Thursday, September 1, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Australia Gets Ten Times Bigger Solar Farm Following Carbon Tax

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 05:30 PM PDT

In its first solar investment in Australia, GE Energy and Financial Services has partnered with US thin-film producer First Solar and local state-owned energy firm Verve Energy to build a solar farm ten times larger than any yet built in the country. It will supply electricity for a desalination plant in Western Australia, which has a mandate to use renewable power for all new desalination projects.

Australia – resource-cursed by plentiful coal – has seen a sharp uptick in international interest from renewable energy firms following this summer’s passage of carbon legislation by the Gillard government, which now puts a price ($23 per tonne) on CO2 emissions.  State legislation helps too. Now, all new desalination plants in Western Australia must use power generated from renewable sources.

The Southern Seawater Desalination Plant has contracted to buy 100% of the power from the Greenough River Solar Farm, which will produce energy when it is most needed during the day, and eliminating 25,000 tonnes per year of greenhouse gas emissions.

First Solar will supply the project with over 150,000 thin film modules and provide the engineering, procurement and construction, and operations and maintenance once the solar farm is operational. GE Energy Financial Services is fronting the money on a 50/50 basis along with state-owned power company Verve Energy.

“The solar farm will be the first utility-scale PV project in Australia, 10 times larger than any other operating solar project in the country”, says a press release from GE.

While it is true that this is a ten-fold jump in solar power for the coal-rich nation, the size is far from utility-scale at just 10 MW  (utility-scale power plants are more like 120 – 250 MW).

But neither is it homeowner-roof-scale. This is commercial-scale: ideal for very large operations such as desalination plants that use a lot of energy. Ten megawatts will nicely supply the daytime power needed by the desalination plant, and do a much cleaner and safer job of it than the fossil fuels currently used for this work.

It is the first Australian solar investment for GE, which has $400 million invested in 42 solar power debt and equity assets globally, a small beginning compared with its $20 billion and 30 GW in total energy investment.

Image: Solar Choice

History:
First Continent to Raise a Tax to Pay Climate Change Costs
Australian MPs Getting Death Threats Over Proposed Carbon Tax
Australia's Climate Legislation Meets a Surprise Success

Susan Kraemer@Twitter


LED Vs CFL – Which Light Bulb Is More Efficient?

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 02:49 PM PDT

When it comes to lighting our homes, we are encouraged to switch outdated incandescent bulbs  to more energy efficient alternatives. And, most often, these alternatives are LED and compact florescent lights (CFL).

The decision between the two is often based on some variation of the following assumptions: LEDs are more efficient than CFLs. LEDs also cost more than CFLs but they last longer, so you’ll make up the initial cost over the lifetime of the bulb.

Since about 74% of US houses have at least one energy efficient light source in them, I assume this internal discussion happens quite often in the lighting aisles of home improvement stores. So, are these assumptions about LED vs CFL really true?

To determine whether a residential LED bulb is more efficient than a comparable CFL bulb, energy efficient commercial lighting manufacturer Precision Paragon [P2] conducted a small comparison in “real world settings.” That is, the performance output of the bulbs was calculated in a residential setting and not in the controlled environment of a laboratory.

The reason for the distinction between the “real world” and the lab are the components that must work together to turn electricity into light. In a lab, which can be controlled for the best possible conditions, light can be generated at optimal efficiency. Because manufacturers are able to utilize components that are made to work together, they can claim to produce results with greater efficiency.

For instance, a leading LED-chip manufacturer announced they had achieved an efficiency of 231 lumens per watt in an LED chip. However, this was conducted in a lab where technicians were able to use lighting fixtures capable of producing such high output. In the “real world,” this LED-chip manufacturer does not sell a LED lighting fixture with a claimed efficiency over 75 lumens per watt. Therefore, among other factors, consumers would not be able to produce as high efficiency in their own homes.

