Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Rand Paul’s Pro-Polluter Bill Shot Down by Senate

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 12:07 PM PST

Senate-Democrats-vote-down-Rand-Paul-coal-bill

All but one of the Senate Democrats – and even seven Republicans – defeated a bill on Thursday that would have blocked the EPA from slashing power plant air pollution that blows downwind to other states and causes lung and heart problems.

Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and Tea Party favorite, proposed a bill to kill the Cross State Air Pollution Rule that the EPA finalized in July. The EPA rule is designed to slash air pollution from coal-fired power plants east of the Rocky Mountains. It would reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent by 2014, from 2005 levels. It would cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent by 2014.

Paul’s bill to stop the EPA needed only a simple majority of 50 to pass, not the now familiar 60. Because Republicans were in favor of the bill to curtail the EPA, they did not prevent the majority from holding the vote using with their now-inevitable cloture-vote “filibuster” under which, according to Senate rules, a minority of 40 can refuse to hold a vote. Now increasingly used by Republicans, it essentially requires 60 votes to agree to hold an up or down vote on any bill, resulting in a gridlocked government that is essentially nonfunctioning.

But the bill to kill the Cross State Air Pollution Rule the EPA finalized in July was one of the few to be allowed in Minority Leader “Mitch McConnell’s Senate” this year, because the coal industry predominantly funds Republicans – while environmental public interest groups – that oppose fossil energy – mostly fund Democrats.

Surprisingly, though, once the bill went to the normal up or down vote, not even all the Republicans actually supported killing the EPA rule. All of the Democrats except one and seven Republicans flouted the coal industry. In an up or down vote, 52 Democrats AND 40 Republicans agreed to continue to allow the EPA to do the work that we taxpayers hired the EPA to do. House Republicans have already passed a similar bill. But with this defeat, the EPA rule lives.

The EPA is one of the few tools that the Obama administration has to prevent “the seas from rising.” Shutting down polluting coal powered energy and replacing it with clean powered energy is only sensible, because the greenhouse gases that coal power emits will ultimately end our civilization within centuries, while clean power will allow its continuation, which should not be an issue about which reasonable people get so upset, but in the US, it is.

So the framing is all about how disgusting dirt is, as that is something that apparently polls better with conservatives, even though it is not as dangerous as climate change.

“I know all of us, 100 of us in this chamber would condemn it if somebody took all their garbage and put it on the lawn of the next-door neighbor,” the Democratic Chairman of the Environemt and Public Works Committee, Barbara Boxer said on the Senate floor.

 

Related posts:

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Space Lasers! (for Clean Energy, Obviously)

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 11:14 AM PST

orbiting space lasers - occupying hearts and minds since 1976Orbiting solar power stations have been a continuous source of debate for decades – someone always brings up the idea of power plants IN SPACE and it always gets shot down as being unfeasible. (What's not realistic about having energy beamed down from space? Come on.) But because Star Trek has been part of our collective consciousness for the past 50 years (or maybe it's just me), someone always goes back to the idea of space lasers providing clean energy.

Same Idea – But Now It Might Work

What makes this current wave of theorizing and testing any different from the last? Perhaps nothing – but there is that project going on at Kyoto University, and they're not the only ones. A 248-page peer reviewed report put together by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) concluded that it's possible. Barely.

As time goes on, development continues – we may have the technology today that we didn't have 40 years ago to make the idea of a giant orbiting platform in space to beam abundant solar energy toward the planet's surface worth the cost. There is no energy source more reliable than the sun – if that starts going, we've got bigger problems than carbon dioxide emissions.

When, How, and How Much?

Space lasers (or microwave transmitters, we're not picky) wouldn't provide instantaneous free energy, of course, but the study does speculate that "much" of the global energy requirements could be met with orbiting stations within three decades.

As the IAA concluded:

Overall, the study group found that space solar power is technically feasible, but that economics of solar power satellites can only be determined by means of international end-to-end systems studies, focused technology maturation and systems-level demonstrations. An international roadmap for realizing this goal is presented, which could achieve a major pilot-plant scale demonstration within 10-15 years.

In other words – the technology is there (not much word on how to develop it specifically, although Kyodai may have that covered) or exactly how much it will cost (a lot). The research is there. The ideas are there.

…come on, we're talking about space lasers. How fricking cool is that??

