Friday, February 24, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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LEGO Owners Put $500 Million into Offshore Wind Farm in Germany

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 05:10 AM PST


Wouldn’t it be cool to build a wind farm out of LEGOs? They must have such options now, eh? Especially now that we see LEGO’s owners are wind power fans,.. or that they just see the financial benefits of investing in wind power.

As reported yesterday by Reuters, the family firm that owns LEGO is buying approximately one-third of a new offshore wind farm in Germany. The investment will provide LEGO with all of its needed energy up through 2020.

“Lego’s parent company, Kirkbi A/S, will invest 3 billion crowns ($534 million) for a 32 percent stake in DONG Energy’s 277-megawatt Borkum Riffgrund 1 wind farm, which is scheduled to be fully operational in 2015,” Reuters reports

“For DONG, which has previously sold stakes in wind farms to institutional investors like pension insurance groups, the deal represents a key widening of its investor base to include corporate groups for the first time.”

This investment also lets LEGO market that it invests in wind power with the new WindMade logo.

“This investment supports the Lego Group’s ambitious environmental goals,” Kirkbi Chief Executive Soren Thorup Sorensen told Reuters. ”This also provides a solid long-term investment for us with a reasonable return.”

But this was no minor step — it’s the first time Kirkbi has invested directly in an energy project and is “is a sizeable investment” for the company, according to Sorensen.

As Andrew noted last week, renewable energy investments are increasingly coming from the corporate world, which sees them as sound, high-ROI long-term investments. (Note Google’s early and strong leadership in this respect, as well as Apple’s announcement this week that it is building the largest end-user-owned solar array in the U.S.) I would say, expect to see more and more of this sort of announcement.

LEGO Man via de Raaf

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Obama: “the American People Aren’t Stupid” (on “Drill, Baby, Drill” Strategy)

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 04:42 AM PST

obama Obama absolutely nails the idiocy of “drill, baby, drill” in the video below, as well as the sad state of affairs in politics today — where the Republicans “licking their chops” about rising gas prices.

As we covered last night, drilling more for oil isn’t going to make gas prices fall, and as Obama notes, this has been the “bumper sticker” strategy of the GOP for 30 years (and it obviously hasn’t worked).

Thank you, Obama, for bringing a little bit of needed detail to the issue of rising gas prices and our foreign oil addition.

And, wow, he actually very enthusiastically talks about our need to develop wind and solar energy.

But he’s goes on beyond that, and even goes off script to note how younger generations (such as his daughters’) are so much more aware of the commonsense fact that natural resources are limited and we have to conserve them. In this segment, he also notes the important fact that the U.S. consumes over 20% of the world’s oil reserves but only has 2% of them.

Here’s the first video:

And here’s the text of a key part of this Obama segment via Brad Johnson of Think Progress but edited a bit to make it accurate with the actual words of Obama (and, as much as possible, his emphasis):

I mean, the American people aren't stupid. They know that's not a plan – especially since we're already drilling. That's a bumper sticker. It's not a strategy to solve our energy challenge. That's a strategy to get politicians through an election. You know there are no quick fixes to this problem. You know we can't just drill our way to lower gas prices. If we're going to take control of our energy future, and can start avoiding these annual gas price spikes that happen every year when the economy starts getting better, world demand starts increasing, turmoil in the Middle East or some other parts of the world, if we're going to avoid being at the mercy of these world events, we’ve got to have a sustained, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – yes, oil and gas, but also wind, and solar, and nuclear, and biofuels, and more. We need to keep developing the technology that allows us to use less oil in our cars and trucks, less energy for our buildings and our plants and our factories. That's the strategy we're pursuing, and that's the only real solution to this challenge.

And here’s the second video, followed by text, edited and added upon, from what Brad Johnson shared on Think Progress:

[A]nybody who tells you that we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about or just isn't telling you the truth. And, and, and, you know young people especially understand this, because, you know, it's interesting, when I talk to Malia and Sasha — you guys are so much more aware of, you know, conserving our natural resources and thinking about the planet. The United States consumes more than a fifth of the world’s oil, more than 20% of the world’s oil, just us. We only have 2% of the world’s oil reserves. We consume 20, we’ve got 2. And that means we can’t just rely on fossil fuels

Great speech.

