It made waves when, a few months ago, the “Frack King” — Mukul Sharma, an O&G engineer at UT Austin who has been key in the development of hydraulic fracturing — launched a new EGS venture called Geothermix.
“When we started in the unconventional [oil and gas] space, there were a lot of issues that needed to be resolved, but over time we have increased well productivity by a factor of 4 to 10 in many shale basins,” he told Heat Beat. “We are very early on the learning curve in the EGS context, but I have no doubt that we will be able to translate oil and gas learnings from the past decade and successfully deploy these methods in EGS.”
Latimer was an O&G engineer before he shifted to geothermal. Sage Geosystems was founded by Lev Ring and Lance Cook, two longtime O&G veterans. Eavor employs several O&G veterans.
The industry is taking notice as well. “We got a nice little head start, and we’re running like hell to stay ahead of it,” says Redfern, “but yeah, [oil and gas majors] are definitely turning their attention to this.”
What’s likely is that oil and gas majors will eventually start buying up geothermal startups. Investments in geothermal would give them a way to shelter part of their portfolio from the brutal oil market.
And geothermal is a more natural match than wind and solar for many of these companies. “The fact that it leverages industry core competencies for the purpose of producing clean energy,” Rao said, “will give it staying power in the industry, regardless of energy market conditions.”
Geothermal remains a relatively small industry, with a market cap in the single-digit billions, while oil and gas is a trillion-dollar industry. There’s no realistic way geothermal can promise to absorb all the jobs currently being lost in oil and gas.
Nonetheless, geothermal offers O&G something it badly needs: a port in a storm. It’s a growing clean energy industry that needs a smart workforce trained in exploration and drilling. Oil and gas has one of those.
Recent oil and gas technology innovations are going to turbocharge geothermal, especially if policymakers can get their act together and offer some support. There’s a steep learning curve ahead and they’re just now accelerating into it, but the next decade is likely to be more active for geothermal than the past four.
With an inexhaustible, dispatchable, flexible renewable energy source so close to breaking through, the vision of a fully renewably powered world seems less and less utopian, more and more tantalizingly within reach.
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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.
The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.
The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.
In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.
Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.
It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.
Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.
Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.
Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.
The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”
At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.
On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.
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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year
From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.
Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.
From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.
“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.
Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.
The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.
Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.
Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.
Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.
The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Calls for urgent reduction of violence
Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.
Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.
There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.
1/4 I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.
But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.
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