- GE Data Visualization: Solar Power, Wind Power, & More
- Solar Grid Parity in North Carolina (New Study)
- Solar3D Thinks Its Solar Cells Can Produce 200% the Power of Conventional Solar Cells
- Carbon Pricing Needed in Debt Deal, Waxman Contends
- Storing CO2 Underground (New MIT Study)
- Competing for Greener Deliveries
- Australian-Made Tindo Solar Panels to Take on Chinese Giants?
Posted: 20 Mar 2012 07:04 AM PDT
Now, the good news is that GE has put an increasing amount of money and focus into cleantech. GE has just released a rather interesting data visualization tool and I thought it would be fun to compare a few snapshots from that to some of the GE news we’ve covered in the past couple years or so.
Data Visualization of GE Annual Reports
First of all, a quick run-down of what the images are that we’re going to be looking at: GE went through 6,000 pages of its annual reports from 1892 to 2011. It then created an interactive image (or visualization tool) that has little squares representing keywords from the reports. If you go to the data viz tool, you can click on any of those 21 keywords and see how many times they appeared in each year’s annual report. I’ve done this for three terms and discuss them a bit below.
It was interesting to see that GE actually mentioned solar in annual reports way back in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, but looking into that more closely, I noticed that two of those three mentions were regarding solar in a space-exploration context. It’s not surprising to see that there was a burst of solar discussion and activity in the 1970s, mostly discussing demonstration projects, nascent solar technology, and researching possibilities for the distant future. But probably more important is the consistent mention of solar in recent years, which is focused around deployment of large solar projects and advancing commercially viable solar technology. This is reflective of changes in the solar energy sector as a whole, but it also indicates that GE is putting its big foot forward to help advance and capitalize on this promising sector.
And GE isn’t just dipping its toes in solar power now — it’s doubled its solar power investments in the past year. It invested $1.4 billion (yes, ‘billion’ with a ‘b’) in solar in 2011. That includes investment in Australia’s largest solar power farm to date, as well as a $600-million solar cell manufacturing plant in the U.S. (the largest of its type in the U.S.),.. and much more. It’s no surprise that it’s getting more mention in the company’s annual reports, and I imagine that’s only going to increase in the years to come.
Now, here’s an interesting thing GE writes on the data viz page for this visualization app: “Not only does this provide a rich history of how GE has always been at work building, moving, powering and curing the world, but it is a true reflection of how the economy, U.S. and the world as a whole has progressed from 1892 until 2011.” Probably true. Thinking about that, take a look at this next screenshot of the Wind keyword:
Now, wind power doesn’t have the history solar has, but it has been quicker to grow in recent years. It holds a much higher percentage of U.S. and global power supply at the moment, and it has been the leading source of new electricity in some places in the past several years. This image above reflects that rather well.
Additionally, it indicates that GE has put a lot of attention on wind power. Again, not a big surprise to anyone who follows the wind industry. Many of the wind power projects I read and write about are using GE wind turbines. GE also invests in large wind power projects, such as a 150-MW Kenyan wind power project, Mongolia’s first wind farm, and a whopping 662.5-MW wind farm in West Texas. Wind power is now an important segment of GE’s businesses, as we can see above.
Now, you’ve probably already noticed the keyword that falls under ‘Wind’ on the data viz app — ‘Renewable’. Let’s take a quick look at what shows up for that (of course, for a larger version, you can visit the app itself):
Similar to the above topics, mention of renewable energy, renewable resources, and related terms started popping up in the 2000s and has been pretty consistent since then. Not being necessary for discussion of specific technologies (i.e. wind turbines and solar panels), it’s not used more than the terms above, but this image makes clear that GE is stepping back, looking at, and talking about the importance of renewables, in general, and GE’s role in pushing this sector along.
Now, if you actually click on those little colorful squares when on GE’s annual reports visualization page, you can see where and how these terms were mentioned. I might dive into these reports a bit more in the coming days and see if I can find some more interesting information worth sharing with you all.
