Friday, October 21, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Obama DOE Picked More Energy Winners Than Silicon Valley VCs

Posted: 21 Oct 2011 06:40 PM PDT


With just 1.4% of its Recovery Act clean tech investments in “losers”, it looks like the Obama administration is batting a much better average in “picking winners and losers” than the private Venture Capital (VC) market itself.

The US government guarantee of a private loan to Solyndra, at $535 million, represented a minuscule 1.4% of the Department of Energy investment in all renewable technologies. By contrast – VCs (who were out $1 billion to Solyndra, for example) expect much higher failure rates. Richard Stuebi, who advises VCs on expected green energy failure rates, says that just 3 in 10 successes represents a successful VC investment strategy. That is 70% losers – not 1.4%.

The argument against “picking winners and losers” that Republicans in congress have long cited to avoid clean energy investment got a poster boy in Solyndra, and they are flogging it to death. They have pounced on one startup bankruptcy as yet another excuse to shut down all clean energy investment by the Democrats.

Republicans argue that “government should not pick winners and losers” because “the invisible hand of the marketplace” should be allowed to (continue to) decide the winners and losers in energy supplies. It is no coincidence that the invisible hand favors the dirty energy lobby that funds their seats in congress.

The market will pick dirty energy because it is cheaper (for now) since it is already in place, and the capital costs have been absorbed, and it did not pay a dime for the pollution it caused. All the market knew was that it was cheap. But the market did not know that in fact there will be a much larger payment due for that cheap dirty energy.

The market thus conspires with their dirty energy benefactors. Dirty energy has been successful in avoiding paying for the pollution it has already caused, because it made us pay for it instead, at the emergency room, every year: For example, the “230,000 premature deaths, 200,000 cases of heart attacks, 2.4 million cases of asthma attacks, 120,000 emergency room visits, and 5.4 million lost school days" is just the portion prevented annually by the Clean Air Act. And dirty energy will similarly not pay for the future costs that we will bear, with the effects of climate change.

The Department of Energy had hired a clean tech VC to help with picking winners, while the Recovery Act had Department of Energy investment dollars for investing in getting clean energy costs down. He has just left, as there will be no more need for expertise in picking winners. The program ended on September 30th.

The renewable energy loan guarantee program that invested in Solyndra, as part of a historic investment resulting in 16,000 megawatts of clean energy coming online under the Democrats’ brief Recovery Act, could have been renewed when it expired at the end of September. But this Republican congress needs all the energy it can put together just to keep its lights on for each ensuing month.

Now Republicans have shut down the Democrats’ pick – a historic investment in clean energy – rivaling the Manhattan Project, and we will stick with their pick: dirty energy.

Susan Kraemer

Related posts:

  1. Silicon Valley: Clean Tech’s New Capital?
  2. New Generation Inverters to Drive Down Cost of Solar Power: Interview with Silicon Valley’s ArrayPower
  3. House Republicans Complain about Loan Guarantees.. with $11.8 Billion in Loan Guarantees in Their Districts

White Roofs Not Good for Climate, Increase Global Warming (Shocker!)

Posted: 21 Oct 2011 02:32 PM PDT

white roof global warming

White roofs have been promoted as a simple, easy, “soft geoengineering” solution to help combat global warming for awhile now. It’s gotten the strong backing of former president Bill Clinton and current Energy Secretary Steven Chu. I thought this was a rather obvious solution we should adopt — reflect more back into space with lighter roofs. Many thought is was a good idea.

However, new research has flipped this white roofs solution into a potential global warming problem (showing that even the simplest geoengineering solutions may have side-effects we didn’t think up from the start). The study, led by Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, found:

Jacobson’s computer modeling concluded that white roofs did indeed cool urban surfaces. However, they caused a net global warming, largely because they reduced cloudiness slightly by increasing the stability of the air, thereby reducing the vertical transport of moisture and energy to clouds. In Jacobson’s modeling, the reduction in cloudiness allowed more sunlight to reach the surface.

The increased sunlight reflected back into the atmosphere by white roofs in turn increased absorption of light by dark pollutants such as black carbon, which further increased heating of the atmosphere.

Now, one thing Jacobson’s team didn’t include in the study was how much white roofs reduced demand for electricity (and, thus, burning of fossil fuels). Of course, white roofs would also mean a house in a cold climate would need more heating in winter, but it’s not clear which way the benefit is stronger.

