Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Nanoengineered EV Batteries Zap Range Anxiety

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 04:26 PM PST

Nanotechnology could give EV batteries the same range as gasoline engines

Range anxiety, or concerns about how far electric vehicles will travel on a single charge, is one of the biggest limitations facing the EV industry. In fact, a recent survey said only 20 percent of American drivers would consider buying an EV with a 100-mile range. But what if EVs could drive 500 miles on a single charge?

That's exactly what one of America's most innovative companies is working on. energyNOW! correspondent Josh Zepps looked under the hood of a next generation battery design that uses nanotechnology to make EVs more powerful than ever. The full segment is available below:

Next-Generation EV Batteries Zap Range Anxiety from Energy NOW on Vimeo.

IBM invented many of the computing technologies we take for granted today: the floppy disk, personal computer, barcode, and hard drive, to name a few. Now, the company is turning its sights on meeting a different type of technological challenge – the electric vehicle battery. "Most people on the planet want to own a car," said Winifried Wilcke, an IBM nuclear physicist. "I think that's not going to change."

Wilcke and his team at the Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California are working on a revolutionary EV battery with ten times the energy density and five times the range of today's most advanced batteries. Current EV batteries, which use the same lithium-ion technology as cell phones and laptops, only have a range of around 75 miles on a single charge, according to the EPA. In addition to the limited range, lithium-ion batteries are bulky and heavy, and represent much of the cost of an EV.

So what sets IBM's battery apart? The secret, according to researchers, is air. A lithium-ion battery contains heavy metals like cobalt oxide or manganese oxide and shuttles lithium between a graphite anode and metal oxide cathode as the battery is charged and discharged.

A lithium-air battery, on the other hand, doesn't carry around all the chemicals necessary to work. When it releases electricity, it borrows oxygen from the surrounding air to form lithium oxide. When it's plugged in and recharging, it releases that oxygen back into the air. This saves space and mass, meaning a lighter battery that stores much more energy per pound.

The IBM team is also working to reduce the weight of their 500-mile battery by ditching the heavy metal oxide cathodes for microscopic nanotechnology carbon cathodes. Nanoengineering the carbon is imperative in order for the team to increase the battery's total charge. "We've looked at a lot of the different carbons, and we've found that if we have a high surface-area carbon, we can get much more capacity," said Sally Swanson, an IBM researcher.

While a 500-mile EV battery seems far off now, IBM thinks it can start commercial production of the long-range battery by 2020. Even though the project is complicated and might not work, the prospect of an EV engine with the same size, weight, price, range and performance of a gasoline engine is too much to resist for IBM's researchers. "A high-tech company has an obligation really, to help the environment and the world," said Wilcke.

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Toshiba Dips Toes into African Lava: New Geothermal Plant to Go Online in 2014

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 10:07 AM PST

Toshiba has been tapped to supply equipment for Kenya's newest geothermal power generation project. The company will supply geothermal steam turbines and generators early next year, which will go online in April 2014. Once the new power plant is active, a quarter of Kenya's energy supply will come from stable geothermal sources.

Kenya currently has 3 geothermal plants in the Olkaria volcanic region 60 miles northwest of Nairobi, which supply about 10% of its current electrical capacity. With equipment from Toshiba, Toyota Tsusho Corporation and Hyundai Engineering plan to bring the existing plants up to 70,000 kW each and build the Olkaria IV Geothermal Power Plant.

Stabilize That Grid!

The biggest chunk of Kenya's current power supply comes from hydropower – nearly half, which makes it pretty green already. But as the weather is inconstant and Kenya suffers a drought, water just isn't quite reliable enough. Geothermal power should help stabilize the grid and generate steady power supply.

The Olkaria project in part funded by a loan through the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA), and is Toshiba's first foray into the African market; its reputation for safety and reliability made it a perfect fit for the new project. Toshiba itself is hoping that the project will help boost sales of its geothermal equipment.

Source: Eco Japan | Image: Emerging Africa Fund.

Related posts:

  1. Geothermal Energy Could Power Entire U.S. (Maybe)
  2. Geothermal Energy to Meet 30% of Kenya’s Electricity Needs by 2030
  3. Toshiba Home Solar Power Modules Get 19.3% Conversion Efficiency


The Quest: Book Review

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 07:00 AM PST

the quest book review energy security

Book Review: The Quest, Daniel Yergin, 2011, The Penguin Press

Tour de force. There are no better words to capture Daniel Yergin's most recent effort to explain the world of energy and power politics to the public. The Quest is not a work of pure history, nor a polemic that urges the reader to any particular course of action. In fact, other reviewers have criticized Yergin for a "some say this, others say that" approach in which he fails to portray his own point of view. But I see this as a strength of the work: Yergin manages to explain complex, highly charged topics in a balanced way that enlightens without hitting the reader over the head with the "right" answer.

