Thursday, October 20, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Wholesale Price of Electricity Drops to $0.00 in Texas, Due to Wind Energy

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 03:20 PM PDT

“For several 15-minute intravals [last Friday] morning, wholesale electricity cost nothing,” Elizabeth Souder of reported last Friday. Interesting, eh? If you’re a regular CleanTechnica reader (or if you read the headline…), I think you can guess why. Yes, wind power being cheap as heck, the wind blowing strong at night, and less electricity demand is the mixture that caused this to happen.

As I’ve said many times on here, Wind.Is.Cheap. Additionally, as I covered earlier this year, wind power is making electricity cheaper. Remember this graphic from an Exxon energy report projecting that wind would be the cheapest source of electricity in 2025? (I actually think the report was way off when it comes to solar, and wind is, actually, already the cheapest electricity option in many places, but the point is that even Exxon recognizes wind power is cheap.)

cost of wind power cheap

More from Souder, explaining how cheap wind power can drive the wholesale price of electricity down to $0.00 (and occasionally does in Texas):

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, demand for the state’s grid dipped below 25,000 megawatts. Compare that to the highest demand ever, on the afternoon of August 3, at 68,379 megawatts.

Power generators bid their prices into the wholesale market. ERCOT calls on power plants to turn on as demand rises during the course of the day, calling on the lowest bids first, and then higher bids.

Wind gets dispatched first, because it is the cheapest power generation to operate. So when the wind kicks up, and turbines begin turning, some higher-priced generators may be told to turn off.

On a night when demand is low and wind is high, even some coal and nuclear power units that typically run constantly aren’t needed. It can be difficult to turn those plants back on when they are entirely off, so the owners will make very low bids – even zero — into the wholesale market to keep the plants going at low output.

And that, according to ERCOT market monitor Dan Jones, is exactly what happened on Thursday night.

Now, combine some solar power (which matches wind well since it is most available during the day), potentially some geothermal or hydro (maybe even small hydro), some other clean energy options, some energy storage, and a grid that can more easily shift electricity around, and I think you got quite a clean and cheap power supply. (Some have shown how it could even be 100% clean by 2030.)

Also, I think it’s worth point something out here. Wind and solar are “hard” to integrate into our current electricity grid because our electricity grid is based around power plants that are hard to turn on (or, take a long time to do so). I think anyone with the able to think can identify that taking a long time to turn on is not a plus. (How would you like it if your car took half an hour or so to turn on?) While solar and wind energy are “intermittent,” with a good mixture of energy sources, an easy-to-manage grid, and some energy storage, the sources with the very clear handicap are the ones with this long start-up problem.

Image Source: European Tribune

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Stronger Man-made Muscles

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 02:44 PM PDT

Science fiction has suggested artificial limbs  stronger than biological counterparts.  We are beginning to see this reality in present day research. “Carbon-nanotube-based muscles that are 100 times stronger than natural muscle”  have already been produced by the research of Ray Baughman, director of the Nanotech Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas. Now, he has produced a yarn from carbon nanotubes that can twist 1000 times more than other materials. It is this twisting motion that opens new possibilities and gives the material a potential as strong as a commercial electric motor.

What can they do?

Small-sized nanotech muscles may be useful in some of the tiniest applications, where electrical energy is turned into mechanical energy. Normally, we think of artificial muscles like electrical devices that produce the linear motion solenoids and actuators. These new materials have a much wider operating range than devices we now use.  Some of them use fuel rather than electricity as an energy supply. Some are as light as air.

Artificial muscles are also potentially useful in devices that mimic nature; robotics (such as vehicles that stay aloft by flapping wings) and as potential replacements for damaged human muscles like the heart. Due to their wide temperature range, space and exploration also include possible applications. This is “game changing” potential.

How do they do it?

Electricity and an electrolyte were used for this effect to take place on the carbon nanotubes:

To create the twisting motion, the yarn is connected to an electrode and immersed in an electrolyte. Ions from the electrolyte enter the yarn, which causes it to first swell and then contract and rotate along its length.

Issues and comments:

“This is a fascinating new way to provide torsion,” says Baughman. What remains to be disclosed is the relative energy cost and efficiency of this material/device. This would  give us a benchmark for comparison with present technology, and allow us to evaluate utility and future improvement.

Primary source:  MIT Technology Review

Photo Credit: NASA

Related posts:

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Big Wind Farms Cost More Than Small Ones

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 01:51 PM PDT

It seems obvious: every extra turbine in a wind farm comes at a lower incremental cost, making the biggest wind power projects the most cost effective.

