Friday, September 23, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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“How Obama’s Green Energy Agenda Is Killing Jobs”

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 10:12 PM PDT

On September 22, The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa chaired yet another Republican hearing against the president’s climate change policy in the new GOP-held House. In the hearing, titled "How Obama’s Green Energy Agenda Is Killing Jobs" Issa claimed that President Obama is destroying jobs by conducting a "systematic war" against fossil energy by aggressively pushing clean energy.

To stop climate change, obviously it is necessary to switch to a clean energy economy, and so government policy that aggressively pushes a clean energy economy is the appropriate response. The only way to avoid the conclusion that we must aggressively push clean energy would be to pretend that climate scientists do not know what they say they know about climate change, which is what Issa’s party is pretending to believe, because they are paid to pretend that climate scientists do not know these things.

According to Clean Energy Report, Issa ridiculed administration estimates that energy innovation will create five million green jobs within 10 years. That does seem like a tall order, with tail winds like a $50 billion Koch-brother-funded GOP holding back policy. But according to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, tasked with the clean economy job of defending the administration’s clean economy policy against its enemies, we are already more than half way there.

Solis cited the June Brookings Institution report that estimated clean economy jobs at 2.7 million. The way labor is classified, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and used by Solis and in the Brookings study, the definition is that "green jobs help to preserve or restore the environment or conserve natural resources." They are not simply the jobs directly producing clean energy.

Solis argued that the clean energy sector is a broad one that encompasses energy efficient mass transit and other sectors that are part of a "whole new industry" emerging as a result of private investment decisions that the federal government is supporting in various ways. This definition is long overdue. The oft-touted solar panel manufacturers and turbine installers are really just the tip of the iceberg of the new clean energy economy that is growing around us.

Here is a personal example. Last spring, I took advantage of the new low prices for solar, cutting my energy bill to $4 from $100. But it took my small town’s building department an astounding four months to approve the solar permit for our roof, because our old-school building inspector lacked the expertise to handle solar permitting, and couldn’t bring himself to decide one way or another about our application.

Our city council finally added an additional building inspector in the building department who did have solar expertise, and our application was approved. That is one indirect clean economy job, (and so is that of the solar electrical instructor who taught him). Yet many people would think to count only the jobs of the four men who spent a couple of hours installing on our roof.

By the Labor Department definition, a bus driver who drives a emissions-free bus, for example, has a new clean economy job, even though it is not directly producing clean energy. But Florida Republican Connie Mack challenged the classification of a bus driving job as green just because the bus was a clean vehicle.

Citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ definition of green jobs, Solis responded that the fuel efficient, clean bus is part of the emerging clean energy economy and that the Labor Department was "not misleading the public" in classifying it as "green jobs help to preserve or restore the environment or conserve natural resources."

Mack said the job was not "green" but was simply a job. He later suggested that the Labor Department should not "pad statistics" to make it look like green jobs programs are working.

To most Americans, “simply a job” looks pretty good these days. Clean economy jobs enable us to work and live in a clean energy economy that leaves a future economy for future people to have a job in.

Whether it is a building inspector who permits a new kind of self-sufficient climate-friendly home, a bus driver who drives a new kind of climate-friendly bus, or an official who defends a new kind of climate-friendly policy against its sworn enemies, these are all good new jobs in cities and towns around the country, created by Obama’s “systematic war on fossil fuels.”


Why Would Obama Highlight Solyndra?

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 12:55 PM PDT

Solyndra is the big cleantech story of the day again today for those outside (and some of those inside) the cleantech arena. We’ve been covering the story quite a bit lately, so if you want to read more from us on the matter, check out these Solyndra stories. There’s one thing, though, that I’ve mentioned but haven’t dedicated a post to, so think I will quickly now….

So many people are implying or outright saying that the Obama administration knew Solyndra would fail but gave it the loan guarantee anyway. The obvious question would then be: Why would Obama & crew highlight a company they knew was going to fail?

Obama toured the facilities. He and Biden held press conferences and spoke Solyndra’s great potential. They were calling the media to them, to this issue. Why would they do that if they thought the company were to fail (and, thus, knew all this publicity would come back to bite them in the a**)?

Really, let’s get logical here.

