EU10C. 2009-2014 Our Energy Future
Staying current for Chapter 10
Articles from 2009–2014
Stay current index page for chapter 10
2014-12-21. Energy-Storage Plans Gain Ground in California. By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times. Excerpt: In an unusual competition in California, proposals for energy storage systems beat out hundreds of bids to construct new power plants as a way to meet peak power needs. Southern California Edison has retired its San Onofre nuclear reactors and is planning to retire natural gas units with environmentally troublesome cooling systems. So it invited proposals for storage — including conventional batteries and giant ice packs — and new gas-fired power plants. To the surprise of the utility and even the storage companies, in many cases storage won. …One crucial attraction of storage is that it could break the mold of utility system design, which is now geared around the few hours a year with the highest demand. Some plants are needed only a few hundred hours a year. Storage could also sharply increase the amount of energy that a reliable system can absorb from intermittent sources like wind and sun. …RES Americas announced recently that it would build two 19.8-megawatt systems in Illinois. It said those would be the largest installations in North America. In that state, late-night surplus wind energy sometimes forces prices on the grid to below zero….. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/22/business/energy-environment/california-picks-energy-storage-over-some-new-power-plant-bids.html.
2014-11-23. Good News on Energy. By Ralph Cavanagh, The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/opinion/good-news-on-energy.html?searchResultPosition=1
2014-11-24. Solar and Wind Energy Start to Win on Price vs. Conventional Fuels. By Diane Cardwell, The New York Times. Excerpt: For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas. That day appears to be dawning. The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas. …In Texas, Austin Energy signed a deal this spring for 20 years of output from a solar farm at less than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour. …According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. In comparison, natural gas comes at 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal at 6.6 cents. Without subsidies, the firm’s analysis shows, solar costs about 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/business/energy-environment/solar-and-wind-energy-start-to-win-on-price-vs-conventional-fuels.html.
2014-09-14. In Vermont, a milestone in green-energy efforts. Excerpt: BURLINGTON, Vt. — Vermont’s largest city has a new success to add to its list of socially conscious achievements: 100 percent of its electricity now comes from renewable sources such as wind, water and biomass. With little fanfare, the Burlington Electric Department crossed the threshold this month with the purchase of the 7.4-megawatt Winooski 1 hydroelectric project on the Winooski River at the city’s edge. When it did, Burlington joined the Washington Electric Co-operative, which has about 11,000 customers across central and northern Vermont, which reached 100 percent earlier this year. “It shows that we’re able to do it, and we’re able to do it cost effectively in a way that makes Vermonters really positioned well for the future,” said Christopher Recchia, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service. It’s part of a broader movement that includes a statewide goal of getting 90 percent of Vermont’s energy from renewable resources by 2050, including electricity, heating and transportation. …It’s also a growing movement across the country, as governments and businesses seek to liberate themselves from using power produced by environmentally harmful fossil fuels. …Greensburg, Kansas, almost wiped out by a 2007 tornado, rebuilt with energy efficiency in mind. A 12.5-megawatt wind farm went online in 2009, producing electricity in excess of that consumed by the community of 850, said Administrator Ed Truelove…. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/in-vermont-a-milestone-in-green-energy-efforts/2014/09/14/9fc6e2c6-3c28-11e4-a430-b82a3e67b762_story.html. Associated Press, The Washington Post.
2014-09-13. Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind. Excerpt: …Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. …wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south. …Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. …The word the Germans use for their plan is starting to make its way into conversations elsewhere: energiewende, the energy transition. …“I am convinced that wind and sun will be the central sources of energy, not only in Germany but worldwide,” said Patrick Graichen, who heads a think tank in Berlin, Agora Energiewende, devoted to studying the shift. …One recent day, under a brilliant California sun, …Lennar Corporation was putting solar panels on every house it built. The prices of the panels have plunged 70 percent in the past five years. That huge decline means solar power is starting to make more economic sense, especially in parts of the United States with high electricity prices. …The decline in the cost of renewable power spells potential trouble for companies that generate electricity. They make a lot of their money at times of day when demand for power, and therefore power prices, are high. Solar power, even a small amount, could be especially disruptive, shaving wholesale prices during those peak periods. …some utilities, fearful of losing out as the power mix changes, have started attacking rules that encourage solar panels. Others are taking the opposite tack, jumping into the solar market themselves. …In Germany, where solar panels supply 7 percent of power and wind turbines about 10 percent, wholesale power prices have crashed during what were once the most profitable times of day…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/science/earth/sun-and-wind-alter-german-landscape-leaving-utilities-behind.html. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times.
2014-07. What seafood guzzles the most gas? Excerpt: …diesel is the single largest expense for the fishing industry and its biggest source of greenhouse gases. Not all fish have the same carbon finprint, however, and a new study reveals which ones take the most fuel to catch. Robert Parker, a Ph.D. student at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, in Australia, and Peter Tyedmers, an ecological economist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, analyzed more than 1600 records of fuel use by fishing fleets worldwide. They … reported online this month in Fish and Fisheries. 7. Sardines: 71 liters …Icelandic herring and Peruvian anchovies are the least fuel-intensive industrial fisheries known, caught with just 8 liters of fuel per ton of fish. 6. Skipjack tuna: 434 liters …5. Scallops: 525 liters …4. North American salmon: 886 liters …3. Pacific albacore: 1612 liters …2. Sole: 2827 liters …1. Shrimp and lobster: 2923 liters …How does wild seafood compare with other kinds of animal protein? The median fuel use in the fisheries is 639 liters per ton. In terms of climate impact, that’s equivalent to a bit more than 2 kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted for each kilogram of seafood landed. Chicken and farmed salmon and trout are roughly the same, but beef is significantly higher at 10 kg of carbon dioxide per kg of live animal. “If you’re looking at having a green diet, you want to transition away from beef,” Parker says…. http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2014/07/what-seafood-guzzles-most-gas. by Erik Stokstad, Science.
2014-06-19. Buying Into Solar Power, No Roof Access Needed. Excerpt: …David Polstein …was unable to get a solar system to reduce his utility bill, he said, because his roof is too small and shady to make it worthwhile. Now, that could be changing. Mr. Polstein is considering joining a so-called community solar garden that is under development in his part of the state, one of many similar new arrangements now available in Massachusetts. Through the approach — largely pioneered in Colorado and spreading across the country — customers buy into a solar array constructed elsewhere and receive credit on their electricity bills for the power their panels produce. …Massachusetts passed its law enabling community renewable energy projects in 2008 and saw at least one town solar garden begin operating in Brewster in 2012. Now, Clean Energy Collective, a leading developer, is building systems that are due to start producing power in Massachusetts by the end of this month. The company has teamed with Next Step Living of Boston, a home energy-efficiency company, which is selling the product to consumers across Massachusetts. Several other places, including California, Minnesota and Washington, D.C., have laws to establish their programs, …In New York, …a bill is working its way through the State Legislature…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/business/energy-environment/buying-into-solar-power-no-roof-access-needed.html. By Diane Cardwell, The New York Times.
2014-06-14. Introducing The First-Ever World Cup Stadium Powered By Solar. Excerpt: The 2014 Word Cup kicked off in Brazil this week and … a bright spot in the construction is the integration of renewable energy. Complete with 6,000 solar panels, Mineirão is the first World Cup stadium ever powered by solar energy. The plant’s installed capacity of 1,600 megawatts-hour per year (1.4 MW) is enough to power 1,200 households, according to the Brazilian federal government’s World Cup website. “As it’s not possible to store all the energy, 10 percent of it will be used in powering the Mineirão and the rest will be transferred to consumers,” said Alexandre Maia Bueno with Minas Gerais State Electricity Company (CEMIG), which constructed the plant. …One-third of the countries competing in the event have less solar energy than a single stadium in Brazil. “Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Iran, Ivory Coast and Uruguay all produce less solar power than the 2.5 MW solar capability of the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brasilia. Ghana produces the same amount,” the report found. …because Brazil will also play host to the 2016 Olympic Games, solar is expected to factor in to those facilities, as well. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/14/3449122/solar-powering-world-cup/ By Kiley Kroh, ThinkProgress.
2014-05-30. A Price Tag on Carbon as a Climate Rescue Plan. Excerpt: KEWAUNEE, Wis. — Bryan T. Pagel, a dairy farmer, watched as a glistening slurry of cow manure disappeared down a culvert. If recycling the waste on his family’s farm would help to save the world, he was happy to go along. Out back, machinery was breaking down the manure and capturing a byproduct called methane, a potent greenhouse gas. A huge Caterpillar engine roared as it burned the methane to generate electricity, keeping it out of the atmosphere. The $3.2 million system also reduces odors at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, one of the largest in Wisconsin, but it would not have been built without a surprising source of funds: a California initiative that is investing in carefully chosen projects, even ones far beyond its borders, to reduce emissions as part of the battle against climate change. California’s program is the latest incarnation of an increasingly popular — and much debated — mechanism that has emerged as one of the primary weapons against global warming. From China to Norway, Kazakhstan to the Northeastern United States, governments are requiring industries to buy permits allowing them to emit set levels of greenhouse gases. Under these plans, the allowable levels of pollution are steadily reduced and the cost of permits rises, creating an economic incentive for companies to cut emissions…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/30/science/a-price-tag-on-carbon-as-a-climate-rescue-plan.html?ref=science. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times.
2014-04-24. Nanoparticle Networks Promise Cheaper Batteries for Storing Renewable Energy. Excerpt: Liquids containing a flowing network of nanoscale particles could make batteries cheaper to manufacture, and thereby reduce the cost of using large amounts of solar and wind power. …With some alternatives, it is difficult to get charge in and out of the materials; electricity is extracted only from the part of the materials that comes in direct contact with a flat metal plate. The nanoparticle network creates paths for electricity to flow throughout the liquid. This makes it possible, for example, to get from five to six times more energy out of an experimental type flow battery made of lithium and sulfur. Nanoparticles have long been used in conventional batteries with solid electrodes, but what distinguishes the new development is having a nanoparticle network form in a liquid, and maintain electrical connections even as that liquid flows. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that for batteries to be economical, they need to cost less than $100 per kilowatt-hour, and need to last a decade or more. Such batteries cost hundreds of dollars per kilowatt-hour now. Chiang says it could be possible to build batteries that cost less than $100 per kilowatt-hour with the nanoparticle networks, but the researchers haven’t yet demonstrated that they can be recharged enough times to last a decade. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/526811/nanoparticle-networks-promise-cheaper-batteries-for-storing-renewable-energy/. Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review.
2014-03-29. The Artificial Leaf Is Here. Again. Excerpt: …Daniel Nocera…Harvard chemist has pioneered the artificial leaf, an invention that generates energy…based on photosynthesis. …A vessel of water is exposed to light. A silicon strip coated in catalysts breaks down the water molecule such that on one side oxygen bubbles up, and, on the other, hydrogen, which can be used as a fuel. …The leaf and its technology have been replicated many times, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin and Free University Berlin… the issue isn’t the invention at all — it’s how to use it. “If I give you a canister of hydrogen that we got from the artificial leaf, you can’t use it right away,” Mr. Nocera said. …Discovering a brilliant way to efficiently generate hydrogen is hard enough. Then there’s … getting consumers accustomed to what’s needed for it to work, such as fuel cells — which convert hydrogen into usable electricity. …You have to change an entire infrastructure…. If we had fuel cells in your house and your car, then everybody would be trying to implement the artificial leaf right now.” The other obstacle is the marketplace. Only a few years ago, he said, “the magic number was $3 ‘gas gallon equivalent.’ ” …Even as he closed in on that number, the old fossil-fuel industry pulled the rug out from under him with a surge in cheap natural-gas extraction, driven by hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Seemingly overnight, the magic number became “a buck fifty,”…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/technology/the-artificial-leaf-is-here-again.html. Jack Hitt, New York Times.
2014-03-17. Machinery of an Energy Dream–The Challenge: How to Keep Fusion Going Long Enough. Excerpt: LIVERMORE, Calif. — Fusion, the process that powers the sun, is the forever dream of energy scientists — safe, nonpolluting and almost boundless. Even here at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where the primary focus of fusion work involves nuclear weapons, many scientists talk poetically about how it could end the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. “It’s the dream of the future, solving energy,” said Stephen E. Bodner, a retired physicist who worked on fusion at Livermore in the 1960s and ’70s…. The basic concept behind fusion is simple: Squeeze hydrogen atoms hard enough and they fuse together in helium. A helium atom weighs slightly less than the original hydrogen atoms, and by Einstein’s equation E = mc2, that liberated bit of mass turns into energy. Hydrogen is so abundant that unlike fossil fuels or fissionable material like uranium, it will never run out. …Last month, a team headed by Omar A. Hurricane announced that it had used Livermore’s giant lasers to fuse hydrogen atoms and produce flashes of energy, like miniature hydrogen bombs. The amount of energy produced was tiny — the equivalent of what a 60-watt light bulb consumes in five minutes. But that was five times the output of attempts a couple of years ago…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/science/the-challenge-how-to-keep-fusion-going-long-enough.html. Kenneth Chang, The New York Times.