If you bet $20 on that proposition, you just lost $20.

Instead, data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report by Ryan Wiser and Mark Bolinger (a must-read) blows a hole in the conventional wisdom that bigger is better.  The report shows that wind projects between 5 and 20 megawatts have the lowest installed cost per Watt of any size wind project.

There are a few plausible explanations.  For one, the economies of scale for ever-larger wind projects are limited.  At some point, the marginal cost of an additional turbine is much like the previous one.  The 500th wind turbine is likely the same price to install as the 499th.

Furthermore, there may be disproportionate costs for larger wind projects.  For example, projects over 20 megawatts must by processed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a more onerous step than smaller projects being handled at the state level.  Additionally, projects of inordinate size may require special financing that only a few large firms can handle, adding a price premium.  Finally, large projects may only be possible with the addition of new transmission line capacity, both a costly and time-consuming process.

Whatever the reason, the conventional wisdom of “bigger is better” does not hold with wind power in the United States.  And with the cost advantage of modest-sized wind power projects, it may open up opportunities for local ownership like the seven-turbine South Dakota Wind Partners, project with its 600 South Dakotan owners.  The prospect isn’t just good for the cost of wind power, but for clean energy and the economy.  Not only do locally owned projects like Wind Partners bring more public support for wind, they also garner significantly greater local economic benefits.

In wind power, the best policy is to “go local.”

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

Related posts:

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Energy Efficiency of 50 U.S. States Ranked

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 01:41 PM PDT

energy efficiency  top states

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released its annual energy efficiency scorecard today. The scorecard ranks the energy-efficiency of all 50 U.S. states. Top states have advanced energy-efficiency policies and programs that help lower customers’ energy use and boost the state economy.

This year, there’s a new state at #1 and there have been a number of shifts in the ranking.

The top 10 states are:

  1. Massachusetts (taking the #1 position for the first time)
  2. California (slipping from the top spot, which it held for the first four editions of the ACEEE Scorecard)
  3. New York State
  4. Oregon
  5. Vermont
  6. Washington State
  7. Rhode Island
  8. Minnesota
  9. Connecticut
  10. Maryland (making its first appearance in the top 10 and also one of the six most improved states in 2011)

And the 10 states “most in need of improvement” (starting from the one most in need):

  1. North Dakota
  2. Wyoming
  3. Mississippi
  4. Kansas
  5. Oklahoma
  6. South Carolina
  7. West Virginia
  8. Missouri
  9. Alabama (also one of the top six most improved states)
  10. South Dakota

Most improved states:

  1. Michigan
  2. Illinois
  3. Nebraska
  4. Alabama
  5. Maryland
  6. Tennessee

Other than the rankings, the following are some of the energy efficiency scorecard’s key findings:

  • Total budgets for electricity efficiency programs increased to $4.5 billion in 2010, up from $3.4 billion in 2009. Combined with natural gas program budgets of about $1 billion, total energy efficiency budgets in 2010 equal about $5.5 billion. Given the increasing regulatory commitments to energy efficiency, this growth will likely continue over the next decade.
  • Twenty-nine (29) states have either adopted or have made significant progress toward the adoption of the latest energy-saving building codes for homes and commercial properties – up from twenty in 2010 and ten in 2009.
  • Twenty-four (24) states have adopted an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), which sets long-term energy savings targets and drives utility-sector investments in energy efficiency programs. States that adopted EERS policies in 2007 and 2008 are now realizing significant energy savings and moving ahead in theScorecard rankings.
  • States continue to improve policies to reduce financial, technical, and regulatory barriers to adoption and deployment of combined heat and power (CHP) systems, which generate electricity and thermal energy in an integrated system. Tremendous potential remains for CHP, particularly in states with heavy industrial and manufacturing bases.
  • A group of leading states remains ahead of the curve in adopting policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled and promote the purchase and manufacture of efficient vehicles. A major gap exists, however, as over half the states have minimal or no policies to encourage efficiency in the transportation sector.

What exactly does the scorecard evaluate? The evaluation is focused on 6 topics:

  1. utility and public benefits programs and policies
  2. transportation policies
  3. building energy codes
  4. combined heat and power
  5. state government initiatives
  6. appliance efficiency standards

There’s a chapter of the report dedicated to each of those topics.

