Monday, March 26, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Obama Lays a Smack Down on (Some) Oil Subsidies

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 12:03 PM PDT


Obama has been talking about Big Oil’s $4 billion in annual subsidies and its record profits everywhere he goes lately. I’ve mentioned his comments on this topic from 5 different speeches in posts over the last few weeks, I think. So, it’s not a huge surprise that he used his last Weekly Address to lay the smack down on Big Oil, but it’s still exciting.

However, always looking to take into account the full cost of tapping our various energy sources, I’ll just add the quick note that these figures don’t take into account the cost of wars focused on protecting our foreign oil supplies. Nonetheless, this is great messaging from the White House and a great issue to tackle. Here’s a White House post from today on this:

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Marine Spatial Planning: Key to Informed Offshore Wind, Renewable Energy Planning and Decision-Making

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 08:11 AM PDT

A comprehensive study of human activity and ecosystems in mid-Atlantic waters off the coast of Delaware by the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration (CCPI) helps establish a basis for more informed planning and decision-making regarding the development of offshore wind and other marine renewable energy projects.

While offshore wind power installations are cropping up and supplying clean, renewable electricity across Europe, the US has yet to build one offshore wind farm. There are some 20 projects with a total rated capacity of 2,000 MW in the planning and permitting stages, however, according to the UD-CCPI report. Mid-Atlantic Ocean waters off Delaware and New Jersey are home to four of them with a total 1,500 MW capacity.

“This report lays the groundwork for the State of Delaware to advance the planning for offshore wind infrastructure as well as consider other uses that may be conflicting, the authors of “Delaware Marine Spatial Planning; Offshore Wind Context,” wrote.

Offshore Wind and Marine Renewable Energy: Establishing a Basis for Inclusive, Informed Decision-Making

Informing planners, other decision-makers and a broad array of stakeholders regarding the development of ocean renewable energy resources, offshore wind energy in particular, is “a major driver of current MSP (Marine Spatial Planning) efforts in the mid-Atlantic,” the report authors note, where offshore winds hold an estimated 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of power.

In addition to the sheer magnitude of offshore wind energy potential, other attributes add to the attractiveness of developing oceanic renewable energy resources. Regarding offshore wind energy, “the resource is close to large, densely populated areas where electricity rates are high, demand for power is growing steadily, and where land-based wind development is constrained,” the authors point out.

Though many may not realize, think about or look into it much, if at all, there’s a lot of human activity going on in US coastal zones and open ocean waters. That’s in addition to all the life and physical processes associated with the diversity of marine life forms and environments. Marine life habitat and population conservation, commercial shipping and fishing activity, recreational fishing, boating and shoreline activities, military and defense uses, waste streams and disposal, and now oceanic renewable energy all figure into the mix.

Just coming to grips with the amount of data that needs to be gathered and organized, then adequately processed and analyzed to yield an adequate understanding of not only the individual activities but how they interrelate across and within the marine ecosystem and biome is a daunting challenge. Added to that is the need to balance the often conflicting wants and needs of all the stakeholders in the planning and decision-making processes that determine how our society will make use of its marine and coastal zones.

Overwhelming in size and scope, ocean science and policy requires focused, sustained and well-coordinated efforts across the public and private sector spheres. Pres. Obama’s signing of Executive Order 13547 in July, 2010 enacted a “National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes,” that establishes a stronger, more coordinated public-private institutional framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP), the report authors recount, one intended to “address conservation, economic activity, user conflict and sustainable use of offshore areas.”

One of nine National Ocean Policy priority objectives, CMSP will be the basis “for analyzing current and anticipated ocean uses and identifying areas most suitable for various types of classes of activities,” across nine proposed planning areas across the US, the report authors explain.

Key Enabler: Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

MSP is also the enabling methodology and toolkit serving as the fifth priority area identified in the Mid-Atlantic Governor’s Agreement on Ocean Conservation (MARCO) that the governors of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia signed in 2011. MSP is essentially the means by which goals set in the other four priority areas– ocean habitat protection, climate change adaptation, offshore renewable energy and water quality improvement– will be attained.

“Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) represents a powerful method for reconciling diverse and often seemingly overlapping needs of ocean users,” the report’s authors explain. “It aspires to be future-oriented rather than reactionary, making it an effective means for implementing ecosystem-based management that provides guidance in determining appropriate sites for future uses.

“Particularly when supplemented with stakeholder input, MSP can satisfy the goals of offshore wind developers, the commercial shipping industry, the fishing community, the conservation community, and local recreational users by facilitating a transparent, engaging and empowering approach to ocean planning.”

Carrying out their preliminary analysis, UD-CCPI researchers found that “some ocean space conflicts will exist, especially closer to shore where human uses have been established and represent significant commercial interests.” Among these the report lists designated commercial shipping lanes, anchorage areas, sections of the seafloor known to contain unexploded ordinances, designated sand borrow sites, artificial reefs, dump sites, shipwrecks, and residual mine areas.

The authors also recommend establishing limited buffer zones around military installations, and a scenic buffer zone around the Assateague Island National Seashore if the erection of wind turbines would significantly and adversely “affect public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment.”

In addition, the authors recommend that known essential fish habitat and biodiversity hotspots “need to be considered and potentially avoided.” Finally, marine and coastal zone planners should consider excluding offshore wind farm construction from dense areas of high commercial ship traffic.

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Nuclear Power Going Down — More Facts (& VIDEO)

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 06:30 AM PDT


Piggy-backing on the news today that Japan has just shut down its second-to-last nuclear reactor and that France still subsidies nuclear power to get it down to the price of consumer electricity, here are some rather interesting nuclear versus renewable facts (shared by a reader):

“… between 2004 and 2011, more nuclear-power capacity was decommissioned worldwide than was installed. Last year alone, the world installed 50 percent more new wind-power capacity (41.2 gigawatts) than all new nuclear capacity installed from 2002 to 2011 (27.3 GW). In terms of electricity production, the wind-power industry has installed the equivalent of 1.3 nuclear reactors per month over the past three years.” (emphasis added)

The European Commission projects that only 3% of all new power capacity installed from 2011 to 2020 will be from nuclear power, while it projects 71% will be from renewable energy sources.

Here are some more staggering facts (emphasis added):

In October 2011, former UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said that two-thirds of the budget for the government's Department of Energy and Climate Change, or €2.4bn a year, is spent on nuclear power. But that is a drop in the ocean compared to decommissioning costs. According to Huhne, "the provisions for nuclear decommissioning costs in total were £2m in 1970, £472m in 1980, £9.5bn in 1990, £22.5bn in 2000, and now, £53.7bn. When nuclear power was held up to the cold, hard light of the market, it proved to be uneconomic."

Wind power has received a fraction of the financial support that nuclear energy has received – and yet wind can provide electricity at less than half the cost of new nuclear-power plants. According to the European Environment Agency, 80 percent of the total energy subsidies in the European Union is paid to fossil fuels and nuclear energy, while 19 percent goes to renewables. Moreover, wind energy has zero fuel costs, minimal waste-disposal and decommissioning costs, and a tiny fraction of nuclear power's risk to human health or the environment.

Makes me think of the video at the top of the page, shared back in February.

Source: European CEO

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Nuclear Power Too Expensive, French Court Finds

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 06:17 AM PDT

france nuclear powerThe French Court of Auditors recently found that nuclear power, which France is a leader in, costs more than what electricity consumers in the country are charged. Furthermore, the wind industry there has spoken up to point out that electricity from wind power is cheaper than from new nuclear.

Here’s more from Craig Morris of Renewables International:

The 446-page report, which is only available in French (PDF) and does not have an executive summary, was designed mainly to answer the question of whether “all costs are taken into account” in the pricing of nuclear power in France. The answer is no.