Source: Business Green |Image: NASA via Wikimedia Commons.

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Greenpeace Ranks HP as Greenest Electronic Maker

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 11:13 AM PST

Environmental organisation Greenpeace has today released their new and upgraded Guide to Greener Electronics which has placed consumer electronics company HP at the top of its rankings ahead of Dell, Nokia and Apple.

Ranking the Consumer Electronic Companies

A total of 15 companies were ranked according to Energy, Greener Products and Sustainable Operations, as well as a new set of criteria challenging the companies to reduce their carbon footprint through the manufacturing process, in their supply chain, and through to the end-of-life phase of their products. Greenpeace also calls for companies to set "ambitious goals for renewable energy use."

"After many of the world's leading electronics companies rose to the challenge of phasing out the worst hazardous substances, we are now challenging them to improve their sourcing of minerals and better managing the energy use throughout the supply chain", said Greenpeace International campaigner Tom Dowdall.

"Right now, HP takes the top spot because it is scoring strongly by measuring and reducing carbon emissions from its supply chain, reducing its own emissions and advocating for strong climate legislation. However all companies we included in the Guide have an opportunity to show more leadership in reducing their climate impact."

By The Numbers

No one scored well, so to speak, with HP, the highest ranking of the lot, only managing 5.9 out of 10. You can view a report card for each of the 15 companies ranked, but here are a few highlights:

HP rose three places thanks to a strong series of sustainable operations and scoring highly on the energy criteria, which include factors such as disclosing operational greenhouse gas emissions, reduction targets, and having a nice looking Clean Electricity Plan. HP notes that it "is committed to making its global operations more energy efficient, seeking low-carbon energy sources where possible, and reducing employees' business travel."

Dell saw massive growth between report cards, moving up eight places thanks to the best scores on energy criteria with a desire to reduce emissions by 40 percent by the year 2015. Sadly, they scored poorly on green products, specifically in the product life-cycle arena where it scored zero.

Nokia dropped two places from its regular position at the top of the list as a result of a lacklustre energy criteria. Nevertheless they scored well on green products and sustainable operations.

"If it hopes to regain leadership on environmental issues, Nokia, along with many other companies in the Guide, need to demonstrate how it will reduce future emissions through energy efficiency and renewable energy", said Dowdall.

Apple, at number four, has fared haphazardly with Greenpeace over the last few years, but steps up five places thanks to high product energy efficiency and effective regulation of the source and sort of minerals and chemicals used in their products and the production thereof.

Source: Greenpeace

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Global Energy Storage Capacity to Multiply Massively in 10 Years

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 11:13 AM PST

A new report has shown that the total storage capacity worldwide will increase a hundred-fold over the next 10 years, pushing the number from 121 megawatts (MW) in 2011 to 12,353 MW in 2021.

That number equates to a growth of just over $122 billion of investment in energy storage projects over the same timeframe.

Increasing the storage of electricity grids

Traditionally, electricity grids don't have a lot of room for storage. What is generated is passed through the grid and, if it is not used, it disappears. Including energy storage allows grid operators a new way to manage their grids more effectively, but even then, the storage mechanisms that currently exist have been fraught with issues.

"Inflexible electricity market structures, high capital costs for energy storage projects, a disconnection between the owners of assets and the entities which benefit from such projects, and instability in the grid," according to a Pike Research report entitled 'Energy Storage on the Grid', are some of the "factors currently limiting the growth of the energy storage sector."

Older-styled storage mechanisms such as pumped storage and compressed air have been around for decades, but they're getting a new lease on life and, together with newer technologies, they are being demonstrated in North America, Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East.

"Traditionally, grid operators have only had access to generation assets, such as natural gas peakers, to balance electricity flows across the grid by adding power to it," says research analyst Anissa Dehamna. "Energy storage provides grid operators with an alternative to traditional grid management, offering a variety of technologies that together are well-suited for up to 17 applications of energy storage."

Source: Pike Research
Image Source: -5m on Flickr

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Niyato Industries Builds Cheap, All-American, and All-Electric Car (Sort Of)

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 11:12 AM PST

Niyato Converted EEVNiyato Industries, Inc. recently announced that it will offer all-electric sedans, made in America by Americans for Americans, for under $50,000. In a bit of a rare move, Niyato is not technically selling its own EVs -  rather than pouring resources into developing their own platform, they’ll  be converting existing vehicles instead.