The Comparison of an LED Bulb versus a CFL Bulb

For the study, P2 used two roughly equivalent CFL and LED lamps that would commonly be used in the home. Representing LED — the Philips AmbientLED 12.5W A19 Indoor Bulb — and representing CFL — the GE Energy Smart 13 Watt bulb, a fairly common bulb available in most any department or hardware store.

LED V.s CFL

When comparing the two on paper, the efficiency of the bulbs is nearly identical, within 0.5 lumens per watt. However, with the “real world” being taken into consideration, there are certain environmental and consumer factors that make a case for both.

One factor is cost. If your primary concern is price, the CFL would be a better choice. Although the CFL has a shorter lifespan, even if you replaced the CFL three times to achieve an equivalent lifespan to the LED, you’d still have only spent $2.58 in comparison to the LED’s $45 initial purchase price.

Another factor is location. If the fixture you’re mounting the bulb in is in a place where it’s a hassle to change, that $40 difference might be worth not having to deal with it for the expected 20+ years of normal usage you’ll get out of the single LED.

The bottom line is that in a household setting, where optimal components and ideal conditions cannot be controlled,  the LED and CFL light bulb are very close competitors. The decision for one over the other should be made based on the goals of the project and you may even require a mix of technologies to meet those goals.

Source: [P2] Is LED The Most Efficient Lighting Technology?


The Economics of Distributed Renewable Power — Why We Should Democratize the Electricity System, Part 2

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 02:29 PM PDT

A serialized version of ILSR‘s new report, Democratizing the Electricity System, Part 2 of 5. Click for Part 1.

The Economics of Distributed Generation
The falling cost of distributed renewable generation has been one of the key drivers of the transformation of the U.S. electric grid.

The following chart illustrates the cost of power generation calculated by averaging the total lifetime cost over the total electricity generated ("levelized cost"), as estimated by the investment bank, Lazard.[1]Federal incentives cause a significant reduction in the levelized cost of renewable energy, in the form of upfront tax credits as well as ongoing production-based tax credits.

Levelized Cost of Renewable Energy (Lazard):

 

Levelized Cost of Fossil Energy (Lazard):

Wind, geothermal and biomass are already less expensive than any fossil fuel energy source, when factoring in federal incentives for all three sources.

Solar PV is the most expensive, but has strong prospects for lower price.Already, the average cost for German solar PV (10 to 100 kilowatt (kW) systems) has fallen to $3.70 per Watt,[2] and some 1 MW solar PV systems in the U.S. are being installed at $3.50 per Watt, pushing the lower bound of the prices in the chart.A design charette aimed at reducing balance of system costs found that best practices could reduce solar PV installed costs by nearly 60 percent within five years, not counting further cost reductions in solar modules.[3] At these prices, renewable energy competes very favorably against most new fossil fuel generation.

(Union of Concerned Scientists)

Not all costs are covered in this levelized cost comparison.A grid with majority renewable power (from variable sources like wind and solar) will require a different approach than the existing grid. Whereas current generation scheduling, peaking and backup are tailored to a system with large, centralized baseload power plants, a grid with distributed renewable resources will require new load balancing ingenuity.It will be necessary to use smart grid technologies to enable greater demand response and to defer elective electricity use (such as electric vehicle charging) to times with greater supply, and to use energy storage like pumped hydro or batteries to shift surplus production to times of higher demand.It's also a question of whether any additional costs incurred would be offset by other economic benefits.These issues are discussed later in this report.

Likewise, hidden subsidies for fossil fuels – incentives they once received for technological development, the cost of military operations to secure fossil fuel energy sources, and massive environmental externalities – are also omitted.

The Issue of Scale

Average Size of U.S. solar PV project: 10 kilowatts
Average Size of U.S. wind power project: 80 megawatts

Even as renewable energy challenges fossil fuels on cost, the average size of renewable energy projects continues to defy the conventional wisdom that bigger is better.The average solar PV system in the U.S. is just 10 kW and the average wind power project is 80 MW.[4] Wind power is often seen as the largest scale renewable energy source, and it provides an interesting lesson.