Summary points:

  1. Looks like we shouldn’t go painting everyone’s roof white after all.
  2. Geoengineering (even “soft” options) will have more than the obvious or targeted effects.
  3. The best way to address global warming is still to just cut our burning of fossil fuels (vie basic energy efficiency or switching to clean energy options).

In Jacobson’s words: “There does not seem to be a benefit from investing in white roofs…. The most important thing is to reduce emissions of the pollutants that contribute to global warming.”

Solar PV Panels Help (in Multiple Ways)

Now, solar PV panels help address global warming in even more ways now.

Aside from using sunlight instead of fossil fuels to create electricity, they shade one’s house (helpful in warmer climate, at least), and they don’t reflect sunlight back into the air like white roofs do.

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Walmart Stores

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Oil Companies: Honest? or “Greedy Lying Bastards” (Video)

Posted: 21 Oct 2011 11:24 AM PDT

Throughout history, the development and control of energy has been simultaneous with the growth of civilization. The control of primary energy sources has also been a source of political power by a few. Initially, it may have been found in human power, and the control of slaves granted that political power. For England, to control the seas, they needed to control the wind, which they did with their ships. Later, it was coal cartels and, more recently, it has been petroleum.

Solar Thermal Magazine reports:

"Greedy Lying Bastards” is a new feature length[sic] documentary, scheduled to be released in 2012, investigating the role the oil industry plays the world over in all facets of people's lives from politics and economics to the environment.”

The film asks, “what happens when one industry has too much power.” And, in this way, the movie may represent the soul of the OWS movement.

Here is an amusing but related view of energy history seen through the eyes of transportation, as an alternative trailer to the “Revenge of the Electric Car” being released in selected theaters today:

Primary source: Solar Thermal Magazine
See Also: "Greedy Lying Bastards”

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Harvest Power Provides Sustainable Solutions from Organic Waste

Posted: 21 Oct 2011 10:08 AM PDT

Harvest Power anaerobic digestion facility

Providing a detour for organic waste on its way to the landfill can provide a cornucopia to harvest.

That's exactly what Paul Sellew set out to accomplish. A few years ago, he saw an extraordinary option in converting organic waste into a series of viable products. He opted to divert organic waste from what had been the standard waste stream approach that fed organic trash like leaves, grass, food and animal waste to landfills, and manufacture revenue-generating products. As a result, Sellew and Nathan Gilliland founded Harvest Power in 2008 and set up shop in Waltham, MA.

Now, little more than three years after launching, Harvest Power will generate almost $100 million in revenue from the products and services it provides. The product list includes soil, mulch, and fertilizer that have been derived from organic waste for replenishing the soil. Add methane to the list of products, a dangerous greenhouse gas that provides a sustainable clean energy source when properly managed.

"We are a business that manages organic materials," Sellew says with a matter-of-fact tone. He is no stranger to the organics business. In 1982 he founded Earthgro, Inc., which became the second largest producer of compost-based lawn and garden products in North America.

Unlike his days at Earthgro, Harvest Power doesn't just build large compost piles; it manages the organic waste it hauls by initially feeding it through an airtight anaerobic digestion facility. Here, microbes that exist without air begin to create a digestate that can generate methane gas, which in turn, can be used to generate fire and electricity.

"The great thing about anaerobic digestion," observes Sellew, "is nutrients in, nutrients out. Anaerobic digestion is clearly the leading technology."

This motion graphic on You Tube offers a very good explanation about how Harvest Power's anaerobic digestion process functions.

While some large landfill operators – such as Waste Management – already operate waste-to-energy facilities that produce electricity and liquid natural gas, none to date have approached organics quite the way Harvest Power does, by removing valuable assets from the landfill instead of leaving them there.

The Harvest Power website offers this assessment about the organic waste stream it manages how it approaches the idea of sustainable solution: "By harnessing the carbon, energy, and nutrient value in organic materials, we provide sustainable solutions."

We all need plenty more of these simple innovations that lead to sustainable solutions.

