Thursday, December 15, 2011

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Greenpeace Facebook Campaign Results in Renewable Energy Collaboration Agreement

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 10:05 AM PST

Image courtesy Greenpeace-Facebook

Greenpeace International’s nearly 1 million-strong Facebook community have brought about a fundamental shift in business operations and strategy at the world’s largest and most popular social media network company.

Led by the world’s highest profile organization of environmental activists, hundreds of thousands of Greenpeace’s Facebook followers since February have been urging Facebook to go ‘green’ – not only in terms of its own operations, but in terms of using its social media platform as a platform for fostering political and social change.

The response has included a massive “Unfriend Coal” campaign and Web page, “photo protests, music videos, petitions and events at Facebook offices from Dublin to Palo Alto,” as well as “a Guinness World Record for the most comments on a Facebook post, Greenpeace reports in a news release.

Responding to this mass action, Facebook management has responded by agreeing to work with Greenpeace “to promote clean energy, encourage major utilities to develop renewable energy generation, and develop programs that will enable Facebook users to save energy and engage their communities in clean energy decisions,” writes Greenpeace’s Eoin Dubsky in an email

Data centers run by major IT companies consume some 2% of US electricity, and that amount’s set to triple with ongoing growth in cloud computing, Greenpeace notes. “To cut their carbon footprint, power hungry IT companies like Apple, Microsoft and Twitter need to follow Facebook's lead and drive a green energy revolution in the industry,” Dubsky writes.

Here’s a link to a digital copy of the Facebook-Greenpeace Renewable Energy Collaboration agreement.

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Wind Energy Research to Maximise Power Generation

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 03:06 AM PST

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are hoping to provide wind energy operators detailed information so as to maximise the efficiency of wind farms and the distribution of the power generated therein.

With increased wind energy being poured into the power grid, there is a need to ensure that ramp events – when conditions can change the flow of energy by over 1,000 megawatts (MW) of power – can be predicted and managed.

Vestas V47 machines at the Tejona Wind Farm in Costa Rica.

“We’re trying to forecast wind energy at any given time,” said Chandrika Kamath, the LLNL lead on the project. “One of our goals is to help the people in the control room at the utilities determine when ramp events may occur and how that will affect the power generation from a particular wind farm.”

Funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and dubbed WindSENSE, the project is hoping to provide wind energy operators with better wind forecasts so they can manage the load balance.

Kamath used data-mining techniques to determine if weather conditions in regions with wind farms could be effective indicators of days when ramp events are likely to occur. She focused on two separate regions — the Tehachapi Pass in Southern California and the Columbia Basin region on the Oregon-Washington border.

“Our work identified important weather variables associated with ramp events,” Kamath said. “This information could be used by the schedulers to reduce the number of data streams they need to monitor when they schedule wind energy on the power grid.”

Need for better forecasts are growing in time with the increase in wind farm output. Wind farms in the Tehachapi Pass currently produce 700 MW of power but are expected to be producing 3,000 MW soon. In 2007, wind farms in the Columbia Basin were producing 700 MW of power, but by 2009 that figure had increased to 3,000 MW.

“The observation targeting research conducted as part of the WindSENSE project resulted in the development and testing of algorithms to provide guidance on where to gather data to improve wind forecast performance,” said John Zack, director of forecasting of AWS Truepower. “These new software tools have the potential to help forecast providers and users make informed decisions and maximize their weather sensor deployment investment.”

Part of the WindSENSE research was focused on determining the best type of sensors to place in the best location, given that both factors can vary greatly and can create the forecast errors in extreme ramp events.

“We’re trying to reduce the barriers to integrating wind energy on the grid by analyzing historical data and identifying the new data we should collect so we can improve the decision making by the control room operators, ” Chandrika said. “Our work is leading to a better understanding of the characteristics and the predictability of the variability associated with wind generation resources.”

Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Wind turbines photo by Andrew Clark, via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Green Routing Cutting Emissions without Making You Late

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 03:01 AM PST

Researchers at the University of Buffalo have shown that drivers can cut their carbon emissions without significantly slowing their travel time.