"We at Niyato Industries Inc. are all Americans and we have created Niyato Industries to put Americans to work."

A bold statement – most of Niyato's pitch revolves around creating American jobs rather than selling the actual product, which leads me to believe that the product itself is sort of blah. Despite their emphasis on affordability, the vehicles for sale aren't really any cheaper than the Leaf or the Volt. Then again, since conversions are saving Niyato money that would have been spent on development, I have to give them points for figuring out how to make what must be a pretty healthy profit on electric cars.

Mostly Local

Don't get me wrong – I love that Niyato is trying to strengthen the American economy (I live in the States, after all). Niyato's American-based conversion factories should provide jobs and keep those employees spending money earned from actually working. I also love that Niyato is marketing and selling electric cars at all – with solar, wind, water, and geothermal energy providing electricity (in addition to traditional sources, which admittedly have some dirt of their own), the potential for staggeringly low carbon emissions is there.

Niyato states that they want to reduce American dependency on foreign oil, and stick to local factories instead of outsourcing beyond American borders. They believe that conversion offers a more sustainable economic model. They will even be selling vehicles to the U.S. government to help meet its quota of fleet conversions to alternative fuels by 2015. All in all, it's a pretty good deal.

Of course, you could also just go ahead and do the conversion on your own.

If you were in the market for an electric car, which route would you take? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: Business Wire | Image: Niyato Industries.

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Going Boulder: a Vote for Energy Self-Reliance

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 11:12 AM PST

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

By a razor-thin margin, Boulder citizens gave the city a victory for energy self-reliance on Nov. 1, approving two ballot measures to let the city form a municipal utility.  If the city moves ahead, it would capture nearly $100 million currently spent on electricity imports and instead create up to $350 million in local economic development by dramatically increasing local clean energy production.

The stage was set over several years, as the city's multiple pleas for more clean energy were given short shrift by the incumbent electric utility, Xcel Energy.  Instead of meeting local demands for more wind and solar power, Xcel instead financed a new coal power plant and told Boulder that it could have more wind power only if it paid extra, and paid when the wind didn't blow.  In response, the city authorized two measures for the Nov. 1 ballot to allow the city to pursue municipal clean energy production.

The campaign was enormously lopsided.  Xcel dumped nearly $1 million into a vote 'no' campaign,  outspending local clean energy supporters by a 10-to-1 margin and spending nearly $77 for each no vote.  On the flip side, nearly every local business or newspaper endorsement (and nearly 1000 individual citizen endorsements) supported a 'yes' vote.  Despite the financial disadvantage, the local grassroots groups won, though their margin of victory was less than 3%.

The victory margin was small, but the clean energy and economic opportunity is enormous.  According to a citizen-led and peer-reviewed study, the city could increase renewable energy production by 40 percent from multiple, local sources without increasing rates.  In contrast to the $100 million in revenue sent to Xcel under the current arrangement, the economic value of local energy production and ownership could multiply within the city’s economy to as much as $350 million a year, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

If the city uses its new authority to become a utility, future generations may look back at 11/1/11 as the shot heard round the world – a shot fired for clean, local energy – and ask why more Americans didn't "go Boulder" sooner.

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Nuclear Impractical — Global Price on Carbon & Solar Grid Parity to Change the World (VIDEO)

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 07:00 AM PST

 

global price on carbon renewables vs nuclear solar grid parity

Jonathon Porritt, Co-founder of Friends of the Earth and Founding Director of Forum for the Future, reiterates what Dr Jeremy Leggett, Founder and Chairman of SolarCentury, and I said in our CNBC & Harvard Business Review “Energy Opportunities” interviews — in particular, that we have the renewable energy technologies today that we need to transition to a truly clean energy society.

He also chimes in on the nuclear energy story, saying things I think I mentioned but that were not included in the final cut of my video — basically, he emphasized that the economics of nuclear make it a no-brainer no-go. It’s fumbled the ball for 60 years and, unless governments cut it off, will continue doing so. The people who don’t think so have bought the nuclear industry’s kool aid or work in the industry itself. (My words, not his.)

Porritt also notes the great importance and transformational potential of a global price on carbon. Hopefully it won’t be long before we see that.