Photos: Harvest Power

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Utility CEOs Talk Solar

Posted: 21 Oct 2011 08:09 AM PDT

solar power international logo

A really interesting part of this year’s Solar Power International conference was a roundtable of 7 utility company CEOs (starts about 18 and a half minutes into the video). I watched most of the discussion 3 times (while doing other things, of course). These are not just solar industry cheerleaders, but they know our electricity system about as well as anybody and are leaders in their arena. So, it was really interesting to watch them speak for over an hour on solar power.

The executives included:

  • Doyle Beneby (President & CEO of CPS Energy)
  • Randy Mehrberg (President & CEO of PSEG Energy Holdings & Executive Vice President of Strategy & Development at PSEG Services Corp)
  • Armando Olivera (President & CEO of Florida Power & Light)
  • Robert Powers (President of AEP Utilities)
  • James Rogers (Chairman, President, & CEO of Duke Energy)
  • Larry Weis (General Manager of Austin Energy)

These are some points (good and bad) that stood out to me:

  1. Most of these guys seem to think a price on CO2 is inevitable, but it’s not here in the U.S. yet (despite basically every other major industrialized country in the world moving forward with such policies). And, even some of these solar “leaders” in the utility arena don’t seem to be taking a price on CO2 into account in their long-term modelling and planning (though, no one said so specifically). Some were clearly doing so, however. Overall, it seemed to me that this was perhaps the most critical piece needed to make solar power more cost-competitive.
  2. Clear federal or state policies are critical for utility companies to get behind solar (renewable energy standards, cap-and-trade, a tax on CO2, tax credits, and/or good net metering policies, for example). With renewable energy versus traditional energy being the subject of political cat fighting (i.e. in various states, in Congress, and in presidential debates), these policies are, unfortunately, being held up most places. (I think even deeper than that, though, money’s power over U.S. politics is what’s holding up the progress — traditional, rich companies can, essentially, buy many politicians’ votes on this matter, and they do.)
  3. Deployment will bring the cost of solar down. Utility companies can help bring the cost down (their need and request) simply by deploying more solar.
  4. Everyone is hopeful/expectant that the costs of solar will continue to fall, that efficiency of solar panels will continue to improve.
  5. The CEO of Duke Energy, James Rogers, made the point that electricity is going to get more expensive, because old power plants are going to retire in the coming years and the grid needs to and is going to get upgraded. So, no matter what, the price of electricity is going to go up, and citizens need to be aware of that. Whether it’s solar power or any other source of power, the cost of electricity is going to go up after 40 years of relatively flat prices.
  6. Several of the CEOs talked about solar being expensive (while the social and environmental costs are still not taken into account) and routinely mentioned it being 14 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. But, two of the CEOs (starting with Doyle Beneby) then made the point that long-term power purchase agreements with fixed costs can already be quite competitive, since the price is going to go up anyway (due to the issues mentioned in point #5 and an inevitable price on CO2) and that a fixed price for solar today could be better than it looks to those who don’t take these factors into account. (Additionally, as Greentech Media pointed out back in July, we are starting to see 20-year solar power purchase agreements (PPAs) that put the price of solar at about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour in some areas).
  7. Individuals support solar and are willing to pay more on their electricity bill for solar energy rather than dirty energy. Tapping that willingness is important (though, it is a somewhat unacknowledged factor).
  8. The cost of water in some areas (i.e. in the increasingly drought-stricken the South and West) is also something that should be taken into account when in engaging in long-term power planning (and calculating costs). Solar PV (and wind) are clear leaders when it comes to water use.
  9. Home area networks (HANs) can make solar less intermittent and quasi-baseload. Demand-side technologies available today can already solve a lot of the intermittency or reliability “issues” of solar.
  10. Consumers, at this point, need to be willing to pay a little more for clean electricity (instead of healthcare needed to address — adequately or inadequately — the health effects of environmental destruction and dirty energy, I would add), and more mass-marketing of solar and wind needs to occur.
  11. Again, Duke Energy’s CEO pointed out that utilities can “roll solar in” and let it increase the price of electricity as a whole a little bit, but, in doing so, put a hedge in against the likely cost of dirty energy in the future when we price it better — this is a smart thing for utilities to do. And doing so is critical to help scale solar and decrease its costs.
  12. Utilities need to not cause mischief on interconnection issues — need to be clear and fair about interconnection policies.
  13. Utilities can and should help push for better federal and state policies on energy and climate change legislation.
  14. While one CEO, Larry Weis, brought up the issue of the “need” for backup resources for solar (baseload power), three others responded that we already have the demand-side technologies needed to address that and it’s actually not an issue for the amount of solar we can put on the grid today (even if we go full steam ahead). And, in the long term, as the grid develops and more EVs are rolled out, it seems like even less of an issue.
  15. Furthermore, solar power helps to protect against potential cyber attacks or strong storms and actually could improve reliability. Even the U.S. Department of Defense and former head of the CIA backs this statement up.

