Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Peugeot Jumps on the Tiny-e-Car Bandwagon

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 04:35 PM PDT

Tiny short-range electric cars with room for one or two were not uncommon at the IAA 2011 – VW brought the Nils, Audi had the Urban Concept, and Opel showed the Rak e. Peugeot missed the auto show, but has announced its own tiny electric car anyway – the Velv.

Velv is short for "Véhicule électrique léger de ville," which the dictionary tells me is something like "city light electric vehicle." Weighing only 1,433 lbs, the prototype is designed to have a range of about 60 miles and a top speed of 65 mph. So far, these numbers seem to be on paper only.

Space for three passengers is the Velv's way of standing out. The seats are arranged in a sort of triangle, with the driver's seat front and center. The passengers are to the rear. All three seats are accessible by gull-wing glass windows (above), and standard doors (below).

The gull-wing "doors" are powered by the 20kW electric engine (produced by Valeo), which draws its power from a lithium ion battery pack with a capacity of 8.5 kWh (produced by Johnson Controls). However, whether production of the Velv will maintain the same components as the prototype is still in question.

Rounding out the Velv's striking and not particularly Peugeot-like appearance are the twin tires and narrow brake lights in the rear, below the small storage space nestled behind the passenger seats.

For photos, check out the gallery below.

Peugeot-Velv-1 Peugeot-Velv-2 Peugeot-Velv-3 Peugeot-Velv-4 Peugeot-Velv-5 Peugeot-Velv-6

Source | Gallery: Auto Motor Und Sport


Farmers Harvesting the Power of Solar Energy

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 04:25 PM PDT

8,000 U.S. farms have installed a solar energy system on their property

The Sun's rays have always been the foundation of farming, giving crops the energy they need to grow. But a program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is now matching up farmers with grants and incentives to help them harvest a new kind of crop – solar-powered electricity.

energyNOW! met Georgia pecan farmer Trey Pippin to learn how USDA's Rural Development program matched his farm up with a local utility and solar panel manufacturer Suniva to build a solar array on his property large enough to power dozens of homes. The full segment is available below:

Solar energy installation and production on America's farms has increased significantly in the last decade. According to a recent USDA survey, 8,000 farms have installed a solar energy system on their property, 63 percent of all solar panels in agriculture were installed between 2005-2009, with a five-fold growth rate from 2000-2009.

If the trend of solar power sprouting up across the nation's farms is emblematic of the connection between Earth and economy, Trey Pippin is the perfect spokesperson. Pecan trees require a lot of water, and when rainfall is scarce, they must be watered by irrigation systems, sometimes 24/7. In 2008, Pippin realized he was spending $180,000 a year in power bills to run his 2,000-acre farm in Albany, Georgia. He went looking for alternatives, and settled on solar power made possible through a combination of federal and state grants and incentives.

Now, "we farm pecans, and we farm photons," said Pippin. His farm's 200-kilowatt solar power system went into service in April 2010, and produces 280,000 kilowatt hours a year, enough to power 30 to 40 homes. That may not seem like a lot of energy, but when it started running, his system nearly doubled the amount of solar power in Georgia Power's portfolio.

And solar system farming is turning out to be a profitable business. "On a summer day, we're going to produce between 1,000 to 1,200 kilowatt hours, and Georgia Power will pay us 17 cents per kilowatt hour," said Pippin. "Altogether, it's about $60,000 worth of power that we've sold back to the grid." The utility funds this effort through an optional surcharge for residential and business customers who want to support renewable energy. Pippin's solar system cost about $140,000 after tax credits and depreciation, and should be paid off within three years.

The success of solar power on his farm has made Pippin a renewable energy advocate. He recently launched a renewable properties business and has built five-acre solar array in north Georgia that could generate 1.3 million kilowatts of energy – enough to power 140 homes for an entire year.

Solar farming isn't too different from pecan farming, according to Pippin. "It's an interesting way to look at it, comparing the pecan tree to the solar panels," he said. "They're both using God's gift of the Sun and the Sun's energy to keep growing."

Trey Pippin in front of his farm's 200-kilowatt solar power system


Early Fossil Fuel & Nuclear Energy Subsidies Crush Early Renewable Energy Subsidies

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 02:55 PM PDT

energy subsidies
[T]he federal commitment to [oil & gas] was five times greater than the federal commitment to renewables during the first 15 years of each subsidies' life, and it was more than 10 times greater for nuclear.

The political reaction to the Solyndra scandal has been laughably devoid of both short-term and long-term historical perspective. In an attempt to exploit a political opportunity, many House Republicans are railing against government investments in the renewable energy sector. However, those same politicians requested millions of dollars for cleantech projects in their own states just a year or two before.

This bad case of amnesia stretches far beyond the last two years. Apparently, many in Congress have forgotten about the last 100 years of government investments in oil, gas and nuclear — all of which have far outpaced investments in renewable energy like solar PV, solar thermal, geothermal and wind.

