Friday, October 28, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Boehner: Energy Subsidies “Wrong” (& Can I Please Have a $2-Billion Loan Guarantee for a Nuclear Power Plant?)

Posted: 28 Oct 2011 04:55 PM PDT

boehner loan guarantee request

Yes, sadly, our politicians are downright hypocrites, especially those on a certain side of the aisle. What they say versus what they vote for (and ask for) are completely opposite in many instances. After joining in the loan guarantee flogging after Solyndra, for example,  House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has gone and supported a $2 billion loan guarantee for an Ohio nuclear power plant (yes, that would be his home state of Ohio). He’s even gone so far as to say not backing the loan guarantee would “betray” Ohio workers.

Last I heard, loan guarantees for nuclear power plants have a financial failure rate of over 50%. Umm…

Going back to Boehner’s September opinion on loan guarantees: “for the federal government to be out there picking one company over another, one type of energy source over another, I think is wrong.”

Oh, how the opinions change with the wind in Congress.

“Boehner is far from the only Republican using Solyndra to score political points while asking for loan guarantees at the same time,” Think Progress reports. “In fact, Republican House members host $11.8 billion in loan guarantees in their districts.”

But you know what, viewers of FOX News, listeners of Rush Limbaugh, and many other Americans are not aware of this at all…. Hence the reason I do this job (one of them, at least). Help get the news out. Spread this no only to your clean-energy choir, but also to your whole network on Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+, or wherever you socialize.

Photo Credit: SpeakerBoehner

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Energy Storage.. Moving Along

Posted: 28 Oct 2011 04:37 PM PDT

wind power energy storage

Energy storage is a critical piece of the clean energy. While some think widespread adoption of EVs and smart grid technology are more important, energy storage is clearly going to play a bigger role in the future of our energy infrastructure.

Here’s the intro to a great piece on energy storage over on Grist. I highly recommend checking it out if you are into this topic (or even if you aren’t):

Tracking the politics of clean energy can be a surreal and dispiriting experience. D.C. is so swamped in fossil-fuel money, fossil-fuel lobbyists, and fossil-fuel-owned pols that the conventional wisdom is absurdly pessimistic about clean energy: It’s unreliable, it costs too much, it can never work, blah blah.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, costs are plunging and the intermittency problem (insofar as it’s actually a problem and not a talking point of the fossil crew) is being solved.

There are two ways to solve it: one is connecting more renewables over a wide geographic area, which generally requires more transmission lines and grid upgrade (for intriguing news on that front, see here); the other is adding energy storage, so solar and wind plants can provide power even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. That’s what today’s post is about.

Photo Credit: A123 Systems

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2 Critical Reasons to Cut Back on Petroleum Combustion

Posted: 28 Oct 2011 01:31 PM PDT

Royal Navy Diesel Engine

Anti-petroleum people argue that petroleum is not a sustainable fuel for transportation and electricity generation, and petroleum advocates point to the fact that oil is essential to the production of plastics, pharmaceutical products, lubricants, and more, as if that is a reason to keep burning it.

The most important problem with that is: plastic and lubricants are essential to almost everything, from packaging, to electronics, and even automobiles and power plants. Most products are made with at least a little plastic, and that means that increased oil prices cause plastic to become more expensive.

Burning petroleum derived products such as gasoline, propane and diesel results in greater oil demand because you are consuming petroleum indirectly. Petroleum has to be extracted from the ground, then some of it is refined into gasoline and diesel, then that gasoline and diesel is burnt, so gas and diesel literally come directly from oil.

Even though not everything is made of plastic or oil, oil had to be involved at some point in its manufacturing or transportation.

For example: food is transported using diesel-powered trucks. Greater diesel demand drives up the cost of diesel, and that drives up the cost of food transportation because fuel is one of the greatest transportation expenses. And, finally, that drives up the cost of food, which is a serious economic problem.

Cutting back on petroleum usage also reduces the cost to drive gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles because, as I said above, reduced diesel and gas demand is reduced oil demand, and reduced oil demand makes all three of the hydrocarbon substances above cheaper.

So, when you see people driving hybrid and electric cars, they are reducing the cost of oil, because they are consuming so little gas. Even if hybrid and electric vehicles did not pay for themselves financially, they would still provide the economic benefit of reduced oil prices. When you see people driving around in empty SUVs, they are contributing to economic harm by needlessly wasting gasoline or diesel.

Governments can put a major dent in the situation (especially in the U.S) by imposing SUV taxes. Most SUV drivers drive them to work mostly empty on a daily basis. It won’t completely solve the problem, but it is a start.

Some people would rather to continue being wasteful and drill for more oil instead, but that actually causes future economic and environmental damage.