The study found that the cost of constructing a nuclear plant has risen from 1.07 million euros (adjusted for inflation as of 2010) per megawatt in 1978 at the Fessenheim plant on the border to Germany, which is the oldest nuclear reactor currently in operation in France, to 1.37 million euros per megawatt for the Civaux plant constructed in 2002, with the average cost of a megawatt of nuclear capacity for France’s current 58 reactors coming in at 1.25 million euros.

The nuclear industry must actually be looking back on 2002 nuclear costs with envy, though, as new costs due to new safety requirements enacted since the Fukushima disasters in Japan are bringing nuclear power costs to yet a higher level.

The estimated costs for the second EPR plant currently under construction in Flamanville comes in at 3.7 million euros per megawatt; construction began in 2006 and was to be finished this year, but completion has been delayed until 2016, and costs have risen by more than 50 percent.” (emphasis added)

“Overall, the Court estimates that a megawatt-hour of nuclear power made in France costs around 49.5 euros. As French daily Figaro reported, the costs entailed for additional safety requirements in reaction to the disaster in Fukushima will probably increase that price by another 10 percent to around 54 euros. The paper also points out that the estimation of 49.5 euros is more than 10 euros greater than what the Champsaur Commission estimated a year before; based on that estimate, the price of power was set at 42 euros per megawatt-hour, roughly a sixth below the apparent actual cost estimated by the Court of Auditors.”

The European Wind Energy Association’s response? Using its cost calculator online, EWEA projects that nuclear will cost 102 euros per megawatt-hour by 2020, onshore wind only 58 euros, and offshore wind 75 euros. Perhaps France will one day find itself where Japan is, shutting down its last nuclear reactors.

France nuclear power plant photo courtesy shutterstock.

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Japan Shuts Down Nuclear Reactor, Just One Left Running

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 05:52 AM PDT


Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) shut down yet another nuclear reactor today, its last, leaving only one nuclear reactor running in the disaster-rocked nation. And that last running reactor will be shut down soon as well, as long as everything goes according to plan. Here’s more on the nuclear power plant shut down today, as well as some of the broader implications and story, from AFP:

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Interesting Photo of Wind Farm in San Gorgonio

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 05:25 AM PDT

Below is a pretty interesting photo of the San Gorgonio wind farm in southern California. The access roads look a bit like veins. The short article below the photo includes more information on the wind farm and photo.

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Ball State Dedicates Largest Closed-Loop Geothermal System in America

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 05:10 AM PDT

Indiana's Ball State University last week dedicated the largest vertical closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system in the United States.

Drilling geothermal wells at Ball State

A few of the 3,600 geothermal boreholes across campus

When fully complete, the project will allow the school to shut down its four aging coal-fired boilers, prevent 85,000 tons of annual carbon emissions (cutting the campus carbon footprint in half), and save $2 million in annual operating costs.

Phased Approach

Construction began on the system in 2009, and will ultimately connect 5.5 million square feet of space in 47 buildings across the 660-acre campus with geothermal power. Phase one was recently completed, consisting of 1,800 boreholes drilled on two geothermal fields and a new energy station connecting the fields with buildings on the northern end of campus.

Work recently began on phase two of the project, and will continue through 2014. The second phase will include installing an additional 1,800 boreholes in a geothermal field on the south side of the campus and a new energy station connecting two 2,500-ton heat pump chillers with a connection loop around the southern portion of campus.

Ball State geothermal system

Sustainable Schools

The rising cost of coal contributed to the school's decision to shift toward sustainable power. "When costs began to escalate for the installation of a new fossil fuel burning boiler, the university began to evaluate other renewable energy options," said Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction, and operations.

Ball State's geothermal system is just another example of the school's "Green Campus" sustainability efforts. The university diverts around 20 percent of all waste from landfills, has a hybrid fleet of electric and biofuel vehicles, all new construction is built to LEED silver certification, and university president Jo Ann Gora is a founding member of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment.