The idea is 'green routing' – where taking a different route with may have less traffic (and, thus, less stopping and starting) can save on fuel consumption and, thus, carbon emissions.

The University of Buffalo researchers used detailed computer simulations of traffic in Upstate New York's Buffalo Niagara region to find that green routing could reduce overall emissions of carbon monoxide by 27 percent for area drivers, while only increasing the length of their trip by 11 percent.

Adel Sadek and Liya Guo, the University of Buffalo researchers behind the report, note that "Funneling cars along surface streets instead of freeways helped to limit fuel consumption, for instance. Intelligently targeting travelers was another strategy that worked: Rerouting just one fifth of drivers — those who would benefit most from a new path — reduced regional emissions by about 20 percent."

Sadek, a transportation systems expert, says one reason green routing is appealing is because it’s a strategy that consumers and transportation agencies could start using today.

“We’re not talking about replacing all vehicles with hybrid cars or transforming to a hydrogen-fuel economy — that would take time to implement,” said Sadek, an associate professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering. “But this idea, green routing, we could implement it now.”

In the near future, GPS navigation systems and online maps could play an important role in promoting green routing, Sadek said. Specifically, these systems and programs could use transportation research to give drivers the option to choose an environmentally friendly route instead of the shortest route.

The study is part of a larger study being conducted by Sadek, who is looking to evaluate the likely environmental benefits of green routing in the region. But in this study, they found that after reaching a "green-user equilibrium" – "a traffic pattern where all drivers are travelling along optimal routes" – that if they moved one driver from one path to another they would increase the driver's overall emissions by creating more congestion or another problem.

Source: University of Buffalo | Image Source: geyergus

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China’s Rare Earth Monopoly

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 02:57 AM PST

Rare earth minerals may be the most important, let least understood factor in America's transition to a low-carbon, clean-tech future. They're essential to virtually every source of renewable energy and consumer technology we use today.

But China dominates worldwide rare earth supplies and production, and their monopoly could corner the world economy. energyNOW! chief correspondent Tyler Suiters explores how U.S. dependence on China's rare earths could affect our energy future and high-tech lifestyles. The full video is available below:

Americans are used to seeing the words "Made in China" on most things we buy, but could they soon also read "Mined in China?" The nation controls 97 percent of global production of the elements we rely upon in every aspect of modern life. Consider the technologies requiring rare earths: computers, smart phones, military jets, rocket systems, electric cars, wind turbines, energy-efficient light bulbs, and flat-screen televisions, to name a few.

China's claim on the rare earths market began in the 1980's. Premier Deng Xioping famously quipped "the Middle East has oil, but China has rare earths," and the country rapidly ramped up mining efforts. This drove production costs down so sharply that rare earth mining became unprofitable in other countries, including the U.S., which had led global production since the 1960s. It also boosted China's economy.

"They were very effectively using their control over the rare earth industry to force high-tech manufacturing into China," said John Burba, CTO of Molycorp, operator of the only active rare earths mine in America. "I could look and see how fast it was leaving the United States."

Molycorp hopes to counter China's rare earths monopoly through its Mountain Pass mine in California. Until the 1980s, Mountain Pass was the single top producing rare earths mine in the world. Plunging commodity prices and a series of environmental accidents forced it to close.

Through a revamped approach that favors computer control and automation, Molycorp says it can safely produce 40,000 tons of rare earths a year by 2013 – equal to all U.S. demand. "A facility of this size in China would probably require 3,000 to 4,000 people," said Mark Smith, Molycorp’s CEO. "We'll have 300 or 400."

Meeting that demand is critical to the burgeoning clean tech economy, which consumes 20 percent of the world's rare earths. They coat the inside of compact fluorescent light bulbs, go into the magnets that turn electric vehicle batteries, and power the electrical generators inside wind turbines. For context, some of the biggest turbines can each use two tons of rare earths.