While the average wind farm size has increased from 35 to 90 MW in the past 10 years, it's almost entirely due to larger turbines (the average size has jumped from 0.71 MW to 1.74 MW in the same time frame).[5]Wind projects don't have more turbines, they just use larger ones.While a wind farm of larger turbines may require more total land area (to space them further apart), the amount of occupied land is relatively the same, but delivers more power.

In the same fashion, solar modules have increased in efficiency and quality, allowing for greater electricity output per module.The technological advance actually reduces the need to be bigger.

Because renewable energy projects can lend themselves to smaller scale and geographic dispersion, they encourage the development of a distributed grid.It's not always the case, however.

Solar Power

There are two electricity technologies, solar PV and solar thermal.Solar PV directly converts sunlight to electricity, and is modular, generating power by interconnecting individual solar modules of approximately 200 Watts into arrays of 5 kW to 50,000 kW (50 MW).Solar PV costs have fallen steadily,[6] with modules representing about half the cost of a solar PV installation, "balance of system," and labor and installation the remainder.

Concentrating solar thermal generates electricity in several ways, with the common element of a solar concentrator (mirror or lens) used to concentrate sunlight to create heat that will be converted to electricity.Projects are generally 5 MW or larger, with several proposed projects in the U.S. and internationally of several hundred megawatts.Every commercial concentrating solar technology also lends itself to thermal energy storage, because the sun's heat can be stored in a variety of methods (most involving molten salts) for several hours.

Because solar PV power is often installed on residential rooftops at a fairly small scale, many people believe that it is inherently more expensive than its central-station counterpart, concentrating solar.

The data suggest otherwise.The following chart illustrates the cost of electricity from two sample solar PV projects, one commercial and one residential, as well as the three most cost-effective concentrating solar thermal power plants.[7]Solar PV at commercial scale comes out cheaper.Even smaller scale solar is comparable to large-scale concentrating solar.These figures do not factor in the cost of long-distance transmission, a common additional line item for concentrating solar power plants.

Solar PV v. CSP Costs:

These costs are supported by the lower cost of distributed solar in Germany,[8] as well as recent bids for utility-run distributed solar programs in the United States.[9]

There may be prospects for price decreases for either technology, but it's hard to see how concentrating solar could win the price war. An oft-shared graphic (below) illustrates the solar PV experience curve, and shows how solar PV module prices have dropped as the total installed capacity has grown (a ten-fold increase installed capacity has generally reduced module prices by half).[10]The small dots show actual module prices, and the large dotted line is the trend.

Solar PV Module Cost Drops by Half for 10-Fold Capacity Increase (Ken Zweibel):

The installed base of solar thermal power plants is just over 1,000 MW, split among several technologies, while solar PV is being installed at a rate of 4,000 MW per year in Germany alone.Since solar thermal projects tend to require years of planning, financing, and construction, it's unlikely that centralized solar thermal prices will fall as rapidly as decentralized solar PV, supported by this excerpt from a recent Solar Electric Power Association report:[11]

[Concentrating solar power] (CSP) represents over 6,000 MW of the over 15,000 MW of future solar projects that SEPA is tracking, but there are differences in project development between CSP and PV. PV can be built and sub-sections of the larger project can be energized over time, resulting in lower construction risk and balance-sheet impact. CSP projects need to be completed in full before commissioning, a period which takes several years from start to finish.

Even if solar thermal power can keep pace on cost with solar PV, the latter is much more amenable to distributed generation and local ownership and would be preferable even if the costs were similar.

The second economies of scale question for solar power is big solar PV versus small solar PV.Here the data are less conclusive.

The following chart provides an illustration of the installed cost per Watt for solar PV at a range of sizes.The top three lines are historical data from Lawrence Berkeley Labs (LBNL) and the California Solar Initiative (CSI).[12,13]The lowest line represents installed prices reported to the Clean Coalition from their network of installers in California.[14]

Solar PV Economies of Scale:

There are economies of scale for distributed solar, especially for very small (residential scale) systems.Historical U.S. data suggests that the savings from size level off beyond 10 kW, but contemporary installed data suggests that there are two breakpoints in economies of scale, at 10 kW and 1,000 kW.

