- Can Cash Payments Win Over Wind Project Opponents?
- Are Fuel Cells the Answer to Coal Power Plant CO2 Capture?
- Solar Farms on Old Mine Sites Shining Examples of Smart Land Use
- Mushroom Detectives Find Key to Low-cost Biofuels
- Help CleanTechnica Interview Solar Energy Industry Association (Tomorrow!)
- Hot Panels, Practical but Not Yet Popular – A Solar Overview
- Canadian Wind Power Capacity on Track for Record in 2011
Posted: 03 Oct 2011 02:18 PM PDT
A 50-turbine wind farm in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota has met with stiff local resistance, a frequent tale in the wind industry. Recently, the project developer won a key court case to move forward, after making concessions about the distance (“setback”) between the wind farm and local homes. However, many residents remained unconvinced that the project was in their best interest.
But this summer the project developers offered $10,000 payments (over 20 years) to about 200 local residents to try to win them over. The concept might work, although the payments – $500 per year – aren’t particularly large.
In a recent European study, researchers found that citizens generally have two priorities for renewable energy projects: avoiding environmental and personal harm and sharing in the economic benefits from their local energy resources. The $10,000 checks could go a long way toward satisfying local residents that they aren’t being simply colonized for their wind resource.
Will it work?
The wind project had already been certified as “community-based” under a 2005 state statute, but local opponents contested that a wind farm development by a company owned by Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens hardly qualified. It remains to be seen whether a more significant a direct benefit for nearby residents is enough to buy their support.
Posted: 03 Oct 2011 10:56 AM PDT
Capturing the carbon dioxide emitted from the myriad variety of industrial and commercial operations that use fossil fuels to produce power has been a “big idea” that’s really gone nowhere despite years of fossil fuel industry support, lobbying and many millions of dollars of government subsidization. Similarly, fuel cells and the “hydrogen economy” have long been touted as the energy system of the future, but that future still seems a long way off, if it will ever come about.
Fuel cells may hold the key to solving the increasingly urgent problem of how to capture CO2 emissions from coal-fired and other fossil fuel plants, at least that’s what fuel cell proponents assert and the US Dept. of Energy (DOE) intends to find out.
The DOE awarded $3 million to Connecticut-based FuelCell Energy (NASDAQ: FCEL) to evaluate the use of the company’s Direct Fuel Cells (DFC) “to efficiently and cost-effectively separate carbon dioxide (CO2) from the emissions of existing coal-fired power plants,” according to a press release today. If proven successful, carbon capture can then lead to finding the means to store, or sequester, the greenhouse gas.
The three-year research project will involve system design, cost analysis, and long-term testing of a multi-kilowatt DFC stack, with funding occurring in stages upon reaching certain progress milestones, according to the DOE. The project’s principal goals are to capture at least 90% of the CO2 from a coal-fired power plant’s emissions within the DOE’s cost targets. Achieving this could lead to a demonstration project with a DFC power plant installation at an existing coal-fired power plant, the press release explains.
“FuelCell Energy has over 80 Direct FuelCell power plants providing ultra-clean power and usable high quality heat at more than 50 locations globally,” noted Tony Leo, FuelCell Energy’s vice president, Applications Engineering and New Technology. “This award enables us to further expand the use of our existing commercial technology to develop an additional application with significant market potential, namely the ability for our power plants to economically capture carbon dioxide from the emissions of conventional fossil fuel-fired power plants.”
FuelCell Energy’s carbonate fuel cell technology separates and concentrates CO2 in a side reaction to generating electricity. According to the company, carbon capture research it has carried out has demonstrated the DFC “is a viable technology for the efficient separation of CO2 from a variety of industrial facility flue gases, such as cement plants and refineries.”
In addition to removing CO2, FuelCell Energy has also verified that its DFC technology can destroy some of the nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions in flue gas streams and reduce the cost of doing so.
Fuel cell usage is spreading and becoming more diverse. Fuel cells are being used in municipal transit company buses. Auto manufacturers continue to develop and test hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Waste-to-energy and co-generation applications are also on the rise, and fuel cells are also being tested as means of electrical power generation in the home.