A new study with terrific charts, "What Would Jefferson Do? The Historical Role of Federal Subsidies inShaping America's ERnergy Future," released by the venture capital firm DBL Investors, attempts to quantify and contrast those government investments. The researchers looked at the vast array of federal incentives — tax credits, land grants, tariffs, R&D, and direct investments — and found that renewables have received far less support than any other sector:

As a percentage of inflation-adjusted federal spending, nuclear subsidies accounted for more than 1% of the federal budget over their first 15 years, and oil and gas subsidies made up half a percent of the total budget, while renewables have constituted only about a tenth of a percent. [See graph above.]

The researchers are somewhat selective about which subsidies they factor in. In order to come to directly-comparable figures, they outline four criteria for evaluating subsidies: The subsidy is designed to increase production of the targeted resource; all the data for the subsidy is available; the subsidy existed during the early stages of of domestic production; the inclusion of the subsidy allows for meaningful comparison across different sectors.

When adding them all up over time, the report's authors found that on an average yearly basis, renewables represent a small fraction of the total government investments in the energy sector.  Here are two great charts that make that clear:

historical energy subsidies nuclear oil renewable energy

Note:  The above chart is average annual support.  The cumulative spending numbers are thus even more disparate:

energy subsidy comparison

I have some issues with this report, however. Firstly, the authors stop tracking the numbers in 2009 and leave out the billions invested through the stimulus package. They claim to do this because of the temporary nature of the stimulus package. While it's true that many of those programs are already phased out or will be gone by next year, the stimulus is still a very important piece of early-stage investments in the sector. Why leave it out?

The researchers also neglect to include the short burst of federal renewable energy investment in the late 1970s. While those tax credits and R&D programs lasted only a short while, they still contribute to the overall figures.

Finally, in an attempt to make clear distinctions between the renewable fuel and electricity sectors, the report separates biofuels from the renewables category (wind, solar, geothermal). That separation also changes the numbers and makes the renewables subsidy figures much lower than they otherwise would be.

With that said, even if you threw all these other investments together, the subsidies for fossil resources and nuclear would far surpass anything in renewable energy. According to the report, the American oil, gas and nuclear industries have cumulatively taken in more than $630 billion, with most of those government subsidies created in the earliest days of those sectors in order to build them up.

By comparison, renewables and biofuels together have seen about $40 billion in investment. Add in the stimulus package — $7 billion for the grant program and advanced manufacturing tax credits and $2.5 billion in credit subsidy costs for the loan guarantee program— and the investment figures still don't come close to fossil and nuclear investments.

Given the amount we've invested in emerging energy industries, the authors explain that today's renewable energy investments are relatively small compared with other government-lead transitions:

Today, as we seek to move towards a more independent and clean energy future, the truth is that renewables — from a historical perspective — are if anything under-subsidized. This weak support is inconsistent with our nation's own historical energy narrative, which suggests:

Today's market for cheap power results in part from substantial investment by the federal government in innovative technology.

It takes a substantial amount of money, invested over several years, to bring an electricity generation technology to maturity.

Although energy subsidies can and do serve many policy purposes, the most basic relate to furthering the development and commercialization of technologies deemed to be in the public interest.

Before we start criticizing government investments in emerging energy technologies like it's some sort of new phenomenon, maybe we need to give ourselves a little history lesson.

This story was orinally published on ClimateProgress.org and was cross-posted with permission.

Solar Activism and Savings Grow in Detroit Suburb

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 12:22 PM PDT

Solar panels are saving money in Ypsilanti, Michigan

Not many think of the Detroit area as a hub for demonstrating solar energy. That is, unless you visit Ypsilanti, a Detroit suburb and its renewable energy website, SolarYpsi.

According to Dave Strenski, green energy activity is abundant in the metropolitan area, with the number of solar installations continuing to grow in Ypsilanti. In the summer of 2011 a house on South Huron, with three apartment units installed 55 solar panels. The fall of 2011 also saw the Corner Brewery win approval from the Ypsilanti Historic Commission to install 144 panels on its brewery. They hope to have that project completed by December of this year.

SolarYpsi is working with both these locations to provide information on its volunteer website and track their power generation details in real time. The purpose of this website is to provide a map of the various locations where solar power is being generated within the City of Ypsilanti. The goal is to provide a means for viewing how much solar power is being generated within the City at any given time.

SolarYpsi started in 2005 when the Ypsilanti Food Co-operative won a grant from the State of Michigan to install a small demonstration solar photovoltaic system on their roof. Volunteers installed a 4 panel, 760-watt system on the roof, plus a wall display that showed how much energy was being generated.