Conclusion: Burning more gasoline and diesel literally drives up the cost of everything, so the net economic benefit of reducing the consumption of these is widespread and far-reaching.

Photo Credit: Calotype46

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Renewable Power Surge: UK Sets Out to Be the ‘Rolls Royce’ of Marine Energy

Posted: 28 Oct 2011 11:43 AM PDT

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


Marine power – generating clean, renewable electricity primarily from ocean waves and tidal currents – has been high up on the energy policy and political agenda across the UK, particularly in Scotland.

Subsidy levels for investing in renewable energy projects to do with producing electricity from waves and tidal currents would more than double in England and Wales under plans proposed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

DECC focused “on ‘scalable’ lower cost technologies” as to change support and incentives for large-scale renewable generation projects from 2013-2017 as the UK strives to meet the 2020 renewable energy targets established in its national Renewables Obligation (RO).

The proposed increases will come at the expense of lower subsidies for wind farms, which would be cut by 10%, as well as for waste, biomass and offshore wind projects, according to an Out-Law report.

Up north, the Scottish government announced the launch of the 18 million pound (~$29 million) Wave and Tidal Commercialization Fund to support development of its first commercial wave and tidal power arrays, part of an overall 35 million pounds (~US$56.35 million) to be devoted to fostering development and commercialization of ‘green’ technologies.

Boosting Marine Energy Start-Ups, Investments

The marine power surge is giving a boost to a growing population of UK-based marine power start-ups, which are increasingly attracting the attention of much larger industrial and engineering corporations.

Venerable auto and aviation engine manufacturer Rolls Royce announced that its prototype tidal power turbine installed sub-sea off northwest Scotland’s Orkney Islands has generated and fed more than 100 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity into the national grid.

Designed and built by wholly-owned Rolls Royce subsidiary Tidal Generation, the 500 kilowatt (kW) turbine continues to run at a test site at the European Marine Energy Centre.

Now in the first of three planned stages, Sweden energy multinational energy Vattenfall’s Aegir Wave Power project off the Shetland coast may expand from 10MW to more than 100MW after eight years of operation, the Shetland Times reported yesterday.

The second phase of the project, slated to begin in 2015, would see as many as 14 Pelamis http://www.pelamiswave.com wave power generators linked in an array capable of generating 10MW of clean, renewable power at a cost of 60 million pounds (US$96.6 million).

Kawasaki Heavy Industries recently signed a contract with EMEC to test a tidal energy device at an EMEC test site in Eday, as Japan moves with increasing urgency to meet more of its energy needs via renewable resources.

"Scotland has around one quarter of Europe's tidal energy resource and a growing expertise in offshore renewables and I am determined that we continue to encourage world-leading companies like KHI to work with us in developing pioneering technologies that can power the economies of the future and benefit the generations that follow us," Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond commented.

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Why “Market-Based” is Poor Criteria for Solar Policy

Posted: 28 Oct 2011 04:18 AM PDT

When it comes to solar policy in the U.S., there are three flavors: tax or cash incentives, long-term CLEAN Contracts, and solar renewable energy credit markets.   Policy makers are often drawn to flavors that taste like markets, but unfortunately “market-based” and “cost-effective” aren’t synonyms in solar policy.  Furthermore, by virtue of being available almost anywhere, renewable energy presents a unique opportunity to disperse the economic value of generating energy and the right policy can make more of us into energy producers.

The Three Solar Policy Flavors

Incentives are simple: pay people to go solar.  The federal tax incentives are the backbone of solar financing and programs like California’s Solar Initiative provide production-based payments that further reduce the breakeven price for a solar developer.  Incentives work by closing the gap between what utilities want to pay for electricity and what it costs to go solar.

CLEAN Contracts are also simple: provide people a long-term contract for solar power.  In the German CLEAN Contract (or feed-in tariff) program, this means setting a contract price sufficient to provide a reasonable return on investment, based on the cost of installing solar.  In the U.S., CLEAN Contracts have been set in this cost-based fashion, but also by using utility’s “avoided cost” rates (e.g. what they would have to pay to get electricity from another source).  Both have worked, the former in Gainesville, FL; Vermont; and San Antonio, TX and the latter in the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California.

Solar renewable energy credit (SREC) markets are a bit more complex.  First, the state mandates a certain quantity of solar, e.g. 1% of electricity by 2020, with incremental mandates each year.  Then a market for SRECs is established.  Each solar project gets 1 SREC for each megawatt-hour of electricity it produces.  These SRECs are purchased by utilities in order to meet the state mandate.  If the supply of solar is less than demand, prices jump.  If the supply of solar exceeds demand, prices fall.  It’s textbook economics.  It can also be very volatile.  The following chart illustrates SREC prices over the past two years in the eight states with active SREC markets, and shows the general collapse in value in the past 6-9 months across nearly every state (when, for the first time, supply exceeded the state mandate).