“States can earn up to 50 possible points in these six policy areas combined, with the maximum possible points in each area weighted by the magnitude of its potential energy savings impact,” ACEEE reports.

For more info, check out the 2011 ACEEE State Energy Efficiency Scorecard

Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by katieharbath

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Largest U.S. Solar/Wind Hybrid Project Proposed for Antelope Valley

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 01:12 PM PDT

Antelope Valley - Potential Home to Element Solar's Wind/Solar FarmCalifornia's Antelope Valley is a 3,700 acre site, home to burrowing owls, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, and deer. It boasts a bright and colorful poppy preserve, and the natural views help make it a popular horseback riding and hiking spot. It also sees strong winds and a lot of sun, which makes it ideal for America's biggest wind-solar hybrid farm yet. As Element Power's Wildflower Renewable Energy Farm Project manager Nat Parker says, "The trees grow sideways and the sun burns bright."

The ambitious project, citing 100 megawatts of solar and 150 megawatts of wind, is slated to cover just 22% of the land on-site in two separate locations – 840 acres in total. The northern site is to hold all of the solar panels, as leveling the southern site's topography to accommodate the arrays would be both difficult and disruptive to the local ecology. 33 3-megawatt wind turbines would join the solar panels in the north, while the southern farm would hold just 17.

What About the Wildlife?

Element Power's formal proposal also includes 347 acres of conservation area, adjoining the existing protected areas, and includes football-field-wide wildlife migration corridors. A total of 1,000 acres in the southern site will be left undeveloped so as to preserve wildlife habitats.

Parker's team studied the area closely for a year before finalizing the proposal. "We know from having been out on the site," the former Sierra Club Regional Manager explained, "that it is good burrowing owl habitat [and] that it has elevation features that make it an avian species foraging area — and we also know that people like to ride horses into the area." Element Power is committed to protecting that land for those uses in perpetuity. "…The southern energy farm has greater wildlife movement because it sits very close to the Portal Ridge area just south of our project," he added, explaining why the company would not undertake the earthwork necessary to build more solar there.

Also included in the proposal was a new network of trails for both hiking and horseback riding – visitors will still have gorgeous scenic views of the valley itself and its famous poppy reserve.

Local Support and Opposition

The project is not without some opposition, although polls commissioned by Element Power indicated majority support in the region for development of renewable energy. While communities closer to the immediate vicinity of the project were less positive, Parker feels that "these are projects that will have huge economic and jobs benefits for the entire Antelope Valley" and points out that even in the closest small community, strong opposition was only 27%.

Element Power's report on estimated economic benefits is currently in development and will be available in two weeks.

Key Points

  • 840 acres of Antelope Valley's 3,700 acres requested for solar/wind farm
  • 2 sites proposed – northern and southern
  • 347 acres of conservation area included
  • 1000 acres preserved as wildlife habitat in perpetuity
  • 6.7 miles of new horseback riding/hiking trails
  • 100 megawatts of solar power
  • 150 megawatts of wind power (50 turbines in total)
  • 43% total opposition – but only if poppy preserve were to be affected
  • 27% strong opposition nearest to site

Any thoughts on putting solar panels in wind farms in Antelope Valley – or anywhere else? Let us know what you think, in the comments, below.

Source: Green Tech Media

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  3. DOE ARPA-E Awards $156M to Cleantech (Video)

Living Off The Grid With Solar Power Can Be Simple, Fun, & Challenging

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 09:50 AM PDT

My wife were desperate to get out of the city. It was 2007, we were having an extremely stressful year with work. I owned a small construction company that was just about to give me a heart attack. She had a job she hated so much she would cry on the way to work sometimes. On top of all that, we lived in a duplex with noisy neighbors. And don't even get me started on the constant, traffic, sirens, and aircraft noise of living in the city.

That's when we decided: LETS GET OUT OF HERE – FOR GOOD! So we started looking for homes in the mountains. And, as luck would have it, we found our dream home after just one day of looking. Incredible views, astoundingly quiet, on a beautiful lake and surrounded by Aspen-draped mountains, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. There was just one thing: there was no grid power in this part of the world.

off grid solar living

The home was powered with a solar power system and a backup generator. Heat would have to come from a wood-burning stove. It wasn't exactly roughing it, but it was a drastic lifestyle change. And so, in the dead of winter, we moved our lives to the peace and quiet of Colorado Rockies. No more walking to sushi on Friday night. No more rowdy concerts and raucous cab rides on Saturday night. We still do those things every once in a while but we don't miss them as much as we thought we would. And we also don't have to deal with car break-ins, dirty air, bad water, rude drivers, and traffic jams.