Following that, food coop volunteers created a traveling educational presentation to explain how solar power works in Michigan, and the advantages of tying solar installation into the local electricity grid. To date over 1,000 people have attended these presentations, and the response has stimulated ideas and planning for new projects, along with new requests for presentations.

SolarYpsi reports that with the help of DTE Energy connected its system to the electrical grid, and was among the first solar power generators in Michigan with a net-metering arrangement. Net-metering allows solar power systems to export excess power back to the local utility for credit, which can be used when the sun is not shining.

This marketing and information video, featuring Dave Strenski, works nicely at describing the overall project.

Congratulations are in order for the success of this energy saving project.

Photo: SolarYpsi


Google Invests Another $75 million to Bring Solar Power to Homeowners

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 11:48 AM PDT

Photo credit: American Vision Solar

Google’s director of Green Business Operations Rick Needham announced the Internet search and technology leader will invest $75 million to create an initial fund with Clean Power Finance that aims to help as many as 3,000 homeowners install solar power systems. The investment brings to over $850-million the total amount of capital Google has invested in developing and deploying clean energy, Needham noted in a post on Google’s Green Blog.

Earlier this month, Google Ventures joined Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and other venture capital funds in investing $25 million to finance Clean Power Finance’s work to “deliver more cost-effective point-of-sale financing to the burgeoning US solar market.”

Clean Power Finance has developed an open platform that connects installers with investors like Google willing to finance homeowners’ solar power system leases. Serving as a centralized exchange connecting solar power system installers with finance providers offers both parties in the residential solar power system value chain a much simpler, efficient and more effective means of finding each other and doing business, Needham notes in his post.

“The installer builds the system, the investor owns it (in this case, Google), and homeowners pay a monthly payment for the system, at a price that's often less than paying for energy from the grid. Maintenance and performance are taken care of by Clean Power Finance and its network of installers,” he wrote.

Google’s become especially keen on the idea of solar leasing, which drastically reduces the upfront costs of installing a residential solar power system by enabling homeowners to ‘lease’ rather than purchase outright.

In June, Google announced that it was investing $280 million to create a similar fund with SolarCity, its largest clean energy project investment to date.

SolarCity’s leasing options range from prepaying to paying nothing upfront and then making monthly lease payments. Google engineer Michael Flaster expects to save $100 a month on his electric bills and $16,000 over the 15-year life of his lease with SolarCity, that’s after figuring in his lease payment and lower energy bills.

Here’s a video announcing the project and explaining how it works:


Fracking Infographic

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 11:48 AM PDT

Natural gas is considered by many a ‘clean energy’ alternative to coal. It is considered by many a necessary transition fuel. I’m not so sure about its cleanliness or its necessity. But I haven’t ruled it out of the “clean energy future” equation yet either.

But no matter where you stand on natural gas, you have to admit that hydraulic fracking (for natural gas) comes with some nasty consequences. There are now identified issues with earthquakes and water quality (including creating flammable water). Here’s an infographic with more:

fracking infographic

Infographic by WellHome


Senate Democrats Boost Clean Energy Funding for Military

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 10:47 AM PDT

Within a lower overall DOD budget for next year that comes in at $26 billion under White House request, holding the line at last year’s level of $513 billion, Senate Democrats have boosted funding for clean energy development within the military, according to Clean Energy Report.

Under earlier Democratic initiatives, a 300% increase in funding for innovative new energy sources now promises breakthroughs in new fuels, such Camelina for jet fuel, a weed grown in near drought and cold conditions in Northern Montana and Idaho, far from potential cropland it might displace. Tina Casey here lists many of these advances: U.S. Military Vaults into Clean Energy Future Despite Fossil Fuel Lobby

Noting the $13 billion the military spent on petroleum in in 2010, the Senate Appropriations Committee singles out alternative energy as an area for which it is boosting research funding, and noted promising research on renewable energy technologies that do not displace food production, "including deepwater offshore wind energy, and wood-to-jet fuel and waste-to-energy conversion, and encourages the Department to continue to support research on these innovative technologies."

Like the government funding for NASA that has lead to spin off technology advances, funding the military to advance a clean energy innovation stream is a way around the Republican attempt to criminalize the clean energy economy which has escalated into the “Solyndra witch hunt” against any funding and incentives that help grow clean energy.

Republicans have evidenced an increasingly consistent voting pattern against the environment and clean energy for 20 years, with an increasingly strident refusal to accept the scientific consensus that climate change is a serious threat, warranting much, much higher levels of funding in a clean source of energy.

Now, increasingly, the military is providing a pivot point for government funding of clean energy innovation, and increasingly, understanding why it is needed.The Pentagon has called for climate change to be included in a new defense review.

Last week, Operation Free, a coalition of activists and veterans groups, solicited its supporters to call the House Armed Services Committee chairman to spare DOD clean energy programs from the looming budget cuts. Earlier this year, military leaders went to war against the “dirty fuel rule” that the House GOP was pushing on them, and military veterans have called for more investment in sustainable fuels.

