Saturday, December 17, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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What if China Stimulated Domestic Demand for Solar Photovoltaic Power?

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 07:38 AM PST

Graphic credit The Washington Post

Manufacturing solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules in China has been a tremendous success, at least if you’re willing to put off profitability for job creation to help assure social stability. Sustainable over the long term? No, not likely, but in less than a decade, China’s manufacturers have captured 48% of the global market of silicon PV cells, as the excellent graphic from the Washington Post shows.

During this period, global production of solar PV cells has expanded tenfold. Prices of solar grade polysilicon, the raw material from which solar PV cells are made from, have dropped 94% in three years.

Most of China’s market share gain has come at the expense of the world’s two other leading solar PV manufacturers, Germany and Japan, though US manufacturers are also being squeezed hard by the flood of supply coming out of China. And Chinese manufacturers are suffering, as well. Six Chinese market leaders are relying on government-arranged bank credit facilities to assure their survival.

The Chinese government has pursued the same mercantilist, export-driven policies in stimulating growth of domestic solar PV manufacturers that characterizes its approach to economic development since market reform took root in the late 1980s. It’s one that Japan used to build its domestic manufacturing base, but with a centrally-controlled political economy, a two-tier financial system with tight controls over foreign investment inflows and outflows and a foreign exchange system that pegs the value of the yuan to the dollar, it’s in a much better position to do so.

But what if China looked inward rather than outward, trying instead to develop a domestic solar power industry value chain instead of focusing so narrowly on exports? It’s estimated that Chinese solar PV manufacturing capacity is 32-times greater than domestic demand. If they were half as successful in stimulating domestic demand for solar PV, many of the current challenges and problems in the solar PV market globally would be worked out in relatively short order.

It appears the Chinese government is moving in that direction. The Chinese government officially announced an additional 50% increase in its solar PV generating capacity target in its current strategic 5-year plan by 50%, to 15 gigawatts (GW), according to a Recharge news report. That follows an announcement earlier this year that the 2015 target was being raised from 5 GW to 10 GW.

In its latest media release, China’s National Energy Administration also announced a wind power capacity target of 100 GW for the five-year period, which was in line with previously announced plans. Five GWs of that are to be installed offshore.

This is a clear sign that China’s leaders not only recognize the global productive imbalance of supply-demand which they now play so large a part, but the critical importance a shift to renewable energy sources has for their own economy, society, natural resources and environment. Now, if only they’d shift to a truly market-driven exchange rate regime by allowing the yuan to float against the dollar and other currencies.

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How WindFlip Will Deliver Gigantic Floating Turbines to Site

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 06:06 PM PST

To tow the new gigantic off-shore wind turbines now being developed in Europe far out to sea, a Norwegian company has devised a clever and simple mechanism. Their WindFlip tows the turbine out almost horizontal – and then when it gets to the site, tilts it up into position – using only the weight of seawater to do it.

The structure contains 29 air filled compartments. Once at the site each of the compartments inside the Windflip is sequentially filled with water, causing the stern to slowly submerge, so that both the Windflip barge and the turbine it is holding flip up 90°. Then it releases the turbine for connection with a pre-installed mooring spread, and then tips the barge back to horizontal by clearing the ballast tanks of seawater with compressed air.

Their design has been recently been amped-up in response to the rising sizes of turbines being deployed. Now that a single turbine can be as large as 5 to 6 MW, WindFlip has been redesigned to accommodate turbines that large.

But the off-shore wind industry is now maturing in the EU. So other, and now more established companies have already invented ways to get gigantic wind turbines delivered out to sea. So WindFlip is focused on the next step for offshore wind: the floating turbine market.

"Earlier this year, WindFlip took the strategic decision to focus on the floating wind turbine niche," says general manager Ane Christophersen.

"In the fixed turbine installation market there are a lot of big, established actors. We felt it might be that much harder for us to get into. But with the floating market, we can take the long-term view and try to develop a solution for them [turbine designers].