The principal demand for FuelCell Energy’s hydrogen fuel cells has come from power generation companies, such as South Korea’s POSCO, that use them for electricity grid-support. They’re also used to produce electrical power independently at remote locations and those where the costs of power outages are deemed to outweigh the costs of buying, installing, and running a fuel cell system.
Posted: 03 Oct 2011 09:47 AM PDT
As Derry Newman, Solarcentury's CEO, stated: “To see a tin mine diversify into producing 21st century clean solar energy, provides an optimistic glimpse of where we’re now heading for our energy production. Wheal Jane’s solar farm demonstrates that solar technology can contribute to our clean energy future, and quickly."
Solar farms of this scale are starting to have more of a featured position in the renewable energy mix of this country. Solarcentury designed and constructed this site, powering over 400 homes, in less than two months.
"Solar is not to be underestimated; it is the fastest growing energy technology in the world, simply because it is clean, reliable and a readily available alternative to fossil fuels,” added Newman.
In Germany, such news is even more impressive. According to Renewable Energy World, Saferay's 78-MW plant on former open-pit mining lands near Senftenberg in eastern Germany includes 330,000 crystalline solar modules and 62 central inverter stations. Equally impressive, the plant was constructed in three months.
Innovative and responsible land is now part of the formula for successful renewable energy sites. "As large-scale solar plants become more common, developers will need to find ways to balance conservation and land-use issues with generating capacity," writes TreeHugger.com.
Covering a 7.2acre plot in Cornwall the 1.4MW plant represents a significant undertaking for a country not familiar with large solar projects.
It is reasonable to expect more such news in the coming years concerning responsible land management practices.
Photo: Solar Century
Posted: 03 Oct 2011 04:38 AM PDT
Heat-loving fungi could provide a key enzyme for making low cost biofuel, and a team of “mushroom detectives” from the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute think they’ve just nailed their man – er, fungus. In an article published just yesterday in Nature Biotechnology, the team identified two types of fungi that can boost the biofuel refining process along at temperatures up to 75 degrees C. That’s far above the room-temperature range that conventional bio-refining organisms can tolerate.
Enzymes and Low-cost Biofuels
Next-generation biofuel refining is based on tweaking enzymes to break down plant walls and convert biomass to fermentable sugars. The research has two main goals. One is to find ways to cut down the energy input needed for biofuel processing. The other is to develop refining methods that can efficiently process woody, non-food material such as grasses, poplar trees, or corn cobs, orange peels and many other types of waste from agricultural or food processing operations. Enzymes that can survive higher temperatures can help accelerate the biofuel refining process, and with great efficiency comes a greater potential to keep costs down.
Biofuel Meets the Magic Mushroom
The JGI team identified two fungi, Thielavia terrrestris and Myceliophthora thermophila, whose enzymes can thrive at 45 degrees C. and remain active at temperatures up to 75 degrees, far above the body-temperature limit of 35 degrees for the typical enzyme. Specifically, the researchers concluded that the level of efficiency would match the needs of a large-scale biorefining operation. The team also found evidence that the two fungi could be hosts for further genetic manipulation to make their enzymes even more efficient.
A National Biofuel Policy
Last summer, President Obama toured the Midwest to promote a national biofuel policy that also creates green jobs, targeted to rural communities that have been steadily withering away. In the latest development, the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program just announced a new round of grants that includes funding for advanced biofuel research, some of which would be housed in unused timber mills. With a little more help from Congress (!) research like the Joint Genome Institute will help the U.S. transition from a high risk (as in Gulf oil spill) fuel supply to a more safe and sustainable energy source.
Image: Fungus for biofuel courtesy of Adrian Tsang, Concordia University via jgi.goe.gov.
Posted: 03 Oct 2011 04:30 AM PDT
A representative of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) contacted me last week to see if I was interested in interviewing Rhone Resch, SEIA’s president. Not too uncommon to get such invitations, of course, but this time I had an idea that I thought would be fun to try out.
Google recently opened up Google+ to the public. As part of that, it opened up the possibility of “on-air” video hangouts (ok, basically, these are webinars, but a little more open). So, I thought, “Hey, it would be great to invite CleanTechnica readers to the interview — let them ask questions too!”
