Thursday, October 27, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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China Won’t Ape US in CO2 Levels as that Would be “World Disaster”

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 08:22 PM PDT

If there had to be one country that is going to dominate the 21st century, the carbon-constrained century, make or break for the human race, I am increasingly happy it is China. I think we’ve all lucked out.

The BBC is reporting that China has announced that it will not allow its per capita carbon dioxide emissions to reach the levels found in the US, according to the minister in charge of climate policy.

Xie Zhenhua, vice chair of the National Development and Reform Commission, said that for China, with its billion-plus population, to let its emissions rise as high as the US would be a “disaster for the world”.

He told UK parliamentarians that China would not “follow the path of the US” and allow per-capita emissions to rise that high.

“We are making efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon intensity is decreasing,” he said.

The world’s climate scientists have agreed for some decades, and increasingly so, that global emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide must be curtailed to keep some semblance of the climate that we evolved to fit over the hundreds of thousands of years that we’ve been around (and the millions of years that parts of our essential ecosystem that have been supporting us needed to evolve to just right).

But it certainly is reassuring when politicians actually act upon that intelligence.

China’s annual emissions as of 2010 are at 6.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, compared to the US figure of 16.9 tonnes. In its per capita emissions, China has now pulled alongside of Italy. At its current rate of growth, China is predicted to match US by 2017 if its increase in production is all fueled by coal-fired power, but the minister says that domestic policies that have been enacted in China have been designed to prevent that from happening are legally binding.

China has a level of investment in nuclear power planned that is completely unprecedented worldwide. Wind and solar have both been doubled in the last six years. A boost in energy efficiency of 40-45% by 2020 is under way. China lays out five year and ten year plans and sticks to them. There’s no hostage-taking within China’s government to assuage some minister’s pet peeves. No filibuster. No whining.

What a relief to have the grownups in charge of at least one major power. And, since it is actually China that is the major power that will be responsible for the CO2 emissions level that will really decide our fate as a species, this has to be reassuring news. May he and his tribe live long and prosper.

Image: Tea and Carpets

Susan Kraemer@Twitter
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China’s CO2 Emissions Now on a Par With Italy’s (Per Capita)

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 06:26 PM PDT

China CO2 emissions match Italy

Even though China has doubled its installed wind and solar power capacity for the sixth year in a row, its emissions continue to rise as its growth has continued. In a study from the European Commission: Longterm Trends in Global CO2 Emissions, over the entire 20 year period studied – from 1990 till 2010, China increased all forms of energy production to keep pace with its growth, increasing renewable energy sources like solar and wind by 10%, and gas and coal-fired power by 11.6%.

It increased steel production by 11.6% and cement production by 15.1% over the 20 years, and both steel-making and cement are big CO2 emitters.

The European study goes back to 1990, the base year of the Kyoto Accord, which China did not sign. In the last six years, however, China has made huge jumps in renewable energy capacity, with new wind power capacity growing faster than coal, while during the earlier years tallied, coal was the preferred new energy source.

CO2 emissions per capita have grown to where now it is on a par with Italy’s, higher than France’s, and lower than Germany’s.

China’s CO2 emissions per capita have increased from 2.2 to 6.8 tonnes (per capita) in the 20 years since since 1990, while they have decreased in the EU-15 from 9.1 to 7.9 tonnes per capita. The EU-15 were the 15 highly developed core European Union nations that signed the Kyoto Accord. Since 1990, other less industrialized nations, mostly former soviet satellites have now joined the EU, making up the EU-27.

While Europe and China have seemed to converge at somewhere under ten US tons per capita, however, the US remains the world’s highest CO2 emitter..

Since 1990, the US reduced emissions from 19.7 tonnes per capita (22 US tons), to 16.9 tonnes per capita, still the highest per capita rate, but lower, and the comparably developed, but Kyoto-signing, EU-15 nations dropped from their already much lower 9.1 tonnes (10 tons) to 7.9 tonnes per capita.

Image: New Chinese protest art at the Robischon Gallery

Susan Kraemer@Twitter
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Fluorescent Lighting Prices Continue to Rise

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 05:10 PM PDT

CFL

Manufacturers warn a decline in the supply of rare earth metals will continue to drive the cost of fluorescent lighting even higher. Over the summer, every major lamp manufacturer announced significant price increases due to the shortage of rare earth metals. Then, prices were forecasted to increase between 5% – 75% depending on several factors, including lamp color, lamp tube diameter, wattage and color mix.

Now, a second round of price increases will go into effect this November and manufacturers say prices may increase by as much as 1,000%.