So, in conjunction with state funding through Innovation Norway and Norway’s Statoil, the developer of the Hywind floating turbine, Windflip has refined the processes for assembly, loading, transit and release in R & D in Marintek.

(The Statoil Hywind floating turbine is to be tested off the coast in deepwater Maine. Previous story: EU Invades US for Offshore Wind. The test was funded by the Department of Energy: Why DOE Funded Floating Turbines May Change the Future of Offshore Wind)

Some of the improvements include being able to tow the turbine at an angle so as to keep the delicate machinery in the nacelle 40 metres above the water (120 feet), and be able to navigate it in pretty rough seas. Now it could handle significant wave heights up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) — the point at which fast ferries stop their service — and still be able to protect its cargo.

The hull, decks and bulkheads are designed to withstand four bars of pressure,  and the barge can move at over eight knots (14.8km/h or about 8 miles an hour). At full scale, the hull would measure 100 metres long (300 feet) and 30 metres (90 feet) wide, and be able to hold 17,000 cubic metres of ballast water when fully upended.

The hull is undergoing a re-fit to "match" Hywind — on the grounds that it is the "obvious choice as it is the most mature technology" and is likely to be the first floating turbine to go on sale in Europe, but it is also working with companies developing other types of floating designs.

The startup is looking for a partner to take it to full scale test and commercialization.

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Navy Pushes Algae Biofuel as Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Sputters

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 04:37 PM PST

OriginOil partners in biorefinery development for Navy and NATO biofuel supplyWhile the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline is temporarily stalled, the U.S. Navy is helping to push the market for algae biofuel. That’s good news for the U.S. biofuel industry and it could also help influence the growth of the biofuel industry internationally as well, since the Navy is coordinating its biofuel program with NATO fuel standards. In the latest development, the algae biofuel company OriginOil has announced a multinational joint venture to develop biorefineries that would supply both the U.S. and NATO.

OriginOil and International Algae Standards

The new joint venture is called Future Energy Solutions, and it’s still in the early stages of lining up investors and planning feasibility studies. In the meantime, in support of the joint venture OriginOil has partnered with the Idaho National Laboratory to develop international standards for algae biomass. OriginOil will contribute its proprietary, high efficiency algae oil extraction technology, and INL will chip in with its advanced biofuel processing technology and other equipment.

Many Feedstocks, One Biofuel

While the emphasis of the INL partnership is on algae, one major aim of the project is to integrate different kinds of non-food feedstocks into standardized biofuels, which would help to scale up global biofuel production more rapidly than a single-feedstock focus. Part of the rush has to do with the Navy’s intention to ramp up its use of biofuel within the next few years, starting with a demonstration of its new Green Strike Group at the Rim of the Pacific exercise this summer in preparation for the launch of a Green Fleet in 2016.

Joining Forces for Biofuels

President Obama has also gathered support for the program in the form of a $510 million biofuel partnership between the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Navy. Aside from helping to ensure the armed forces a growing supply of domestic alternative fuel, the initiative is designed to help build sustainable economies in rural areas by creating permanent new jobs in biorefining, transportation and related operations.

Image: Navy tests algae biofuel, some rights reserved by Official U.S. Navy Imagery.

Follow on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

 

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Early Christmas in London: New Fleet of Hybrid Buses Arrives

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 02:29 PM PST

 

New hybrid buses for London.London got its first shipment of a new fleet of hybrid buses this week, just in time for Christmas. The new bus is supposed to be the most environmentally friendly of its kind, according to Business Green, and is allegedly 15% more fuel efficient than existing hybrid buses.

We Want Clean Air!

The new hybrids have been specifically designed for London, taking inspiration from the classic and iconic red double-decker Routemaster bus. Unlike the old Routemasters, it has to conform to much stricter emissions standards. The new hybrid emitted only 640 g/km of carbon dioxide, less than half of a standard diesel bus's emissions (1295 g/km).