Posted: 20 Mar 2012 07:02 AM PDT
As John Farrell noted in an article in January, grid parity is a complicated matter (and doesn’t take into account important health costs, greenhouse gas emissions costs, and grid costs). But grid parity is rather important because it relates to what actual consumers directly pay for solar-powered electricity compared to conventionally powered electricity.
Solar power has already hit grid parity in several regions, and a new study says that you can add some types of solar in North Carolina to that list.
The report, ”Levelized Cost of Solar Photovoltaics in North Carolina,” is from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NC SEA). “The data comes from over 10,000 solar PV system installations in North Carolina from 2006 to 2011 whose owners, per a state regulation, reported installation costs to the Public Utilities Commission,” Herman Trabish notes.
As one of the first states (and the first in the Southeast) to implement a renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS), North Carolina has the 8th-most cumulative installed solar photovoltaic (PV) in the U.S.
Before reporting on the key findings, I’ll note a couple very important points:
Now, with that out of the way, here are some of the key findings from the report:
Now, the benefit of the report’s extremely conservative estimates regarding solar panel lifespans and other matters is that "we can take them into any conversation," report co-author Paul Quinlan said, even one with a completely unbalanced fossil fuels leaning.
Notably, with solar power costs dropping so rapidly in the past year, many utilities may be completely unaware that solar has hit grid parity in their jurisdictions. Studies like this should help to inform them of that.
Posted: 20 Mar 2012 06:22 AM PDT
Solar3D is a young solar cell company looking to mass produce 3-dimensional (3-D) solar cells. Take a stroll through our Solar3D articles from the past year for a little more history. Now, the innovative solar company is under the impression that “it may have discovered the ultimate silicon solar cell design.” It announced yesterday that “it has completed a detailed simulation analysis comparing its breakthrough solar cell with conventional solar cells” and that the result is pretty dramatic. Solar3D found that its solar cell “can produce 200% of the power output of conventional solar cells.”
Now, this hasn’t been independently verified yet, and it isn’t yet based on a working prototype. So, some might believe it’s all just hype at this point. But I’m going to lean on the side of optimism and say that this looks quite promising. Here’s more on how the technology works, and why it’s so special:
Full results of the analysis and short videos about the technology can be found on Solar3D’s Technology page.
Here’s more from Solar3D CEO Jim Nelson on what he sees as the clear advantages of Solar3D’s technology:
"The result of our innovation is a revolutionary solar cell that can deliver benefits that have long eluded the solar industry. Everyone wants low cost high-powered solar cells to convert an unlimited amount of free solar energy into useful electricity. But, the industry has hit a wall using conventional 2-dimensional solar cell designs. With Solar3D cells, utility solar farms can be smaller in size and easier to operate without the need for mechanical systems to track the sun. Space limited applications, such as rooftops, can finally generate enough useful power to successfully compete against other sources of electricity. We believe that our 3D design is a game changer."
I can’t argue with him.
Solar3D is very outspokenly betting on silicon as its core material, and it’s currently working on a prototype 3-D solar cell.
“Solar3D is currently constructing a prototype of its 3-dimensional solar cell using silicon, simply because silicon is the most abundant and least expensive material available in the world for making solar cells. Early solar pioneers such as First Solar, Abound Solar and Solyndra bet heavily on thin film solar cells using rare earth materials such as cadmium, telluride and gallium. Their lack of market success supports the company's fundamental belief that silicon is the right material for solar cells and 3D is the right way to get more performance out of silicon.”
I certainly wouldn’t say First Solar lacks market success — it’s one of the most successful solar companies ever — but it is running into some trouble now with the plunging price of silicon solar cells. It certainly makes sense to steer the route of silicon these days.
Posted: 20 Mar 2012 05:57 AM PDT
Some political leaders are taking that challenge to heart, calling for action not just on fiscal issues, but on the most pressing moral issue of our time: climate change.
California Congressman Henry Waxman — known as one of the architects of a comprehensive climate bill in 2009 — continues to sound the drumbeat in support of pricing carbon in order to reduce the country's debt. Speaking at an event held by the Center for American Progress Action Fund yeterday, Waxman said he believes addressing the country's fiscal challenges is a unique opportunity to act on climate, and offers the chance to build support from deficit hawks in Congress.