If production can't be increased, another solution may be to find replacements. Companies with a big stake in renewables are actively looking for rare earth substitutes. General Electric says it has developed a higher-performance wind turbine magnetizer coil, completely free of rare earths, and Toyota is working on an EV motor that doesn't need rare earths at all. But, both are still in the experimental phase and not yet market-ready.

So while breaking up the rare earths monopoly has environmental consequences, it also represents an economic imperative – and the window is closing. "The big danger is that China totally controls the production of all devices containing rare earths," said Jack Lifton, of Technology Metals Research. "If we haven't made any significant moves by 2015, we will simply no longer be a nation with any hope of doing so."

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Going Bust Amid a Boom: US Solar Installations Soar as Growing Businesses Fall by the Wayside

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 01:20 AM PST

A record 449 megawatts (MW) of new solar electric power capacity was installed in the US in this year’s third quarter (3Q). More solar electric power capacity came online in 3Q 2011 than in all of 2009, and year-over-year growth is expected is expected to be higher yet in Q4, according to a GTM Research-Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) report released yesterday.

More than 1,000 MW of of solar power capacity was installed in the US through 3Q 2011, significantly more than 2010′s annual total of 887 MW, according to the “U.S. Solar Market Insight: 3rd Quarter 2011” report. The 449 MW of newly installed solar power capacity in 3Q 2011 represents a 140% year-over-year increase.

Yet amidst the boom, once leading industry players are going bust. Booming demand for solar panels was preceded by an even greater ramp up in production and supply of solar grade silicon wafers, solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and solar PV panels and modules. Young, growing businesses have failed and a growing number are being pushed to the brink, and not only in the US.

Solon, the first German solar panel manufacturer to go public, just filed for bankruptcy protection as it tries to reorganize its debt. Other world leading German industry players are retrenching as the German government lowers feed-in tariffs due to faster than anticipated growth. China’s LDK, along with Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. Ltd., Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., Trina Solar Ltd., and JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. are relying on a $47 billion credit line from the China Development Bank arranged by the central government to assure their survival.

Bust Amidst Boom

It wasn’t long ago – in 2007 – that there was a supply shortage of solar grade silicon, which drove market prices for the raw material to record highs. Since then, governments around the world, most notably China, have pursued mercantilist foreign exchange, trade and industrial development policies and instituted a variety of subsidies and incentives that has turned the supply-demand situation on its head.

Solar module and panel manufacturers are being hit the hardest. Cheaper polysilicon, solar PV cells, modules and surging demand hasn’t been enough to offset the supply-demand imbalance and the fierce competition for business, which has been forcing them to drop their prices even faster. Better capitalized and more diversified solar grade silicon producers have been able to weather the storm in better shape, at least so far.

Clouding the outlook for the US solar industry further are looming expirations of key federal investment and production tax credits, a glaring lack of consistent federal government support for clean energy, an increasingly fragile economic recovery, the persisting overhang of government and bank debt in the EU and US, and the threat of solar PV, and now broader, trade wars.

Key Treasury 1603 Grant Program Due to Expire

Key to supporting development of young solar power industry businesses in the US has been the US Treasury Section 1603 program, in which cash grants of up to 30% are awarded to companies investing in clean energy projects in lieu of taking investment tax credits over a period of years. The program is due to expire Dec. 31, which has prompted a coalition made up of more than 750 clean energy companies, small businesses, environmental groups and other organizations to send Congress a letter urging legislators to extend it for another year.

Front-loading and monetizing these investment tax credits has provided critical cash flow to US solar companies as they have struggled to recover from the collapse of the tax equity market that began with the 2008 economic crisis. The 3Q Solar Insight report predicts that “there will be a tax equity bottleneck for projects in 2012, leading to a possible slowdown in installations in late 2012 and into 2013.”

“The U.S. solar industry is on a roll, with unprecedented growth in 2011,” Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO, stated in a news release. “Solar is now an economic force in dozens of states, creating jobs across America. But our industry needs stable policy on which to make business decisions, and unfortunately an underlying mechanism for financing solar projects is scheduled to expire on December 31.