Data from Germany's feed-in tariff solar incentive program supports this theory.There is a 25% price differential between the smallest rooftop solar arrays (up to 30 kW) and the largest (over 1000 kW), with 15 percentage points of the savings in the jump from the 100-1000 kW size tranch to the largest one.[15]

In other words, there are valuable economies of scale for projects up to 1 MW.However, there are additional barriers to cost-effectiveness for larger solar PV projects, described in the Solar Electric Power Association's 2010 Utility Solar Rankings report:[16]

PV projects, which ranged in size from 1-kilowatt residential installations to 48-megawatt power plants, have much shorter planning horizons and project completion times, along with lesser siting, permitting, financing and transmission requirements at these small- and medium-sized scales. However, larger PV and CSP projects (those greater than 50 MW) require overcoming financing, siting/permitting, and transmission barriers that might emerge at these larger sizes.

The trend noted by SEPA is illustrated in a particular example.Sunpower has a 250 MW centralized solar PV power plant planned for the California Valley, secured by a $1 billion federal loan guarantee.The installed cost of the system is $5.70 per Watt, 60% higher than installed costs for 1-20 MW projects.[17]

In short, PV is the preferential technology, and distributed solar is better than centralized.As we discuss later, this has significant implications for the economic benefits of solar power.

Wind Power

The economies of scale of wind power are similar.The power output of a wind turbine increases exponentially with higher wind speeds, as well as with larger diameter blades.Since wind speeds rise quickly as height increases, and taller turbines can host larger blades, utility-scale turbines (generally 1 MW and above) at heights of 80 meters or more are unquestionably more cost-effective than small-scale turbines.

When it comes to multi-turbine projects, however, the data show limited economies of scale.In their 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report for the U.S. Department of Energy,the Berkeley Lab authors showed that costs fell for projects that aggregated a few turbines (5 to 20 MW), but that larger projects had higher levelized costs of operation.[18] The following chart (redrawn from the report) illustrates:

Wind Projects 5 – 20 MW Have Lowest Cost per Kilowatt:

The lesson from the report is that wind projects built at a smaller scale capture most of the construction and project economies of scale, but also may avoid diseconomies of scale that affect larger projects.These diseconomies can include higher financing costs due to multi-billion dollar project costs, time and money costs for new transmission infrastructure, and legal costs to secure the land rights for a large project as well as the cost of overcoming local resistance.In Germany, home to some of the most effective renewable energy policies in the world, more than half of its 27,000 MW of wind are in projects 20 MW and smaller.[19] It's no coincidence that half of Germany's wind power capacity is also locally owned by farmers and cooperatives.[20]

There are also some potential economies of operation and maintenance, although these shrink as wind projects become more ubiquitous and services are more broadly available.

Is Distributed Solar Competitive at Retail?

For many distributed projects, the issue is not a comparison to other large-scale power plant costs or economies of scale, but how distributed generation compares to grid electricity.The liability in such comparison is that grid electricity is mostly from old fossil fuel power plants that were paid off years ago and that generate significant pollution (including carbon emissions).Furthermore, the price of grid electricity is not static (it's gone up 3.8% per year since 2000).[21]However, many prospective customers use their existing electric bill when considering solar, so the comparison has merit.

Consider a residential solar PV system installed in Los Angeles.A local buying group negotiated a price of $4.78 per Watt, equivalent to 17.9 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) with federal incentives. Since the average electricity price in Los Angeles is 11.5 cents, solar doesn't appear to compete.Or does it?

The following chart illustrates the difficulty in determining whether solar has reached "grid parity" (e.g. the same price as electricity from the grid).

Solar & Grid Parity – What is Solar's Competition?

