Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Shocker: Conservative Fox News Guest Tears Up Conservative Lies About Chevy Volt

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 06:29 AM PDT


Chevrolet Volt - Obtained from Dave Pinter on Flickr.

Wow, another extreme conservative is getting Bob Lutz, GM, and the Chevy Volt’s back… this time on Fox News! Thank goodness someone can get the chance to at least debunk ONE of the network’s many, many, many,… many lies. Here’s more from Joe Romm of Climate Progress (note: if you watch the video, it’s still chock full of numerous other lies and myths… what else can you expect?):

It's one of the most remarkable interviews ever seen on Fox News. Yesterday, a conservative guest debunked all the destructive myths their pundits having been perpetuating, decrying their "fetish for demonizing the Volt."


Conservatives, led by Fox News, have been pushing a variety of lies about the Chevy Volt. They've falsely asserted that it is unsafe and a creation of the Obama administration, using absurd terms to discourage sales like, "exploding Obamamobiles."

This relentless partisan campaign against American products and American jobs has been so successful that GM CEO Dan Akerson suggested it contributed to lower than expected demand, "We did not design the Volt to become a political punching bag and that's what it's become."

Yesterday, in an astonishing burst of candor, Fox & Friends has set the record straight with its story, "Can the Chevy Volt help win the War on Terror?"

Their conservative guest, Lee Spieckerman, CEO of Spieckerman Media, a self-described "drill, baby, drill guy," debunks every single right-wing myth about the Volt, noting:

I love Fox news, and I feel like I'm kind of attacking my own family here. I love O'Reilly, I love Neil Cavuto, I love Eric Bolling, but like a lot of my fellow conservative, they seem to have kind of a fetish for demonizing the Volt.

They are perpetuating the myth that the Volt was some kind of Obama administration green energy fantasy that as you say was forced on General Motors during the bailout.

It'd been in development two years before Obama was elected. And it was championed by … Bob Lutz, who is a conservative and a climate change skeptic.So you know it's a myth.

The tax break for buying the Volt was implemented by the Bush administration. It was not  something that was implemented under the Obama administration.

So unfortunately, there have been a lot of myths perpetuated.

Fox debunking itself — now that is must-see TV, something I'm not certain you're ever going to see again.

Watch it:



The Fox host, Steve Doocy, actually says, "I'm glad you brought up the myth that so many people think that Barack Obama came into office a shoved this down GM's throat." Yes, Fox is shocked, shocked that people believe a lie that they themselves have been repeating endlessly.

And who could have imagined Fox would run a chart about "how much energy we could save" with the Volt. Alternative fuel vehicles are good for national security? It's like Fox has temporarily been taken over by … its own pundits before 2009 (see Fox News Argued Getting Off Of OPEC Oil With Alternative Fuels Was 'A National Security Issue'. Then Obama Won).

Spieckerman called the Volt "an anti-terrorist weapon" after pointing out:

"I don't see what's so conservative about wanting to send $35 billion a year to Hugo Chavez's Venezuela for his oil or to send $70 billion to Middle Eastern OPEC countries.  I don't see how that's conservative…. The Chevy Volt is by far the best way to bring all American energy … to our  automobiles….  It is the safest car on the road."

Spieckerman also calls the Volt, "the iPhone of the American automobile industry," explaining that it will come down in price like computers and flat screen TVs have.

I can't wait for the segment on how conservatives should support a price on carbon pollution because it would save energy, cut the deficit, and boost national security.

Photo Credit: Dave Pinter

Related posts:

  1. Conservative Bob Lutz Slams Conservative Liars, Asks “who am I going to believe now?”
  2. Chevy Volt: The Facts
  3. Chevy Volt Gets Highest Satisfaction Rating in Consumer Reports

India Throws More Support behind Clean Energy

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 06:18 AM PDT

solar panels india

India’s looking to further boost its economy with clean energy subsidies and tax breaks, its latest budget indicates. Later this year, the nation is expected to launch its 12th five-year plan. Under this plan, solar equipment and other clean energy technologies would find themselves exempt from taxes as the nation works to increase infrastructure spending.