In addition to having lower emissions, Transport for London (TfL) says the bus is 40% more fuel efficient than a standard diesel-powered double decker. The hybrid is even quieter, reducing overall noise on the streets.

All Aboard (Beta Version)

London Mayor Boris Johnson spoke enthusiastically about the latest addition to London's public transit network at the launch, also according to Business Green:

“Christmas has arrived early in the form of this revolutionary new bus whose gleaming coat of red paint and sinuous curves will brighten the day of all who see it humming along our great city’s streets. It is the latest, greatest masterpiece of British engineering and design, and I am certain it will become a much-loved and iconic vehicle akin to the legendary Routemaster from which it draws so much inspiration.”

Passenger trials start in February 2012, with 8 of the new hybrids serving route 38 (Victoria to Hackney, for anyone who'll be in the London area next year and wants to take a ride). If the passenger trials go well, plans are under way for more of the buses to serve additional routes.

If you'll be in London after February and have any desire to check out one of these new hybrids, let us know how it goes. Or just chime in below, regardless of where you are, and let us know what you think of the hybrids.

Source: Business Green | Image: Wikimedia Commons

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New Material Shrilk Might Rival Plastic

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:52 PM PST

Here is a case of Biomimicry at its best.

For those wanting replacements for non-biodegradable and fossil fuel-dependent plastic, Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has announced a new material for that is cheap to produce, biodegradable, and biocompatible. Its creators call it “Shrilk,” saying the unique structure of arthropod cuticle inspired the material discovery.

It might even be possible the material has the potential to replace plastics in consumer products and could also be used safely in a variety of medical applications, such as suturing wounds or serving as scaffolding for tissue regeneration.

Shrilk has the strength, toughness and laminar design of arthropod cuticle. Wyss Institute postdoctoral fellow, Javier Fernandez and Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber engineered a thin, clear film that has the same composition and structure as said cuticle.

According to the press announcement, "Natural insect cuticle, such as that found in the rigid exoskeleton of a housefly or grasshopper, is uniquely suited to the challenge of providing protection without adding weight or bulk. As such, it can deflect external chemical and physical strains without damaging the insect’s internal components, while providing structure for the insect’s muscles and wings. It is so light that it doesn’t inhibit flight and so thin that it allows flexibility. Also remarkable is its ability to vary its properties, from rigid along the insect’s body segments and wings to elastic along its limb joints."

Arthropods have an outer skeleton made up of a composite material called cuticle that consists of layers of a polysaccharide polymer called chitin and protein organized in a laminar, plywood-like structure. In its unmodified form, which can be seen in the body wall of a caterpillar, chitin is translucent, pliable, resilient and quite tough, but arthropods are able to modify its properties to make it tough and rigid, as seen in the body wall of a beetle, or to make it elastic, as seen in arthropod limb joints.

“When we talk about the Wyss Institute’s mission to create bioinspired materials and products, Shrilk is an example of what we have in mind,” said Ingber. “It has the potential to be both a solution to some of today’s most critical environmental problems and a stepping stone toward significant medical advances.”

Shrilk is composed of fibroin protein from silk and from chitin. The material is similar in strength and toughness to aluminum alloys, but is only half the weight. Since chitin can be extracted from discarded shrimp shells it can be produced at very low cost. It is also biodegradable and can be molded into complex shapes. By controlling the water content in the fabrication process, the researchers were also able to vary the stiffness of the material, ranging from elastic to rigid.

Wyss researchers say that these attributes make Shrilk suitable for a wide range of applications, including providing a cheap, environmentally safe alternative to plastic, and for making garbage bags, packaging, and diapers that degrade quickly. Since it is also biocompatible and strong, it could also be used to suture wounds that bear high loads, such as hernia repair, or as a scaffold for tissue regeneration.

Photo: Harvard.edu

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Solar Power in India is Now Cheaper than Diesel

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:34 PM PST

india solar power

When people think about fast-growing developing countries which generate a lot of carbon emissions, they typically think of China. After all, it’s the world’s largest carbon emitter.