More Green Jobs

A recent study conducted by the school's Center for Business and Economic Research found the geothermal system is creating an estimated 2,300 direct and indirect jobs. This figure is impressive, but unsurprising, considering the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just last week found 372,000 construction-related green jobs in the country.

The geothermal system cost a total of $50 million dollars, and was funded through federal and state grants, including $5 million in stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and $45 million in capital funding from Indiana state government.

Ball State University geothermal campus map

Images via Construction Digital, the University of Minnesota, and Ball State University

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Improving Thermoelectric Devices Takes Next Step

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 05:05 AM PDT

Scientists have long been looking for a way to improve our ability to utilize thermoelectric reactions. Researchers looking for just such an improvement believe they have discovered a liquid-like compound whose properties mean that it could be more efficient than traditional thermoelectrics, which in turn may lead to new methods to exploit solar power and create more efficient heating systems in electric cars.

Thermoelectric materials are not a new breed of power, having been used all the way back in the days of the Apollo missions, and all the way through to the currently-en-route Mars rover Curiosity.

In this diagram, the blue spheres represent selenium atoms forming a crystal lattice. The orange regions in between the atoms represent the copper atoms that flow through the crystal structure like a liquid. This liquid-like behavior is what gives the selenium-copper material its unique thermoelectric properties.

It has only been in the past few years, however, that scientists have been using thermoelectric materials to use wasted heat from vehicles or industrial machinery as a potential energy source. From these discoveries, the idea to use thermoelectric materials in heating electric cars has spawned — a notoriously tricky endeavour given the inherent lack of heat generated by an electric engine — as well as the idea to use it as a means of extending the use of solar-generated power.

Researchers led by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Science’s Shanghai Institute of Ceramics in collaboration with researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory and the University of Michigan, as well as from Caltech, have now described in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Materials their identification of a new type of promising thermoelectric material. The material is made from copper and selenium. This material is physically a solid, but exhibits liquid-like behaviour as a result of the way in which the copper atoms flow through the selenium’s crystal lattice.

“It’s like a wet sponge,” explains Jeff Snyder, a faculty associate in applied physics and materials science in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a member of the research team. “If you have a sponge with very fine pores in it, it looks and acts like a solid. But inside, the water molecules are diffusing just as fast as they would if they were a regular liquid. That’s how I imagine this material works. It has a solid framework of selenium atoms, but the copper atoms are diffusing around as fast as they would in a liquid.”

The science of thermoelectrics is not something they teach you much about in Year 10 science, so I’m going to step aside and let the experts from Caltech shed some more light on the work that they have been doing:

A thermoelectric material generates electricity when there is a temperature difference between one end of the material and the other. For example, if you place a thermoelectric device right next to a heat source—say a laptop battery—then the side closest to the battery will be hotter. The electrons in the hot end will diffuse to the cool end, producing an electric current.

A good thermoelectric material must be good at conducting electricity but bad at conducting heat. If it were good at conducting heat, the heat from the hot end would move to the cool end so fast that the whole material would rapidly reach the same temperature. When that happens, the electrons stop flowing.

One way to improve thermoelectric efficiency, then, is to decrease a material’s ability to conduct heat. To that end, researchers have been developing thermoelectric materials with a mix of crystalline and amorphous properties, Snyder says. A crystalline atomic structure allows electrons to flow easily, while an amorphous material, such as glass, has a more irregular atomic structure that hinders heat-carrying vibrations from traveling.

These heat-carrying vibrations travel via two types of waves. The first type is a longitudinal or pressure wave, in which the direction of displacement—in this case, the jiggling of atoms—is the same as the direction of the wave. The second type is a transverse wave, in which the direction of displacement is perpendicular to the direction of the wave, like when you shake a jump rope up and down, resulting in waves that travel horizontally along the rope.

In a solid material, a transverse wave travels because there is friction between the atoms, meaning that when one atom vibrates up and down, an adjacent atom moves with it, and the wave propagates. But in a liquid, there is minimal friction between the atoms, and a vibrating atom just slides up and down next to its neighbor. As a result, transverse waves cannot travel inside a liquid. Ocean waves are different because they have an interface between the liquid and the air.