2014-03-05. A Bright Year for Solar in the U.S.—But There Are Clouds on the Horizon. Excerpt: …demand for solar increased by 41% in 2013, with 4.75 gigawatts of photovoltaic panels installed last year. (1 GW is about enough energy to power 750,000 homes.) That made solar the second-biggest source of new generation power in the U.S. after natural gas, which is still benefiting from the shale revolution. By the end of 2013, there were more than 440,000 operating solar electric systems in the U.S., with more than 12 GW of photovoltaic (PV) and nearly 1 GW of concentrated solar power. …While big utility scale plants like Ivanpah, which harnesses the heat of the sun with concentrated solar mirrors, got most of the headlines, it was small-scale residential systems that drove much of the demand last year. Residential projects increased by 60% over 2012 as the price of installing solar fell and as customers took advantage of leasing options—offered by companies like Solarcity, …that allowed them to purchase panels with little money up front. …“2013 offered the U.S. solar market the first real glimpse of its path toward mainstream status,” said Shayle Kann, vice president of GTM Research, which follows the clean tech market. …Last year China installed at least 12 gigawatts of solar capacity, at least 50% more than any other country had ever built in a single year. …The U.S. solar boom has been fueled in part by cheap solar panels from China, …. But those same cheap Chinese panels have hurt domestic manufacturers of solar PV, even as they’ve helped installers like Solarcity. Several domestic solar manufacturers…have complained that the Chinese government is unfairly subsidizing national solar PV manufacturers, which allows them to undercut their American competitors. In response, the U.S. government agreed in 2012 to impose tariffs of 24 to 36% on Chinese PV panels. …The U.S. solar industry is at a tipping point, poised to grow its way out of niche status and potentially change the way Americans think—and more importantly, pay for—energy…. http://time.com/12952/solar-energy-surges-concern-over-china/. Bryan Walsh, Time.
2014-02-24. 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan. Excerpt: The plan is built around 15 initiatives, e.g.:] Initiative 03: Establish and implement building codes and standards that will help support energy efficiency and clean energy…. Initiative 04: Establish a $1 billion New York Green Bank to unlock and mobilize private sector capital for greater investment in New York’s clean energy economy…. Initiative 05: Coordinate renewable energy policies to strategically harness the many resources that the State can provide to solar, wind (offshore and land-based), bioenergy, geothermal, hydrokinetic, storage, and other power supply options…. Initiative 09: Reduce reliance on petroleum products for heating buildings by supporting the use of clean alternatives to heating oil and expanding access to natural gas in the near term while pursuing strategies to reduce natural gas leakage…. Initiative 11: Provide improved information and access to energy-related data to support customers’ ability to make educated decisions about clean and efficient energy investments, including labeling mechanisms for commercial and residential buildings…. Initiative 12: Increase transportation alternatives and vehicle diversity to harness the benefits of decreased dependence on oil and a cleaner, more connected, and more flexible transportation sector…. Initiative 15 Foster a clean energy workforce targeting participants across all aspects of the energy sector…. http://energyplan.ny.gov/Plans/2014.aspx. New York State Energy Planning Board.
2014-02-13. A Huge Solar Plant Opens, Facing Doubts About Its Future. Excerpt: NIPTON, Calif. — The Ivanpah solar power plant stretches over more than five square miles of the Mojave Desert. Almost 350,000 mirrors the size of garage doors tilt toward the sun [onto 2,200-ton boilers 339 feet in the air to make steam that drives turbines to produce electricity] with an ability to energize 140,000 homes. The plant, which took almost four years and thousands of workers assembling millions of parts to complete, officially opened on Thursday, the first electric generator of its kind. It could also be the last. Since the project began, the price of rival technologies has plummeted, incentives have begun to disappear and the appetite among investors for mammoth solar farms has waned. …There’s other prospects for renewables and for solar that look a lot better than this particular solution,” he said, including rooftop solar systems that are being installed one by one on businesses and homes. …The increase in renewable sources of energy, which produce intermittently, coming into the grid, has also increased the need for other services crucial to reliable operation, services that solar thermal plants could provide. Those needs include the ability to start and stop quickly, at any season or hour, when human operators give the order…. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/business/energy-environment/a-big-solar-plant-opens-facing-doubts-about-its-future.html. Diane Cardwell and Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times.
2014-01-28. Seafloor carpet catches waves to generate energy. Excerpt: …For assistant professor Reza Alam, an expert in wave mechanics, the seafloor “carpet” he is proposing will convert ocean waves into usable energy. “There is a vast amount of untapped energy in the oceans, and with increasing worldwide demand for power, the need to find cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels is critical,” said Alam. “We are also seeing greater population growth along coastal cities, so the ocean-based system we are developing would produce electricity in a carbon-neutral way right where it is needed.”…. http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/01/28/seafloor-carpet-catches-waves-to-harness-energy/. Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley News Center. See also http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/02/140220-five-striking-wave-and-tidal-energy-concepts and the website site of Pelamis Wave Power – http://www.pelamiswave.com/pelamis-technology – full scale prototype machine tested at the European Marine Energy Centre between 2004 and 2007 following a series of sea trials in the North Sea. In 2008 Pelamis Wave Power secured an order from Portuguese electricity utility Enersis to build the world’s first wave farm off the northwest coast of Portugal at Aguçadoura.
2013-12-16. Mongolia’s nomads warm to solar power. Excerpt: Portable solar panels are helping the sunny country’s nomads – without disrupting their way of life. …In Mongolia, often known as the land of the blue skies, the sun shines for 250 days on average each year. … as of 2013, thanks to a concerted push by the Mongolian government, almost 70 percent of nomadic people have access to electricity. Bor, a herder who mainly travels around western Mongolia’s Arkhangai province, is one of the people whose family benefits from portable solar home systems (SHS). “We use it for generating the power for lighting in the ger, charging phones, we can also generate a fridge to keep food longer and we can run a television. That is very useful for us because we can get the most recent weather forecast, which is important for our work and keeping our animals safe. Before we had power it was very difficult. Now it is almost like living in the city.” …The solar systems are slowly replacing the diesel generators used by some nomads as a means of generating power, although they are still using stoves for heating, burning wood coal and dung throughout the year…. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/12/mongolia-nomads-warm-solar-power-201312813468350849.html. Philippa H Stewart, AlJazeera.
2013-12-05. Obama doubles the goal for renewable energy usage by federal agencies. Excerpt: President Obama ordered federal agencies Thursday to more than double their use of electricity produced by renewable resources, a directive that requires them to make solar, wind and hydro power 20 percent of the government’s energy portfolio by 2020. Federal facilities can install renewable energy projects or purchase electricity from them, according to Obama’s presidential memorandum, which is much tougher than a 2005 congressional directive for agencies to use renewable energy for 7.5 percent of their electricity needs by 2013. A White House spokeswoman said the government is on track to meet that goal. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/obama-doubles-the-goal-for-renewable-energy-usage-by-federal-agencies/2013/12/05/e470388e-5dec-11e3-95c2-13623eb2b0e1_story.html. Lenny Bernstein, The Washington Post.
2013-10-01. Exploding Fuel Tankers Driving U.S. Army to Solar Power. Excerpt: The U.S. Army is spending billions of dollars shifting toward solar energy, recycled water and better-insulated tents. The effort isn’t about saving the Earth. Instead, commanders have found they can save lives through energy conservation. …protecting fuel convoys is one of the most dangerous jobs, with one casualty for every 24 missions in some years. With renewable energy, “there is no supply chain vulnerability, there are no commodity costs and there’s a lower chance of disruption,” Richard Kidd, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army in charge of energy security, said in an interview. “A fuel tanker can be shot at and blown up. The sun’s rays will still be there.” …. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-30/exploding-fuel-tankers-driving-u-s-army-to-solar-power.html. Ehren Goossens, Bloomberg.
2013-09-18. Germany’s Effort at Clean Energy Proves Complex. Excerpt: It is an audacious undertaking with wide and deep support in Germany: shut down the nation’s nuclear power plants, wean the country from coal and promote a wholesale shift to renewable energy sources. But the plan, backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and opposition parties alike, is running into problems in execution that are forcing Germans to come face to face with the costs and complexities of sticking to their principles. …Ms. Merkel, of the traditionally conservative and pro-business Christian Democrats, came up with her plan in 2011, in the emotional aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. It envisions shutting down all of Germany’s nuclear plants by 2022 and shifting almost entirely to wind and solar power by 2050. …The cost of the plan is expected to be about $735 billion, …. One of the first obstacles encountered involves the vagaries of electrical power generation that is dependent on sources as inconsistent and unpredictable as the wind and the sun. And no one has invented a means of storing that energy for very long, which means overwhelming gluts on some days and crippling shortages on others that require firing up old oil- and coal-burning power plants. That, in turn, undercuts the goal of reducing fossil-fuel emissions that have been linked to climate change…. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/19/world/europe/germanys-effort-at-clean-energy-proves-complex.html. By Melissa Eddy and Stanley Reed, New York Times.
2013-09-11. Solar Panel Is Next Granite Countertop for Homebuilders. Excerpt: …At least six of 10 largest U.S. homebuilders led by KB Home include the photovoltaic devices in new construction, according to supplier SunPower Corp. (SPWR) Two California towns are mandating installations, and demand for the systems that generate electricity at home will jump 56 percent nationwide this year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. “In the next six months, homebuilders in California and the expensive-energy states will be going solar as a standard, and just incorporating it into the cost of the house like any other feature,” Jim Petersen, chief executive officer of the PetersenDean Inc., the largest closely held U.S. roofing and solar contractor, said in an interview. Lashing panels to roofs during construction is about 20 percent cheaper than after a house is built. Homeowners who can afford the extra $10,000 to $20,000 cost in return for free power threaten the business of traditional utilities…. Power companies are losing business because they can’t cut their rates in line with the tumbling prices of residential solar systems. Those cost about $4.93 a watt in the first quarter, down 16 percent from a year earlier, according to the Washington-based solar association…. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-10/solar-panel-is-next-granite-countertop-for-homebuilders.html. Justin Doom, Bloomberg.
2013-04-15. How to Power the World without Fossil Fuels. Excerpt: …Three times now, Mark Jacobson has gone out on the same limb. In 2009 he and co-author Mark Delucchi published a cover story in Scientific American that showed how the entire world could get all of its energy—fuel as well as electricity—from wind, water and solar sources by 2030. No coal or oil, no nuclear or natural gas. The tale sounded infeasible—except that Jacobson, from Stanford University, and Delucchi, from the University of California, Davis, calculated just how many hydroelectric dams, wave-energy systems, wind turbines, solar power plants and rooftop photovoltaic installations the world would need to run itself completely on renewable energy. …Two weeks ago Jacobson and a larger team, including Delucchi, did it again. This time Jacobson showed in much finer detail how New York State’s residential, transportation, industrial, and heating and cooling sectors could all be powered by wind, water and sun, or “WWS,” as he calls it. His mix: 40 percent offshore wind (12,700 turbines), 10 percent onshore wind (4,020 turbines), 10 percent concentrated solar panels (387 power plants), 10 percent photovoltaic cells (828 facilities), 6 percent residential solar (five million rooftops), 12 percent government and commercial solar (500,000 rooftops), 5 percent geothermal (36 plants), 5.5 percent hydroelectric (6.6 large facilities), 1 percent tidal energy (2,600 turbines) and 0.5 percent wave energy (1,910 devices)…. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-power-the-world. Mark Fischetti, Scientific American.
2013-04-08. With Help From Nature, a Town Aims to Be a Solar Capital. Excerpt: LANCASTER, Calif. …Two years ago, the mayor, a Republican, decided to leverage the incessant Antelope Valley sun so that Lancaster could become the solar capital “of the world,” he said. …We want to be the first city that produces more electricity from solar energy than we consume on a daily basis,” he said. This means Lancaster’s rooftops, alfalfa fields and parking lots must be covered with solar panels to generate a total of 126 megawatts of solar power above the 39 megawatts already being generated and the 50 megawatts under construction. To that end, Lancaster just did what former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger failed to do in 2006: require that almost all new homes either come equipped with solar panels or be in subdivisions that produce one kilowatt of solar energy per house. …the city tripled the number of residential installations in the past 18 months. …While the desert sunshine in California and Arizona helped put those states atop the national solar energy rankings, towns in cloudier regions are also adopting it. Napoleon, Ohio, for instance, benefits from 14 megawatts of local solar power. But energy politics in Ohio and other Republican-run states are not solar friendly. …embracing solar power is not just a matter of energy costs or reliability. It’s also about jobs. …As Mayor Parris saw it, solar power could mean lower public expenditures and more private jobs…. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/us/lancaster-calif-focuses-on-becoming-solar-capital-of-universe.html. Felicity Barringer, New York Times.
