Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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New IEA Report on Renewable Energy Costs & Policy (IEA Nails It!)

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 04:58 PM PST

The International Energy Agency (IEA), traditionally a very fossil-fuel-friendly international agency, reported today that renewable energy is becoming cost-competitive (and should receive subsidies to account for its environmental, energy security, and health benefits).

While I’m happy to see the IEA make this announcement (and there are tons of great points made in the report that I highlight below), I can’t help but point out a couple things….

If you look at the full costs of each energy source (that means adding in health costs, energy security costs, and environmental costs) solar, wind, and geothermal are already equal to or cheaper than fossil fuels. What’s the difference between a dollar you spend at the hospital and a dollar you spend on your electricity? Nothing much, except who’s receiving that dollar and what you are going through (i.e. what health predicament you have or don’t have). IEA gets this, but could have done a better job of spelling that out.

Additionally, not even taking those factors into account, if you look at the rising costs of coal and nuclear, the falling costs of solar, and the time it takes to put up a coal or nuclear power plant, solar is already cheaper by many insider estimates.

solar power cheaper than coal

solar power cheaper than nuclear

Similarly, wind and geothermal are excessively cheap, and taking these same points into account, they are the cheapest options for new electricity in many or most regions today.

But, back to the IEA…. Here’s a great summary quote from the agency on renewable energy costs and renewable energy’s importance today:

“Taking the portfolio as a whole, RE technologies should no longer be considered only as high–cost, immature options, but potentially as a valuable component of any secure and sustainable energy economy, providing energy at a low cost with high price stability.”

IEA is for Renewable Energy Support

Again, I’m going to give some big kudos to the IEA for supporting green subsidies for renewable energy to better account for the environmental and energy security savings offered by clean energy. But even without these subsidies, the point is that renewable energy is knocking fossil fuels of their “I’m cheaper.. sort of” pedastool.

A “Key finding” of the IEA’s (highlighted in a nice little box at the top of a page):

“A portfolio of RE technologies is becoming cost-competitive in an increasingly broad range of circumstances, in some cases providing investment opportunities without the need for specific economic support, but economic barriers are still important in many cases. A range of significant non-economic barriers is also delaying progress.”

Hmm, I wonder what those “non-economic barriers are” (looking at you, Boehner, Inhofe, Stearns, and gang).

OK, not quite in the same way, but the IEA spelled it out, too:

“But even where RE technologies could be competitive, deployment can be delayed or prevented by barriers related to, for example, regulatory and policy uncertainty, institutional and administrative arrangements or infrastructure designed with fossil fuels in mind that may be unsuited to more distributed energy supply or the high up-front capital demand of RE technologies. Sustainability and social acceptance can also be critical issues for some technologies. In particular, regulatory and policy uncertainty may play a very significant role, even when economic barriers are removed, as shown by the analysis of the performance of financial support mechanisms in the next section”

Aside from pointing out that subsidies are warranted for the reasons mentioned above, the IEA also mentioned that they should get support to help them transition from nascent or emerging to more mature technologies:

“Support is also justified to allow the newer RE technologies to progress down the learning curve and so provide benefits at lower cost and in larger scale in the near future (Figure E.2).”

iea clean energy policy

The IEA delved into this topic several more times and covered specific policy options in good detail as well.

IEA: More Renewable Energy Cost Drops Coming

As I’ve written more times than I can count, renewable energy costs will continue coming down. But it’s nice to see the IEA put that in print.

“The market expansion of RE technologies, however, has been accompanied by cost reductions in critical technologies, such as wind and solar PV, and such trends are set to continue.”

A 16-page executive summary of the report is now on the IEA website.

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  2. Historic Report: Solar Energy Costs Now Lower than Nuclear Energy
  3. Unprecedented UN Report: Renewable Energy Costs to Drop, Use to Grow Substantially by 2030, but…

Asian Pacific Solar Booming, Especially in China

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 04:03 PM PST

solar china india australia japan

With European solar markets in decline, the industry is looking to the next hot solar region. Even with political troubles in the U.S., companies still see America as a good long-term bet. (And let's remember, Europe's slowdown doesn't mean the region is going to stop being a major player.)

But analysts now see the Asia Pacific solar market as the Next Big Thing, driven largely by growing domestic demand in China. For the first time this year, China may surpass the U.S. market, according to analysis from NDP Solarbuzz. Historically, that country has been a supplier of solar technologies, not an installer. But that trend is shifting.