In Los Angeles, there are three sets of electricity prices.From October to May (off-season), all pricing plans have a flat rate per kWh and total consumption.During peak season (June to September), however, the utility offers two different pricing plans: time-of use pricing and tiered pricing. Time-of-use pricing offers lower rates – 10.8 cents – during late evening and early morning hours, but costs as much as 22 cents per kWh during peak hours.Prices fluctuate by the hour.Tiered pricing offers the same, flat rate at any hour of the day, but as total consumption increases the rate does as well.For monthly consumption of 350 kWh or less, the price is 13.2 cents.From 350 to 1,050 kWh, the price is 14.7 cents.Above 1,050 kWh, each unit of electricity costs 18.1 cents.

A very rough calculation of the expected time of day production of a solar array in Los Angeles finds that the average value of a solar-produced kWh is 15.1 cents over a year.[22] That suggests that solar power is not yet at grid parity, even with time-of-use pricing.A similar value was found when examining time-of-use pricing in PG&E's service territory.[23]A more robust analysis with assumptions about higher levels of on-site electricity use during peak hours could change these estimates.

There are other considerations, as well.With a grid connected system, the most common policy governing the connection is net metering.It allows self-generators to roll their electricity meter backward as they generate electricity, but there are limits.Users typically only get a credit for the energy charges on their bill, and not for fixed charges utilities apply to recover the costs of grid maintenance (and associated taxes and fees). Producing more than is consumed onsite can mean giving free power to the utility company.So even if a solar array could produce all the electricity consumed on-site, the billing arrangement would not allow the customer to zero out their electricity bill.Some policies, like CLEAN contracts, eliminate this problem.

Based on ILSR's analysis, solar PV is becoming competitive with average grid electricity prices in select areas of the United States.As prices fall to $4 per Watt, solar PV projects that can take advantage of the federal tax credits and accelerated depreciation – an incentive only available to commercial operations – would compete favorably with average grid electricity prices in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles (representing 40 million Americans).

Under a time-of-use pricing plan (where prices could be 30% higher during hours with good sunshine, as in Los Angeles), the equation changes.An additional 16 million Americans could use solar PV (along with both federal incentives) to beat their grid electricity price at an installed cost of $4 per Watt.Even at $5 per Watt, 40 million Americans could use solar PV and federal incentives to best their utility's time-of-use electricity rate.

Falling Solar Costs Reach Grid Parity with Time-of-Use Pricing:

As noted above, this grid parity calculation assumes that solar producers can use federal depreciation, an incentive worth as much as 25% of the project cost and only available to businesses or to homeowners who lease their solar panels.Without any federal incentives, solar PV would have to be installed at approximately $2.40 per Watt to be at grid parity for 56 million Americans.

In the current environment of incentives, distributed solar is nearing a cost-effectiveness threshold, when it will suddenly become an economic opportunity for millions of Americans.

To read more about democratizing the electricity system, click through:

References

  1. Lazard.Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis, Version 3.0.(Lazard, February 2009).Accessed 2/25/11 at http://tinyurl.com/49gc24l.
  2. Farrell, John.Really, Really Astonishingly Low Distributed Solar PV Prices from German Solar Policy.(Energy Self Reliant States blog, 4/27/11).Accessed 6/13/11 at http://tinyurl.com/3lbsa85.
  3. Farrell, John.Distributed Solar PV Beats Grid Prices with “Balance of System” Cost Reductions.(Energy Self-Reliant States blog, 3/14/11).Accessed 3/22/11 at http://tinyurl.com/6zz4y9k.
  4. Solar data from the California Solar Initiative.Wind data from the 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report.
  5. Wiser, Ryan and Mark Bolinger.2009 Wind Technologies Market Report.(U.S. Department of Energy, August 2010).Accessed 01/11/2011 at http://tinyurl.com/4bq67uc.
  6. With the exception of the 2008 silicon price shock.
  7. Farrell, John.Will Solar PV Kill Concentrating Solar Thermal Power?(Energy Self Reliant States blog, 10/19/10).Accessed 01/11/2011 at http://tinyurl.com/66ygtlh.
  8. Farrell, John.Really, Really Astonishingly Low Distributed Solar PV Prices from German Solar Policy.(Energy Self Reliant States blog, 4/27/11).Accessed 6/13/11 at http://tinyurl.com/3lbsa85.
  9. Kraemer, Susan.SCE Buys 20 Years of Solar Power for Less than Natural Gas.(Clean Technica, 2/1/11).Accessed 02/02/2011 at http://tinyurl.com/4zxxhej.
  10. Solar Electricity Costs.(solarcellcentral.com, undated).Accessed 2/25/11 at http://tinyurl.com/4olblyz.
  11. Campbell, Becky and Mike Taylor.2010 SEPA Utility Solar Rankings.(SEPA, June 2011).Accessed 6/14/11 at http://tinyurl.com/3t3kdn3.
  12. Barbose, Galen, et al.Tracking the Sun III: The Installed Cost of Photovoltaics in the U.S. from 1998-2009.(Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, December 2010).Accessed 6/10/11 at http://tinyurl.com/68a7pnf.
  13. Cost by System Size.(California Solar Statistics website).Accessed 6/10/11 at http://tinyurl.com/6joq6kp.
  14. Lewis, Craig.Driving Clean Local Energy and Delivering the New Energy Economy.(Four Corners Green Living Expo Presentation on CLEAN Programs, April 2011).Accessed 6/9/11 at http://tinyurl.com/3rj6y6x.
  15. Wikipedia contributors.Feed-in tariff.(Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, last revised 6/9/11).Accessed 6/13/11 at http://tinyurl.com/3j897b5.
  16. Campbell, Becky and Mike Taylor.2010 SEPA Utility Solar Rankings.(SEPA, June 2011).Accessed 6/14/11 at http://tinyurl.com/3t3kdn3.
  17. Conversation with Tony Clifford of Standard Solar, 6/14/11.
  18. Also, Wesoff, Eric.SunPower and NRG's 250 MW Solar Project Closer to Reality.(Greentechsolar, 4/12/11).Accessed 6/14/11 at http://tinyurl.com/3qwvye7.
  19. Wiser, Ryan and Mark Bolinger.2009 Wind Technologies Market Report.(U.S. Department of Energy, August 2010).Accessed 01/11/2011 at http://tinyurl.com/4bq67uc.
  20. Farrell, John.Distributed Wind Power Scales, Too.(Energy Self-Reliant States blog, 1/28/11).Accessed 2/28/11 at http://tinyurl.com/5us9d8n.
  21. Koening, Dr. Ingo.Money Makes the Blades Go Round.(Presentation at the 7th Canadian German Wind Energy Conference, 2/8/11).Accessed 6/15/11 at http://tinyurl.com/6zzxx2z.
  22. Average Retail Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customers: Total by End-Use Sector.(Energy Information Administration, 3/11/11).Accessed 6/21/11 at http://tinyurl.com/3px7t7q.
    Data for time of day production taken from
    Borenstein, Severin.Valuing the Time-Varying Electricity Production of Solar Photovoltaic Cells.(Center for the Study of Energy Markets, March 2005).Accessed 3/7/11 at http://bit.ly/eU9zYK.
  23. Using PG&E E-6 residential tariff for area T (coastal California), assuming baseline level consumption for a customer without electric heat.


Idaho Nuclear and Energy Research Facility Announced

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 12:54 PM PDT

The Center for Advanced Energy Studies, a partnership among INL and Idaho's public universities, will promote energy research collaborations.

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will expand its nuclear and energy security research facilities in Idaho.

The research concern, which works with the U.S. Department of Energy, has announced it will soon start construction on a 148,000 square-foot research and education laboratory in Idaho Falls. According to the press announcement, INL hopes the $50 million facility will add more than 300 jobs to the local economy during the construction process. No figure was given for how many employees are slated to work at the facility.

According to its website, INL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to supporting the U.S. Department of Energy’s missions in nuclear and energy research, science, and national defense. It has been in operation since 1949.

The website states INL's mission is as follows: "Ensure the nation’s energy security with safe, competitive, and sustainable energy systems and unique national and homeland security capabilities." INL is one of the DOE’s 10 multiprogram national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is listed as the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development.