2013-04-02. A Building Not Just Green, but Practically Self-Sustaining | Bryn Nelson, New York Times. Excerpt: SEATTLE — When an office building here that bills itself as the world’s greenest officially opens later this month, it will present itself as a “living building zoo,” with docents leading tours and smartphone-wielding tourists able to scan bar codes to learn about the artfully exposed mechanical and electrical systems. …grand opening on Earth Day, April 22. …the 50,000-square-foot office building at 1501 East Madison Street, at the edge of the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, its occupants are about to embark upon an unparalleled — and very public — experiment in sustainability. …a $30 million living laboratory distinguished by its composting toilets, strict energy and water budgets and a conspicuous lack of on-site parking. … all its water will be supplied by rainwater collected in a 56,000-gallon cistern before being filtered and disinfected. A rooftop array of photovoltaic panels, extending beyond the building like the brim of a graduation mortarboard, will produce an estimated 230,000 kilowatt-hours a year, hopefully just enough to break even for a building that is 83 percent more efficient than the city’s typical commercial site. …the decision to not have on-site parking generated “spirited conversation” during the design phase. Instead, a space about the size of a three-car garage will be reserved exclusively for bicycles, while commuting bicyclists can wash away the morning sweat in one of the rainwater-fed showers on each floor…. See full article at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/realestate/commercial/the-bullitt-center-in-seattle-goes-well-beyond-green.html.
2013-03-12. Can Wind, Water and Sunlight Power New York by 2050? | Andrew Revkin, New York Times. Excerpt: A group of scientists and energy analysts has laid out a path under which New York State could, in theory, eliminate its use of fossil fuels and nuclear power — including for transportation — by 2050. …The plan, “Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State’s All-Purpose Energy Infrastructure to One Using Wind, Water and Sunlight,” is slated for publication in the journal Energy Policy. The analysis, predicated on the need to swiftly address global warming, essentially does for New York what two of the authors, Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University and Mark A. Delucchi of the University of California, Davis, did for the world in an energy roadmap published in Scientific American in 2009. The paper argues against any role for natural gas, using arguments developed by two of its authors, Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth of Cornell University. …According to the researchers’ calculations, New York’s 2030 power demand for all sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry) could be met by: 4,020 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines, 12,770 offshore 5-megawatt wind turbines, 387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants, 828 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plants, 5 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems, 500,000 100-kilowatt commercial/government rooftop photovoltaic systems, 36 100-megawatt geothermal plants, 1,910 0.75-megawatt wave devices, 2,600 1-megawatt tidal turbines, 7 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric power plants, of which most exist…. See full article at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/can-wind-water-and-sunlight-power-new-york-by-2050/.
2013-01-17. Goldman Leading Renewable Offerings Says Slump Is Ending | Ehren Goossens, Bloomberg. Excerpt: …Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), the top arranger for renewable-energy stock offerings last year, is accelerating its funding efforts as it anticipates a rebound in an industry that’s slumped every year since 2009. …The investment bank is backing renewable energy that it expects will gain favor in a global shift it says is inevitable. That’s why short-term volatility will be trumped by long-term gains as emerging technologies first become commonplace and then become indispensable, according to Stuart Bernstein, the Goldman partner overseeing its renewables unit. …Goldman may boost its financing efforts this year as it seeks to meet a pledge made in May to invest and finance more than $40 billion in the industry in the next decade. Worldwide, more than $395 billion will be invested annually in renewable energy by 2020, he said…. Read the full article: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-17/goldman-leading-renewable-offerings-says-slump-is-ending.html
2013-01-04. Space Solar Cells With A Down-to-Earth Cost | Robert F. Service, Science: Vol. 339 no. 6115 p. 21. Excerpt: …gallium arsenide (GaAs) … has been used for decades to make ultrahigh-efficiency solar cells for spacecraft. But the out-of-this-world cost of GaAs itself makes these too expensive for mass-market uses. Now, researchers at the University of Michigan may have found a way not only to drop the cost of producing GaAs cells, but also to drop the cost of the power they produce to near that of grid power from fossil fuels…. Crystals of GaAs are typically grown in 200-millimeter-diameter cylinders that are then sliced into thin wafers. …But this tends to use too much of the expensive GaAs. More recently, groups … have used GaAs as a substrate on which to grow other semiconductor alloys … and recover the GaAs wafer so that it can be reused. Unfortunately, …it can only be used a few times before engineers must replace it with a fresh wafer. Three years ago, Stephen Forrest, a materials scientist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, came up with a … strategy … to add two additional very chemically different layers to the sandwichlike stack of materials. … enabling it to be reused again and again. … additional steps also allowed them to bond the final GaAs layer to a clear plastic substrate, giving them a flexible solar cell with more than 22% efficiency. If cheap solar concentrators are added to focus more light onto the cell, Forrest says he believes that they should be able to convert more than 30% of the energy in sunlight into electricity. If that’s the case, Forrest says his calculations show that they can reduce the cost of power from the cells to less than $1 per watt, roughly the current cost for silicon-based solar cells. If they can muster further improvements, that price could drop close to grid parity—the holy grail for solar power…. Read the full article: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6115/21.full
2012-12-22. Troubling solar-panel defect rate seen | David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpt: A worldwide glut of solar panels has slashed prices and made the technology affordable to more people than ever before. But that glut could be prompting some panel manufacturers to cut corners. SolarBuyer, a company that audits solar factories, has found defect rates averaging about 8 percent among panels that have not yet been shipped to customers. With some manufacturers, the defect rate has topped 20 percent. That eye-popping number is an exception, not the rule. But faulty panels are a concern for the solar industry. The number of panels being installed around the world is surging, jumping 44 percent in the United States during this year’s third quarter. …A typical 3.5-kilowatt solar system costs about $23,800, which includes panels and installation. … Companies typically offer 25-year warranties…. Read the full article: http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Troubling-solar-panel-defect-rate-seen-4140805.php
2012-12-05. Tiny structure gives big boost to solar power | By John Sullivan, Princeton University. Excerpt: Princeton researchers have found a simple and economical way to nearly triple the efficiency of organic solar cells, the cheap and flexible plastic devices that many scientists believe could be the future of solar power. The researchers, led by electrical engineer Stephen Chou, were able to increase the efficiency of the solar cells 175 percent by using a nanostructured “sandwich” of metal and plastic that collects and traps light. …Chou… said the research team used nanotechnology to overcome two primary challenges that cause solar cells to lose energy: light reflecting from the cell, and the inability to fully capture light that enters the cell. …The structure achieves even more efficiency for light that strikes the solar cell at large angles, which occurs on cloudy days or when the cell is not directly facing the sun. By capturing these angled rays, the new structure boosts efficiency by an additional 81 percent, leading to the 175 percent total increase. …The researchers said the PlaCSH solar cells can be manufactured cost-effectively in wallpaper-size sheets. Chou’s lab used “nanoimprint,” a low-cost nanofabrication technique Chou invented 16 years ago, which embosses nanostructures over a large area, like printing a newspaper. …In addition to a direct boost to the cells’ efficiency, the new nanostructured metal film also replaces the current ITO electrode that is the most expensive part of most current organic solar cells. “PlaCSH also is extremely bendable,” Chou said. “The mechanical property of ITO is like glass; it is very brittle.”…. Read the full article: http://www.princeton.edu/engineering/news/archive/?id=9141
2012-11-27. The Installed Price of Solar Photovoltaic Systems in the U.S. Continues to Decline at a Rapid Pace | Allan Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab News Center. Excerpt: Berkeley, CA — The installed price of solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems in the United States fell substantially in 2011 and through the first half of 2012, according to the latest edition of Tracking the Sun, an annual PV cost-tracking report produced by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). …median installed price of residential and commercial PV systems completed in 2011 fell by roughly 11 to 14 percent from the year before, … in California, prices fell by an additional 3 to 7 percent within the first six months of 2012. These recent installed price reductions are attributable, in large part, to dramatic reductions in PV module prices, which have been falling precipitously since 2008. The report indicates that non-module costs—such as installation labor, marketing, overhead, inverters, and the balance of systems—have also fallen significantly over time. … Ryan Wiser of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division [said], “as these costs can be most readily influenced by local, state, and national policies aimed at accelerating deployment and removing market barriers.” …average non-module costs for residential and commercial systems declined by roughly 30 percent from 1998 to 2011, but have not declined as rapidly as module prices in recent years. As a result, non-module costs now represent a sizable fraction of the installed price of PV systems, and continued deep reduction in the price of PV will require concerted emphasis on lowering the portion of non-module costs associated with so-called “business process” or “soft” costs. … the median installed price of PV systems installed in 2011 was $6.10 per watt (W) for residential and small commercial systems smaller than 10 kilowatts (kW) in size and was $4.90/W for larger commercial systems of 100 kW or more in size. Utility-sector PV systems larger than 2,000 kW in size averaged $3.40/W in 2011…. Read the full article: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2012/11/27/the-installed-price-of-solar-photovoltaic-systems-in-the-u-s-continues-to-decline-at-a-rapid-pace/
2012 Nov 23. Another Path to Biofuels By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times. Excerpt: …SEE Algae Technology of Austria, is building a 2.5-acre factory on a sugar plantation near Recife, Brazil, that will use genetically modified algae that can eat carbon dioxide from the sugar. Adding urea and some nutrients, the algae excrete ethanol. The path to profitability, according to the company, is raising the amount of algae produced per unit of area. Algae grows in ponds, but that turns out to require a lot of space: sunlight does not penetrate more than a couple of inches, so the ponds must have big surfaces. The problem is that the carbon dioxide injected to promote algae growth tends to escape from a big surface. SEE Algae’s solution is a silo that is 16 feet tall and has a volume of 177 cubic feet. Sunlight is directed all over the inside of the silo by optical fiber technology. Because the light is coming from multiple directions, the hardware can produce algae at a density up to 20 times greater than can be generated on a pond….
2012 Nov 24. Growing food in the desert: is this the solution to the world’s food crisis?. By Jonathan Margolis, The Observer. Excerpt: Philipp Saumweber is creating a miracle in the barren Australian outback, growing tonnes of fresh food.…a 33-year-old German former Goldman Sachs banker but inspired by a London theatre lighting engineer of 62, have bought a sizeable lump of this unpromising outback territory and built on it an experimental greenhouse which holds the seemingly realistic promise of solving the world’s food problems. …using the sun to desalinate seawater for irrigation and to heat and cool greenhouses as required, and thence cheaply grow high-quality, pesticide-free vegetables year-round in commercial quantities. …A 75m line of motorised parabolic mirrors that follow the sun all day focuses its heat on a pipe containing a sealed-in supply of oil. The hot oil in turn heats nearby tanks of seawater pumped up from a few metres below ground – the shore is only 100m away. The oil brings the seawater up to 160C and steam from this drives turbines providing electricity. Some of the hot water from the process heats the greenhouse through the cold desert nights, while the rest is fed into a desalination plant that produces the 10,000 litres of fresh water a day needed to keep the plants happy…. Read the full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/24/growing-food-in-the-desert-crisis
2012 September 24. High-Altitude Wind Energy: Huge Potential – And Hurdles. By Dave Levitan, Yale Environment 360. Excerpt: With conventional wind power facing a litany of obstacles — intermittency, space requirements, not-in-my-backyard complaints — pushing wind power up into the atmosphere could take a lot of uncertainty out of the equation. And despite a host of technical and regulatory challenges, a growing number of small companies are working hard to get up there within the next few years, with numerous designs and ideas aimed at harvesting wind power high in the sky…When it comes to really taking advantage of higher altitude wind…reaching as high as the jet stream is the real prize. The power density in Earth’s jet streams is around 100 times that of sunlight hitting a standard photovoltaic cell…But the differences in engineering requirements between flying a device at 1,000 feet and at five or six miles are enormous….