"The U.S. is facing a range of unprecedented fiscal and environmental challenges," said Waxman. "We've got a confluence of events happening all at once."
On the fiscal side, with the Bush-era tax credits set to expire, the defense budget facing a major sequester, and the need for another debt ceiling deal looming, deficit issues are sure to dominate politics. On the environmental side, scientists continue to warn that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are making weather more severe, costing the country billions in damages and lives.
The two issues cannot be kept separate, said Waxman. They are part of the same problem.
He estimates that a $20 per-ton price on carbon could raise more than $200 billion over the next decade. It would also get the U.S. on a path toward meaningful carbon emission reductions, which will be far cheaper to address today than in the future as global warming accelerates.
"These problems are easier to solve together," said Waxman.
While the solution hasn't gotten major traction in Washington yet, it does have some bipartisan support. Last July, both the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute — two organizations with fundamentally different policy views — endorsed a carbon price as a deficit reduction strategy.
Climate Progress has been writing about the issue since then, when Joe Romm called it "the only plausible scenario now for seriously addressing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions."
Other Republicans are also endorsing the measure. Wayne Gilchrest, a former Republican Congressman from Maryland, joined Waxman in support of the plan.
"Paul Ryan said this is a defining moment. Well, this is a defining moment with 7 billion people on the planet," said Gilchrest. "I do think this is the sort of juxtaposition on issues that will be necessary to solve both of them."
Gilchrest lamented that GOP leaders have politicized climate science.
"Here in Washington there's a great chasm between the scientific community and policymakers…Maybe I was a little naive to think that if you explain the facts then the policy would follow…fellas, let's get politics out of the way and look at the bare facts," said Gilchrest.
Even with emerging bipartisan support, the politics around climate change minimize the chances of getting a strong price on carbon. But there's one thing that can trump the ideological resistance to action on climate change: reducing the deficit. And if the two issues can be paired together, there's a compelling opportunity for bringing fiscal conservatives on board.
Waxman said that supporters are still in the early education phase.
"Some people I've talked to are thinking about it and find it interesting, some haven't thought about it at all," said Waxman. "But we want people to start thinking about this alternative."
This article was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.
Posted: 20 Mar 2012 05:50 AM PDT
A new study by researchers at MIT shows that there is enough capacity in deep saline aquifers in the United States to store at least a century's worth of carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's coal-fired powerplants. Though questions remain about the economics of systems to capture and store such gases, this study addresses a major issue that has overshadowed such proposals.
The MIT team's analysis — led by Ruben Juanes, the ARCO Associate Professor in Energy Studies in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and part of the doctoral thesis work of graduate students Christopher MacMinn PhD '12 and Michael Szulczewski — is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Coal-burning powerplants account for about 40 percent of worldwide carbon emissions, so climate change "will not be addressed unless we address carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants," Juanes says. "We should do many different things" such as developing new, cleaner alternatives, he says, "but one thing that's not going away is coal," because it's such a cheap and widely available source of power.
Efforts to curb greenhouse gases have largely focused on the search for practical, economical sources of clean energy, such as wind or solar power. But human emissions are now so vast that many analysts think it's unlikely that these technologies alone can solve the problem. Some have proposed systems for capturing emissions — mostly carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels — then compressing and storing the waste in deep geological formations. This approach is known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS.
One of the most promising places to store the gas is in deep saline aquifers: those more than half a mile below the surface, far below the freshwater sources used for human consumption and agriculture. But estimates of the capacity of such formations in the United States have ranged from enough to store just a few years' worth of coal-plant emissions up to many thousands of years' worth.
The reason for the huge disparity in estimates is twofold. First, because deep saline aquifers have no commercial value, there has been little exploration to determine their extent. Second, the fluid dynamics of how concentrated, liquefied carbon dioxide would spread through such formations is very complex and hard to model. Most analyses have simply estimated the overall volume of the formations, without considering the dynamics of how the CO2 would infiltrate them.