Living off the grid meant we had to make other adjustments too. The only lights on in the house at night are ones we are actively using. We started listening to our iPods with headphones instead of throwing on the stereo and cranking the music. Laundry waits until a sunny day. Everything is on a power strip and gets turned off at the end of the evening. We don't own a toaster, microwave, clothes iron, or hair dryer.

We've become acutely aware of the patterns of the sun and weather. We open the blinds wide to let the sun pour in and heat the house in the winter. In the warm summer evenings we close them and crack windows strategically to allow the mountains breezes to cool the house. We've installed a wind generator and tuned into the patterns of our breezes too. Winter mornings might mean shoveling both the driveway and solar panels clear of snow.

Don't misunderstand, we don't live like hermits. We have a large flat screen TV, three computers, plenty of lighting, and tons of entertainment devices. We just use them strategically to conserve power, always keeping in mind that the sun is our friend. Up here we find that we need those things less anyway, with all the hiking, skiing, biking, and boating there is to do here.

We've learned a lot about solar, living away from civilization, but mostly about ourselves here. And I can honestly say this is happiest I've ever been.

Kriss Bergethon is a writer and solar expert from Colorado. You can visit his Solar Power site for more information.

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U.S. Going Wrong Way on Energy, Americans Say

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 06:17 AM PDT

energy poll u.s.

If you’re a firm believer in the U.S. being a democracy, one of the most perplexing issues for you might be the fact that:

U.S citizens strongly support energy efficiency, EVs, and clean energy such as solar and wind, and strongly support pulling the plug on subsidies to the fossil fuel industry,

but U.S. politicians (mostly, but not entirely, on one side of the aisle) strongly support subsidies to the fossil fuel industry but not to the clean energy industry.

The fact of the matter is, though, politicians respond to money more than to voters, and they (especially those on one side of the aisle) receive a lot more money from the rich fossil fuel industry than the nascent clean energy industry. Do U.S. citizens notice and care?

Apparently, yes.

A poll released yesterday by by The University of Texas at Austin found:

  • less than 14% of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction on energy
  • 84% (of the 3,400+ surveyed) were worried about U.S. consumption of oil from foreign sources
  • 76% were worried about a lack of progress in developing better ways to use energy efficiently and develop renewable sources

You can add me to the majority on those issues.

top energy concerns in u.s.

Energy efficiency has improved considerably in the U.S. That is in no small part to individuals (of all political stripes) greening their homes (and reaping the financial and feel-good rewards). But to address the larger issues, we need politicians to care more about these issues, as well.

We have decent energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy rebates available. But we need a national renewable energy standard (RES); a price on greenhouse gas pollution; a more accurate price on the cost of oil; more investment in the development and deployment of cheap EVs, solar, and wind; and a true energy plan.

“This survey shows that the public craves leadership on energy issues,”  Bill Powers, president of The University of Texas at Austin, said.

More on the poll:

The inaugural University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll, developed by the McCombs School of Business’ Energy Management and Innovation Center, seeks to provide an objective, authoritative look at consumer attitudes and perspectives on key energy issues. It is designed to help inform national discussion, business planning and policy development. To be conducted biannually, the online poll rates leadership on energy issues, measures consumers’ energy priorities, and tracks knowledge and energy consumption behaviors. The poll’s design was a collaborative effort of academics and polling experts, nongovernmental organizations, large energy users and energy producers.

When it came to expressing satisfaction with a range of different individuals, businesses, institutions, and organizations, Congress was dead last (8% satisfied, 71% dissatisfied). I wonder why. Republicans have only filibustered or completely shot down (in the House) every attempt to transition us to a clean energy economy sooner rather than too late.

More UT-Austin Energy Poll results.

Related posts:

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New Wind Energy Record Set in Texas

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 05:31 AM PDT

wind turbines set new electricity generation record in texas

Wind turbines in Texas, in the service territory of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) — which is the main Texas electric grid — set a new electricity output record on October 7, it was reported this week.

The record? 15.2% of ERCOT’s electricity demand was supplied by wind on the afternoon of the 7th — 7,400 megawatts (MW).