But with over a billion people, India is the third-biggest emitter — and with over a billion people, it has the potential to quickly overtake the US in the number two spot. India isn’t building coal-fired power stations at the same breakneck pace as China — in fact, much of its emission come from soot from wood-burning stoves. Nevertheless, as India continues to grow and industrialise, it’s vital that it weans itself off fossil fuels and onto renewable energy.

So, it’s great news that the same drops in solar energy costs that are happening across the world are also affecting India. So much so, that solar power in India is now cheaper than diesel.

Well, some solar power, anyway. To be specific, the solar power provided by French solar company Solairedirect. They’re offering power to India’s national grid for 14c (US) per kWH, less than the average 25c cost of diesel, Renewable Energy World reports.

The great thing about solar energy at this moment in time is that its rapid growth is leading to an equally rapid drop in prices. There’s some disagreement about whether Solairedirect can actually sell solar profitably at this price, but they’re not alone — four companies offered prices lower than the typical cost of diesel.

The bids are being submitted as part of the ‘Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission,’ a government scheme which is set to allocate funding for 20,000 MW of solar power over the next ten years. According to Renewable Energy World, the gradual allocation of this solar capacity should mean that solar becomes the cheapest form of energy in India within the next two years. That’s not just good news because it means more renewables, but because it means a likely shrinkage of India’s reliance on diesel, a $2.32-billion industry in India.

Expect to see more measures like this one from the Indian government, now that it has agreed to discuss signing up to a successor of the Kyoto Protocol by 2020.

India, however, was the most determined holdout against agreeing to discuss such a treaty — yes, even more so than the United States — at the UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa last week. And it hasn’t entirely changed its mind. Indian Environment Minister Jayanathi Natarajan, today, was at pains to point out that his government hasn’t agreed to any legally-binding emissions reductions — merely to discuss agreeing to some. Yes, they agreed to discuss agreeing. So goes the glacial pace of international diplomacy.

To see how India’s solar aspirations match up with the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, see Asian Pacific Solar Booming, Especially in China.

Small-scale solar plant in Gurgaon, India courtesy Ggn77 on Wikimedia Commons.

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IKEA Wants You to See More Electric Cars — In Its Parking Lots

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:25 PM PST

 

IKEA plus Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Whether you love or hate IKEA, it's everywhere. This week, both IKEA lovers and haters have a good reason to applaud the massive home furnishings retailer; IKEA has officially kicked off its fifth, sixth, and seventh Blink Level 2 EV charging station projects. 4 stations were plugged in at each of 3 IKEA stores – Covina, CA, Renton, WA, and Emeryville, CA, respectively.

To use the charging stations, drivers simply park in one of the designated spots and swipe their specialized Blink InCard (which can be acquired at www.blinknetwork.com). The driver then plugs the EV into the charger and everything's all set. And of course, the more time you spend shopping, the more your battery charges (I see what you did there, IKEA).

Growing Support for Electric Cars

Helping support IKEA in its EV endeavors is ECOtality, the project manager of The EV Project. It's meant to help set up the infrastructure necessary to support electric cars, and is funded partly by a federal stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Currently on ECOtality's plate is the installation of 14,000 commercial and residential charging stations in 6 states (4 of which also host IKEA stores).

Various representatives of ECOtality expressed their enthusiasm for the IKEA projects at each of the three locations kicked off this week. Jason Smith, ECOtality's San Francisco Bay Area Manager called the Emeryville IKEA a "highly desirable destination location," a sentiment echoed by Pacific Northwest Regional Manager Rich Feldman and National Accounts Manager Brian Koontz.

"The Blink Network is about making the EV lifestyle fit the lifestyle of drivers nationwide," Smith said in an interview with Business Wire. All three representatives specifically linked the word "excited" to the IKEA installations. As we said, IKEA is everywhere; ECOtality must be hoping some of the store's visibility will translate into familiarity with EVs – not a bad thought.