  1. Yes, Solyndra was a failure.
  2. No, solar is not a failure, as it has added nearly 7,000 jobs in the last year, growing 6% and now reaching over 100,000 U.S. jobs.
  3. Solar is expected to grow at a fast clip worldwide and in the U.S. In fact, it was the great success of solar policies and companies in China that undercut Solyndra.
  4. It would be completely nonsensical of the Obama administration to highlight Solyndra repeatedly in the press, rather than one of the other 50+ companies employing 100,000 workers in the U.S., if it knew the company were to fail.

 


House Republicans Complain about Loan Guarantees.. with $11.8 Billion in Loan Guarantees in Their Districts

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 11:52 AM PDT

"Can't escape from the common rule: If you hate something, don't you do it too."  — Pearl Jam

Playing up the Solyndra bankruptcy to the highest political degree possible, Republicans are using their best rhetorical tricks.  They have homed in on two phrases to describe loan guarantees — calling them a tool of "crony capitalism" and claiming that they allow the government "to pick winners and losers."

Practically every conservative politician speaking to the press about Solyndra has used these phrases, often in the exact same sentence.

But a Climate Progress examination of public Department of Energy data finds over $11.8 billion in conditional commitments or closed loan guarantees for renewable energy and nuclear projects in Republican House districts around the country.

The data does not prove whether individual members of Congress lobbied for support of specific projects. However, recent stories from the Associated Press and the New York Timesshow that a number of high-profile political leaders have helped secure grants and loan guarantees through the stimulus package for projects in their districts. AP highlighted a few of the contradictions in a story yesterday:

 

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and other Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for awarding billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy projects, including a $528 million loan to a now-bankrupt California solar panel maker. But the GOP lawmakers haven't always been so critical of the program.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show the Louisiana Republican wrote to the Energy Department at least seven times since 2009 seeking money for projects that would benefit his home state.

One of the projects backed by Vitter — for a company that makes activated carbon to reduce pollution at coal-fired power plants — has received preliminary approval for a $245 million loan guarantee.

Numerous GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have sent letters to the Energy Department seeking assistance for projects in their home states.

On the Senate floor last week, McConnell called the first stimulus law "a national punch line" that featured "turtle tunnels" and " sidewalks to nowhere."

But in 2009, McConnell wrote two letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking for federal loans for a plant that would build electric cars in Franklin, Ky. McConnell said the loans said could help create 4,000 jobs.

"I hope you will realize the importance of such job creation to Kentucky," he wrote in a July 2009 letter supporting ZAP Motor Manufacturing. The plant did not receive DOE money.

And Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, who is also leading an investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee, backed two separate clean energy projects for his state:

Stearns, who heads the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, endorsed a battery manufacturing plant in Jacksonville. The Saft America Inc. plant makes lithium-ion battery cells for military hybrid vehicles and solar and wind energy storage. The plant received a $95.5 million grant from the Energy Department through the stimulus law.

Stearns and other lawmakers from Florida also backed a Florida company's bid to win a loan guarantee for biofuel refinery plant in central Florida. New Planet BioEnergy LLC received $50 million from the Energy Department and a $75 million loan guarantee from the Agriculture Department.

McConnell, Stearns and Vitter are defending themselves by explaining that the companies they've supported haven't gone bankrupt or been raided by the FBI. Fair enough. But their lobbying for funds in the cleantech sector completely undermines the argument that Democrats are trying to pick winners and losers — or that the stimulus package didn't work.

And as we pointed out last week, Michigan Republican Fred Upton, chairman of one of the House committees investigating Solyndra, has been a strong supporter of nuclear loan guarantees — even sponsoring an amendment in 2007 that would have expanded the nuclear loan guarantee program by $4 billion. Yet, Upton claimed in a hearing on Solyndra that the government is "acting as venture capitalist" that is, of course, "picking winners and losers…and shelling out billions in taxpayer dollars to keep them afloat."

As one of the strongest nuclear supporters in Congress, Upton surely understand that nuclear facilities would not get built in this country without billions of dollars in loan guarantees and government-backed insurance. Private industry wouldn't even consider building a nuclear facility in America without full government support (see also Exelon's Rowe: Low gas prices and no carbon price push back nuclear renaissance a "decade, maybe two").

And California Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, dropped a typical rhetorical bomb on CSPAN this morning: "I want to see when the president and his cronies are picking winners and losers."

But Issa has no problem boosting government support for nuclear through loan guarantees — a policy that supposedly picks winners and losers.