“This new record set by wind on the main Texas grid is good news for consumers,” Michael Goggin, the America Wind Energy Association’s (or AWEA’s) Manager of Transmission Policy, said.”Wind generation offsets the use of expensive fossil fuels, is pollution-free, and uses virtually no water, unlike other sources of electricity.”

Wind’s tremendous water advantages (especially important with record-breaking heat and droughts hitting Texas and the Southwest, and stronger droughts projected in the coming decades, one of the long-predicted effects of global warming), is something we’ve covered a few times on CleanTechnica.

Wind energy being the cheapest option for new electricity in most regions of the world is another.

Clearly, this is not just us clean-energy lovers noticing these advantages, but the conservative state of Texas is, as well. ERCOT reports that wind energy “represents nearly 58 percent of all new generation seen in planning stages over the next few years” in Texas. Wow.

More from AWEA’s Goggin:

“…this is yet another case showing that large amounts of wind energy can be integrated into existing utility systems reliably.

“Texas is already the national leader in wind power. The number of wind turbines and wind farms there and in other windy states across America is continuing to grow and shows the success of stable federal tax policies, starting with the Production Tax Credit for renewable energy.

“Wind power is delivering cheap electricity to ratepayers in hard economic times, and it’s hard to overstate the benefits of that far-sighted tax policy.”

I imagine it won’t be too long before we see this record broken again.

Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by danishwindindustryassociation

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Texas: Solar Energy Hitting State in 1 Month = All Energy Texas Oil & Gas Industry Has EVER Produced

Posted: 20 Oct 2011 05:00 AM PDT

solar power growth projections

This is a fact the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Rhone Resch, said at the 2011 Solar Power International conference this year. In Rhone’s own words:

Texas has the potential to be a MASSIVE solar market. To put it into perspective, the sunshine that falls on Texas each month has more energy than all of the oil that has ever been pumped out of this state.  If you think oil made Texas great, just wait till you see what they do with solar….

But today, smaller, less sunny states are currently ahead of Texas. There's no reason why New Jersey should have nearly 10 times more solar installed than Texas. That's like the Princeton Tigers football team coming down to Texas and putting a whooping on the Longhorns. That's just wrong.

Rhone then went on to highlight how New Jersey and California have grown their solar markets so fast, as well as a handful of specific solar projects and programs.

In addition, Rhone had numerous national solar energy stats worth sharing.

While we have covered solar power’s potential, its recent growth, and its projected growth a few times lately already, and have covered almost all of the stats below at one time or another, here’s a quick and concise summary of the stats and points Rhone highlighted this week:

  1. Rush Limbaugh says that the solar industry doesn't even exist. So I would to take this opportunity to set him straight: The Solar Foundation's jobs census released just today shows that we employ more than 100,000 Americans. And no industry in the country is growing faster than solar.”
  2. The U.S. solar industry includes over 5,000 companies (mostly small businesses).
  3. Solar PV installations have grown 69% over the last year (40 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole).
  4. The solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.
  5. The U.S. solar energy industry is a net exporter, by $2 billion (and is even a net exporter to China).
  6. 9 out of 10 Americans feel we should develop and use more solar power.
  7. The U.S. solar industry is creating jobs in every state and is the fastest growing industry in the country.
  8. “Earlier this year, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published a study that confirmed what we knew all along: adding solar to your home increases its value by thousands of dollars.”
  9. “The utility-scale solar market grew by 171 percent in the last year and we expect nearly 800 megawatts of utility solar to come online this year. We've commenced construction on over 600 megawatts of new CSP plants and nearly 3,000 megawatts of utility-scale PV projects. And for those of you who think utility-scale solar is only for the Southwest, you'll be surprised to know that the second largest state for utility solar in the second quarter was the second smallest state in the country – Delaware.”
  10. “Since last year we opened 30 new solar factories and now have over 400 manufacturing plants supporting the solar industry in the United States.”
  11. “The 1603 Treasury Program, along with the underlying solar investment tax credit, is hands-down one of the most successful policies ever enacted to deploy renewable energy. Its return on investment to the taxpayer is the best of any policy in place today. It has allowed the development of more than 19 thousand solar projects in 47 states and the District of Columbia and supported over 4.4 billion dollars in economic investment.”
  12. “[A]n extension of the 1603 program even for just one year will support 37,000 additional jobs and deploy 2,000 additional megawatts of solar capacity. Let me repeat that – 37,000 new jobs next year.”

Impressive stats. Impressive industry. Impressive potential (if we implement the right policies, we will easily live in a solar-powered country).

Related posts:

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