Obama photo via Justin Sloan

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New Renewable Energy Doc from Greenpeace

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 04:16 AM PST

Greenpeace has just released a new renewable energy doc that touches on growing renewable energy around the world and the potential to provide the world with 95% of its power by 2050 (38% by 2020).

Here are a couple of nice quotes from that doc you might like to have a look at:

The growth of renewable energy has been unprecedented over the past 25 years. Wind and solar have maintained double-digit growth rates since 2000. No other segment of the energy sector has grown this fast. Wind power is the most economic new power plant technology, due to reduced installations costs, no fuel costs and construction time of less than one year, compared to over 10 years to construct nuclear power plants. In addition to replacing nuclear, renewables could lead to phasing out of over 90% of fossil fuels in the power and heating sectors by 2050, while in the transport sector the use of fossil fuels could be reduced from the current 98% down to about 30% by 2050.

Countries can create an indigenous, locally produced energy supply based on renewables and cut the drain on their resources of buying energy. Since renewable energy doesn't have fuel costs, the global savings on fuel costs could be $282bn a year through to 2030 and about $964bn a year from 2030 to 2050.

And here are some pretty inspiring facts on recent or current successes in the renewable energy, especially wind energy, sector:

• Spain generated more than half its electricity demand on 9 November 2009 with wind energy.
• Spain’s wind energy overtook coal as its third-largest producer of power in 2009.
• During 2010, China built roughly one windmill every hour.
• The wind industry installed just over 41,000MW of new clean, reliable wind power in 2011, bringing the total installed capacity globally to more than 238,000MW at the end of last year. This represents an increase of 21%, with an increase in the size of the annual global market of just over 6%.
• Today, about 75 countries worldwide have commercial wind power installations, with 22 of them already passing the 1 gigawatt (GW) level.
• More than half of all new wind power was added outside the traditional markets of Europe and North American in 2010, for the first time.
• New Zealand generates 10% of its electricity needs from geothermal power.
• Portugal’s renewables went from 15% to 45% in its electricity grid in just five years

For more, including a criticism of nuclear industry claims, check out the Greenpeace document: Renewable Energy [PDF]

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“Invisible” Solar Panels are on the Way

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 07:35 PM PST

NREL and New Energy Technologies partner on invisible OPV solar panelsWindow gazers of the future may soon find themselves looking right through an energy-producing transparent glass solar panel, if the folks at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are on the right track. Working with the company New Energy Technologies, Inc., the lab has produced a transparent photovoltaic module that is 14 times bigger than its last attempt.

Windows that double as solar panels

At 170 square centimeters (about 26 square inches), the new module is about the size of a small window. If the technology can be ramped up to a more useful scale, practically any glass window could double as a clean energy generator, with the embedded photovoltaic cell all but invisible.

The largest device of its kind produced at NREL, the new module represents a breakthrough in organic photovoltaic cell (OPV) technology according to a statement by Dr. David S. Ginley of NREL, who said that integrating solar technology into window glass represents a "promising avenue for OPV deployment."

Organic photovoltaic technology set to rise

In contrast to conventional solar technology based on silicon, OPV cells can be made from a variety of inexpensive polymers (plastics), which can be produced in liquid form and sprayed onto a substrate, or applied using a high volume, inexpensive roll-to-roll manufacturing process.

The two sticking main sticking points so far have been increasing the size of the solar module, and increasing its efficiency. The solar energy conversion efficiency of other solar technologies has been trending up in the double digits but OPV efficiency is currently stuck around eight percent according to NREL.

Though OPV is starting from a lowly place on the conversion efficiency totem pole, its potential for building-integrated usage puts it in a strong position in the solar industry. The relatively low conversion rate could be counterbalanced by the potential for extremely low installation costs compared to other solar technologies. See-through glass solar panels could simply be substituted for conventional window glass at a marginal increase in cost, rather than being treated as an expensive add-on.