Most of the growth — particularly in the second half of 2011 — is being driven by China and India. These countries hold the most promise due to their sheer size. But they are also very immature markets, with major regulatory hurdles and a limited downstream installation network, explains SolarBuzz:

"As the European markets no longer present certain growth, the Asia Pacific markets are increasingly the focus of international companies looking to expand. Companies seeking to take a share of this growth still face significant hurdles to define strategies to successfully access the downstream value chain," said NPD Solarbuzz analyst Christopher Sunsong. "These challenges, though, are unlikely to deter their determination to participate given the potential of this new regional market opportunity."

This comes as Ernst and Young has issued its latest Country Attractiveness Indices report, which tracks the top countries for clean energy investors. China came in number one, with the U.S. coming in at number two. While many developed countries will continue to lead, Ernst and Young calls attention to the rapidly tipping scales:

Gil Forer, Ernst & Young's Global Cleantech Leader, explains, "the mature renewable energy markets of Western Europe and the US have been hit by a perfect storm of reduced government incentives, restricted access to capital, and increased competition from abroad.

"At the same time we are seeing growing support for renewable energy in emerging markets. Such countries, with a strongly growing energy demand, are seizing this opportunity to leap-frog fossil fuel generation to secure a low carbon and resource efficient future in renewable energy, with 15 emerging markets being added to the CAI in the past two years."

In the Asia Pacific region, the solar market is expected to grow around 130% this year, with China representing 45% of total demand.

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

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  3. China Provides Solar Incentives Nationwide

O’Reilly Found a Solar Installer (or an Installer Found Him)

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 03:54 PM PST

When Bill O'Reilly said he couldn't find anyone on Long Island to put solar on his home, a number of organizations put out the call across New York to help him get a quote.

With hundreds of companies in the state, O'Reilly's comments were a bit perplexing: "I want to buy solar or wind for my house this winter. Can you tell me where to do that? There's nowhere, no one."

Well, over 60 solar companies signed an open letter to O'Reilly telling him they'd be happy to give him a quote, and it looks like he's now ready to take the leap. "There's a legitimate guy on Long Island," O'Reilly said on his show last night, to Alan Colmes.

Leading into a segment tearing apart the clean energy stimulus, O'Reilly mentioned "all the crazy people" who had been sending him messages encouraging him to back up his word.

"There is a legitimate guy on long island. He's going to come over and give me a price and I'm going to report back to you. Because I don't want to be dependent on OPEC and I don't think anybody does," he said.

Aside from the fact that O'Reilly (like all too many people) gets solar electricity mixed up with oil, it's a positive sign that he's at least making the effort to get a quote. We'll see what O'Reilly reports back when he talks to that "guy" on Long Island.

Kudos to all the companies that stepped up and encouraged him to contact one of the hundreds of installers in the state. Who knows, if all goes well, maybe O'Reilly will become the next solar spokesperson?

Dave Llorens, CEO of 1 Block Off the Grid had a great post last year on the importance of having people like O'Reilly and Sarah Palin installing solar.

This story originally appeared on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.

Front Page Image Credit: Karppinen

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Google Favoring Clean Energy Deployment over Clean Energy R&D

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 03:46 PM PST

google solar

Media incorrectly report Google is abandoning renewables. In fact, the company is increasing clean energy investments.

Buried at the bottom of an innocuous "spring cleaning" post on Google's blog yesterday, the internet giant made a very important announcement: it will stop funding its Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C) initiative.

But that's not the whole story. And if you believe the headlines — "Google Abandons Renewable Energy Push" or "Are Google's Green Days Over?" — you might think this is a negative development. But if you look at the details, it's a story about how the company is adapting to a changing market and actually increasing investments in renewables.

Announced in 2007 by Google, RE<C was focused on driving down the cost of renewable electricity (mostly solar and geothermal) to meet the cost of generating electricity from coal. The initiative funded R&D in capital-intensive, early-stage technologies that would enable cheaper Enhanced Geothermal Systems and Concentrating Solar Power projects.

But Google says it's now shifting its focus to project financing rather than R&D, citing the need for more sophisticated research on CSP technologies beyond Google's scope, and the rapidly changing economics of solar PV:

Over the last few years, we've seen a lot of progress in clean energy. We're excited that some technologies are so quickly approaching cost competitiveness with traditional forms of energy in parts of the US and the world. Power tower technology has come a long way, too. But the installed cost of solar photovoltaic technology has declined dramatically over the past few years, making solar photovoltaic technology a compelling choice for consumers.