2012-09-05. Europe to Investigate Chinese Exports of Solar Panels | by Keith Bradsher, New York Times. Excerpt: …It takes up to two years for a solar panel to generate enough electricity to match the electricity that went into manufacturing it, mostly for the polysilicon. …. Read the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/business/global/eu-prepares-to-investigate-chinese-dumping-of-solar-panels.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120906
2012-08-09. The Search for Energy Takes a Turn Underwater | by Jess Bidgood, New York Times. Excerpt: The fearsome tides that sweep out from the easternmost shores of the United States have for more than 80 years teased engineers and presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, who have dreamed of harnessing their force to make electricity. …And next week, a device that looks a bit like an eggbeater turned sideways will be lowered into the water here to catch the energy of the rushing water, spinning a generator that, come September, is scheduled to begin sending power to the grid. …The Bay of Fundy has some of the world’s highest tides, causing extreme currents that are pushed even faster by the inlets and islands that speckle this rocky coast. They will propel the turbine’s blades, which twist around like the helix shape of DNA….When this project starts delivering electricity to the grid under a power-purchasing agreement, it will be the first tidal-power turbine to do so in the United States, says Steven G. Chalk, the deputy assistant secretary for renewable energy. …The first turbine generator unit has a maximum output of 180 kilowatts, which would power about 30 homes. That is one-sixth the output of a typical wind turbine, although TidGen will turn more than a wind turbine, since the currents will push more consistently than wind. …. Read the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/10/us/turbine-to-harness-the-tides-to-generate-power.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120810
2012-05-18. Tiles May Help Shrink Carbon Footprint by Harnessing Pedestrian Power | by Thomas K. Grose, National Geographic News. Excerpt: This summer at the largest urban mall in Europe, visitors may notice something different at their feet. Twenty bright green rubber tiles will adorn one of the outdoor walkways at the Westfield Stratford City Mall, which abuts the new Olympic stadium in east London. …They are designed to collect the kinetic energy created by the estimated 40 million pedestrians who will use that walkway in a year, generating several hundred kilowatt-hours of electricity from their footsteps. That’s enough to power half the mall’s outdoor lighting. The slabs are produced by Pavegen Systems, a London startup launched in 2009 by Laurence Kemball-Cook, a fresh-faced, 26-year-old Londoner who developed his clean energy idea while earning a degree in industrial design and technology at Loughborough University. The 17.7-by-23.6-inch (45-by-60-centimeter) tiles are designed to be used wherever pedestrians congregate en masse: transportation hubs such as train, subway, and bus stations; airports; schools; malls; bustling shopping avenues. The power generated from millions of footfalls can be used to operate a range of low-power applications, including lighting, signs, digital ads, and Wi-Fi zones. …On average, one footstep generates 7 watts of electricity, though the amount varies depending on a person’s weight. Each step pushes the rubber down a mere 5 millimeters, or a fraction of an inch. …The tiles have also impressed Matthew Baxter, the head teacher (principal) at Langton Grammar—Kemball-Cook’s alma mater—who said his 1,100 “boisterous boys” have truly put them to a punishing test over the past two years. “They’ve taken a pummeling, but they’re fine.” While initially a novelty that students delighted in jumping on, the slabs have since become a normal part of the school—albeit one that’s encouraged the boys to think about clean energy. … Read the full article: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/05/120518-floor-tiles-turn-footfalls-to-electricity/
2012 May 29. Into the Wild Green Yonder. By Jeff Turrentine, OnEarth. Excerpt: In a February speech, President Obama gave a shout-out to the technology that helped make this flight possible. Algae-derived biofuel, he said, was part of a larger national plan to wean us from foreign petroleum while significantly reducing atmospheric carbon levels. This technology isn’t in the blue-sky or even beta-testing stage of the R&D sequence. It has already been proved in the lab, and it’s now being proved in the marketplace, where some very big clients — among them major airlines, the U.S. Navy, and Bunge, one of the world’s largest agribusiness conglomerates — are placing orders for millions of gallons of algae-derived biofuel from dozens of manufacturers…Algae-derived hydrocarbon has been something of a biofuel holy grail for decades now. Scientists have long known that the yucky green film commonly found covering ponds and poorly tended fish tanks can take two of the planet’s easiest-to-find ingredients — light and CO2 — and turn them into one of the scarcest: oil. And the word renewable doesn’t quite do this biofuel feedstock justice: a patch of algae can double in size in a few hours….
2012 Jun 20. EBay Plans Data Center That Will Run on Alternative Energy Fuel Cells. By JAMES GLANZ, The NY Times. Excerpt: EBay plans to build a data center to handle its billions of dollars in retail transactions that will draw its power from alternative energy fuel cells rather than the national power grid, which is heavily dependent on coal plants. It will be the first major tech company to use alternative power as a primary source for energy-hungry data centers, although the new center will connect to the electricity grid for backup. Environmental groups have issued a series of rebukes to Internet companies because of their heavy reliance on coal-fired power to run their centers…EBay plans to use about six million watts of power generated on-site by fuel cells, which are a substantially cleaner and more efficient source of energy than coal, in its new data center in South Jordan, Utah…Bloom Energy, a private company in Sunnyvale, Calif., will make the fuel cells. The new center will double the size of an existing data center there, which will still be on the grid. The grid will serve mainly as a backup power source for the new center. Even so, the fuel cells will account for less than 15 percent of the energy needs of all eBay data centers around the country — a clue that the industry is likely to remain deeply dependent on the grid and its energy mix indefinitely…..
2012 Jun 04. Solar Panels Set Off a Fairness Debate. By Diane Cardwell, The NY Times. Excerpt: As…tens of thousands of…residential and commercial customers switch to solar in California,…utilities not only lose valuable customers that help support the costs of the power grid but also have to pay them for the power they generate. Ultimately, the utilities say, the combination will lead to higher rate increases for everyone left on the traditional electric system. “Low-income customers can’t put on solar panels — let’s be blunt,” said David K. Owens, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utilities. “So why should a low-income customer have their rates go up for the benefit of someone who puts on a solar panel and wants to be credited the retail rate?” The net metering benefit, which is available to residential and commercial customers with renewable energy systems in more than 40 states and has helped spur a boom in solar installations, is at the heart of a battle. Utilities, consumer advocates and renewable energy developers across the country are fighting over how much financial help to give to solar power and, to a lesser extent, other technologies. Regulators are in the middle, weighing the societal benefits of renewables as well as how best to spread the costs. Net metering has been so popular that several states are rapidly approaching regulatory limits on how many systems are eligible, meaning new customers have no assurance they can reap the same rewards. The solar industry, which is growing in size and influence, has been pressing to raise those limits to continue to encourage rooftop installations, while the utilities have generally been opposed….
2012 May 10. Science Academies Issue ‘G-Science’ Statements to Call World Leaders’ Attention to How Science and Technology Can Help Solve Global Challenges. By William Skane and William Kearney, The National Academies. Excerpt: National science academies from 15 countries issued joint statements today calling on world leaders who are about to meet at the upcoming G8 Summit and other international gatherings this year to give greater consideration to the vital role science and technology could play in addressing some of the planet’s most pressing challenges. The “G-Science” statements recommend that governments engage the international research community in developing systematic, innovative solutions to three global dilemmas: how to simultaneously meet water and energy needs; how to build resilience to natural and technological disasters; and how to more accurately gauge countries’ greenhouse gas emissions to verify progress toward national goals or international commitments… one of the G-Science statements says insufficient attention is being paid to the links between energy and water or, in other words, to the fact that energy requires water and water requires energy. Without considering water and energy together, inefficiencies will occur, increasing shortages of both, the statement warns. It recommends that policymakers recognize the direct interaction between water and energy by pursuing policies that integrate the two, and emphasize conservation and efficiency. Regional and global cooperation will also be required….
2012 May 10. Solar Installers Offer Deals, Gaining Converts | by DIANE CARDWELL, The New York Times. Excerpt: Jay Nuzzi, a New Jersey state trooper, had put off installing solar panels on his home here for years, deterred by the $70,000 it could cost. Then on a trip to Home Depot, he stumbled across a booth for Roof Diagnostics, which offered him a solar system at a price he couldn’t refuse: free. Similar deals are being struck with tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses across the country. Installers, often working through big-box chains like Home Depot or Lowe’s, are taking advantage of hefty tax breaks, creative financing techniques and a glut of cheap, Chinese-made panels to make solar power accessible to the mass market for the first time. The number of residential and commercial installations more than doubled over the last two years to 213,957, according to Greentech Media, a research firm. Major players in the installation business, like SolarCity, Sunrun and Sungevity, are thriving even as the other side of the industry — solar module makers — has been squeezed to the breaking point by fierce competition from Chinese manufacturers.
2012 Apr 25. Solar cells must emit light to attain perfection, research suggests | By James Holloway, ars technica. Excerpt: …Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley claim to have hit upon a counterintuitive means of boosting the efficiency of flatplate solar cells by making them emit light. “What we demonstrated is that the better a solar cell is at emitting photons, the higher its voltage and the greater the efficiency it can produce,” said principal researcher, UC Berkeley Professor of Electrical Engineering Eli Yablonovitch. To briefly recap the mechanism behind the photovoltaic effect itself, photons from some external light source (the sun, preferably) entering a solar cell excite the electrons in the semiconductor into higher energy states. This frees them from confinement so that they can convey current. (The charge itself is created by using two materials. Free electrons find it easier to move in one direction between the materials, creating a negative charge in one and a positive charge in the other.) …In June, 2011, Alta Devices, a company cofounded by Yablonovitch, announced it had achieved an efficiency of 28.2 percent in its gallium arsenide-based solar panels (the previous record of 26.4 percent having been achieved in 2010). The boost of almost two percent may sound modest, but when closing in on the Shockley-Queisser limit, every tenth of a percent counts. The Shockley-Queisser limit is the theoretical maximum efficiency—33.7 percent—at which single p-n junction flatplate cells can operate….
2012 Mar 26. A Smaller Route to Solar Success | By Matthew L. Wald, New York Times Green Blog. Excerpt: There are at least a dozen major ways to turn sunlight into electricity, but one of the more interesting is using a field of mirrors to focus the sun’s energy on a “power tower” where the heat is captured and used later to spin a turbine and turn a generator… But now comes a new player with a different concept: build the tower, but on a smaller, simpler scale, and skip the storage in favor of using using biogas or natural gas to power the system after dark….
…For solar, the big issue is the early evening: “Solar bows out at 5 p.m., Mr. Rosenzweig noted. But that’s when peak demand begins — people come home, turn on the air conditioner full blast, put dinner in the oven or microwave and turn on television sets in the ensuing hours, he said. Rather than building a system with storage, which requires an oversize gathering system to take in more sun than is required for instant generation, Aora decided that it was easier to equip its system to burn natural gas, using most of the original hardware….
2012 Mar 18. Focus on technology overlooks human behavior when addressing climate change. University of Oregon Media Relations. Excerpt: Technology alone won’t help the world turn away from fossil fuel-based energy sources, says University of Oregon sociologist Richard York. In a newly published paper, York argues for a shift in political and economic policies to embrace the concept that continued growth in energy consumption is not sustainable….
…”In terms of governmental policies, we need to be thinking about social context, not just the technology,” York said. “We need to be asking what political and economic factors are conducive to seeing real displacement. Just developing non-fossil fuel sources doesn’t in itself tend to reduce fossil fuel use a lot — not enough. We need to be thinking about suppressing fossil fuel use rather than just coming up with alternatives alone.”…
2012 Mar 21. Obama Tours Four States to Defend Energy Policy; by Jackie Calmes, New York Times. Excerpt: BOULDER CITY, Nev. …The president’s visits to Nevada and New Mexico on Wednesday opened a four-state trip over two days to highlight what he calls his “all of the above” agenda to foster alternative energy sources, as well as oil and gas, with federal tax and spending incentives. …Mr. Obama told a small audience at the nation’s largest solar energy installation, Sempra Energy’s Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, which now provides power for 17,000 homes in California and is building additional acres of solar panels to create energy for 110,000 more, according to the company …“The current members of the flat earth society in Congress, they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion — $4 billion — in tax subsidies, tax giveaways, to the oil companies,” Mr. Obama said. “Every time you fill up at the pump, they’re making money,” he added.
Such language sets up a Senate vote, perhaps next week, on a Democratic proposal to repeal $2 billion in tax subsidies for the biggest oil companies and dedicate that sum to clean energy projects. But the measure is expected to fall short …. 2012 March 14. New Solar Panels Blossomed Despite a Tough Year for the Industry. By Diane Cardwell, The NY Times. Excerpt: …By the numbers, 2011 was a banner year for all those sparkling blue modules, according to a report published on Wednesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. About 1,855 megawatts of new photovoltaic capacity was installed, more than double the 887 megawatts of the year before. The number of large-scale installations grew as well, to 28 from just 2 in 2009….
2012 February 5. Sacrificing the desert to save the Earth. By Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times. Excerpt: …BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar power project will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them….
Despite its behemoth footprint, the Ivanpah project has slipped easily into place, unencumbered by lasting legal opposition or public outcry from California’s boisterous environmental community….