Furniture Can Be Green, Too (Even When Mass-Produced)

Several IKEA employees were also interviewed by Business Wire and spoke positively of the EV project. In one of those interviews, Renton's Diedre Goodchild, store manager, said:

"We are thrilled at how these electric-vehicle charging stations further the sustainability of IKEA Renton, and now are available to the public. We appreciate the support of ECOtality and Puget Sound Energy – our partners in helping facilitate and promote the use of EVs in the Pacific Northwest."

Aside from supporting electric vehicles, IKEA likes to explain how environmentally conscious it is as a business; efforts worldwide include trying to conserve energy, using unusual materials in its products, and maintaining sustainable resources. In the United States, IKEA says it puts a lot of focus on recycled and recycling materials, as well as using energy-efficient lighting systems (skylights totally count as energy-efficient lighting systems, right?) and getting rid of plastic bags. Solar panels are also on the agenda – 75% of American IKEA stores will get them.

Are you an IKEA shopper? An EV owner? Would this sway you in favor of either one? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: Business Wire (and here, and here) | Image: IKEA

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3-Dimensional Solar Cell With 25% Efficiency? Maybe!

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:23 PM PST

 

Solar3D Predicts 25% Conversion EfficiencyResearch into solar power is proceeding on several fronts; one of them is 3-dimensional solar technology rather than the flat solar cells that are currently prevalent. Solar3D, Inc. is the developer of that 3-dimensional solar technology. This week, they announced that simulated tests of its new solar cell design predict conversion efficiency to exceed 25%.

If the new solar cells work as expected, they would have one of – if not the – highest rates of conversion efficiency in the industry. Jim Nelson, President and CEO of Solar3D, waxed enthusiastic in an interview with Business Wire:

"We are very encouraged by these test results. We are now evaluating various methods of fabricating a prototype. If the results of our tests hold up in fabrication, as we expect, then our product's performance will be among the very highest conversion efficiencies achieved by silicon solar cells."

If You Build It, They Will Come

After building and testing the prototype, the company will need someone to build it. Solar3D doesn't manufacture its own products, but they've got their eye on a number of semiconductor manufacturers. Nelson's enthusiasm continued, in the Business Wire interview:

"These test results are very exciting and give us a great deal of confidence in the development path we have chosen. We think that our novel 3-dimensional solar cell has the potential to dramatically change the economics of solar power. A high efficiency solar cell manufactured with low cost silicon could result in the lowest cost per watt in the industry."

In the best-case scenario, low production costs would lead to low prices for the end user and increased popularity for solar arrays (although solar power is doing quite well already!). As solar power is already a well-known and fairly popular green energy option, I can’t really see a downside here. Good luck, Solar3D!

Source: Business Wire | Image: Solar3D

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China’s Solar Energy Plans Become Even More Ambitious

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:16 PM PST

 

china renewable energy

The People’s Republic of China has increased its target for installed solar power by 50%. It now aims to have 15GW of installed solar generating capacity, by 2015, Reuters reports.

The move comes just months after China doubled its solar goal from 5 GW to 10 GW earlier this year, following the partial meltdown of the Fukishama nuclear plant in Japan.

How can China be so ambitious? It’s thought that the revised target has been made possible by an uptick in solar installations thanks to new government supports for the industry. China’s government introduced its first unified national feed-in tariff for solar energy in August, guaranteeing a price significantly higher for solar power than was previously being paid by various state agencies. Note that feed-in tariffs are believed to have driven three-quarters of global photovoltaic solar power installations.

To give you a sense of the scale of what China’s trying to achieve, consider this: at the end of 2010, the country had less than 1 GW of installed solar capacity. A government think-tank reported in August that it expected there to be 2 GW of installed solar capacity by the end of 2011.

The revised plan does not change the existing, equally ambitious target for wind power, of 100 GW of installed capacity. Add on hydropower and biofuels, and China plans to install over 500GW of renewable energy by 2020.