At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level. So we've published our results to help others in the field continue to advance the state of power tower technology, and we've closed our efforts. We will continue our work to generate cleaner, more efficient energy—including our on-campus efforts, procuring renewable energy for our data centers, making our data centers even more efficient and investing more than $850 million in renewable energy technologies.

Although the news was hidden at the bottom of a blog post, this is a pretty important announcement. (Only at Google would they casually "spring clean" millions of dollars in R&D investments for renewable energy).

Firstly, it shows how capital intensive many of these technologies are. Google invested tens of millions of dollars into R&D for new methods of building CSP plants. Today, we've got a number of commercial projects deployed using some of the technologies and methods funded by Google — but even after investing all that money, much of the research is still in the early phases, the company says.

The same goes for Google's funding of Potter Drilling, a company working on developing a technique for drilling through deep, hard rock called "thermal spallation." The drill is designed for Enhanced Geothermal projects. Potter has been working on the technique since 2004, with Google investing over $10 million in the company through its RE<C initiative in 2008. But like most development in the EGS sector, progress has been slow and the drill has not been commercialized yet.

Google's shift away from these projects doesn't prove whether or not they'll be successful. It just shows how much money and time goes into bringing new energy technologies to scale.

Meanwhile, the stunning changes in the economics of solar PV have made market conditions far different today than in 2007. Google has since invested more than $350 million into the deployment of distributed solar, investing in SolarCity and Clean Power Finance, and a variety of projects in Germany. (Google also threw $168 million behind the Ivahpah CSP project, showing that it still has a lot of confidence in that technology too).

Wind is a major part of the company's portfolio as well. It has invested over $250 million in wind projects around the country, including the world's largest wind farm, an 845 MW project in Oregon.

You can find Google's full range of investments, totaling $850 million, here.

Even while dropping its high-profile RE<C initiative, Google is investing more than ever in renewables. But it's choosing deployment over R&D — showing once again that much of the progress in climate solutions will come from actually developing projects.

Research is an extraordinarily important part of building new technologies and making us more competitive. We should never lose sight of that. But we should also recognize the dominant strategy of the largest companies in the world working to bring down the cost of renewables: Deployment, deployment, deployment.

This story originally appeared on Climate Progress and has been republished with permission.

Google Going Solar photo via H2SO4

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Plug-In Hybrid from Chevy? Plug-In Chevy Cruze?

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 03:37 PM PST

Charge EVs with Solar Power? Yes, You Can!

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 02:41 PM PST

photovoltaic ev charging system from gs yuasaUsing clean energy to power an electric car is a good thing. If that clean energy comes from one's own personal solar power system instead of the power grid, that's even better. Japan's GS Yuasa has developed and produced just such a system. The "PV-EV System" (Photo Voltaic – Electric Vehicle) is currently available to consumers in Japan.

The PV-EV system was specifically designed to charge EVs with solar power — the whole thing includes solar panels and lithium ion batteries hooked into an EV quick-charge unit for the greenest EV experience with the lowest CO2 emissions possible. Electricity goes from the solar panels to the batteries, and the batteries to the EV.

Rain, Rain, Go Away; I Need to Charge My Car Today

On the off-chance that the weather doesn't facilitate much power coming from the solar panels (September hurricane season, we're looking at you), the PV-EV System also hooks into the local power grid and the needed electricity can be bought the normal way. On the other hand, if the weather's been wonderful and sunny (why, hello, December) and there's excess juice in the batteries? That power can be sold right back to the electric company.

The disaster angle is also part of the system design; if there's a power outage (planned or otherwise), EV owners can just keep on driving. In case of some kind of natural disaster (that doesn't destroy the system altogether) that results in extended non-grid-electricity, the PV-EV system can be used to charge several household devices instead of the car.

The manufacturer's suggested retail price for the system is a pretty steep 12 million yen ($156,000 USD), not including any kind of tax and not including installation. GS Yuasa hopes to sell 100 units with in a year.

Is another step off the grid worth the price tag? You tell me — in the comments, below.

Source: Kankyo Business. | Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Pilot Project with Mini Wind Turbines as Chance for Energy Independence

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 02:40 PM PST

The town of Kuchl, near Salzburg in Austria, strives for sustainability – not only with wood, but also with electricity. Around 500 visitors from Germany and Austria gathered to see the successful inauguration of T4L (Technologies for Life) GmbH's new wind turbine at the company's headquarters in Kuchl this week.