…Industrial-scale solar development is well underway in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The federal government has furnished more public property to this cause than it has for oil and gas exploration over the last decade — 21 million acres, more than the area of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties put together…. Even if only a few of the proposed projects are built, hundreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear. Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created. …
The desert will be scarred well beyond a human life span, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews….
2012 January 30. Canadian Wilderness Poised for a Uranium Boom. By Ed Struzik, Yale Environment 360. Excerpt: …In spite of the global recession of 2008 and the March 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, which caused some countries to reconsider nuclear power, uranium exploration is proceeding at a record pace in this part of the world….
…The Inuit are split on the wisdom of large-scale uranium mining in their territory, with some saying their communities desperately need the economic development, while others are concerned about the environmental fallout from the industry. With a population of just 30,000 mostly Inuit people living in a territory the size of Western Europe, Nunavut — which contains a sizeable part of mainland Canada as well as most of the country’s Arctic Archipelago, extending nearly to the North Pole — remains the largest undisturbed wilderness in the northern hemisphere. Though some mining roads exist, not a single road connects its 25 communities. As a result, some of the biggest caribou herds in the world — ranging in size from 65,000 to more than 400,000 — migrate freely…..
2012 Dec. UC Davis West Village–A visionary model for 21st century living. By Clifton B. Parker and Kat Berlin. …West Village is planned as the country’s largest “zero net energy” community, which means it is designed to generate as much energy as it consumes. Zero net energy has never been attempted on a scale the size of West Village. Anywhere. It is an experiment, a “living laboratory,” as one campus official says. …When completed, the 130-acre site will be home to about 3,000 students, faculty and staff in 662 apartments and 343 single-family houses. …West Village is not some ivory tower utopian community. It is market-tested and supported — most of the $300 million needed to build the site came from San Francisco real estate developers Carmel Partners, which joined forces with Urban Villages of Denver on the project. …The project broke ground in August 2009. …West Village will rely on two strategies to achieve the zero net goal — aggressive efficiency measures and on-site power generation. If built to current code, the completed portions of West Village would consume 22 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year. But by employing aggressive energy efficiency measures, planners project the annual total will come to about 11 million kilowatt hours, a 50 percent reduction….
2012 Jan 10. Biomass and Electricity, Part 2. By Matthew L. Wald, The NY Times Green Blog. Excerpt: …On Tuesday, a company in Hillsboro, Ore., ClearEdge Power, announced a deal with an Austrian company, Güssing Renewable Energy, to supply 8.5 megawatts of fuel cells that would run on methane made from renewable sources. The companies said the 8.5 megawatts would be in place within three years, and the longer-term goal is 50 megawatts by 2020….
…The company takes wood chips and crop wastes and gasifies them, which means that it zaps them into a fuel gas made of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. It then rearranges those molecules to make methane and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere, yes; but if the original source of the carbon was trees or crops, then regrowing those would mean that the carbon dioxide would be reabsorbed from the atmosphere. The company’s goal is to build carbon-neutral communities….
…ClearEdge builds a five-kilowatt module that takes in natural gas and converts it to hydrogen and carbon dioxide. It then runs the hydrogen through a fuel cell to make electric current. It is about the size of a kitchen refrigerator….
…The 8.5 megawatts will be met by 1,700 of the five-kilowatt units; some of them will stand alone while others will be grouped in office buildings, multifamily residential buildings and similar settings….
2012 January 2. Storehouses for Solar Energy Can Step In When the Sun Goes Down. By Matthew L. Wald, the NY Times. Excerpt: If solar energy is eventually going to matter — that is, generate a significant portion of the nation’s electricity — the industry must overcome a major stumbling block… finding a way to store it for use when the sun isn’t shining.
That challenge seems to be creating an opening for a different form of power, solar thermal, which makes electricity by using the sun’s heat to boil water. The water can be used to heat salt that stores the energy until later, when the sun dips and households power up their appliances and air-conditioning at peak demand hours in the summer….
Two California companies are planning to deploy the storage technology… Together, the four projects will be capable of powering tens of thousand of households throughout a summer evening….
2011, December 28. In Solar Power, India Begins Living Up to Its Own Ambitions. By Vikas Bajaj, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Two years ago, Indian policy makers said that by the year 2020 they would drastically increase the nation’s use of solar power from virtually nothing to 20,000 megawatts — enough electricity to power the equivalent of up to 3.3 million modern American homes during daylight hours when the panels are at their most productive. Many analysts said it could not be done. But, now the doubters are taking back their words….
…This month, the government held its second auction to determine the price at which its state-owned power trading company — NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam — would buy solar-generated electricity for the national grid. The average winning bid was 8.77 rupees (16.5 cents) per kilowatt hour…. That is about twice the price of coal-generated power, but it was about 27 percent lower than the winning bids at the auction held a year ago. …
2011 November 12. A Gold Rush of Subsidies in the Search for Clean Energy. By Eric Lipton and Clifford Krauss, The NY Times. Excerpt: …A great deal of attention has been focused on Solyndra, a start-up that received $528 million in federal loans to develop cutting-edge solar technology before it went bankrupt, but nearly 90 percent of the $16 billion in clean-energy loans guaranteed by the federal government since 2009 went to subsidize… lower-risk power plants, which in many cases were backed by big companies with vast resources….
…The windfall for the industry over the last three years raises questions of whether the Obama administration and state governments went too far in their support of solar and wind power projects, some of which would have been built anyway, according to the companies involved.
Obama administration officials argue that the incentives, which began on a large scale late in the Bush administration but were expanded by the stimulus legislation, make economic and environmental sense. Beyond the short-term increase in construction hiring, they say, the cleaner air and lower carbon emissions will benefit the country for decades….
2011-10-17. Fishing for wind: Nature inspires more efficient wind turbines | by Marcus Y. Woo, Engineering & Science
Volume LXXIV, Number 2, Spring/Summer 2011. Excerpt: …John Dabiri… was studying how air flows around solid structures… trying to make wind turbines work efficiently amid the swirling gusts near buildings and skyscrapers, providing a source of renewable energy for cities. But as he played with the equations, he realized that they looked a lot like the ones that govern the flow of water through a school of swimming fish. …Nature is often quite the engineer, and—mathematically, at least—the fluid dynamics around swimming fish are more or less optimized for efficiency. Once he saw the connection between fish schools and wind turbines, it seemed natural to put them together. … if every currently existing wind turbine were churning out as much power as possible, the United States would have the capacity to generate some 40 billion watts of wind power, which would account for 2 percent of the nation’s electricity. The maximum potential capacity of land-based wind power in the continental United States is estimated to be about 10 trillion watts, or terawatts (TW). Building wind farms on every suitable patch of land in the world could provide 75 to 100 TW. Considering that global power consumption was about 15 TW in 2008, wind could—in principle—power the entire planet. …But one big problem with wind power is that conventional turbines—the ones that resemble huge propellers— need a lot of space. …Wind power is generally considered a mature technology. In theory, wind turbines can convert 60 percent of wind energy into electricity. In practice, the best are already at 50 percent. …Dabiri’s fish-inspired wind farms use the lesser-known vertical-axis turbine, which looks a little like an eggbeater jutting out from the ground. When fish swim, they leave a horizontal row of regularly spaced vortices in their wakes; what would happen, he wondered, if he placed his downwind turbines in those vortices, and let them spin the turbines? …Individually, a vertical-axis turbine is less efficient than its monolithic cousin. But taken as a group, they can be positioned to squeeze as much power as possible from a given plot of land. Horizontal-axis turbines only capture the wind that blows through the circles swept by their blades, allowing precious energy to escape through the gaps between them. Vertical axis turbines, on the other hand, can be bunched together until they’re almost touching, harnessing the energy of almost all the air that blows by. …Vertical-axis turbines have other advantages. They’re safer for birds. And instead of being 100-meter tall structures … vertical-axis turbines are around 10 meters tall. Because they’re quieter and smaller, they can be distributed more widely and can be built closer to population centers…. Read the full article: http://climate.nasa.gov/EnergyInnovations/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowEnergy&EiID=555
2011 September 26. Solar Oven Outhouse for Safer Fertilizer. By Donald G. McNeil Jr., The NY Times. Excerpt: Human waste makes good fertilizer, but it can be smelly and dangerous to handle when fresh….
…A team from the Georgia Institute of Technology has designed an outhouse vault with a “window” of translucent plastic that turns it into a solar oven. “If you can heat the waste up enough, you can kill everything,” said Emily Woods, a team member. “You can kill ascaris in two hours at 60 degrees centigrade. We’ve gotten the vault up to between 80 degrees and 90 degrees in tests.”….
2011 August 21. Why go offshore? Physics Today. Excerpt: The Cambridge University Energy Network’s annual conference in June gave engineers and economists fresh perspectives and updates on offshore wind energy. Peter Tavner, of Durham University’s School of Engineering and Computing Sciences and president of the European Academy of Wind Energy, introduced the conference by advocating wind energy as a technology that could offer high returns in the future. But he and the other speakers at the conference emphasized that before wind can be considered a viable renewable energy source, financial, technical, and political issues must be addressed….
2011 July 26. The bright future of solar powered factories. By Kris De Decker, Low-tech Magazine. Excerpt: Most of the talk about renewable energy is aimed at electricity production. However, most of the energy we need is heat, which solar panels and wind turbines cannot produce efficiently. To power industrial processes like the making of chemicals, the smelting of metals or the production of microchips, we need a renewable source of thermal energy. Direct use of solar energy can be the solution, and it creates the possibility to produce renewable energy plants using only renewable energy plants, paving the way for a truly sustainable industrial civilization. It is often assumed that our energy problems are solved when renewables reach ‘grid parity’ – the point at which they can generate electricity for the same price as fossil fuels. But to truly compete with fossil fuels, renewables must also reach ‘thermal parity’…
We tend to see solar energy as yet another way to generate electricity, using photovoltaic panels or solar thermal power plants. But solar energy can also be applied directly, without the intermediate step of generating electricity…
2011 Summer. How It Works: Concentrating Solar Power. By Laura Wisland, Union of Concerned Scientists. Excerpt: …if you have ever used a magnifying glass to ignite a piece of paper, you have dabbled in a primitive form of concentrating solar power (CSP). CSP (or solar thermal) plants apply this principle on a much larger scale, creating intense heat to generate clean, carbon-free electricity…
…The choice of CSP technology is often driven by location-specific factors, but steam-driven systems have benefited from the fact that they use the same turbines as conventional gas- and coal-fired power plants, allowing them to be deployed more quickly and at a lower cost than technologies that require fully customized parts. In addition, unlike some other renewable energy technologies, CSP systems that use trough or tower technology can store the heat they collect and use it to generate electricity when the sun is not shining. The heat is either stored as a hot liquid or transferred to another substance like molten salt or graphite… This thermal storage capability makes CSP more competitive with large coal and nuclear plants in terms of both output and reliability….
2011 April. Tapping Into Wind Power. Union of concerned Scientists. This is the first installment of “Renewables: Energy You Can Count On,” a series of short reports that explore the benefits and challenges as- sociated with bringing more clean, homegrown electricity to the grid.
2011 April 11. Seizing the Smart Energy Opportunity. By L. Hunter Lovins, Greenbiz.com Excerpt: Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy will generate jobs and help build strong companies, communities, and countries…The new green energy economy will generate new manufacturing businesses, jobs retrofitting existing buildings, opportunities to build and manage the new decentralized energy system, the ability to revitalize farm income from biofuels, wind farms, etc… In April 2010, Michael Weinhold, chief technical officer of Siemens’s Energy Sector and an engineer, described to students at Berlin’s Technical University how new ideas have shifted his focus from implementing small technical improvements to concerns of greater social responsibility. “We engineers need to make the energy system sustainable, so that the world can avert catastrophic climate change,” he said. “Siemens already is showing politicians what’s possible.” He described some of the company’s recent work: free-floating offshore wind turbines; the world’s largest gas turbine in the combined-cycle process with a record-setting 60 percent efficiency; a new high-voltage direct-current (DC) power line in China that moves 5 gigawatts of CO2-free hydropower across about 1,400 kilometers at about 95 percent efficiency….
2011 April 11. Gulf’s Complexity and Resilience Seen in Studies of Oil Spill. By Leslie Kaufman, The New York Times.Excerpt: In the year since the wellhead beneath the Deepwater Horizon rig began spewing rust-colored crude into the northern Gulf of Mexico, scientists have been working frantically to figure out what environmental harm really came of the largest oil spill in American history…
…Biologists are nervously monitoring as yet unexplained dolphin strandings this year, trying to come up with a realistic count of birds and mammals killed during the spill and working to understand what happens when the gulf floor is covered with the remains of oil-eating bacteria.