The three-floor, energy efficient facility will feature offices and multiple laboratories used for conducting experiments and performing energy security research.

“The substantial infrastructure improvements and additions to INL over the last five years are supporting our missions and the realization of a world class laboratory operating in Idaho,” said INL Deputy Laboratory Director Dave Hill in the press announcement.

Since 2005, INL has opened 13 research, development or support facilities that total over 430,000 square feet. According to INL, these infrastructure updates came after decades when no significant new research facilities were built at INL. The new facility will be located along University Boulevard near the Center for Advanced Energy Studies.

Construction of the new facility is expected to begin in the spring of 2012 and will be complete in the summer of 2013. The facility will be leased to Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA). 
Management and operation of the laboratory will be the responsibility of BEA.

Photo:  Idaho National Laboratory


Power Full Jogging Shoes

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 11:55 AM PDT

woman power joggingEver wondered, as you pound along the pavements, just how much power your jogging could be generating?  Well, now we have an answer: up to a whole kilowatt during a quick sprint.

This is according to Tom Krupenkin, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin Madison.  He and a fellow researcher, J Ashley Taylor, have come up with an innovative new way of harnessing that power using liquid-based energy harvesters embedded into people’s shoes.

Grabbing power from a person’s jogging or walking action is nothing new but it has often involved a large and clunky apparatus surrounding the person’s shoes.  The Krupenkin-Taylor solution is much more elegant.

In effect, a small pouch of liquid is inserted into the sole of a specially made shoe.  The contents of the pouch interact with a nanostructure to produce an electric current in a process known as reverse electrowetting, which is fully described in this paper published by the journal Nature.

The liquid used can be anything from water to oil, but Krupenkin & Taylor have come up with a special formulation which will give an equivalent charge of one kilowatt per square metre, which they describe as “non-corrosive, non-toxic and inexpensive.”  This they hope to hook up to a hermetically sealed battery which will store up to 20 watts of power.

20 watts isn’t a huge amount.  However, it is good for lots of localised battery-operated things.  For example, one of the areas they’re looking at is embedding the device into army boots to power soldiers’ infrared goggles, radios, etc.

However, I think the most interesting idea is to use the technology to lengthen your smart phone’s battery life.

How?  Well, whenever your phone (or laptop, etc) communicates with its WiFi / phone cell / etc, it uses long-range radio frequencies which eat up a lot of power.  However, if the shoes also came with an inbuilt WiFi hotspot, that could to the heavy-lifting long-range broadcast, leaving your phone to broadcast on the much-less-power-consuming bluetooth frequencies.

This, when you think about it, is pretty neat.

Now, due to some well knackered ankles, I don’t do a lot of jogging … I power myself around by bicycle instead, and I don’t know if it would work so well for that.

However, I do have that horrid habit of being unable to sit still when on the telephone.  So, this could be just the thing for me and will make me feel less guilty next time I’m wandering around the house in the middle of an interview!  Now, all I need to do is start jogging at the same time!

Picture Credit: Female jogger from Morro Bay by Mike Baird under CC Attribution License

 


Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Solyndra Bankruptcy

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 10:52 AM PDT

The Solyndra Headquarters, in San Mateo, California. Photo credit: Solyndra

Solyndra's recent failure to thrive, despite half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees and strong growth this year, could be taken as a lesson in the failure of government investment in clean energy technology. But it was, in fact, an example of a stunning success of this strategy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t our success. It was China’s.

An example of the Solyndra cylindrical photovoltaic technology. Photo credit: Solyndra

Solyndra began life with much fan-fare in 2005, with a new thin-film solar technology that used panels composed of printed photovoltaic tubes to capture incident light from any direction. Within two years, they were in production, and in 2009 they received a $535 million loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy. Solyndra built it’s business plan in a time, just a few years back, when it seemed like their cheaper production technology and more efficient panels would give them a huge advantage. But their business plan was undermined by a competitor that they never expected: China.

In 2005, it seemed like a good assumption that the West would have this technology unto themselves for a while. China had not ever been a leader in the production of semiconductors or energy production systems. However, within five years, China was a world leader in alternative energy production, producing cells cheaper and in greater volume than their western competitors. What happened?