[A]dapting our tax structure to incentivize investments in nuclear technologies and using the guarantee of the federal government to jump-start a robust nuclear energy program, we can reclaim our place in the world and reduce our dependence on carbon-rich fossil fuels.

Forget crony capitalism. What we have here is phony capitalism.

A number of leading Republicans have repeatedly sought grants, tax credits and loan guarantees to support projects in their own districts. But when it's politically advantageous, they now make the claim that government is "picking winners and losers" and violating the free market.

We all want to see taxpayer funds deployed as efficiently and fairly as possible.  Solar energy issoaring in this country and around the world, which suggests governmental support for the industry is working in a lot of countries.  The nuclear industry has all but died in non-market economies, in spite of massive government support (see "Nuclear Pork — Enough is Enough").  Which one is the winner and which is the loser?

— Matt Kasper of the Center for American Progress contributed to this report.

This story was originally published at ClimateProgress.org and was cross-posted with permission.

Image Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by DonkeyHotey

 


Lightweight E-Bike Unveiled by Ford

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 11:37 AM PDT

BrightFarms: Modern Greenhouse Farms on Supermarket Roofs

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 11:31 AM PDT

US Military’s Clean Energy Investments Jump 300% from 2006-2009, to Eclipse $10 Billion by 2030

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 10:14 AM PDT

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

The US Dept. of Defense (DoD) spends more on energy than 3/4 of the world’s nations. A rapidly growing percentage of that is coming from clean and renewable energy sources, however. The DoD’s clean energy investments jumped 300%, from $400 million to $1.2 billion, between 2006 and 2009, a figure that’s projected to surpass $10 billion annually by 2030, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts’ research report.

The DoD’s investments are helping spur development and deployment of clean energy technologies in three key areas: vehicle efficiency, advanced biofuels and the installation of renewable energy systems at military bases, according to Pew’s, "From Barracks to the Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America's Armed Forces."

"As one of the largest energy consumers in the world, the Department of Defense has the ability to help shape America's energy future," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Clean Energy Program. "DoD's efforts to harness clean energy will save lives, save money and enhance the nation's energy and economic future. Their work is also helping to spur the growth of the clean energy economy."

Long supply lines have long been viewed as a vulnerable weak point when it comes to military strategy and tactics. Fuel shipments account for 80% of all supply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 1 in 46 of them suffering casualties in fiscal 2010.

Reducing the number of those casualties while at the same time enhancing the energy security of its military operations has been a big factor in the DoD’s decision to increase its clean and renewable energy investments, as has heightened volatility in the price of oil, the overall impact of oil dependency on its operations and complying with clean energy policies set out by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the report’s authors note.

"For the Department of the Navy to meet the challenges we face in the 21st century, we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil and find ways to use energy more efficiently," commented Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. "We must ensure that we remain the most formidable expeditionary force in the world, even in these challenging economic times.

“We can do that in part by changing the way we use, acquire and produce energy. Before the end of the decade, our programs to develop and use alternative sources of energy, on shore and at sea, will pay for themselves. We will save the department money, but more importantly, these energy initiatives will make us better war fighters and will saves lives."

Added five-term US senator from Virginia John W. Warner, also a senior policy adviser to the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate, “Today, our uniformed men and women and their civilian counterparts are committed to transforming the way the department uses energy through efficiency and technology development. Their accomplishments and innovations are enhancing our national, economic and environmental security."

The DoD had 450 ongoing renewable energy projects producing or procuring 9.6% of its energy from clean sources as of the end of fiscal 2010. Its renewable energy spending is projected to reach $3 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2030.

Installation of smart microgrids by the US military is slated to grow 375%, to $1.6 billion annually, come 2020, and is forecast to account for nearly 15% of the microgrid market in 2013.

 


OneRoof Energy Secures Financing for Solar Leasing Program

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 09:33 AM PDT

Solar tiles from OneRoof Energy are often installed with new roofs

California-based OneRoof Energy has secured $50 million in financing to support launching an aggressive residential solar leasing program, which includes an innovative method of working directly with roofers to lease and install residential solar power systems.

This program demonstrates the trend for many solar companies to market renewable solar packages to the residential marketplace using leasing as a viable sales tool. According to OneRoof CEO David Field, leasing contracts nationwide have grown from 15 percent of sales to 50 percent of sales, a figure which will probably continue growing.