“To keep the industry growing and creating jobs in the U.S. we need Congress to extend the 1603 program. The 1603 program has done more to expand the use of renewable energy than any other policy in U.S. history. Our country is not in a position to have Congress turn their back on American industries, and it is critical that Congress extend the 1603 program in the few days left before the end of the year.”

Critical Juncture

All this comes at a critical juncture in time. Our greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at a rapid rate even as the costs of human-induced climate change, environmental pollution and waste spiral higher. We need to do as much as we can as soon as we can to alleviate the growing destruction of the natural ecosystems and resources we ultimately depend on for our survival as well as our livelihoods.

Failing to produce and enact a broad, proactive clean energy policy framework for the nation is a failure of federal leadership on multiple fronts. Allowing forward-looking federal clean energy tax credits that help build productive capacity while addressing critical environmental, health and safety concerns is 180 degrees from where enlightened government leadership should be taking us.

Our leaders need to get smart, and get united, on energy rather than pandering to vested fossil fuel interests. Broad public support and activism can change the tide, but assuring any gains hold long-term appears to also require a fundamental reform of how our representative democracy is financed.

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US to Bury Carbon Off Texas Coast?

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 07:40 PM PST


Capturing CO2 and re-injecting it into offshore geologic formations gets a look as 8 year count-down to carbon price begins.

With all 190 nations now agreeing to binding greenhouse gas reductions in a treaty of some sort to be in force in just 8 years, the release of a carbon capture study from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is well timed. It looks at the risks (and makes suggestions for reducing them) if we were to bury carbon out at sea, under the sea floor, off the Gulf coast.

Texas has exceptional geology for CCS, according to an earlier report out of the University of Texas, that looked at the geologic formations across the coastal region to evaluate them for geologic sequestration.

Interestingly, the US has the most of the the world’s first few pilot carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects in the world.
But many CCS projects have fallen apart for lack of carbon legislation to make them economically worth pursuing. That is about to change.

(Related: First US State to Codify Law for Carbon Sequestration is Wyoming)

Last year, the Department of Energy evaluated the gulf coast for carbon sequestration and found that there is vast potential for storing CO2 in underground salt-water deposits in the Gulf coast region, as well as in depleted oil and gas fields throughout the oil-producing region.

Following up on the DOE evaluation, the EDF has just released research that looks at ways to sequester carbon off the coast of Texas, under the seabed.

The EDF makes site suggestions for testing, anticipates environmental risks and provides recommendations during project siting and development, and was generated to safely and efficiently guide offshore CCS geologic sequestration projects to minimize risks to human health and the environment.

But doing it right  is key. Carbon storage is risky. The EDF makes these ten recommendations:

1.Following threshold standards to avoid negative effects on human health or coastal natural resources;
2.Taking an overall precautionary approach wherever possible;
3.Performing site-specific evaluations within the full zone of potential impact, even if not required by law;
4.Choosing sites with the least potential for leakage;
5.Applying recently adopted U.S. EPA rules for groundwater protection even if not required by law;
6.Locating sites as far from shorelines and existing aquifers as feasible;
7.Reusing or collocating equipment new project footprints;
8.Selecting back-up sites where possible;
9.Developing site specific monitoring, verification, accounting, and reporting plan; and
10.Evaluating feasible mitigation measure prior to site operation.

CCS is one of the wedges needed in achieving a low greenhouse gas world. China, India, and the US; the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are for the first time included among the 190 nations that have now agreed to binding laws reducing them. The new international climate agreement will be worked out over the next 3 years and become law in just a short 8 years. With a global price on carbon, carbon capture will start to be more economically viable.That investment in CCS R&D by the US will start to pay off.

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EV Battery Switch-Out is Easy as 1,2,3…In China

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 02:58 PM PST

Better Place opens EV battery switch station in ChinaCalifornia-based Better Place has teamed up with China Southern Power Grid to introduce a fully automated battery switch-out operation for electric vehicles in Guangzhou, the third largest city in China. If the idea is to make recharging an EV battery just as quick and convenient as buying a tank of gasoline, this seems to be the ticket, and Better Place is confident that Chinese car buyers will go for it. The question is, can the concept break through to the mass market in Better Place’s home country, the U.S.