For example, his treatment of global warming and the politics of carbon stretches across 100 pages. At no time does he positively say that climate skeptics are wrong, nor does he say that the science of anthropogenic climate change is "settled." But out of 100 dense pages of material, Yergin devotes but one brief paragraph on the skeptics, stating succinctly, "Some scientists disagree… They are the minority." Yergin manages to convey that the skeptics are of marginal importance, but handles the touchy subject in an elegant way.

Another strength of the work is its incredible breadth and depth. Many non-fiction books make a few points and then fill them out to book length with hundreds of pages of illustration and repetition. Not this one. In The Quest, we get several book-length works in one.

First, there is a detailed look at geopolitics of oil & gas including deep dives on the Middle East, Russia and the former Soviet states, and recent advances in shale gas, oil sands, and tight oil. This made for fascinating reading, and for the first time, I felt I got a real understanding of why oil reached $140/barrel in 2008 – it was a combination of supply shocks in Venezuela, Iraq and Nigeria, a demand shock in China, and the "financialization" of oil as an internationally traded commodity.

But then we get a second book on the automobile, its history and future. Among other things, this section taught me that 25%, or 250 million of the world's one billion cars are in the US today, but the Chinese annual market for cars passed the US market already in 2009, and is expected to reach and stabilize at 30 million cars per year. What will power all these new cars burn – gasoline, biofuels, electric, natural gas or fuel cells? Read The Quest to find out.

Then there is a third book in here (it's 719 pages for a reason!), this one on the electricity grid, deregulation and the future of renewable energy in the grid. Yergin gives the best account of the California electricity crisis of a decade ago that I have read anywhere. Here we learn that Enron and other speculators certainly played a role, but he explains the mistakes that were made in the quasi-deregulation. For example, reserve margins in the system were too low (they should be 20%, but fell to 1% at one point), and utilities were prohibited from entering into long-term contracts, which put them at the mercy of the spot market for 100% of their needs.

Finally, followers of renewable energy will be interested in the deep dives on topics like wind energy, solar PV and biomass. As a specialist in wind energy, I was impressed with the accuracy and depth of the coverage of the history of our industry. Indeed, Yergin and his team unearthed wonderful stories of how the industry evolved, and indeed, for a wind enthusiast like myself, Chapter 30 "Mystery of Wind" is worth the cover price all by itself, a worthy companion on my shelf next to Alexis Madrigal's Powering the Dream and Peter Asmus' Reaping the Wind.

Yergin does not advocate any particular energy mix or grid technology, though he goes out of his way to praise the virtues of natural gas, the "fuel of the future" – cleaner than coal, fully dispatchable, quick-ramping, and not site-dependent. On wind, he writes brilliantly and quite positively about the history for nearly 20 pages. For example, "Wind is the largest and fastest growing source of renewable energy in the world today. In the US, it has grown tenfold. In Germany, wind accounts for 60% of the total renewable capacity added over the past decade… Hopes very high… in US, 20% by 2030… Globally 22% by 2030."

Then, rather abruptly on page 608, the voice changes, as if a mental editor kicked in saying, "Whoa, we'd better show the drawbacks of wind." When someone asks me what the limitations of wind are, I say, "First, wind doesn't work everywhere (not enough wind, local opposition, proximity to airports); second, even in prime sites, the wind does not always blow when you need the power; and third, moving parts (Operations and Maintenance costs)." If Yergin had chosen any of these, I would have been right there with him. Instead, he picks scale and cost. This is a mistake.

In his section "But How Big?" Yergin focuses exclusively on whether the US can reach 20% by 2030. This is odd because the book has been so global up to this point, yet all of a sudden, he ignores 80% of the world market for wind turbines and focuses on the US market. It would have been interesting to ask whether Europe and China will be able to reach their goals (e.g., 17% wind energy in China by 2050).

Secondly, he goes astray when he says, "One problem is just getting the large turbine to the site. If a turbine is too big, it does not fit on a truck: it is not easy to move a 25-story tower, lying on its side, down the highway with a police escort." As the reader will know, no one has ever tried to move a 25-story tower down a highway – towers come in sections.

Moreover, while logistics are certainly an important consideration, they are not really a major constraint on wind sector growth. More than a hundred thousand turbines have been erected, the vast majority on towers 50 meters to 100 meters in height. The industry gets that job done every day.