"DOD has commitment," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Clean Energy Program "the culture, discipline and the management structure necessary to really foster technology innovation."

Susan Kraemer @Twitter


Posted: 27 Sep 2011 10:43 AM PDT

This is the percentage of DOE loan guarantees, to date, that was for Solyndra. (Thanks to a reader for doing the quick math for us and sending the figure along in a comment.)

Percentage of solar loan guarantees that was for Solyndra? 3.3%

doe loan guarantees

Why is this important?

As Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently pointed out and Susan shared on here on CleanTechnica, the DOE loan program and clean energy investment is “not going to be a perfect path where every project proposed is going to be built toward completion.”

What investor do you know who has had every investment work out? There isn’t one out there (not a serious, professional investor, at least). But does that mean investors are financial losers (because of some of their investments not panning out)?

If you invest diversely in a needed, promising industry, the overall result is going to look good. Clean energy is basically one of the safest, if not the safest, industry you could invest in. It is our future, even the oil companies will tell you that. And this investment is highly needed to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in health costs in the U.S. (from coal alone) and possibly even more in natural disaster costs.

As we’ve written on here a couple times recently, the solar industry is growing phenomenally, and Solyndra is an obvious exception, not a representation of the industry as a whole. Check out these pieces for more:

  1. Solar Industry on Solyndra, Tremendous Job Growth (100,000 US Jobs Now), & Doubling of Installed PV
  2. Q&A on Solyndra, Clean Energy, & Green Jobs
  3. Reports of the Death of Solar are Highly Exaggerated (Take Action)

China is investing $313 billion in clean tech from 2011-2015 (aggressively investing, not just giving out loan guarantees for clean energy projects and companies). This is tremendously more than the U.S. can invest due to political blockades. And this is one reason Solyndra couldn’t compete.

The question is not whether or not the solar industry will grow and succeed. The question is which country will house those businesses and those jobs.

Unfortunately, numerous politicians are looking to play politics in this arena in order to have more seats in Congress, and perhaps the White House.  They are looking to block successful clean energy programs (and have already blocked many) put forward by the current administration (a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a national renewable energy standard, for example). They are essentially killing opportunities to be a world leader (or more of a world leader) in clean energy in the coming decades. It is, without a doubt, a tragedy and an attack on the country.


Solar Leasing Provides Power for Pennies

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 02:19 AM PDT

The Cincinnati Zoo's 6,000 solar panels generate 1.5MW of electricity

Millions of visitors go to the Cincinnati Zoo every year, but the newest attraction isn't the new baby giraffe — it's a solar panel. More accurately, over 6,000 solar panels installed over the zoo's parking lot, spanning an area the size of four football fields. The sheer size of the arrays is impressive, but not nearly as impressive as their price tag: absolutely nothing.

The Cincinnati Zoo is the latest solar leasing success story, an innovative program that matches up investors with property owners who want to install solar but may not be able to afford the up-front costs. energyNOW! correspondent Patty Kim visited the zoo and SunRun, a San Francisco-based start-up to learn how solar leasing is generating power for pennies. The full segment is available below:

While the new solar array has made the Cincinnati Zoo one of America's greenest, it's also making a lot of financial sense. The panels produce 1.5 megawatts of electricity, about 20 percent of the zoo's total energy needs, and on extremely sunny days, the zoo doesn't draw any power from the grid. "On a day like today, every single building in our zoo is off the grid," said Mark Fisher, senior director, Cincinnati Zoo. "When I got my first energy bill, I started reading down and it was zero."

The $11 million project was financed through a complex web of private investors, federal tax credits, and Ohio's alternative energy incentives. The zoo pays a locked-in rate of about 10 cents per kilowatt hour to the solar panel owners, roughly what it would have paid the local utility. Over time, however, the zoo could save millions as electricity prices rise. "This is the future," says Steve Melink, who runs the Melink Corporation, an Ohio firm that designed, owns, and operates the array.

Solar leasing isn't just for large landowners – homeowners can also take advantage of the financing model to put solar panels on their roof for next to nothing. But in order to work for homeowners, the process must be affordable and simple to understand. "We know for consumer to adopt solar in the mainstream, it can't be hard and it can't be more expensive," said Lynn Jurich, SunRun cofounder. SunRun is one of the largest providers of residential solar in the country, with 11,000 homeowners signed up, and they hope to hit 22,000 households by 2012.

Ultimately, solar leasing proponents hope that as more and more people see installed solar panels, more people will warm to the idea of putting solar on their own homes. "1.3 million people a year park under this array, and when they come in the zoo, they're like, 'Wow – what is that?" said Fisher. "We can say this project, literally this project, has a direct relationship to motivating other folks, and that would be pretty cool."


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