"The challenge we're seeing is that the paybacks are so long," said Field in an interview. "It doesn't make sense to buy if you have the ability to lease."

With this leasing program in place, homeowners can enjoy the benefits of renewable solar power without having to pay the traditionally large upfront costs, even with tax incentives.

Through this program, OneRoof Energy will market and maintain rooftop solar energy systems for homeowners, often working with builders or roofing contractors to combine roofing and solar installation into one process.

Series A financing was led by Korean-based Hanwha International, which holds a controlling interest in Hanwha SolarOne, a global solar manufacturing company. Hanwha reports 2010 international revenue of more than $26.5 billion. "OneRoof Energy represents a great opportunity for us," said Hanwha CEO Simon Lee in a press announcement.

OneRoof Energy has also obtained funding via a partnership with Black Coral Capital, an investment firm interested in clean tech and alternative energy, and from a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp. U.S. Bancorp has committed more than $554 million of renewable energy tax equity to finance more than $1 billion of renewable energy projects in the United States, primarily in the solar market and in select opportunities in the wind energy market.

"We believe that the most efficient and cost-effective way to install a solar system is at the time a roof is built or rebuilt, and our first-round investment partners agree," said Field.

No doubt, so will many residential customers.

 

Photo: OneRoof Energy 

 

 

 


A Chinese Hydropower Scorecard Does Not Fill the Accountability Gap

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 05:19 AM PDT

The International Hydropower Association launched its non-binding sustainability guidelines scorecard in Beijing today, hoping to attract Chinese dam builders to what is turning out to be the world’s latest industry-led greenwash.

Yet, the scorecard, called the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP), may do little to fill the accountability gap that exists between country regulatory systems.  The HSAP makes no requirement of developers to comply with national and international legislation.

What’s more, the HSAP has no real buy-in from civil society, the true arbiter of credibility.  The civil society organizations partnering with the HSAP are large NGOs from high-income countries, including WWF and The Nature Conservancy, the former of which long ago decided to partner with industry to create “sustainable” commodity chains.  Nor have indigenous people bought in, outside of those tribes who are already in bed with a hydropower developer.  Indigenous people often suffer hydropower impacts more egregiously than other dam-affected populations.

Third, the HSAP requires no bottom-line standards.  Any developer who completes an assessment and publishes it online receives a “sustainable hydropower" tag, independent of the scores they receive.  In other words, it’s enough for a developer to make a public claim; it is not necessary to comply with any binding norm.  Developers pay in 65,000 pounds to earn the title “HSAP Sustainability Partner,” and an assessor is assigned to produce a sustainability report.

In China, as in elsewhere, it has become common practice to streamline environmental impact assessments in order to meet investment deadlines.  EIAs are seen as just another bureaucratic step to achieving a construction, installation, or operation license.  The HSAP may be successful in incentivizing developers to improve EIAs — but what happens when a government unilaterally weakens its own laws? Or worse, does not abide by them?

China’s Upper Yangtze (Jinsha) River Basin is home to endangered fish such as the Chinese Paddle, the Acipenser Dabryanus, and Chinese suckers, as well as their spawning grounds.  In 2000, the National Nature Reserve for Rare and Endemic Fish was established to safeguard the species and the freshwater ecosystem that housed them from the impacts of hydropower development.  This year, in a complete reversal, the Chinese Ministry of Environment is considering redrawing the boundaries of the Nature Reserve to make way for a new hydropower reservoir.  The Upper Yangtze’s population of rare and endemic fish species will be drastically reduced, and no one will be held accountable.

The boundaries of the Nature Reserve were reduced once already, in 2005, when the Xiluodu Dam and Xiangjiaba Dam were built, two of many dams planned for the Jinsha River.  Now, the Chinese Ministry of the Environment has proposed to further reduce the reserve by 1460.40 hectares, or about 14 million square meters, to make way for the reservoir of the Xiaonanhai Dam in Chongqing municipality.  The Xiaonanhai Dam is one of scores of dams proposed by the Chinese government in their most recent Five-Year Plan, which calls for an unprecedented expansion of hydropower totaling nearly 140 GW.  This far eclipses the number of dams ever built by any other country in history.

The Chinese government’s unilateral maneuver to reduce its own conservation units to make way for a dam illustrates the accountability gap that exists between high-income countries, which have developed rotund standards for hydropower development through meaningful consultation with civil society, and middle-income and emerging economies, which have yet to adhere to international environmental and social norms, and very rarely consult civil society, if at all.  Given this context, HSAP’s non-binding rewards system will only allow dam builders to greenwash China’s dams while the country’s regulatory system still suffers from serious shortcomings.