Typical wind power plants nowadays are 100 MW or more in size, and some exceed 500 MW. Offshore, plants well into the GW class are planned, the largest in British waters will be 7,000 MW. So scale is really not the issue.

Similarly, Yergin overstates the cost issue. Of course cost is always an issue, but given recent improvements to technology and a good dose of good old price competition, wind energy is cheap, dirt cheap. This year, 20-year Power Purchase Agreements have been running in the 3.0 to 4.0 cents per kWh range in the American Midwest. This is less than new coal, nuclear or natural gas – and provides an important hedge against future fuel price increases. In Europe, the case is even stronger because shale gas has not (yet) been developed there, and existing sources of natural gas (e.g., Russia, Libya) are not domestic, and can be subject to political manipulation and instability.

Overall, Daniel Yergin, a "centrist" commentator in the context of the United States, has moved a long way towards articulating why wind energy (as well as solar and biomass) deserves a seat at the table. Even as recently as April of this year, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "Wind power is still small-scale and relatively expensive." His treatment in The Quest is much more fair and balanced, and while he still tries (vainly, in my view) to make the "cost and scale" argument, he also recognizes that renewables are coming (implicitly, due to the need to de-carbonize the grid and increase the domestic share of energy production) and that wind is the form of renewable energy that is most "ready for prime time."

In summary, I highly recommend Daniel Yergin's book The Quest, for those of us in the energy business and for the general public.

This is a guest post by Chris Varrone, Founder & President of Riverview Consulting and former Chief Strategist, Technology R&D at Vestas Wind Systems.

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China Installed PV to Equal U.S. Installed PV in 2011

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 06:00 AM PST

chinese solar panels kids

If one thing in the clean energy space is obvious, it’s that China is investing in and installing clean energy like it’s a do or die requirement (hmm..). A new report by Solarbuzz,  China Deal Tracker, finds that it’s total installed solar PV is going to equal total installed solar PV in the U.S. this year. More stats:

  1. Non-residential PV pipeline in China now equals 16 GW (as of end of October).
  2. At least 1,104 non-residential solar PV projects are now installed, being installed, or in development in China (ok, I’m going to stop writing “in China”).
  3. Projects are located in 29 provinces, but 10 of the projects contain 86% of the PV pipeline.
  4. In 2011, 195 projects totaling 1.8 GW in solar power capacity will be installed, quite similar to the U.S. projection.
  5. Building-mount solar projects only represent 10% of the total solar pipeline (but dropping prices could eventually make solar PV build-mount much more attractive to industrial and commercial customers).

China’s unified national feed-in tariff (FIT) policy and dropping solar panel prices are big drivers of the installations.

"China's FIT rates—1.15 CNY/kWh in 2011 and 1.0 CNY/kWh for 2012—used to be considered so low that project development activities have been mostly limited to high solar radiation regions such as Golmud," said Ray Lian, Analyst at Solarbuzz. "However, system prices fell so fast in 2011 that project profitability has been improved to reasonable levels in other locations."

As a reminder, earlier this year, China doubled its 2015 solar power target from 5 GW to 10 GW.

Chinese kids & solar panels via International Rivers

Related posts:

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Switzerland Planning Large Wind Farm in Valley of Light

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 05:30 AM PST

switzerland wind farm to be at valley of light val lumnezia

QUICK NEWS: Switzerland announced in May that it is doing away with nuclear power, by 2034. It is also cutting fossil fuels, of course. So, it’s no surprise that it is following neighbor Germany’s lead and has huge renewable energy plans. It has now announced that it is planning a large wind farm.

The wind farm will have 40-60 turbines, more than doubling its total number of wind turbines at the end of 2010 (32). The wind farm will be located in the “Valley of Light” (Val Lumnezia), pictured above.

Switzerland, which only produced 37 million kilowatt-hours of wind power at the end of 2010, plans to produce 600 million kilowatt-hours by 2020.

Valley of Light (Val Lumnezia) picture via malavoda

Related posts:

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Wind Could Provide 25% or More of Electricity for Most States

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 04:00 AM PST

At least 32 states can get 25% or more of their electricity from wind power within their own borders. This map is updated from a 2009 report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Energy Self-Reliant States. Click the image for a larger version.

State Wind Power Potential (% of Electricity Sales)

The only updated figure from the 2009 release is Maryland, due to a new report on its offshore wind potential.

Related posts:

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  3. The Economics of Distributed Renewable Power — Why We Should Democratize the Electricity System, Part 2


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