The problem is a simple case of supply and demand. China, which currently produces 97% of the rare earth metal supply, has recently limited production and increased taxes on the mining of these elements. The current demand for rare earth elements is roughly 134,000 tons a year and global production is 124,000 tons a year. That creates a deficit of 10,000 tons per year.

By 2014, demand is predicted to rise to over 200,000 tons per year. With China predicted to produce only 160,000 tons per year in 2014, the deficit will balloon to 40,000 tons according to the U.S. Department of Energy 2010 Critical Materials Strategy Summary.

Fortunately, the future may not be as bleak as anticipated. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts the situation may actually get better in 2014 when relief will come from new mines and processing facilities. However, only time will tell if this prediction holds true.

Source: [P2] Rare Earth Oxide Prices Rising Fast
Precision Paragon is a manufacturer of energy efficient commercial lighting.
Image: P. Gordon.

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GE Global Team Targets Simplifying Home Solar PV Installations

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 12:52 PM PDT

For the multitudes of those who champion solar energy but find it too expensive to install it on their own homes, the team of scientists and engineers at GE Global Research has set out to simplify and reduce the cost of solar PV installations.

This endeavor is taking place through two projects that are part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Sunshot Initiative.

According to Charlie Korman, manager of Solar Energy Programs at GE Global Research, the average cost today of installing a solar system on a typical home runs $6.50 per-watt, totaling the hefty sum of $32,500 – a prohibitive amount for many, especially in gaunt economic times. "We want to cut the cost by more than half, Korman said in a GE press announcement.  "At less than half the price, solar systems will be practical for millions of homeowners in the United States,"

He added that even though the price of rooftop solar has dropped due to the growing number of installations – even so, the prices are not close to competitive with current electricity rates. That will require getting solar installations into the $3.00 per-watt range. Such a price point will make rooftop solar more attractive to a substantial number of U.S. consumers who embrace renewable energy over fossil fuels.

The first of the two projects is a $2.9 million program to improve some of the underlying technologies in residential solar systems that help reduce the cost of key components. This complements another program GE has underway with the New York State Energy Research Development Authority to reduce the costs of residential solar installations. The second program is a $3 million project focused on commercial rooftop applications. The goal here is to develop pre-wired and pre-configured components for easier installation of solar systems onto commercial rooftops.

The two GE solar projects with the DOE are aligned with GE's ecomagination initiative, a commitment to bring new technologies and products to market that can provide cleaner, sustainable worldwide.

GE Global Research has sites in Niskayuna, New York; Bangalore, India; Shanghai, China; and Munich, Germany. A fifth global research facility is set to open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012.

We wait to welcome more positive news on the economic side from these research and development facilities. The news can’t come soon enpugh.

Photo:  jeremy.blum

 

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Geothermal Energy Could Power Entire U.S. (Maybe)

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 07:16 AM PDT

Google is dipping its toes in renewable energy – according to Science Daily, it provided a grant to SMU Geothermal Laboratory which indicates a pretty hefty amount of geothermal power lurking across the United States. The total amount of available power is claimed to be more than three million megawatts (current coal power plants produce 300,000 megawatts, for the curious). Maps are viewable on Google Earth (where else?) and SMU believes that they are accessible with current technology.

We Know More Than Before!

Traditional geothermal production in the U.S. is in the western part of the country, where there's more tectonic activity, but the new research has refined the geothermal map. Using nearly 35,000 data points (twice the number in a previous survey, and primarily drawn from oil and gas drilling), more local variations were found for temperatures at depth. The eastern half of the country seems to hold much more potential than previously thought – through the Appalachians, for example.

The new data points were used for in-depth analysis (more information means a better overall picture, usually) to create heat flow maps and temperature-at-depth maps from 11,500 to 31,000 feet. Surprisingly, some of the areas of the eastern part of the U.S. actually appear to be hotter than the areas in the Western U.S. currently generating the bulk of American geothermal power.

The new study does take into account some practical limitations – no geothermal power plants are going to be in cities or national parks, for instance – and doesn't analyze heat below 21,500 feet of crust. With those guidelines, the study stays within newly proposed international standards for geothermal resource potential.

SMU Hamilton Professor of Geophysics David Blackwell, half of the research team leadership, still feels that the full potential of American geothermal energy has yet to be explored:

“This assessment of geothermal potential will only improve with time,” said Blackwell. “Our study assumes that we tap only a small fraction of the available stored heat in the Earth’s crust, and our capabilities to capture that heat are expected to grow substantially as we improve upon the energy conversion and exploitation factors through technological advances and improved techniques.”

The new version of the map, produced by Blackwell and research partner Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards, is not the first SMU has offered. Their earlier survey has been the national standard for evaluating heat flow, temperature, and thermal conductivity since it was published in 2004.