And, similar to Leggett, Porritt notes that it won’t be long until solar hits grid parity. And when it does, “the world changes,.. the world changes.” Watch the full video here:

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Fracking Fight Looms over North Carolina

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 04:51 AM PST


natural gas fracking considered for north carolinaFracking – natural gas drilling that involves pumping chemical brine underground – has never caused any water contamination problems in North Carolina, but then again, there is no natural gas production in North Carolina (unless you count the hog farms). That’s all set to change, as both state legislators and property owners are already anticipating a mini natural gas gold rush. According to a report by TV station WRAL, property owners are already signing natural gas drilling leases in anticipation of getting the go-ahead from state legislators.

New Study Says No Fracking Problem – Or Not

As WRAL notes, North Carolina has a fracking study under way that is not due until next spring. Meanwhile, fracking advocates may take heart from a new study just announced by the University of Texas that appears to support their cause, except maybe not. Though introduced with a UT press release under the title “Early Results from Hydraulic Fracturing Study Show No Direct Link to Groundwater Contamination,” the study does in fact demonstrate numerous problems linked to “other aspects of drilling operations.”

Never Mind – Fracking Could Be a Problem

As the title of the University of Texas announcement does indicate, this is the first phase of a longer study. Still to be considered are some major issues such as the impact of gas emissions from fracking operations, and an analysis of reported groundwater contamination in parts of Texas, Louisiana, and elsewhere. The UT study will also look at impacts in the Marcellus shale region, which covers major population centers in New York, Pennsylvania, and several other states. If fracking advocates in North Carolina expect to find support for their cause from the University of Texas, they might find themselves on pretty shaky ground.

Fracking and the Gas Market Bubble

Going by the WRAL report, North Carolina state legislators are already anticipating a big economic boost from fracking. However, aside from the potential for significant environmental

impacts, financial analysts are already starting to question the soundness of the ongoing natural gas boom. If their predictions bear out, North Carolina could be in for a wild – and messy – ride.

Image credit: North Carolina dogwoods, some rights reserved by gregarch.

Twitter: @TinaMCasey

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Renewable Energy Can Power the World (Reminder)

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 04:30 AM PST

 

renewable energy world

It’s a given to me that renewable energy can power the world. I’ve been studying the matter for years and have looked into the various talking points against it. The technology is here. The technology is tested and proven. The technology will also get better and filler technology will pop in to help out. But anyone who claims that renewable energy isn’t possible or can’t be used to power all of human civilization hasn’t looked into the matter in too much depth.

But, you don’t have to take my word for it. One of the best pieces I’ve read on the matter is a 2009 piece from Mark Z. Jacobson (professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program there) and Mark A. Delucchi (a research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis) published in Scientific American. The title? “A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables” (by 2030).

You can check out the full piece above, but I’m going to excerpt a few key pieces from that below.

First though, I am a political realist (I think). While we have the technology to power the world with renewable energy by 2030, I know we don’t have the political will. We do have the political potential to do a WHOLE LOT better than we’re doing today, though. Hopefully we start tapping that potential much better than we are today. If we don’t, as the International Energy Agency (not the most progressive bunch) recently told us, in lighter words, we’re going to get crushed by the climate.

Quick, Tremendous Change is Possible

Our plan calls for millions of wind turbines, water machines and solar installations. The numbers are large, but the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle; society has achieved massive transformations before. During World War II, the U.S. retooled automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft, and other countries produced 486,000 more. In 1956 the U.S. began building the Interstate Highway System, which after 35 years extended for 47,000 miles, changing commerce and society.

I’m sure millions of people have said it: when humans put their mind to it, it’s a wonder what they can create. Today, we talk to each other, write each other, watch videos on, and play various games on mobile telephones that can fit in our pocket. We watch movies and store massive amounts of information on little machines we can stick in a backpacks or a briefcase. Humans have built pyramids, skyscrapers, and space shuttles. We can’t power the electric grid and our vehicles with something other than out-dated oil and coal? Come on! The potential is there. And we already have the technology!

“Our plan includes only technologies that work or are close to working today on a large scale, rather than those that may exist 20 or 30 years from now.”