So, that’s the plan. I think you need a Google+ account to join in, but that’s easy to set up.
The interview will be tomorrow (Tuesday, October 4) at 3:00pm EST (noon PST).
Rhone’s schedule actually got booked up with something else at the last minute, but Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s Director of Strategy and External Affairs, will be participating in his place. I’m sure the interview will be just as useful and interesting.
The hangouts are limited to 10 participants. So, the first 8 people to join (other than Tom and me) will get to participate in the interview (everyone else will just be able to listen).
If you want to connect with me on Google+ before the interview, feel free. This is my Google+ page.
Otherwise, just go to that page tomorrow at 3:00pm EST and join the “Hangout.”
Posted: 03 Oct 2011 03:14 AM PDT
The sexy movie stars of the solar panel business are photovoltaic (PV) panels, but you might not want Hollywood deciding what to put on your roof. My colleague, Glenn Meyers, has discussed how solar PV panels work in a concurrent article. I will not cover that here. But every star has their working relatives. For PV panels, the older working brothers are solar thermal panels and “distant cousins” are solar air panels which I come to at the end.
Concentrating the Sun
The sun’s energy is diffuse. It is always first collected and then concentrated. In utility-scale systems, solar energy tends to be concentrated at the collectors and to much higher levels. In residential systems, we tend to use solar panels to collect the sun’s energy and some other means to concentrate the energy. This is why we tend to refer to utility systems as “concentrators” and residential panels as “collectors.” Utility-scale systems also tend to be sited in the best locations and use heliostats to track the sun’s movement for a slight additional efficiency, while residential panels do not have sufficient economies of scale.
Solar thermal panel systems concentrate the energy in thermal storage systems. PV panel systems do this electrically but not always with storage. When installing solar PV panels, you must initially decide if you want a grid-tied system where you can sell power back to the utility but keep no on-site storage or if you want an independent system that incorporates a battery or other backup (off-grid house.)
PV panels are used when what we want is electricity. There are two major types, silicone crystal and thin-film. Silicone panels produce DC power that must then be run through an inverter to give us the AC power of our electrical grid. The trend is to have AC inverters built into the panels for fewer parts and a simpler installation. For commercial PV panels, the maximum efficiency at the moment is 29%, using present silicone-based technology. Commercially available panels can be purchased with about 8 to 20% efficiency. These are also the most expensive type of solar panels, presently costing between $1 to $3/watt of rated power. Presently, prices are depressed due to a glut of panels on the market, causing some infamous bankruptcies like the Solyndra bankruptcy and possibly others to come.
Solar thermal panels (collectors) are used when what we want is heat. There are 4 major types: “flat panel collectors,” “vacuum tube collectors,” solar trough panels, and solar air panels. The first three types use a medium like water to transfer the sun’s heat from where it is collected to a central area where the heat can be stored and concentrated. Most of these types tend to be active systems that use pumps to move a working fluid. There are also passive designs that use thermosyphoning.
Flat panel collectors rely upon the sun heating a target which then transfers the heat to pipes that run to a central storage. Solar trough panels are similar to a utility scale system with a reflector behind a pipe that focuses the sun’s power to a central pipe. The heat is then transferred to central storage. These were used decades ago and mostly fell out of favor due to their complexity. This panel type gains efficiency with solar tracking using a heliostat. A double parabolic reflector behind them obviates the need for solar tracking (here are photos showing the parabolic reflector shape). A vacuum tube covering would also improve efficiency and new research has recently provided both of these improvements.
Vacuum tube collectors now most commonly use a phase change material in a pipe that heats up, changes to a gas and transfers the heat to a manifold where piping collects it and takes the heat to central storage. Older types were similar to the solar trough panels, with the pipes surrounded by the double wall vacuum tubes. The vacuum tubes virtually eliminate heat loss through conduction and convection. Flat panels lose some heat. This can sometimes be useful to melt snow loads in winter months. Solar panels can overheat, so flat panels are also better in warmer climates, possibly without glazing.