Between 2002 and 2008, the US appropriated subsidies for energy production totaling around 100 billion dollars. Of this, nearly 3/4 went to fossil fuels, and of the 29 billion devoted to renewables, nearly half was in the form of subsidies for corn based ethanol. And this is all without counting the massive, multi-trillion dollar cost of  US foreign policy, which seems at times to be far more devoted to the interests of the oil companies than to the interests of the American people. Essentially, the US commitment to solar production has been half-hearted at best, and that has not changed much since 2008, despite the change of the guard in the White House. Meanwhile, China has been offering a nearly unlimited amount of low- to no-interest loans for solar manufacturing, while promising to take up excess production domestically by paying half the price for equipment in solar power projects, and subsidizing generating capacity at a rate of 60-90 US cents per watt! Is it any wonder that US solar manufacturers are falling left and right when they are having to fight against high subsidies and lower labor costs?

We Americans have a choice to make when it comes to alternative energy. Our global competitors have chosen to back these new energy sources with everything they have. Why not? As long as oil is denominated in US dollars, every watt of energy that they produce by other means is like money in their pocket. The WTO is toothless when it comes to major powers like China, so any complaints of anti-competitive behavior are unlikely to have much effect. And if they build up a big lead now, the US will be forced to buy their energy in the form of Yuan-denominated solar, once we start descending the back side of the peak oil curve. Perhaps this state of affairs is fine; I’m no macroeconomist. But as long as the US is providing massive subsidies for old, coal, and polluting energy technologies, it seems foolish to cede the lead to Asia, especially when building up new industry, and making sure that it flourishes, can help keep America working in a time of crushing unemployment.

Alternative energy technologies are the future; they can power the world, if we make an effort to help them do so. But I fear that this recent, spectacular failure may give credence to skeptical voices who advocate austerity over investment. Saving money is often a good choice, but failing to invest it aggressively enough can be just as bad as wasting it outright. The real lesson of this incident is that the US failed to invest aggressively enough, and were overwhelmed by a competitor that developed much more rapidly than was anticipated. It would have been better to invest more aggressively in these technologies years, even decades, ago, but in a perverse way, now wouldn’t be a bad time either. The nature of the competition for the market is now apparent, and this should make building business plans easier. With our lead in technology and automation, in time, the US can retake the lead in solar technology, but this is only likely to happen if an investment in the future is made now.

 


Showcase Solar Company Solyndra Files for Bankruptcy

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 07:47 AM PDT

Increased competition from China has led to lower prices on solar panels

The renewable side of the energy equation is understandable; the revenue formula isn't, especially as less-expensive products are introduced to the marketplace…

Solyndra, a California solar panel maker — once a showcase for the Obama administration's attempt to create clean energy jobs — stopped operating Wednesday as it filed for bankruptcy protection. In the wake of its closing, the closure leaves 1,100 people out of work. It also leaves behind $535 million in federal loans.

According to an article in the Washington Post, over the past two years, President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu each had made congratulatory visits to the company's Silicon Valley headquarters.

Solyndra officials said in a news release that they were suspending operations and planned to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A Chapter 11 filing allows the company time to weigh options, including reorganization, selling the business, or licensing its panel technology to other manufacturers.

"This was an unexpected outcome and is most unfortunate," Solyndra chief executive Brian Harrison said in a statement. "Regulatory and policy uncertainties" made it impossible to raise capital to quickly rescue the operation, he said, making no reference to the $535 million loan that is guaranteed by taxpayers.

In a statement, the White House said the news is a disappointment, however, "the Department of Energy's overall portfolio of investments continues to perform well and is on pace to create thousands of jobs."

Wednesday's announcement came amid a broader shakeout in the solar industry. Energy Department officials said that less expensive solar panels made by government-subsidized companies in China undercut Solyndra's products.

For consumers, the drop in PV panel pricing will be welcome news.

Photo: tonynetone

 


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