Of course, it is the right, and increasingly the ability, of middle-income countries to finance their own projects, and they are free to reject both World Bank investment loans as well as the Bank’s conditionality-laden and sometimes costly safeguards if they want to.  Yet, for better or for worse, the World Bank’s Operational Policies and the IFC’s Performance Standards still represent two of the world’s best systems of risk and sustainability assessment and project-level precautionary measures.  The challenge from here forward will be in answering the following question: how will emerging market governments take on the task of creating real, binding laws to implement social and environmental best practices in the sector, above and beyond using voluntary scorecards to simply greenwash projects?

Given the lack of accountability and the intransigence of lawmakers in many governments that are developing through hydropower, today’s Beijing launch of the HSAP may not make much of a difference to the BRICS.  They may still take to rapidly changing or even breaking their own laws without much consequence or oversight.  Instead of window dressings like the HSAP, these governments need to implement real accountability mechanisms and lasting, binding standards for the hydropower sector.

Image Credits: International Rivers

 


Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 05:06 AM PDT

OTEC is a technology that has been discussed and extensively researched until recently by the US government. Now OTE Corporation (@OTEcorporation on twitter) and Bahamas Electricity Company, announced that they signed a memo of understanding for the further development of the world's first two commercial ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plants, sited in the Bahamas. OTE Corporation has been in the news this year as it fills corporate positions. With the announcement of this agreement, it begins its core mission to bring OTEC to the nearly 100 tropical regions around the world, where land-based commercial OTEC power plants are now an economically viable solution.

Tropical Islands

Islands present a special problem for electric power. You may have the sun and some wind, but these power sources are not constant. On the mainland, we can use the grid as a buffer between supply and demand, but islands have to resort to expensive energy storage or imported supplies of fossil fuels. And so, it is not surprising that we find electrical storage batteries and some of the most expensive electric rates on islands. Tropical islands also have another largely untapped resource. This is the difference between surface water temperatures and that found in the deep ocean.

How It Works

A typical power plant uses a heat source to boil water. The heat source could be coal, nuclear or even a solar collector (Power tower or trough CSP.) Steam then drives a generator through a turbine. This is the Rankine cycle.

OTEC uses a smaller difference in ocean temperatures to generate electricity. It is an adaptation of the technology used in ice houses, solar ponds, and Dry Well Geothermal: the organic Rankine Cycle. In this instance, a different fluid is substituted for water. Ammonia is often used due to its lower boiling point. To cool the liquid and restart the cycle, deep ocean temperatures are used. Where does this energy actually originate? It is the Sun that heats the ocean surface and is being harnessed by OTEC.

History

OTEC was first considered almost 140 years ago. In 1974, the US, through the National Energy Research Labratory (NREL), was conducting the world’s most intensive research at a site in Hawaii.

Advantages

Unfortunately, while the organic rankine cycle allows us to use lower temperatures it is not as efficient as using super-heated steam. Inefficiency at first may appear to put the OTEC at an economic disadvantage to other forms of power generation. However, a facility can make up for this deficiency by using additional economic streams including:

1. Supplying potable fresh water

Theoretically, an OTEC plant that generates 2-MW of net electricity could produce about 4,300 cubic meters (14,118.3 cubic feet) of desalinated water each day.

2. In addition to providing power and water, OTE Corporation can provide cooling to areas near its plants powered by the deep cool ocean. This may simply be very economic cooling for nearby buildings or may be promoting aquaculture and unusually temperate plants grown in a tropical environment:

OTEC technology also supports chilled-soil agriculture. When cold seawater flows through underground pipes, it chills the surrounding soil. The temperature difference between plant roots in the cool soil and plant leaves in the warm air allows many plants that evolved in temperate climates to be grown in the subtropics.

What is done on land can also be done with aquaculture using cool water to support lobsters and other species not normally grown in the tropics.

Future Possibilities

Islands are not the only places that need water. California has already built desalination plants to augment its water supply. Any tropical coastal region could use OTEC. OTEC is a clean, renewable energy source that has the potential to free many economies from their dependence on oil.

Photo Credits: OTEC
For additional reading/sources: NREL overview

 


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