…How the regional ecosystem has responded, its strengths and weaknesses, will keep scientists busy analyzing data for years and help them in understanding the effects of environmental disasters.
2011 January 15. Solar Panel Maker Moves Work to China. By Keith Bradsher, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Evergreen Solar emerged in the last three years as the third-largest maker of solar panels in the United States. But now the company is closing its main American factory, laying off the 800 workers by the end of March and shifting production to a joint venture with a Chinese company in central China. Evergreen cited the much higher government support available in China….
…Beyond the issues of trade and jobs, solar power experts see broader implications. They say that after many years of relying on unstable governments in the Middle East for oil, the United States now looks likely to rely on China to tap energy from the sun….
2011 Jan 5. Many projects in renewable energy research and development underway. What are the pros and cons of renewable energy development? What are the environmental impacts of various renewable energy developments? Will such projects actually reduce our reliance on fossil fuels overall? Should the government be providing billions of dollars to build facilities on public lands that have been set aside for protection? What are the environmental impacts in various ecosystems and how might they be mitigated effectively?
2010 December 24. African Huts Far From the Grid Glow With Renewable Power. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, NYTimes.Excerpt: …As small-scale renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries. Although dwarfed by the big renewable energy projects that many industrialized countries are embracing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, these tiny systems are playing an epic, transformative role….
…Yet while these off-grid systems have proved their worth, the lack of an effective distribution network or a reliable way of financing the start-up costs has prevented them from becoming more widespread….
2010 November 25. In California, Carports That Can Generate Electricity. By Felicity Barringer, The NY Times.Excerpt: …Ersatz roofs made of solar panels have sprouted above dozens of school parking lots in the state, altering vistas and promoting a philosophy of green thinking among the young…
…By forming partnerships with banks and other backers, school districts get guarantees of reliably cheap electricity for their buildings for as long as 20 years. The institutions, which finance the systems and sell the electricity back to the schools, also receive tax incentives from the federal and state governments…
2010 November 8. The Ultimate Roller Coaster Ride: A Brief History of Fossil Fuels. Narrated by Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon. Excerpt: And now, for your viewing and sharing pleasure we bring you 300 years of fossil fueled growth in 5 minutes.
2010 October 19. A Cheaper Route to Solar Cells. By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times. Excerpt: A company that secured a Department of Energy grant to pursue a breakthrough idea in the manufacture of solar cells plans to announce on Tuesday that it has raised $20 million to commercialize its technique, which it says will reduce the price of solar panels by 40 percent.
The company, 1366 Technologies of Lexington, Mass., has found a simpler way to produce the basic building block of solar cells: silicon wafers…
…The cell has other refinements, including finer wires to conduct away the electrons, so the shadow cast on the energy-gathering area is smaller. And the company drills small holes into the cast wafer to give it a honeycomb appearance, which allows light to bounce around inside the crevices, producing better absorption and less reduction…
2010 August 26. Wind Turbine Project Runs Into Resistance. By Leora Broydo Vestel, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Moving turbine blades can be indistinguishable from airplanes on many radar systems, and they can even cause blackout zones in which planes disappear from radar entirely. Clusters of wind turbines, which can reach as high as 400 feet, look very similar to storm activity on weather radar, making it harder for air traffic controllers to give accurate weather information to pilots.
…Moving turbine blades can be indistinguishable from airplanes on many radar systems, and they can even cause blackout zones in which planes disappear from radar entirely. Clusters of wind turbines, which can reach as high as 400 feet, look very similar to storm activity on weather radar, making it harder for air traffic controllers to give accurate weather information to pilots.
…In 2009, about 9,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects were abandoned or delayed because of radar concerns raised by the military and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a member survey by the American Wind Energy Association. That is nearly as much as the amount of wind capacity that was actually built in the same year, the trade group says.
…Part of the challenge is that many radar systems in use in the United States date back to the 1950s and have outdated processing capabilities — in some cases, less than those of a modern laptop computer. While there are technology fixes to ease interference on these aging systems, it can be tricky to filter out just the turbines. …
2010 August 18. Finding New Ways to Fill the Tank. By Matthew L. Wald. The New York Times. Excerpt:…The work is part of the mission of the new Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, which is intended to finance high-risk, high-reward projects… …The goal of this agency, whose budget is $400 million for two years, is to realize profound results — such as tens of millions of motor vehicles that would run 300 miles a day on electricity from clean sources or on liquid fuels from trees and garbage…
…One miracle would be a better battery… ….A team at an infant company is using tiny carbon structures called nanotubes to store electricity. The goal is to create something the size of a flashlight battery, holding only about 30 percent as much energy, but able to charge or discharge in two seconds, almost forever… …That kind of battery is called a capacitor… …a capacitor was the original battery… …The walls of the tubes are about 12 atoms thick, and they grow, like leaves of grass, with just enough space between them to provide docking stations for charged particles. So a lot of charged particles can fit into a small space, with very light structures… …Because the connection is physical, not chemical, the charged particles can attach and detach almost instantly. The result is a small, light, powerful package… …The walls of the tubes are about 12 atoms thick, and they grow, like leaves of grass, with just enough space between them to provide docking stations for charged particles. So a lot of charged particles can fit into a small space, with very light structures… …Because the connection is physical, not chemical, the charged particles can attach and detach almost instantly. The result is a small, light, powerful package… …In batteries today, whether they are lithium-ion or old-fashioned lead-acid, an atom shuttles between the positive and negative terminal, carrying a single electron, as the battery charges and discharges. But a magnesium atom would carry two electrons, so a battery storing a given amount of energy could be nearly halved in size and weight…
…Engineers have tried using steam, acids and enzymes to break cellulose into useful sugars… … So far, none are commercial, but with Energy Department help, some researchers are trying new methods… …Sugars — both the common kind that comes in paper packets for coffee and some more exotic types — can be converted by yeast into ethanol, a technology known since ancient times. Or they can be fed to gene-altered bacteria that will excrete diesel or gasoline components. Or they can be converted chemically, with catalysts…
…All these steps, including the tricky one of recovering sugar from cellulose, can be done already, but not cheaply enough to produce tens of billions of gallons a year…. …The Energy Department is putting $4.6 million into Agrivida, and similar sums into other start-up firms, many of them intent on finding gasoline substitutes. It is, said one department official, “real science fiction stuff,” ideas promising enough to attract a few million dollars for research but not quite promising enough to draw the private capital required for small-scale production.
2010 August 9. Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover. By Elisabeth Rosenthal. The New York Times.Excerpt: …To force Portugal’s energy transition, [Prime Minister José] Sócrates’s government restructured and privatized former state energy utilities to create a grid better suited to renewable power sources. To lure private companies into Portugal’s new market, the government gave them contracts locking in a stable price for 15 years…
Compared with the United States, European countries have powerful incentives to pursue renewable energy. Many, like Portugal, have little fossil fuel of their own, and the European Union’s emissions trading system discourages fossil fuel use by requiring industry to essentially pay for excessive carbon dioxide emissions.
…Portugal is now on track to reach its goal of using domestically produced renewable energy, including large-scale hydropower, for 60 percent of its electricity and 31 percent of its total energy needs by 2020.
…In making the shift, Portugal has overcome longstanding concerns about reliability and high cost.
…Portugal’s national energy transmission company, Redes Energéticas Nacionais or R.E.N., uses sophisticated modeling to predict weather, especially wind patterns, and computer programs to calculate energy from the various renewable-energy plants. Since the country’s energy transition, the network has doubled the number of dispatchers who route energy to where it is needed.
…A 2009 report commissioned by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change estimated that the United States would have to spend $3 billion to $4 billion a year for the next two decades to create a grid that could accommodate deriving 20 percent of electricity from wind power by 2030–a 40 percent to 50 percent increase over current spending.
2010 August 4. LBL NEWS RELEASE: New Study Sheds Light on U.S. Wind Power Market. By Allan Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Excerpt: …The U.S. was one of the fastest-growing wind power markets in the world in 2009, second only to China, according to a report released today by the U.S. Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
…The 2009 edition of the “Wind Technologies Market Report” provides a comprehensive overview of developments in the rapidly evolving U.S. wind power market. The need for an annual report of this type has grown as the wind power industry has entered an era of unprecedented expansion, both globally and in the United States. … At the same time, as the report documents, the past year has been one of upheaval. The global financial crisis and lower wholesale electricity prices have negatively impacted the near-term growth prospects for the wind power industry, while new federal policies are pushing the industry towards continued aggressive expansion.
… The report analyzes trends in wind power capacity growth, industry and manufacturing trends, turbine size, turbine prices, installed project costs, project performance, wind power prices, and how wind prices compare to the price of conventional generation. It also describes trends among developers, project owners, and wind power purchasers, and discusses financing issues. Finally, the report examines other factors impacting the domestic wind power market, including grid integration, transmission issues, and policy drivers. It concludes with a preview of possible near-term market developments.
…Looking ahead, expectations are for a slower year in 2010. Lower expectations stem from a combination of the financial crisis, lower wholesale electricity prices, and lower demand for renewable energy. Projections among industry analysts range from 5,500 MW to 8,000 MW of wind power capacity likely to be installed in the United States in 2010, a drop of 20 to 45 percent compared to the nearly 10,000 MW installed in 2009. After a slower 2010, most predictions show market resurgence in 2011 and 2012, as programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act mature and as financing constraints ease. Beyond 2012, however, the picture is considerably less certain, because of the scheduled expiration of a number of federal policies at the end of that year.
2010 July 27. Pushed Along By Wind, Power Storage Grows. By Matthew. L. Wald, The New York Times. Excerpt: …As the wind installations multiply, companies have found themselves dumping energy late at night, adjusting the blades so they do not catch the wind, because there is no demand for the power. And grid operators, accustomed to meeting demand by adjusting supplies, are now struggling to maintain stability as supplies fluctuate.
On the cutting edge of a potential solution is Hawaii, where state officials want 70 percent of energy needs to be met by renewable sources like the wind, sun or biomass by 2030. A major problem is that it is impossible for generators on the islands to export surpluses to neighboring companies or to import power when the wind towers are becalmed.
… So the 30-megawatt wind farm [on the north shore of Oahu], which will have enough power to run about 30 Super Wal-Marts, will have Xtreme Power of Austin, Tex., install a 15-megawatt battery
…Computers will work to keep the battery exactly half-charged most hours of the day… If the wind suddenly gets stronger or falls off, the batteries will smooth out the flow so that the grid sees only a more gradual increase or decrease, no more than one megawatt per minute at some hours of the day.
…The Hawaii installation is designed to succeed at a crucial but obscure function: frequency regulation. The alternating-current power system has to run at a strict 60 cycles per second, and the battery system can give and take power on a micro scale, changing directions from charge to discharge or vice versa within that 60th of a second, to keep the pace steady.
…Electric companies are using other strategies for storage and frequency regulation. In Stephentown, N.Y., near Albany, a Massachusetts company, Beacon Power, is building a bank of 200 one-ton flywheels that will store energy from the grid on a moment-to-moment basis to keep the alternating current system at a strict 60 cycles… Atop each flywheel is a device that can be a motor at one moment and a generator the next, either taking energy and storing it in the flywheel or vice versa
…The Energy Department is also supporting storage projects that rely on compressed air.
2010 July 14. Project’s Fate May Predict the Future of Mining. By Erik Eckholm, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Federal officials are considering whether to veto mountaintop mining above a little Appalachian valley called Pigeonroost Hollow, a step that could be a turning point for one of the country’s most contentious environmental disputes.
…The Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, in a break with President George W. Bush’s more coal-friendly approach, has threatened to halt or sharply scale back the project known as Spruce 1. The agency asserts that the project would irrevocably damage streams and wildlife and violate the Clean Water Act.
…Feelings run high in the counties right around the project area. “Spruce 1 is extremely important to all of southern West Virginia because if this permit is pulled back, every mine site is going to be vulnerable to having its permits pulled,” said James Milan, manager of Walker Machinery in Logan, which sells gargantuan Caterpillar equipment… The loss of jobs, Mr. Milan said, would have devastating effects on struggling communities.
…In documents issued in March, the E.P.A. said the project as approved would still smother seven miles of streamed… Filling in headwaters damages the web of life downstream, from aquatic insects to salamanders to fish, and temporary channels and rebuilt streams are no substitute, the agency said. The pulverized rock can release toxic levels of selenium and other pollutants, it noted…
2010 June 5. Imagining Life Without Oil, and Being Ready. By John Leland, NY Times. Excerpt: …For Mrs. Wilkerson, 33, a moderate Democrat from Oakton, Va., who designs computer interfaces, the spill reinforced what she had been obsessing over for more than a year — that oil use was outstripping the world’s supply. She worried about what would come after: maybe food shortages, a collapse of the economy, a breakdown of civil order. Her call was part of a telephone course about how to live through it all.