The Problems of “Market-Based” Policy

SRECs are traded in a market, hence their claim to be market-based.  But it’s an artificial market whose prices are totally reliant on the relationship between a state solar mandate and the supply of solar power.  And as a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance reveals, using SRECs may also be more costly than alternatives like CLEAN Contracts.

Why wouldn’t the SREC market be the most efficient?

For one, it’s a price set by an artificial state mandate for solar and has no real relationship to the actual cost of installing solar power.  The following chart illustrates the relationship between SREC prices in New Jersey and the cost of installing solar power there.  For comparison, it also shows the price of the German feed-in tariff (adjusted for the stronger New Jersey solar resource and federal tax incentives).

Of course, this isn’t apples-to-apples, because SRECs are sold on a spot market or shorter-term contracts (1-5 years, typically) while a CLEAN Contract price is set for 20 years.  But it does highlight how the former policy prices the artificial supply-demand relationship while the latter is focused on administratively setting the contract price based on the cost of installing solar.  If the policy administrators are adept at adjusting prices (the Germans do so twice a year and a CLEAN Contract Program modeled on the CSI could do so automatically based on a given quantity of solar installed), then CLEAN Contracts can be a very accurate measure of the cost of solar compared to SRECs.

The second reason CLEAN Contracts can beat SRECs on cost-effectiveness is that they lower risk.  If you’ve ever picked investments for a retirement fund, you know that more risk = more return.  Savings accounts pay little because your money is safe.  By the same principle, CLEAN Contracts can offer lower contract prices than SRECs because they offer transparency and certainty to investors in solar projects.  They may also make life easier for solar installers, whose livelihood depends on consistency in the market.  It remains to be seen how the solar markets of the many states with SRECs are affected by the crash in SREC prices.

Incentive programs fall in between SRECs and CLEAN Contracts.  If consistent and predictable, like the California Solar Initiative, they can also lower risk and therefore the cost of solar.  But if they take the form of rebate programs that are fully subscribed, expire, and then get renewed a year later, they will have to offer developers a higher return to take up the risk.

Ultimately, the transparency and certainty of the incentives is what makes financing solar cheap, and the longer this market certainty persists, the faster solar installers will drive down the cost of solar.

It’s Also About Ownership

Risk and return aren’t the only considerations.  CLEAN Contracts dramatically simplify the process of going solar, so much so that half of Germany’s 53,000 megawatts of renewable energy are citizen-owned, not in the hands of utilities.  The economic benefits to local communities are vastly higher when the bar to participation is dramatically lowered, and the democratization of energy production means a much stronger commitment to clean energy than when only the rich can play.

There are many good criteria for evaluating solar policy, from cost-effectiveness to the volume of solar to the democratization of ownership.  “Market-based” fails to make the grade.

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

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China Now World Leader in Wind and Hydro

Posted: 27 Oct 2011 10:31 PM PDT

With 42.3 GW of wind power installed, China has now become the new world leader in wind power, having overtaken the US, with 40.2 GW, which itself bypassed the longtime world leader Germany in 2008.

After four years of doubling its installed wind power capacity annually between 2006 and 2009, China added a record 16.5 GW in 2010. According to a detailed report(pdf) from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, nearly 20% of all net additional power generation capacity in China is now wind power, nearly on par with its hydro. China now leads the world in large-scale hydropower with 21% of global production.

Hydropower output increased by 5.3% in 2010 with China accounting for more than half of the growth, due to an increase in capacity and favourable (wet) weather in 2010. As the climate heats up causing wilder wetter storms, hydropower could supply more energy in regions that are due for increased precipitation under a warming scenario, such as the Pacific Northwest, which has recently had to shut down other sources as storms so much increased hydropower production.

US wind installations dropped to half the rate of 2009, when the Obama administration Recovery Act provided a onetime boost. With the return of a much more fossil-friendly House, policies that help grow renewable power have been halted once again. September 30th saw the last of the DOE’s successful loan guarantee program, as Republicans, who dispute scientists on climate change, and have no problem with pollution, oppose supporting renewable energy.

But the rest of the world made up the difference. The European Union nations as a whole installed an additional 9.3 GW of wind in 2010, bringing their total to 84.1 GW. This should, in a normal wind year, produce 5.3% of overall EU electricity consumption according to GWEC (2011).

Worldwide wind power capacity grew 22.5% in 2010 with 35.5 GW installed, bringing the new world total to 194.4 GW, with nearly half of the new installations in China, and most in the developing world.

So, what did it cost China and the world to add 35.5 GW of wind capacity in 2010? About $65 billion. Total world wind capacity is now 194.4 GW, according to the report.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter
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