The MIT team modeled how the carbon dioxide would percolate through the rock, accounting not only for the ultimate capacity of the formations but the rate of injection that could be sustained over time. "The key is capturing the essential physics of the problem," Szulczewski says, "but simplifying it enough so it could be applied to the entire country." That meant looking at the details of trapping mechanisms in the porous rock at a scale of microns, then applying that understanding to formations that span hundreds of miles.
"We started with the full complicated set of equations for the fluid flow, and then simplified it," MacMinn says. Other estimates have tended to oversimplify the problem, "missing some of the nuances of the physics," he says. While this analysis focused on the United States, MacMinn says similar storage capacities likely exist around the world.
Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer with the MIT Energy Initiative and a co-author of the PNAS paper, says this study "demonstrates that the rate of injection of CO2 into a reservoir is a critical parameter in making storage estimates."
When liquefied carbon dioxide is dissolved in salty water, the resulting fluid is denser than either of the constituents, so it naturally sinks. It's a slow process, but "once the carbon dioxide is dissolved, you've won the game," Juanes says, because the dense, heavy mixture would almost certainly never escape back to the atmosphere.
While this study did not address the cost of CCS systems, many analysts have concluded that they could add 15 to 30 percent to the cost of coal-generated electricity, and would not be viable unless a carbon tax or a limit on carbon emissions were put in place.
Franklin Orr Jr., a professor of earth sciences and director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University, says, "The important contribution of this work is that it adds consideration of the rate of injection of CO2, because that can be constrained by pressure rise in the deep saline aquifers. This paper provides evidence that even when those constraints are considered there is lots of capacity for storage. That is a very useful contribution."
James J. Dooley, a senior staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who was not involved in the MIT study, calls it "a very sound analysis that demonstrates that given the appropriate regulatory and economic conditions, carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies can be the basis for deep and sustained greenhouse gas reductions in the U.S. and around the world."
While uncertainties remain, "I really think CCS has a role to play," Juanes says. "It's not an ultimate salvation, it's a bridge, but it may be essential because it can really address the emissions from coal and natural gas."
The research was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, the MIT Energy Initiative, the Reed Research Fund, the Martin Family Society of Fellows for Sustainability and the ARCO Chair in Energy Studies.
Posted: 20 Mar 2012 05:24 AM PDT
We're all aware of the negative impact that road traffic has on the environment, and commonly hear about the innovations addressing the issue with respect to private vehicles. Great strides forward have been made in the shape of hybrid and electric cars, both of which get a great deal of coverage in the mainstream media, but commercial traffic receives less attention.
According to the International Transport Forum, road transport accounts for approximately 22% of CO2 output in developed countries, and haulage makes up one third of these emissions. In terms of the complete supply chain, transport alone is responsible for around half of all emissions.
Increases in online shopping mean that more and more deliveries are being made every day, and due to strict time constraints (and consumer demand), many vehicles end up making journeys only partially full. What's more, many of these trucks and vans don't have adequate reverse logistics plans.
Running on Empty
In the UK, 25% of truck journeys are made completely empty, and 50% only partially loaded! US trucks suffer the same problem — according to the National Private Truck Council, 28% of their fleets' miles are empty, too.
Needless to say, the inefficiency of these journeys means a lot of wasted miles, and unnecessary tailpipe emissions. In the UK alone, the empty running of trucks results in an extra 36,000,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year. Better optimisation of delivery networks worldwide could result in carbon reductions of 124 megatons annually according to the World Economic Forum.
Going my way?
The empty vehicle problem was recognised by Shiply.com founder Robert Matthams when he discovered that a driver who delivered him a pool table would be making the return trip with a completely empty van; a wasted opportunity in anybody's book.
As an online transport marketplace, Shiply helps users who need to move things find suitable delivery drivers who are ’going there anyway’. Because vehicles are already running route close to pickups, they can slightly divert their journey instead of a separate dedicated delivery being run. This reduction in the number of vehicles on the road helps to avoid the associated carbon emissions.
Shiply is not only helping drivers fill loads; it is getting users a better deal on deliveries too. Trucks and vans that have spare capacity can afford to transport goods for less. This means that users get better price on moving services ranging from car transporters to home and office removals.