The team found that because heat-carrying vibrations in a liquid can travel only via longitudinal waves, a material with liquid-like properties is less thermally conductive. Therefore, a liquid-like material that’s also good at conducting electrically should be more thermoelectrically efficient than traditional amorphous materials, Snyder says.

In the case of the copper-selenium material that the researchers studied, the crystal structure of the selenium helps conduct electricity, while the free-flowing copper atoms behave like a liquid, damping down thermal conductivity. The efficiency of a thermoelectric material is quantified using a number called a “thermoelectric figure of merit.” The copper-selenium material has a thermoelectric figure of merit of 1.5 at 1000 degrees Kelvin, one of the highest values in any bulk material, the researchers say.

NASA engineers first used this copper-selenium material roughly 40 years ago for spacecraft design, Snyder says. But its liquid-like properties—which were not understood at the time—made it difficult to work with. This new research, he says, has identified and explained why this copper-selenium material has such efficient thermoelectric properties, potentially opening up a whole new class of liquid-like thermoelectric materials for investigation.

“Hopefully, the scientific community now has another strategy to work with when looking for materials with a high thermoelectric figure of merit,” Snyder says.

For many reasons, these advances are good news. The potential to extend the efficiency and usability of renewable energies is only going to increase their attractiveness to policymakers. Bringing thermoelectric science in to expand the power generation of solar power — and other renewable and green methods of power generation — is just another in a long line of fantastic advances that will move the world forward towards a clean energy economy.

Source: Caltech
Image Source: Caltech/Jeff Snyder/Lance Hayashida

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Germany — 7.5 GW of New Solar Power in 2011 (Confirmed)

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 04:47 AM PDT

Earlier this year reports were released that 3 GW of new solar power were installed in Germany during the month of December alone. This marked a new record for solar capacity installed in a single month in Germany and doubts were cast on the accuracy of the news. Many craftsmen and companies of the solar industry voiced their skepticism since they didn’t notice the kind of increased activity that would have been required to accomplish such a record.

To put the 3,000 MW in December into context, the entire solar industry of the US installed a total of 1,855 MW of new capacity in the entire year of 2011.

Now, weeks of speculation have come to an end as the German Federal Network Agency has confirmed its earlier assessment by releasing its final report on new solar installations during the 4th quarter of 2011.

According to the report, solar capacity did actually increase by 2,983 MW in December alone. This report also confirmed an annual solar power capacity increase of 7,482 MW in Germany.

What kind of PV-Systems make up 7.5 GW in Germany

Besides confirming the numbers of the estimates, the report also shed some light on the record months of December. As the reports shows, all kinds of solar projects were significantly up compared to previous months. The installed capacity increased across the board, from small rooftop solar with 3-kW installations, to huge multi-MW solar farms.

Solar power plants greater than 1 MW increased even more so compared to 2010. The market segment for these relatively “huge” solar power projects had a very significant spike in December…. While other segments were up by 200-400% compared to the average value of the previous 11 months, projects 1 MW or larger were up 12x! That pushed about 70% of the installed capacity of that market segment in 2011 into the month of December. I think that showcased quite a strategic move on the part of project developers — low installations during the first half of 2011 to keep cuts to the FiT in July rather low, and then connecting as many projects as possible in December. That’s my thought on it, at least.

What does this new record mean for the solar industry in Germany?

That’s difficult to tell at this moment. The success of the industry and the spread of individual energy autonomy has lead to a serious blowback from the fossil & nuclear lobby and their political allies within the current conservative government. This has been building up since October 2011 and followed the usual playbook of anti-renewable agitation. How hard the industry and the technology will be hit in the coming months is still uncertain. But one thing is certain:
December 2011 proved, once again, that decentralized renewables energy systems can be installed faster than most people are told to believe.

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