…“Our whole economy depends on greater and greater energy supplies, and that just isn’t possible,” he said. “I wish I could say we’ll quietly accept having many millions of people unemployed, their homes foreclosed. But it’s hard to see the whole country transitioning to a low-energy future without people becoming angry. There’s going to be quite a bit of social turmoil on the way down.
” …Transition US, a British transplant that seeks to help towns brace for life after oil, including a “population die-off” from shortages of oil, food and medicine, now has 68 official chapters around the country, since starting with just two in 2008. Group projects range from community vegetable gardens to creating local currency in case the national one crashes.
…“It’s very difficult for people to hear that this form of the economy is breaking down,” he said. “They think that because it hasn’t happened yet that it won’t ever happen.”
2010 April 16. At Upstate Campus, Saving Energy Is Part of Dorm Life. By Lisa W. Foderaro, NY Times. Excerpt: ITHACA, N.Y. — The Energy Star label, the federal government’s nod of approval for energy-efficient products, usually calls to mind household appliances like refrigerators and air-conditioners. But at Ithaca College, a campus known for its embrace of all things sustainable, two dormitories proudly wear the Energy Star label, too.
The residence halls, Clarke and Hood, feature six-way zoned heating, energy-efficient boilers, digitally controlled heating systems and ample weather-stripping. They also benefit from a brigade of students on campus, known as eco-reps, who cajole and exhort their peers to reduce their carbon footprints. Among their duties is the posting of fliers inside bathroom stalls, called installments. A recent missive urged students to “beware of the phantom load,” energy used by appliances that are turned off but still plugged in….
2010 March 15. POST CARBON EXCHANGE #1: Richard Heinberg & Lester Brown. Some positive news on alternative energy developments of wind in Texas and China as well as solar in N. Africa and Europe in a short video clip (11 min) from the Post Carbon Institute. …Post Carbon Institute Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg talks with Lester Brown, Founder of the Earth Policy Institute, about hopeful developments in alternative energy, as well as the importance of Brown’s updated path toward a sustainable future, “Plan B 4.0”.
2010 Mar 9. Solar Industry Learns Lessons in Spanish Sun. by Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times. Excerpt: PUERTOLLANO, Spain — …Armed with generous incentives from the Spanish government to jump-start a national solar energy industry, the city set out to replace its failing coal economy by attracting solar companies, with a campaign slogan: “The Sun Moves Us.” Soon, Puertollano, home to the Museum of the Mining Industry, had two enormous solar power plants, factories making solar panels and silicon wafers, and clean energy research institutes. Half the solar power installed globally in 2008 was installed in Spain. Farmers sold land for solar plants. Boutiques opened. And people from all over the world, seeing business opportunities, moved to the city, which had suffered from 20 percent unemployment and a population exodus. But as low-quality, poorly designed solar plants sprang up on Spain’s plateaus, Spanish officials came to realize that they would have to subsidize many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy on its own.
In September the government abruptly changed course, cutting payments and capping solar construction. Puertollano’s brief boom turned bust. Factories and stores shut, thousands of workers lost jobs, foreign companies and banks abandoned contracts that had already been negotiated.
…Yet, despite the pain that Spain’s incentives ended up causing, in many ways they fulfilled their promise, Ms. DeLine said. “Even though incentives can create bubbles and bursts, without them this industry won’t take off,” she said….
The most robust Spanish solar companies survived the downturn, have restructured and are re-emerging as global players…..
…When it was announced in the summer of 2007, Spain’s premium payment for solar power was the most generous anywhere — 58 cents per kilowatt-hour — with few strings attached. In retrospect it was far too high.
…Although Spain’s long-term goal had been to produce 400 megawatts of electricity from solar panels by 2010, it reached that milestone by the end of 2007.
In 2008 the nation connected 2.5 gigawatts of solar power into its grid, more than quintupling its previous capacity and making it second to Germany, the world leader. But many of the hastily opened plants offered no hope of being cost-competitive with conventional power, being poorly designed or located where sunshine was inadequate, for example.
…In Spain, the tariff, now adjusted quarterly, is about 39 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from freestanding solar power plants, and slightly higher for panels on rooftops.
Germany’s tariff, 53 cents per kilowatt-hour, is expected to fall at least 15 percent this summer, and there are proposals before Parliament to eliminate subsidies for solar plants on farmland….
2010 January 28. Laser fusion test results raise energy hopes. By Jason Palmer, BBC News. Excerpt: A major hurdle to producing fusion energy using lasers has been swept aside, results in a new report show.
The controlled fusion of atoms – creating conditions like those in our Sun – has long been touted as a possible revolutionary energy source. However, there have been doubts about the use of powerful lasers for fusion energy because the “plasma” they create could interrupt the fusion. An article in Science showed the plasma is far less of a problem than expected.
The report is based on the first experiments from the National Ignition Facility (Nif) in the US that used all 192 of its laser beams.
…”For the first time ever in the 50-year journey of laser fusion, these laser-plasma interactions have been shown to be less of a problem than predicted, not more,” said Mike Dunne, director of the UK’s Central Laser Facility and leader of the European laser fusion effort known as HiPER.
“I can’t overstate how dramatic a step that is,” he told BBC News. “Many people a year ago were saying the project would be dead by now.”
Adding momentum to the ignition quest, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced on Wednesday that, since the Science results were first obtained, the pulse energy record had been smashed again. They now report an energy of one megajoule on target – 50% higher than the amount reported in Science.
The current calculations show that about 1.2 megajoules of energy will be enough for ignition, and currently Nif can run as high as 1.8 megajoules….
2010 January 4. Small-scale solar plan clashes with big energy. David R. Baker, SF Chronicle. Excerpt: When it comes to renewable power, Californians tend to think big.
Big wind farms sprawl across our hills. Big solar power plants will soon blanket acres of desert. Big new power lines will bring that electricity to our cities.
This, Bill Powers insists, is exactly the wrong approach. He wants us to think small.
Powers, an engineer and energy consultant, argues that California should cover every available rooftop with photovoltaic solar panels, especially commercial buildings. The panels can be installed quickly, unlike large solar power plants that take years to win government permits. They don’t require big new power lines. And their price has dropped about 40 percent in the past year.
… “The solar plants in the desert are albatrosses,” Powers said. “We’ve come to a point where (photovoltaic solar) is either going to be in the remote installations or it’s going to be in the urban core. It’ll be much more beneficial for those solar panels to be sitting in the urban core where they’re going to be used.”
…Photovoltaic solar “in the urban core is a fundamental threat to the utility business model,” Powers said.
…”Because of the economic and operational issues, I think we’re going to see large-scale, grid-connected power for a long, long time,” said Jonathan Marshall, a spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Many environmentalists reluctantly agree.
…California has been trying to ramp up its use of renewable power as a way to combat global warming. Under state law, 20 percent of the electricity the utilities sell must come from renewable sources by the end of 2010, a deadline they will probably miss.
…Photovoltaic solar panels have dropped in price, but the technology remains more expensive than many other ways to generate electricity, according to the California Energy Commission. All figures are given in cents per kilowatt hour and include construction and operation costs.
Solar PV – 26.22*
Solar thermal (parabolic trough) – 22.47
Natural gas – 12.61
Geothermal – 8.31
Wind – 7.24
* Solar PV price assumes that the project is at least 25 megawatts in size. Source: California Energy Commission
2010 Jan 4. For Cape Cod Wind Farm, New Hurdle Is Spiritual. By Abby Goodnough, The NY Times. Two Massachusetts Indian tribes have objected to the Cape Wind project, saying it would block their unimpeded view of the sunrise.
Excerpt: BOSTON – In a new setback for a controversial wind farm proposed off Cape Cod, the National Park Service announced Monday that Nantucket Sound was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, guaranteeing further delays for the project.
Known as Cape Wind, the project is the nation’s first planned offshore wind farm and would cover 24 square miles in the sound, an area roughly the size of Manhattan. The park service decision came in response to a request from two Massachusetts Indian tribes, who said the 130 proposed wind turbines would thwart their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise, which requires unobstructed views across the sound, and disturb ancestral burial grounds.
…The decision by the National Park Service did not kill the Cape Wind plan, but it erected new hurdles by requiring more negotiations and, possibly, changes to the project, like moving it.
…Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, said the decision confirmed “what the Wampanoag people have known for thousands of years: that Nantucket Sound has significant archaeological, historic and cultural values and is sacred to our people.”
Others said the finding was surprising because Nantucket Sound, which encompasses more than 500 square miles, is by far the largest body of water ever found eligible for listing on the national historic register. Other eligible bodies of water have included Walden Pond in Massachusetts, which covers about 60 acres, and Zuni Salt Lake in New Mexico, which is about 6,500 feet across, said Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the park service.
“The decision is without precedent in terms of implicating many square miles of what is, legally speaking, the high seas,” said Ian A. Bowles, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “But as a procedural matter, it’s a good thing a decision was reached, and the secretary is getting personally involved to get it over the finish line.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Salazar said he planned to meet next week with representatives of the tribes and the developer in hopes of speeding a resolution.
2009 November 18. NSF Release 09-225: On the Crest of Wave Energy. Excerpt: The ocean is a potentially vast source of electric power, yet as engineers test new technologies for capturing it, the devices are plagued by battering storms, limited efficiency, and the need to be tethered to the seafloor.
Now, a team of aerospace engineers is applying the principles that keep airplanes aloft to create a new wave-energy system that is durable, extremely efficient, and can be placed anywhere in the ocean, regardless of depth.
While still in early design stages, computer and scale-model tests of the system suggest higher efficiencies than wind turbines. The system is designed to effectively cancel incoming waves, capturing their energy while flattening them out, providing an added application as a storm-wave breaker.
A colleague had read an article on wave energy in a magazine and mentioned it to Siegel and the other team members, and they realized they could operate a wave energy device using the same feedback control concepts they had been developing….
2009 October 20. Study: Shifting the world to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030 – here are the numbers. BY Louis Bergeron, Stanford Report. Excerpt: Most of the technology needed to shift the world from fossil fuel to clean, renewable energy already exists. Implementing that technology requires overcoming obstacles in planning and politics, but doing so could result in a 30 percent decrease in global power demand, say Stanford civil and environmental engineering Professor Mark Z. Jacobson and University of California-Davis researcher Mark Delucchi.
…Jacobson and Delucchi used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration to project that if the world’s current mix of energy sources is maintained, global energy demand at any given moment in 2030 would be 16.9 terawatts, or 16.9 million megawatts.
They then calculated that if no combustion of fossil fuel or biomass were used to generate energy, and virtually everything was powered by electricity – either for direct use or hydrogen production – the demand would be only 11.5 terawatts. That’s only two-thirds of the energy that would be needed if fossil fuels were still in the mix.
In order to convert to wind, water and solar, the world would have to build wind turbines; solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar arrays; and geothermal, tidal, wave and hydroelectric power sources to generate the electricity, as well as transmission lines to carry it to the users, but the long-run net savings would more than equal the costs, according to Jacobson and Delucchi’s analysis.
“If you make this transition to renewables and electricity, then you eliminate the need for 13,000 new or existing coal plants,” Jacobson said. “Just by changing our infrastructure we have less power demand.”…
2009 October 13. Governor signs bills that boost solar power. By David R. Baker, SF Chronicle. Excerpt: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed several bills Sunday that will tweak the way California’s electricity market works, encouraging solar power and phasing out some rules created during the state’s electricity crisis.
One bill will require California utilities to buy surplus solar power from homeowners who generate more than they use. Another bill will expand the state’s “feed-in tariff,” a system that sets a price for renewable power that utilities buy from businesses with midsize solar arrays.
Another piece of legislation will raise the electricity rates of customers who use relatively little power, ending a rate freeze put in place during the energy crisis of 2000-01. The same bill also will allow a limited number of large electricity customers – such as businesses or schools – to leave the utilities and buy power from other companies….
2009-08-26. A Sunny Day in Rizhao. http://www.onearth.org/article/a-sunny-day-in-rizhao. Mara Hvistendahl, OnEarth magazine. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: …Rizhao … population of about 2.8 million, … is nestled on the east coast of Shandong Province, roughly halfway between Beijing and Shanghai. …the gray concrete roofs of the apartment blocks are dotted with elongated red and silver objects, as if a giant had scattered a tray of oddly shaped marbles over the city. They are solar water heaters, and Rizhao has almost a million of them. …the city has managed to harness the power of the sun — which shines here for 260 days a year — to serve the needs of some 99 percent of its urban households. Solar water heaters first caught on in China in the 1980s, when cities began to mushroom and people started moving out of housing provided by their work units, buying new homes, and investing in household appliances. At a couple hundred dollars each, the solar heaters pay for themselves in a few years with savings on energy bills. …The strength of the program lies in “leapfrogging” — not developing first and cleaning up afterward, as happened with the industrial revolution in the West, but getting people hooked on solar energy as an integral part of the development process. “There are lots of opportunities [in China] because of rapid growth,” explains Xuemei Bai, an expert on climate and urban design at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia’s national science agency. “You don’t have to retrofit existing buildings.” …In 2008 it vowed to go carbon neutral, becoming one of the first four cities to join the United Nations Environment Program’s Climate Neutral Network (the other three cities are in Norway, Sweden, and Canada)….