Of course, we shouldn’t think that these exciting plans mean China has its carbon emissions under control. The country has built an average of one new coal-fired power station every single week for the law few years to meet its rapidly growing energy needs. Getting China, as well as India, to agree to discuss signing up to a possible future Kyoto-style agreement on emissions reductions was the number one achievement at the Durban UN climate conference last week. It’s likely that China would struggle to maintain its current breakneck pace of energy growth under any legally-binding emissions reduction regime unless it was able to perfect and retro-fit its coal plants with carbon-capture and storage technology.

For more recent news on China’s renewable plans, see China: Yet Another Strong Renewable Energy Push.

Renewable energy picture courtesy of shutterstock

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Lower Solar Power Prices, Growth & Savings Lead to Reduction in Arizonans’ 2012 Utility Bills

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 10:49 AM PST

Photo courtesy First Solar

Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) customers will see there electric bills drop $0.21 a month as a result of falling solar panel prices and cost savings realized on the utility’s renewable energy program, the Arizona Republicreports.

APS charges customers a monthly tariff to provide incentives for them to make use of renewable energy and improve the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses. The state’s utility regulator, the Arizona Corporation Commission, voted late Wednesday to reduce the tariff from a maximum $4.05 to a maximum $3.84 per month.

APS’ 2012 budget is increasing, to $106 million from $96 million, even with the renewable energy/energy conservation tariff reduction. APS is rolling $19 million that was either saved or earned via its news solar power plants through state production tax credits into the 2012 budget, APS’ renewable energy director Eran Mahrer told Arizona Republic reporter Ryan Randazzo.

All Good News

“In a sense, it is all good news. We will meet our (renewable energy) targets and are on track to exceed them,” Mahrer was quoted as saying.

Arizona’s Corporation Commission requires utilities to obtain 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. The Corporation Commission approves an annual tariff that’s applied to all customers to help offset the up-front capital costs of developing renewable energy production projects.

Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump noted that polls show that Arizonans want more solar energy and are willing to pay more for it. As a result of falling solar panel prices and APS’ savings, they’ll be able to get more solar and renewable energy and pay less for it, at least in 2012.

The negotiations over the state’s tariff also showed just how fast the public, and commercial power producers and distributors, are embracing solar and renewable energy given the right type and mix of incentives. It also shows that the state’s solar and renewable energy targets are, if anything, too low.

2025 Solar, Renewable Energy Targets Too Modest

APS has so many rooftop solar projects installed that it could have met the state requirements for those sources without any new investments in 2012, which was included as part of one of three budget options it presented to commissioners. Some solar companies objected, and the commission came up with a compromise.

APS pays an annual rebate for commercial rooftop solar power systems based on the amount of power they generate. The rate at which APS pays rebates for homeowners who install solar power systems has come down drastically.

APS was paying homeowner rebates worth more than $3 per watt of solar power capacity a few years ago, Randazzo notes. 2012 homeowner rebates will start at $0.75 and decrease in steps as homeowners install more systems.

Utility vs. Homeowner Owned Solar

In addition, the commission authorized APS to enter contracts for large, commercial rooftop solar power systems worth $100 million or more over their lifetime. That’s going to carry over through 2012.

Mahrer said he expects maintaining the same budget for large, commercial rebates in 2012 may yield as much as 50% more solar power generating capacity because of the drop in solar panel prices and because the subsidies cost less per project. The same holds true for residential solar power, he said.

Some smaller solar power companies objected to the rebate rate reduction, arguing that it will hurt them, and individual home and business uptake of solar energy across Arizona. Keith Rowley, president/CEO of Solar Electric Systems and Products in Mesa, said his 10-employee company will have difficulty adding new customers with the rebate rate reduction.

Utility companies, he was quoted as saying, “want to own all the solar.” “On large power plants (built by out-of-state companies) all the money and tax credits go out of state.”

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