Breaking Down Consumer Barriers to Electric Vehicles

Better Place’s system is a futuristic facility that looks like a scene left on the cutting room floor from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Called the Switchable Electric Car Experience Center, it leaps over one major barrier to mass consumer acceptance of electric vehicles by cutting down the length of time it takes to recharge a battery. Though battery technology is improving, recharging a typical EV battery still takes far longer than a trip to the gas station.

Using the Past to Launch the Future of Electric Vehicles

The Switchable Electric Car Experience Center may sound like a Jimi Hendrix lyric, but the emphasis on experience is no accident. The experience of using the system is practically identical to the old familiar automated car wash, the kind where you sit in the car and enjoy the ride as it moves along a track while getting sprayed, brushed and buffed.

How Automated EV Battery Switch-out Works

The “Experience” starts off with a quick wash of the car's undercarriage, but the real meat of the operation is hidden in a basement level. After the wash, a trap door opens and an automated forklift reaches up, unlatches the spent battery, shuttles it off to storage, and returns with the replacement. Once the new battery is snapped into place, the driver gets a dashboard signal that the switch was successful, and that is that. From start to finish, the whole thing takes just a few minutes.

Selling Electric Vehicles in China…

Familiarity is an advantage but it is not necessarily a deciding factor in China's car market. Very few Chinese own cars, so the switch-out concept has a chance to start with a clean slate. Dan Cohen, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Better Place explains that "with only 2% of China's population owning cars and 80% of sales in 2009 to first-time car buyers, China has the opportunity to create and lead an entirely new category around clean transportation."

…vs. Selling Electric Vehicles in the U.S.

Selling the system in the U.S. is an entirely different matter. Here, gasoline vehicles have practically universal market penetration and they have a generations-long, extremely close cultural identification with what it means to be an American. In this kind of market, familiarity could make a decisive difference, and the functional connection with the automatic car wash experience could be a key factor in helping the switchable battery concept break through the consumer barrier.

Electric Vehicles and Rugged Individualism

The EV battery switch-out concept also highlights one major difference between electric vehicles and gas powered vehicles that could appeal to old “rugged individual” tradition here in the U.S., and that is the range of choices available to EV owners. Where gasoline vehicles are tied down to commercial gas stations, EV owners can avail themselves of a greater range of options that mesh with their individual needs. That includes commercial switch-out stations and charging stations, as well as non-commercial charging opportunities at home, at work, or at any other facility that offers EV charging as a perk. The availability of solar-powered EV charging is just icing on the sustainability cake (and just to give you an idea where that is heading, the U.S. military is all over solar EV charging).

Image Credit: Guangzhou, site of new EV battery switch station. AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by xiquinhosilva.

Follow on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.



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Solar Car World Champion TED Talk (Video)

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 02:53 PM PST

Job van de Kieft (@JobvandeKieft) was the driver of solar car Nuna3 in 2005 and crossed the World Solar Challenge finish line in record-breaking time — this record still holds. As a world champion solar car racer, Job wrote a book about what it takes to build a winning solar car in 2007. in 2009, Job went on to develop a new segway-like vehicle concept, called Qugo, together with Maarten de Bruijn (designer for Spyker cars).

Job now works at TNO, an independent research organization in The Netherlands, as manager SME in the field of mobility. His goal is to bring TNO knowledge on mobility to the market.

Job is constantly experiencing what it takes to only use electrical transportation to take you where you need to be. He has bought himself an electric scooter to experience this first hand. And he now doing such things as working with pizza delivery companies to convince them they can make the transition to electric scooters. Range is the biggest challenge, but Job says it can be done.

Job recently contacted CleanTechnica about featuring his TEDxDelft talk on our site — being a perfect fit for CleanTechnica, I jumped on the idea, of course. In his TEDxDelft talk (below), Job spoke about how electric driving can set you free — fun topic. Check it out:


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The Electro-Caddy is Volkswagen’s Way of Testing EV Feasibility

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 02:51 PM PST

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