2009 May 28. Hard Hats Swarm to Smart Energy. By Liz Galst, NRDC OnEarth. Excerpt: On an early spring morning in a classroom in New York City’s hardscrabble East Harlem neighborhood, a group of four dozen young adults listens intently to a presentation by Elizabeth Yeampierre, president of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
… Brandon Ingram, a Bronx native sitting in the front row, rises. He wears the lozenge-shaped glasses of a budding hipster and holds aloft Van Jones’s best-selling 2008 book, The Green Collar Economy.
“I’ve been reading this,” Ingram says, displaying the cover for all to see. “I want everyone in the room to hear it.” He reads aloud a passage that spells out a bright green future for job seekers: in 2006, there were 8.5 million jobs (and by the end of 2007, half a million new ones) in renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies, and the sector produced nearly $1 trillion in revenue and more than $100 billion in industry profits.
Ingram’s colleagues are equally impressed. They are classmates in a 12-week green-construction training program run by Strive, a nonprofit group based in New York City. For many of them, long unemployed, work in the expanding green sector could be the break they’ve been waiting for. The program teaches both “hard” and “soft” job skills. At the practical level, students learn how to audit and then insulate a leaky house and construct new, energy-efficient buildings. They also learn the basics of public speaking and personal presentation — hence all the snazzy ties in the room….
Job training programs like Strive, offering skills in everything from energy-efficiency retrofitting to the manufacture and maintenance of wind turbines, are springing up across the country. Together they represent a significant shift in the American workforce and, perhaps, in the environmental movement. President Barack Obama’s $787 billion federal stimulus package promises at least $1 billion for green-job training; millions more are being invested by foundations, state and local governments, and private interests….
The idea that blue-collar occupations — make that “green-collar” occupations — can help heal the earth while providing stable, well-paying employment was once simply a fantasy of a few underfunded dreamers. But in 2003 that fantasy came to life through the work of two pioneering nonprofits: Sustainable South Bronx, in New York City, and Baltimore’s Civic Works. Now green-job training programs serve a broad spectrum of the population and attract a scale of financial backing that surprises even some of their earliest advocates….
2009 May 26. In Hot Pursuit of Fusion (or Folly). By WILLIAM J. BROAD, NY Times. Excerpt: LIVERMORE, Calif. …”Bringing Star Power to Earth” reads a giant banner that was recently unfurled across a building the size of a football stadium.
The $3.5 billion site is known as the National Ignition Facility, or NIF. For more than half a century, physicists have dreamed of creating tiny stars that would inaugurate an era of bold science and cheap energy….
In theory, the facility’s 192 lasers – made of nearly 60 miles of mirrors and fiber optics, crystals and light amplifiers – will fire as one to pulverize a fleck of hydrogen fuel smaller than a match head. Compressed and heated to temperatures hotter than those of the core of a star, the hydrogen atoms will fuse into helium, releasing bursts of thermonuclear energy.
The project’s director, Ed Moses, said that getting to the cusp of ignition (defined as the successful achievement of fusion) had taken some 7,000 workers and 3,000 contractors a dozen years, their labors creating a precision colossus of millions of parts and 60,000 points of control, 30 times as many as on the space shuttle.
…In February, NIF fired its 192 beams into its target chamber for the first time…. skeptics dismiss NIF as a colossal delusion that is squandering precious resources at a time of economic hardship. Just operating it … will cost $140 million a year. Some doubters ridicule it as the National Almost Ignition Facility, or NAIF….
Dr. Moses, while offering no guarantees, argued that any great endeavor involved risks and that the gamble was worth it because of the potential rewards.
He said that NIF, if successful, would help keep the nation’s nuclear arms reliable without underground testing, would reveal the hidden life of stars and would prepare the way for radically new kinds of power plants.
“If fusion energy works,” he said, “you’ll have, for all intents and purposes, a limitless supply of carbon-free energy that’s not geopolitically sensitive. What more would you want? It’s a game changer.”….
2009 May 10. Efficient Power Use Attracts Investors From the Green Side. By Claire Cain Miller, The NY Times.Excerpt: Venture capital is moving away from alternative energy and returning to one of its traditional strengths: improving the efficiency of energy consumption….
2009 May 7. Sea ‘snake’ generates electricity with every wave. By Colin Barras, NewScientist. Excerpt: Anaconda, a giant rubber “snake” that floats offshore and converts wave energy to electricity, is a step closer to commercialisation. An 8-metre long, 1/25th scale version is currently undergoing tests in a large wave tank in Gosport, UK, and a full-size working version could be a reality in five years.
Harnessing the power of waves is an attractive proposition because they are much more energy dense than wind. But wave power remains the poor relation of the renewable energy sector due to the difficulties of cheaply operating machinery in the harsh marine environment. The world’s first commercial wave farm only began operating last year, off the northern coast of Portugal.
A variety of other designs are in testing around the world, but none are as unusual as the Anaconda. The rubber snake is filled with freshwater – to help deter sea creatures from setting up a home inside – and sealed at both ends to create a semi-rigid balloon that floats at the sea’s surface.
The tube is anchored at one end and as waves wash along its length they exert pressure on the snake that is transmitted by the water inside. This forces Anaconda’s walls to expand outwards into the wave troughs where they are under less pressure, forming “bulge waves” that travel along the Anaconda’s length.
These waves are similar to those that pass through the human circulatory system and can be felt as the pulse in the wrist and neck, says Rod Rainey of Atkins Global, co-inventor of the Anaconda. When each bulge wave reaches the end of the snake it keeps a turbine spinning to generate electricity….
2009 March/April. The Rooftop Revolution. By Mariah Blake, Washington Monthly. Excerpt: A little-known policy is turning sleepy central Florida into a green energy hub. Could it do the same for America at large? This winter, as Congress was scrambling to pass the stimulus package, the bottom fell out of the renewable energy sector…. Trade groups like the American Wind Energy Association, which as recently as December was forecasting “another record-shattering year of growth,” began predicting that new installations would plunge by 30 to 50 percent. Solar panel manufacturers that had been blazing a trail of growth announced a wave of layoffs….
But there is one place where capital is still flowing: Gainesville, Florida. …Tim Morgan … intends to rent roof space from eighty Gainesville businesses and install twenty-five-kilowatt solar generating systems on each of them, for a total of two megawatts-a project that would nearly double Florida’s solar-generating capacity. …Paradigm Properties, a residential real estate company, plans to install photovoltaic arrays on fifty local apartment buildings and its downtown headquarters. Achira Wood, a custom carpentry outlet, is plastering the roof of its workshop-roughly 50,000 square feet of galvanized steel-with solar panels. Interstate Mini Storage is doing the same with its sprawling flat-roofed compound. Tom Lane, who owns ECS Solar Energy Systems, a local solar contractor, told me he’s planning to expand his staff from eleven to at least fifty. “The activity we’ve seen is just explosive,” he said. “I’ve been in the business thirty years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Why is the renewable energy market in Gainesville booming while it’s collapsing elsewhere in the country? The answer boils down to policy. In early February, the city became the first in the nation to adopt a “feed-in tariff”-a clunky and un-descriptive name for a bold incentive to foster renewable energy. Under this system, the local power company is required to buy renewable energy from independent producers, no matter how small, at rates slightly higher than the average cost of production. This means anyone with a cluster of solar cells on their roof can sell the power they produce at a profit. The costs of the program are passed on to ratepayers, who see a small rise in their electric bills (in Gainesville the annual increase is capped at 1 percent). While rate hikes are seldom popular, the community has rallied behind this policy, because unlike big power plant construction-the costs of which are also passed on to the public-everyone has the opportunity to profit, either by investing themselves or by tapping into the groundswell of economic activity the incentive creates….
2009 March 11. Atmospheric ‘Sunshade’ Could Reduce Solar Power Generation. NOAA. Excerpt: The concept of delaying global warming by adding particles into the upper atmosphere to cool the climate could unintentionally reduce peak electricity generated by large solar power plants by as much as one-fifth, according to a new NOAA study….
“Injecting particles into the stratosphere could have unintended consequences for one alternative energy source expected to play a role in the transition away from fossil fuels,” said author Daniel Murphy, a scientist at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.
The Earth is heating up as fossil-fuel burning produces carbon dioxide, the primary heat-trapping gas responsible for man-made climate change. To counteract the effect, some geoengineering proposals are designed to slow global warming by shading the Earth from sunlight.
…Murphy found that particles in the stratosphere reduce the amount and change the nature of the sunlight that strikes the Earth. Though a fraction of the incoming sunlight bounces back to space (the cooling effect), a much larger amount becomes diffuse, or scattered, light.
On average, for every watt of sunlight the particles reflect away from the Earth, another three watts of direct sunlight are converted to diffuse sunlight. Large power-generating solar plants that concentrate sunlight for maximum efficiency depend solely on direct sunlight and cannot use diffuse light….
2009 Feb 27. Selling the Sun. by Michael Behar, OnEarth magazine – NRDC. A Man, A Plan, and the Dawn of America’s Solar Future. “I am a capitalist,” announces Jigar Shah, the 34-year-old founder of SunEdison. …An iconoclast among greens, he’s a devoted environmentalist who champions market economics and believes American business acumen can conquer climate change. Shah has spent the past six years leveraging his convictions to build North America’s largest and most successful provider of solar energy.
In 2003, Shah launched SunEdison to smash the decades-old paradigm that required anyone wanting solar to pay huge installation costs up front. Depending on its size, a rooftop array or a ground-based solar farm can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $10 million. This infuriated Shah, who has always believed that having to own the means of producing solar power is woefully out of step with how the energy industry operates. “Do you want to be in the power-plant business?” he asks. “Or do you just want to buy solar power?” Imagine having to own and operate a satellite to get DirecTV and you begin to understand why Shah scorned the prevailing model for solar energy.
…For Shah’s part, he didn’t invent any groundbreaking technologies. He just repackaged ones that already existed and convinced people to buy them. SunEdison customers pay nothing for their solar systems. That’s right, zero. Instead they sign what is known as a power-purchasing agreement, or PPA. These agreements are commonplace in the coal, oil, nuclear, and natural gas industries (the Hoover Dam was financed in part with PPAs). But Shah figured out how to make PPAs profitable for solar, something that nobody had been able to do before. When SunEdison installs a solar array, the customer agrees under a PPA to buy the electricity it produces at a set price for at least 10 years. “When we priced out owning the system ourselves, it didn’t make sense,” Buckley tells me. “We wanted a way to establish price certainty in a volatile market. SunEdison gave us a long-term hedge against that price uncertainty. We’re paying less for electricity and reducing our carbon impact. And 15 years down the road, when the price of electricity is higher, the savings will be even more attractive.”….
2009 January 12. Gulf Oil States Seeking a Lead in Clean Energy. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times.Excerpt: ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — With one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world, these oil-rich emirates would seem an unlikely place for a green revolution.
…Still, the region’s leaders know energy and money, having built their wealth on oil. They understand that oil is a finite resource, vulnerable to competition from new energy sources.
So even as President-elect Barack Obama talks about promoting green jobs as America’s route out of recession, gulf states, including the emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are making a concerted push to become the Silicon Valley of alternative energy.
They are aggressively pouring billions of dollars made in the oil fields into new green technologies. They are establishing billion-dollar clean-technology investment funds. And they are putting millions of dollars behind research projects at universities from California to Boston to London, and setting up green research parks at home.
…This new investment aims to maintain the gulf’s dominant position as a global energy supplier, gaining patents from the new technologies and promoting green manufacturing. But if the United States and the European Union have set energy independence from the gulf states as a goal of new renewable energy efforts, they may find they are arriving late at the party.
“The leadership in these breakthrough technologies is a title the U.S. can lose easily,” said Peter Barker-Homek, chief executive of Taqa, Abu Dhabi’s national energy company. “Here we have low taxes, a young population, accessibility to the world, abundant natural resources and willingness to invest in the seed capital.”
…For the rest of the world, the enormous cash infusion may provide the important boost experts say is needed to get dozens of emerging technologies — like carbon capture, microsolar and low-carbon aluminum — over the development hump to make them cost-effective….