We Can Do More Than Before!

More refined information isn't the only reason for improved geothermal prospects; the technology is also advancing. New drilling methods, for instance, can be used in a wider range of geologic conditions. Three more specific examples of new technology used to generate geothermal energy under previously unusable conditions, also according to Science Daily, are:

  • 1. Low Temperature Hydrothermal — Energy is produced from areas with naturally occurring high fluid volumes at temperatures ranging from less than boiling to 150°C (300°F). This application is currently producing energy in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Utah.

 

  • 2. Geopressure and Coproduced Fluids Geothermal — Oil and/or natural gas are produced together with electricity generated from hot geothermal fluids drawn from the same well. Systems are installed or being installed in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
  • 3. Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) — Areas with low fluid content, but high temperatures of more than 150°C (300°F), are “enhanced” with injection of fluid and other reservoir engineering techniques. EGS resources are typically deeper than hydrothermal and represent the largest share of total geothermal resources capable of supporting larger capacity power plants.

As the tools available continue to improve, geothermal energy comes under more and more consideration as a source of clean, renewable power. The SMU assessment was specifically aimed toward evaluating non-conventional resources, and its results were perhaps unexpectedly positive.

Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association, has nothing but praise for both Google and the SMU:

“Once again, SMU continues its pioneering work in demonstrating the tremendous potential of geothermal resources. Both Google and the SMU researchers are fundamentally changing the way we look at how we can use the heat of the Earth to meet our energy needs, and by doing so are making significant contributions to enhancing our national security and environmental quality.”

Whether SMU’s new geothermal energy sources are viable or not remains to be seen – and depending on the exact locations of proposed plants, there could be an outbreak of NIMBY.  How would you feel about a geothermal plant in your community’s back yard? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source | Image: Science Daily

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Remote EV Charging? There’s An App For That (Video)

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 07:14 AM PDT

IBM Research and EKZ (the electricity utility provider for Zurich in Switzerland) have made maintaining your EV even easier by developing a smartphone application that not only allows users to charge their EVs but also track their energy costs. Information also flows back toward the utility providers, theoretically allowing them to better manage grid loads.

Electric Vehicles Encourage Renewable Resources

The pilot project is still undergoing testing, but it combines a data recording device with a Web-based application. The recording device is installed in the EV, where it (of course) records information – battery charge level, location, power source, etc. – which is then sent to an IBM cloud through a cellular network. It runs on "most" smartphones, tablets, and web browsers, according to IBM, and uses a four-button interface.

The application is designed to allow owners to check on their EV remotely, start vehicle charging, or even program charging to start while the rates are lowest. EV owners can also let their utility provider decide when to charge the vehicle, depending on when electricity from renewable resources is available.

According to Peter Franken, head of the Energy Distribution department of EKZ, the project will also help contribute toward increasing Switzerland's already impressive proportion of electricity produced by renewable sources (just over 55%, if you're curious):

“Electric vehicles can be used to buffer the irregular production of electricity from future renewable sources, which will contribute to the overall stability of the electrical network. With this project we can show how electric vehicles can create a balance between supply and demand for smarter energy grids.”

What the Customer Wants

Dieter Gantenbein, leader of the Smart Grid research project at IBM Research in Zurich, feels that the app will encourage the purchase of electric vehicles:

“This service will make electric vehicles more attractive to consumers by taking into consideration their preferences, while still factoring in cost and overall convenience. In this pilot, the real-time analysis of supply and demand together with a control algorithm will create a dynamic incentive for a sustainable way to charge an electric vehicle’s battery, putting us another step closer to establishing a cleaner transport system."

Apparently there’s nothing that can’t be funneled through a smartphone somehow! Would you use this app? If you could get it, would you be more likely to buy electric? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: PR Newswire | Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Energy Storage “Membrane” Instead of Batteries?

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 07:11 AM PDT

Feed-in Tariffs or Solar Renewable Energy Credits — Which are Cheaper?

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 06:50 AM PDT

A few years ago, a heated debate started within the U.S. solar industry about which was more cost-effective:  Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) or Feed-in Tariffs (FITs).

Now that we've had more experience with both policies, the question is again being asked. Researchers at the Institute for Local Self Reliance attempted to answer this question, and released a report earlier this month concluding that long-term contracts for clean energy are more cost-competitive than tradeable credit markets.

NOTE:  Some are now calling Feed-in Tariffs "CLEAN Contracts." Since the report we're writing about references CLEAN Contracts, we'll use both terms in this post.

srecs or fits cheaper

So what does that mean exactly? Considering that solar still has a long way to go before we reach the double-digit penetration, this kind of research helps us understand which solar policies are most effective.