A place in the sun(shot) for OPV

Lowering the overall installed cost of solar power is a primary goal of President Obama's SunShot Initiative, which aims to make solar energy compete on price against fossil fuels within the next few years. That partly explains why NREL is so gung-ho on OPV technology despite its low efficiency.

It should be noted, though, that the focus on OPV predates the Obama Administration. OPV was part of the Solar America initiative under the Bush Administration. Despite a conversion efficiency of only five percent at the time, a 2007 Department of Energy draft report identified some key benefits of developing OPV technology, including "the inherent low materials cost and low-energy, high-throughput processing technologies, and because of the huge variety of possible organic systems."

OPV and American-made energy

Another aspect of NREL’s interest in OPV has to do with reliability and stability of price and supply, which are key elements in President Obama's broader "American-made energy" pitch.

The use of a variety of polymers would enable the U.S. solar industry to overcome a major obstacle that derives from reliance on silicon-based solar technology, and that is the price fluctuation of a single key material – silicon – on the open market.

According to a report last week in Bloomberg News, China, which it describes as the "biggest supplier to solar-panel manufacturers worldwide," has shut down almost a third of its polysilicon production after prices fell by 60 percent, a move that is expected to result in a quick return to higher prices.

However, it's too soon to say good-bye to silicon forever. NREL is also working with another small company, Innovalight, to develop solar modules based on a low cost, nano-engineered spray-on liquid silicon process.

Image: Cat in window. License Attribution Some rights reserved by the12thplaya.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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Ohio Ballot Initiative Could Create $13 Billion Clean Energy Fund

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 03:50 PM PST


Ohio's attorney general has approved a ballot initiative that, if passed by voters, would create a $13-billion-dollar fund for clean energy projects, including solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and advanced battery technology projects, across the state.

The "Ohio Clean Energy Initiative" would allow the state to issue up to $1.3 billion per year from 2013 to 2023 to fund energy infrastructure projects and pay for research and development on renewable technologies. $65 million of the annual total would be allocated to the Ohio Energy Initiative Commission for other projects.

If it becomes law, the initiative could instantly create a thriving green economy in Ohio. Funds would be directed to develop sites and facilities for and in support of clean energy industry, commerce, and distribution, as well as research and development to commercialize new technologies and create public-private partnerships.

The group pushing the initiative, Yes for Ohio's Energy Future, estimates that it could create "well over" 300,000 permanent jobs, and would pay for itself over time through increased tax revenue.

While certification by the attorney general is a positive step, many more must be completed in order for the initiative to become law. The Ohio Ballot Board is currently evaluating the measure to determine if it can appear as one issue or if it will require multiple approvals.

Once that issue is resolved, supporters would have to gather more than 385,000 valid signatures of registered voters in order to place it on the November 6 general election ballot. But initiative organizers appear undaunted. "We don’t think we're going to have any problem getting the signatures to get this through," said spokeswoman Evonne Richardson.

Source: Columbus Business Journal

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Without Competition, Oil Companies to Suck Money Out of Our Wallets

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 01:54 PM PST

price of oil

Below are some things to consider if you’re watching, listening to, or reading about Obama’s speech on energy in Miami today. They came to me from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) by email a few hours ago. Before sharing those insightful comments though, I’ll share a quick comment I sometimes mention when discussing oil prices, a comment made by my Texan grandfather, who was Exxon’s chief excavation geologist for all of the United States except California and Alaska when he retired. That comment it: “We just got spoiled.” This was in reference to Americans’ complacency with cheap gas and our expectation that prices stay where they are, or even go down. Oil production in the U.S. peaked decades ago — nothing’s going to change that. But, on to these great comments by NRDC, which include a lot more important points on this matter:

  • Our fundamental problem surrounding gas prices in America is a lack of choice. With few exceptions, we must all fill our cars with oil-based gasoline. If we don't like it, too bad. As long as oil maintains its monopoly on our transportation system, we remain shackled to high gas prices, global instability and an industry that can continue to take record profits because it lacks real competition.
  • The spike in gas prices we're seeing now is because of two things: Increased demand from our improving economy and rising tensions with Iran. According to analysis from Wall Street, we can only expect these price spikes to continue.
  • More drilling in the United States won't make a difference — not now, not in the future. The United States uses about 25 percent of the world's oil, but has less than 3 percent of the world's known oil reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. We could drill every drop of oil there is in the United States, but we'd still be dependent on imported oil. We'd still be subject to global oil prices with every gallon we pump.
  • The number of oil rigs in the United States has quadrupled in the past three years and we're already producing more oil than we have in nearly a decade. What have gas prices done amid all this additional drilling so far? Continue to rise.
  • Oil is priced and traded as a global commodity, and foreign governments control about 90 percent of the oil traded globally. The only way to avoid high prices, then, is to quit buying so much oil.
  • The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will do nothing to make gas prices lower. Canadian companies want to build the pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico for a reason: to reach global markets, not to bring more oil to the United States. In fact, analysis shows Keystone XL could actually drive up oil prices in some parts of the United States.
  • As NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner put in a Miami Herald piece on Thursday, "the simple truth is, we can't drill our way out of our addiction to oil."

What America really needs to reduce what we're spending on gas is more choices — and more efficiency.

Increasing new car mileage standards to 60 miles per gallon by 2025, for instance, will cut our oil usage by more than a million barrels per day — saving the average driver $4,400 over the life of a vehicle.

Investing in public transportation — something Republicans in the House of Representatives are currently trying to kill — will give more people alternatives to the gas pump, while at the same time taking more cars off our gridlocked roads.

Programs that encourage ride sharing, bicycling and walking give Americans more choice too, and send less of our money to oil companies and foreign countries.

The answer to high gas and oil prices isn't making America more dependent on gas oil.

The real answer is giving Americans more choices in how we move around — and using American ingenuity to do it.

For more details on high gas prices and what we can do about them, see here.

For NRDC Federal Transportation Policy Director Deron Lovaas' latest blogs on drilling, gas prices and the federal transportation bill, see here.

For NRDC Transportation Program Director Roland Hwang's blogs on auto efficiency, see here.

Increasing oil prices image via shutterstock

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Over 31? You May Still Buy a Hybrid by 2020

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 01:26 PM PST

More Hybrids By 2020

More car buyers than just those belonging to Generation Y may be looking to buy hybrids, at least according to a report published by New York-based marketing research firm ABI Research. The firm's analysts foresee a pattern of steady growth over the next few years, leading to the eventual annual sales of over 8.3 million hybrids by 2020, or 11% of all new vehicles sold.

2011 was significant in the auto industry for major manufacturers finally introducing both plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles, which principal analyst David Alexander says is good for both the consumer and the auto maker, as published by Business Wire:

"More competition is always good for sales, and as these vehicles become better known as mainstream products, both production efficiencies and consumer demand will improve. However, gasoline and diesel engine technology is not standing still and more efficient conventional solutions will not make it easier for HEV producers."

New Technology Is on Its Way

There's actually quite a bit of governmental support for electric vehicles. Emissions regulations are becoming stricter, tax incentives appear here to stay, and there's even support at the more local level. Also, a number of major cities are helping fund a public charging infrastructure.

I personally believe the main barrier to widespread acceptance of battery electric and hybrid cars remains the still relatively low cost of fossil fuel; a higher initial purchase price is harder to overlook if you're still filling your gas tank for less than $40. Group director Dominique Bonte sees it the other way around:

"Fuel cost has a major part to play in the growth of the HEV market. Initial purchase cost remains a barrier to large sales numbers, but if fuel cost was to rise significantly, then the payback period would get much shorter and demand would rise. Note that if this happens in the short term, there might be issues ramping up production."

And, surely, gas prices will continue to rise, and continue to rise, and continue to rise.

Even without that, though, ABI Research has noted that the increase in technological variety is good news for the hybrid and electric vehicle markets. It’s also observed the trend of fleet testing commercial hybrids and electric vehicles, which is the source and direct beneficiary of that increased variety.

The full study is available from ABI Research here. Questions or comments? Feel free to let us know below.

Source: Business Wire | Image: 2012 Chicago Auto Show

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