At the end of the discussion, the moderator gave them all an opportunity to say the one thing they would like to have that would help them put more solar up. Answers were:

  1. Better knowing what their electricity consumers wanted. (With current demand-side technologies, power companies could then help them to reach their targets and include renewable energy into the mix more at the same time.)
  2. Solar being cost-competitive with traditional sources.
  3. A price on carbon.
  4. A national energy policy. A target to shoot at.
  5. A national energy policy.
  6. All of the above.

Image Credit: Solar Power International 2011

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New Generation Inverters to Drive Down Cost of Solar Power: Interview with Silicon Valley’s ArrayPower

Posted: 21 Oct 2011 06:52 AM PDT

Digital and solid state electronics are reshaping the way solar power systems are designed and built, holding out the promise of higher, more efficient performance at significantly lower cost and with a smaller footprint. This is especially true in the market for inverters, which convert direct current (DC) from modules or batteries to the alternating current (AC) used to light and power homes, buildings, appliances and industrial and commercial processes.

As auto manufacturers have done in recent decades, power inverter designers and manufacturers are increasingly using semiconductors and digital, solid state electronics rather than traditional electronic components to design and build power inverters, and they’re incorporating them into solar power modules themselves. They’re also redesigning the wiring and architecture of solar power arrays to increase system performance and efficiencies, as well as make it easier and less costly to install solar power systems capable of reliably supplying grid-ready, commercial-grade electricity.

Based in Sunnyvale, California, ArrayPower is one of a number of power inverter designer/manufacturers that’s taken advantage of Solar Power International (SPI) 2011 in Dallas this week to launch new product lines.

In ArrayPower’s case, that includes launching the ArrayPower Sequenced Inverter, as well as the start-up coming out of Silicon Valley “stealth mode.” Its Sequenced Inverter is the first in the world that reliably converts DC power to grid-ready, commercial-grade, three-phase sequenced AC, according to the company.

A Quintessential Silicon Valley Start-Up

The Antenna Group’s Tomi Maxted and Kimberly Setliff organized a Skype video interview for Clean Technica with ArrayPower CEO Wendy Arienzo and director of business development Nick Cravalho.

The creation of ArrayPower is the quintessential story of a Silicon Valley start-up as Ms. Arienzo describes it. Founded in 2008, the company’s origins go back to a Silicon Valley garage where a group of inventors with expertise in solar and power electronics and semiconductor technology joined in an effort “to perfect a completely novel approach to solar power conversion.”

Successful in their initial efforts, the company’s founders were able to attract seed capital from venture capital firms and attracted the interest of a California manufacturer of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, one of the top 10 in the world. Arienzo and Cravalho left us guessing as to exactly which company this might, as they were unable to disclose the name.

* Image courtesy of ArrayPower

Page 1 of 3

–> Page 2:  Module Design, & Reducing the Leveled Cost of Solar

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WindTV Showcases Wind Success Stories

Posted: 21 Oct 2011 06:40 AM PDT

wind power tv farmer in iowa

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) recently launched WindTV, “a site dedicated to showcasing video profiles of Americans whose lives have been positively affected by the wind industry.” Each week, a different video profile will featured.

"The wind industry is a tremendous American success story,” said Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA. "Wind power is creating a new American manufacturing sector and jumpstarting rural economic development. But like every industry, wind energy is ultimately about individuals. These videos will help put names and faces on the $10 to $20 billion wind invests in the U.S. economy each year as well as the 75,000 U.S. wind energy jobs at more than 400 factories in 42 states."

The first profile is of an Iowa farmer, Tim Hemphill, who’s now making money farming wind. "Leasing land to wind power helps keep our family farm in the black," Hemphill states.

Wind energy has generated 4,000 to 5,000 jobs in Iowa. And Tim is not the only one benefiting from wind energy’s growth.

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