Let's start with the background on how these programs work.

Modern FITs were started in Germany in the 90′s and have spread to dozens of other countries around the world. The policy sets a price per kilowatt-hour that utilities must pay an owner of a renewable energy system over a certain period of time — typically 15 to 20 years. Those rates are stepped down over time as the cost of technologies come down. FITs also give a system owner priority access to the grid, meaning the utility must allow them to interconnect in a short period of time.

Although the policy is hailed as a simple, transparent way of promoting renewables, it has not gained traction in the U.S. like it has around the world.

Pure-play SREC Programs, which are uniquely American, are a relatively new mechanism. An SREC is a tradeable credit that represents the "environmental attribute" of one megawatt-hour of clean electricity. Under a Renewable Portfolio Standard, energy suppliers must purchase a certain number of SRECs in order to meet yearly targets. These suppliers can generate the credits by developing their own projects, or they can purchase them from customers.

SRECs are the exact opposite of CLEAN Contracts. Rather than provide a guaranteed long-term price, SRECs fluctuate in price based upon supply and demand. If there's an oversupply of solar, SREC prices will drop; if there's an under supply, they will rise. Some people believe these "floating" markets are opaque and create inefficiencies that ultimately make the program more expensive; proponents say an SREC system allows the market to realize the true price of solar.

However, as the ISLR report points out, CLEAN Contracts in Germany have more closely followed changes in solar system prices than market-based SRECs have:

german versus new jersey solar

According to the ILSR report, when factoring in program management, the cost of financing, and the ease of interconnection under both programs, CLEAN Contracts come in more than 3 cents cheaper per kilowatt-hour when comparing the levelized cost of energy from a theoretical solar project in New Jersey. (New Jersey has an SREC program, and state officials debated this exact issue when it was initially rolled out. In fact, a 2007 independent analysis showed that SRECs could be up to 50% more expensive due to higher transactional costs.)

Here's more from the ILSR report, which also looked at small-scale systems in California:

This finding is reflected in a 2011 study that found the average cost of solar to be 30 percent higher for California ratepayers than German ones, accounting for the difference in solar resource intensity. Californians pay between $0.33 and $0.38 per kWh for solar power, in comparison to average CLEAN Contract rates of $0.24 per kWh in Germany. This fits with the findings from international energy consulting firm KEMA, which reported that, "studies have suggested that cost savings of 10-30% may be possible from maximizing investor certainty.

CLEAN Contracts have minimal transaction costs because the project developer is assured a long-term contract, grid interconnection, and fixed, transparent price for their electricity.

SRECs, however, create significant transaction costs. Solar projects in an SREC regime, particularly those that are larger than net metering thresholds, must participate in a utility bidding process for a contract. The contract must be negotiated and may include bundling the SRECs (and an additional If New Jersey solar developers operated in a low-risk environment like Germany, it would reduce the levelized cost of solar power by as much as 20 percent.

For the last five years, SREC programs have dominated state-level solar policy. But with price crashes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, CLEAN Contract advocates are using the opportunity to point out the cost-effectiveness of long-term, transparent tariffs to support renewables. Will this help them make their case?

This post was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.

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Toyota Working on Battery with Range of 600+ Miles

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 06:42 AM PDT

Green Houses for the Poor

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 05:57 AM PDT

No, not green houses where you take care of your trees and plants. I'm talking about green houses that are highly energy-efficient.

In the hard-hit area of the South Bronx, the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDCo), which is a well-known New York non-profit organization, has its own housing project. The project, called the Intervale Green housing development, has 128 separate apartments for low-income families.

These apartments don't have any real ground-breaking technologies or anything that would be considered “fancy.” The apartments are built with energy-efficient appliances, insulated windows, and fluorescent lights. While this may seem unimpressive, these apartments save around 30 percent more money on facilities than other comparably-sized apartments. When we're talking about people who live at or below the poverty line, this is a massive amount of money saved.

This movement in the Bronx for green-energy housing is showing up in other parts of the country. Miami, Chicago, Portland, and even Jacksonville, FL, all have projects currently being worked on or are in the planning stages of building these affordable, green apartment complexes. These non-profit organizations believe that if you can build these types of apartments for low-income families, why can't all houses, apartments, and buildings built from now on have the same energy-saving structures?

Between being affordable, clean, and safe for the environment, and doing a service for the community, these green apartments are doing a lot of good for a small amount of money. All they could use is some clean energy, such as solar or wind power.

Thoughts on such project? Share below. And be sure to share this piece with those who care!

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