Electric Transportation is a Key, Reduces Energy Demand

Today the maximum power consumed worldwide at any given moment is about 12.5 trillion watts (terawatts, or TW), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency projects that in 2030 the world will require 16.9 TW of power as global population and living standards rise, with about 2.8 TW in the U.S. The mix of sources is similar to today's, heavily dependent on fossil fuels. If, however, the planet were powered entirely by WWS, with no fossil-fuel or biomass combustion, an intriguing savings would occur. Global power demand would be only 11.5 TW, and U.S. demand would be 1.8 TW. That decline occurs because, in most cases, electrification is a more efficient way to use energy. For example, only 17 to 20 percent of the energy in gasoline is used to move a vehicle (the rest is wasted as heat), whereas 75 to 86 percent of the electricity delivered to an electric vehicle goes into motion.

Wind and Solar Potential Dwarf Our Energy Needs

Even if demand did rise to 16.9 TW, WWS sources could provide far more power. Detailed studies by us and others indicate that energy from the wind, worldwide, is about 1,700 TW. Solar, alone, offers 6,500 TW. Of course, wind and sun out in the open seas, over high mountains and across protected regions would not be available. If we subtract these and low-wind areas not likely to be developed, we are still left with 40 to 85 TW for wind and 580 TW for solar, each far beyond future human demand. Yet currently we generate only 0.02 TW of wind power and 0.008 TW of solar. These sources hold an incredible amount of untapped potential.

Of course, monocultures (or duocultures, if there is such a word) are not recommended — they aren’t particularly safe and come with certain weaknesses. An investor doesn’t put all his money in one company and, as the old adage says, you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.

But we’ve got plenty of other clean, renewable technologies to fill in the gaps and diversify the network. We’ve got geothermal, wave power, hydroelectric (large and small), tidal, kinetic energy to tap, and more.

Add in storage, electric vehicles (which also provide storage), and a smart grid and you’ve got a pretty diverse, stable system.

The Plan

We have chosen a mix of technologies emphasizing wind and solar, with about 9 percent of demand met by mature water-related methods. (Other combinations of wind and solar could be as successful.)

Wind supplies 51 percent of the demand, provided by 3.8 million large wind turbines (each rated at five megawatts) worldwide. Although that quantity may sound enormous, it is interesting to note that the world manufactures 73 million cars and light trucks every year. Another 40 percent of the power comes from photovoltaics and concentrated solar plants, with about 30 percent of the photovoltaic output from rooftop panels on homes and commercial buildings. About 89,000 photovoltaic and concentrated solar power plants, averaging 300 megawatts apiece, would be needed. Our mix also includes 900 hydroelectric stations worldwide, 70 percent of which are already in place.

What about the land required for all that? (I can hear the troll commenter now.)

Come on, do you really think that’s a problem, or are you trying to cause trouble?

Only about 0.8 percent of the wind base is installed today. The worldwide footprint of the 3.8 million turbines would be less than 50 square kilometers (smaller than Manhattan). When the needed spacing between them is figured, they would occupy about 1 percent of the earth's land, but the empty space among turbines could be used for agriculture or ranching or as open land or ocean. The nonrooftop photovoltaics and concentrated solar plants would occupy about 0.33 percent of the planet's land. Building such an extensive infrastructure will take time. But so did the current power plant network. And remember that if we stick with fossil fuels, demand by 2030 will rise to 16.9 TW, requiring about 13,000 large new coal plants, which themselves would occupy a lot more land, as would the mining to supply them.

Check out the full piece for more on materials, reliability, cost (just note that the solar is expected to hit “grid parity” sooner than they projected in 2009 and the true cost of solar isn’t actually used), and policy needs.

Earth image via DonkeyHotey

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Solar is Ready (VIDEO)

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 04:00 AM PST

 

solar grid parity

I shared my own interview for CNBC and Harvard Business Review’s “Energy Opportunities” series about a month ago, but the series has a few more that I’ve been meaning to highlight. One of them is the one above, which features Dr Jeremy Leggett, Founder and Chairman of SolarCentury, talking about the viability and bright future of micro-generation, renewable energy, solar, the fact that solar is already a very viable energy source around the world, and his estimate that solar will reach grid parity in the UK by 2013 (not even taking externalities such as health costs, national security costs, and environmental costs into account).

He also nails what’s stalling faster clean energy growth — out-of-date thinking about energy sources and lobbying by other energy industries. Check it out here:

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