The Green Side
By matching up transporters with compatible consignments, Shiply helps to increase the amount of deliveries drivers can make per trip, meaning less wasted space and reductions in CO2 emissions.
To date, Shiply has saved around 34 million road miles and more than 12 million kg of CO2. By matching users all across Europe to more than 46,000 delivery drivers, Shiply is tackling the problems of empty lorries and vans one load at a time.
Shipping truck courtesy shutterstock.
Posted: 20 Mar 2012 05:05 AM PDT
2011, although a banner year for global solar PV installations, was a rough one for many solar power manufacturers. Multiple bankruptcies of American solar manufacturers (most notably Solyndra), and slimming profit margins among the survivors, led to accusations of unfair Chinese government support for its own solar panel makers and a trade row whose final repercussions are as of yet unclear, but which may result in US import tariffs on Chinese panels. The fact that the Chinese government has decided to up solar PV production targets in the face of predictions of a sort of Chinese solar industry apocalypse does not bode well for many of the non-Chinese industry players.
Tindo solar panels popped up in the media at the end of 2011, announcing that it would begin production of panels in January 2012. The news of Tindo’s emergence arrived not long after the only other Australian solar panel manufacturer stopped making panels at its Sydney facility. That company — Silex Solar — closed up shop amid competitive pressure from Chinese imports and the outcry that the New South Wales conservative government had left it (and the state’s solar industry in general) out to dry by replacing the state’s feed-in tariff with nothing. Given all this history and the resulting solar environment, the news of Tindo entering the market has come as a surprise to many.
Products with a ‘Made in Australia’ label usually carry with them a premium price tag, and Tindo is no exception. The company seems keen to capitalise on the national trend to want to ‘Buy Australian’. The name of the company and its products couldn’t get much more home-grown: ‘Tindo’ is the Adelaide plains’ Aboriginal group’s native word for ‘Sun’, and the name of its first panel line — ‘Karra’ — means ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’.
Just a few months before ceasing production of panels, Silex Solar announced that it would stop making its own silicon cells, instead opting to outsource its production to an unnamed ‘strategic partner’, widely believed to be a Chinese manufacturer. Silex abandoned this point of difference, with some saying that it had compromised its key selling point in the Australian market. For Silex, in the end, ‘Made in Australia’ came to mean ‘Assembled in Australia’.
Interestingly, the same could be said about Tindo, which sources its components from overseas and puts them together at its highly automated factory in Adelaide, South Australia. However, unlike Silex, whose panels were not particularly technologically noteworthy, Tindo panels feature module-level Enecsys DC-AC micro-inverters, making central system inverters unnecessary. Other panel components have been selected for their quality and the reputation of their manufacturers — silicon cells come from German manufacturer Q-Cells, Bridgestone makes the encapsulant, and DuPont makes the backsheets. The result is a panel that is a kind of ‘all-star’ team of solar panel components.
The company, wary of its reputation in a market that saw a number of major installation companies fall off the boat in 2010-2011, has made a point of hand-selecting its installers — currently, about 60 across Australia. Tindo Managing Director Adrian Ferraretto, knows first-hand the importance of reputable and long-living installers. Prior to starting Tindo, he left the installation company that he founded, Solar Shop, with a ‘golden parachute’ of $50 million. Solar Shop later ended up being one of 2011′s casualties.
Ferraretto was interviewed by RenewEconomy in February 2012 about his intentions for Tindo Solar. The plan is to keep the business local, relatively small-scale, and focused, so as to be able to compete with Chinese imports as well as premium US, Japanese, and European brands. The Tindo factory has a production capacity of only 60 megawatts — small compared to the gigawatt-scale capacities of some leading Chinese producers.
He is optimistic about the future of the company. Obviously, conscious of the irony, Ferraretto even states in the interview that he hopes to one day export Tindo panels to China. “Yes, and why not? If we were making panels like the Chinese, we couldn’t compete. Instead of having eight people in my production line, I would need to have 100 people. We have to do it differently here. But having said that, my cost of labour is less than a Chinese factory.”
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