A test system consisting of two miniature wind turbines was installed. Local government official Sepp Eisl sees these turbines as a chance for renewable wind energy: "My goal is to be able to install small wind farms wherever possible without inconveniencing the landowners. It's time to test the limits!"

Maybe In My Back Yard

The goal of this new test system in Kuchl includes defining legal and other limits, in order to be able to write the appropriate laws governing wind power in Austria; Eisl wishes to be able to build wind farms without permits. Rupert Schnitzhofer, managing partner of T4L GmbH agrees:

"These two wind turbines should prove that miniature turbines pose no significant threat to local birds, nor are they particularly loud. Independence from a centrally-controlled energy system is important for T4L and for the people. Miniature wind turbines provide a bit of energy independence without tainting the surrounding ambience. Be energy-autonomous! That's the ticket! We want our pilot project to simplify the legal hurdles standing in the way of an energy-autonomous future for Salzburg, and the rest of the country. People and the environment are at the center of our company philosophy."

T4L's Salzburg test system is now an example for all of Austria, Schnitzhofer feels, and that the experiences gained here are relevant for the whole country.

Let's All Vote On It

The mayor of Kuchl, Andreas Wimmer, feels that whether or not miniature wind turbines are installed anywhere at all is a decision to be reached by each community, and that the type of system installed is also important.  It seems to me that Wimmer is trying to avoid the responsibility of making the decision, but T4L is prepared to run with the lukewarm endorsement. In the spirit of community cooperation, the company will publish the data from the test system in hopes of gaining community support.

Whether or not T4L's project is successful remains to be seen – but how would you feel about mini wind turbines in your back yard? I think they're almost cute, but feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below.

Source: | Image: Wikimedia Commons

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‘Keep ‘em Barefoot and Ignorant’: House Republicans on Public Access to Climate Data, Science

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 11:18 PM PST

The Republican-led House of Representatives shot down a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) request to build and publicly offer a comprehensive online climate database on its website.

NOAA has “been overwhelmed with requests for information about climate data,” according to a Washington Post news report. Climate data downloads from NOAA Web sites surged 86 percent between 2009 and 2010, while climate-related phone calls and e-mails spiked up from 26,000 to 30,000, according to a Washington Post report.

The Republican-led House apparently believes that keeping the US public in a state of confusion and ignorance is the way to govern, at least when it comes to views that differ from their own. Certainly, it’s an effective way manipulate public attitudes and beliefs and keep hold of power, just not one we’re accustomed to in the USA.

National Climate Service Shot Down

Pres. Obama proposed establishing a separate NOAA National Climate Service in early 2010 that would serve as a centralized, user-friendly information resource to help governments, businesses, and the broad public better understand and adapt to climate change.

Carrying out the two projects would respond to increasing public demand for climate data and information, and they would cost essentially nothing, as NOAA requested no additional, new funding in its 2012 budget proposal to carry the projects out. The Democratic-led Senate approved most of the funding for the Climate Service in its budget. The Republican-led House rejected it whole.

There are numerous really good, valid economic reasons why establishing a national Climate Service and database would be of real value… besides the simple fact that public demand for such information has been surging. “Urban planners want to know whether groundwater will stop flowing under subdivisions. Insurance companies need climate data to help them set rates,” the Washington Post reporter Brian Vastag wrote, mentioning just two. (Think Progress has a good list of 10.)

Politicizing Climate

As NOAA states on its website, its products and services “support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America's gross domestic product. NOAA's dedicated scientists use cutting-edge research and high-tech instrumentation to provide citizens, planners, emergency managers and other decision makers with reliable information they need when they need it.”

Republican House members don’t want a federal government agency legitimizing any science that legitimizes climate change. Two cited by Ashley Portero in her International Business Times article argued that the National Climate Service would “politicize” NOAA and make its website seem like “propaganda sources instead of science sources.” Rather ironic seeing as that’s exactly what House Republicans are doing.

Oddly enough, the federal funding earmarked for NOAA’s Climate Service was approved by the House, but it will be distributed across the agency instead of going directly into the project.

“We think it’s very unfortunate,” Chris McEntee, executive director of the 60,000-strong American Geophysical Union of scientists, told The Washington Post. “Limiting access to this kind of climate information won’t make climate change go away.”

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