Advantages of Solar Thermal Systems
Any of these thermal panels are more efficient (60 to 80%) and cheaper than PV pannels. Infra-red radiation (heat waves) carry more energy than the visible light radiation upon which most of photovoltaics is dependent. Efficiency is also gained by not having to transform the light energy to electrical energy. Vacuum tube collectors even work on cloudy days and in cold wind and weather. The systems have built-in energy storage for cloudy days and nights. The systems cost less and give back more. The ROI or payback is more favorable. These systems that produce heat can efficiently be used to produce air conditioning using the less conventional absorption systems. Also, they could be used to produce electricity by using that heat in an organic Rankine cycle, a stirling engine to operate thermoelectric devices, and in other ways, although this substantially reduces efficiency and increases cost.
In most places in the US, heating and cooling costs more (about 50 to 70% of energy expenditures) than electricity for other purposes (about 30 to 50%, not considering heating or air conditioning.) Going to the website of the flat panel pictured above gives the solar panel’s specs. The flat panel collector costs $32/sq ft. The Max BTU (power rating) is 5000BTU/h for 21.7 sq ft where insolation is 1000W/m2/day or (5000/21.7=) 230.41BTU/hr/ft2 or 67.53watts (67.53/$32=) 2.11 watts/$ or $ .47/watt more than 3x cheaper than PV panels for the energy received. Evacuated tube systems are more expensiv,e as would be solar trough panels (unless you make them yourself). Solar thermal panels save more and save more where it counts.
So Why are PV Panels More Popular?
If you are going into the business of selling solar panels, to make more money you need a virtual plug-and-play product. Solar thermal panels are part of a relatively complex system that is not as easy to retrofit into existing homes and businesses. The profit margins on PV are usually higher than solar thermal. PV has more use for utilities and commercially than solar thermal, so there are larger potential markets and profits are higher. You hear more about PV because more companies want to make them, not because they are more useful to residential customers.
Solar Thermal Air panels are probably the most difficult to find commercially. This is because they are so simple to make that they are often a DIY project. They are the cheapest panels with the highest ROI and lowest payback period. A passive solar-designed home might have sufficient glazing and let the sun enter the home directly. Solar air panels are a retrofit that are often installed on an exterior wall of a house and are used to actively heat the air in a house indirectly. At its most basic, a solar air panel is an insulated and glazed box that has a solar target (“absorber,” usually black) that heats up and then heats the air that is forced through the box by a fan.
If you prefer the practical to the popular, or what you want is heat and cooling, or if PV panels are a bit too rich for your budget, then consider Solar Thermal Systems. If the solar thermal industry was searching for popularity, they may have to rebrand their product: HOT PANELS.
Posted: 03 Oct 2011 02:34 AM PDT
Canada’s wind energy sector is gusting towards record territory this year.
According to data from the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), an estimated 1,338 megawatts (MW) of new wind energy installations are on track to set a record for new capacity built in Canada in a single year. The predicted numbers this year almost double the 2010 levels of 690 MW, CanWEA said. Although Canada, recently, has been known more for crude oil from the Alberta oil sands, the report released on Canada’s new wind installments for this year provided some good news to Canada on the renewable energy front, considering the criticism it has received on both the building of a new pipeline to transfer oil from the Alberta tar sands to the United States, and a lack of coherent clean energy policy among the Canadian federal government.
CanWEA president Robert Hornung said on its website that Canada is starting to become a very aggressive place for investments in the sector. Hornung added that strong targets for wind installations plus solid government policy will help Canada become a major player in the global wind industry.
Some of the major factors regarding the growth of Canada’s wind capacity in 2011 include creating new supplies of energy to meet demand, with minimal environmental impact, while creating economic opportunities in both rural Canada and industrial sectors.
With the added 1,338 MW of new power created by the end of the year, Canada’s total wind power capacity capacity will reach about 5,300 MW, more than 27 times the amount of wind power installed ten years ago (in 2001) — 198 MW, according to CanWEA. The association predicts that an extra 6,000 MW will be added over the next five years, with new projects set all over the country.
Out of all provinces, new wind installations from Ontario lead the way this year, with a targeted 500 MW of wind power capacity. While Ontario may lead the way with new wind capacity installed this year, other projects across the country, including the St. Joseph wind farm in Manitoba and Nova Scotia’s Watts Wind project, will help continue to blow Canada’s wind industry in the right direction.
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