“In order to fully realise our potential in the realm of solar energy, solar thermal projects need encouragement,” Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a recent budget speech. “I propose to fully exempt plant and equipment etc for the initial setting up of such projects from special countervailing duties.”

Companies producing lithium-ion batteries, LED lights, and other such technologies will be in a similar situation.

“In contrast, import duties on SUVs were raised to 75 per cent from 60 per cent, while the excise duty on large cars made in the country was also increased to 27 per cent from 22 per cent,” Business Green reports.

As reported previously here on CleanTechnica, India plans to be getting 20,000 GW of electricity from clean energy by 2020, and solar power is likely to be a big part of that.

Meanwhile, however, funding for pollution control and some other green programs dipped. Hopefully, the clean energy focus will more than cover any shortcomings in those arena… of course, a combination of strong policies in both would be ideal.

“The big car duties may encourage consumers to go for more fuel-efficient cars, but much more aggressive subsidies are needed to cultivate innovation, technology advancement and global competition, so that India can surge ahead to claim global clean revolution leadership,” Aditi Dass, director of programs in India at The Climate Group, said.

Image: Solar panels in India by fredericknoronha

Related posts:

  1. US, India Pledge $100 million for Clean Energy Research
  2. Energy Efficiency, Clean Energy Get Priority in India’s $2.3 Trillion Energy Investment Plan
  3. New Poll Shows Voters Support Candidates who Support Clean Energy and Green Jobs

Romney Wanted Government “To Invest in New Technology” — in 2007

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 06:04 AM PDT

This article originally appeared on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.

Woah, hold on! Did I say that?

If the Mitt Romney of today debated himself from a few years ago, he would likely call himself a government-loving socialist.

In 2007, as he prepared his national presidential campaign, Romney explicitly supported 50-mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency standards, electric cars, government programs for new automotive technologies, and renewable energy to reduce the global warming "burden" of greenhouse gases:

We have to make our automobiles far more fuel efficient. I'd love to see we're gonna get up to 50 miles per gallon. The time will come, people will look back and say, "You're kidding me, cars back then only got 25 miles to the gallon? You're kidding!" We can do much, much better than that and I believe that one of the ways we do that is having a joint public-private partnership to invest in new technology related to fuel efficiency as well as new sources of energy.

Today, after a few good shakes of his Etch A Sketch, Romney now calls fuel standards "disadvantageous for domestic manufacturers." He must have forgotten that 90% of auto manufacturers operating in the U.S. — including Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo — all support aggressive fuel economy standards that will bring the nation's auto fleet to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

A Romney speech released last week illustrates how dramatically the candidate's stances on energy issues have changed in one election cycle. The audio, purportedly captured at a 2007 town hall event and released by BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski, offers a completely different picture of Romney's energy policies.

(The opening question is a bit garbled, but Romney's answer is much more clear.)

Here's a transcript of his comments:

The questioner asked "I like getting off foreign oil. I like the reduction of the burden on greenhouse gasses in global warming. What can you do about automotive efficiency and would you consider mandates of some kind on automotive efficiency?"

And the answer is would I consider them, yeah. The CAFE requirements have not worked terribly well over the last 20 years as you know, in part because they haven't applied to trucks and so Americans move more and more to trucks and SUVs. So the average fuel economy over the last, I think it's been 20 years, has been almost flat.

And I'm hopeful that with $3 gasoline being charged by Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad and Putin and others, that you're going to see that Americans are going to slowly but surely move to vehicles that are far more fuel efficient and you'll see our manufacturers start to build on the basis of fuel efficiency. I sure hope that you're going to see more and more hybrids and much better fuel economy.

But it's a must. We have to make our automobiles far more fuel efficient. I'd love to see we're gonna get up to 50 miles per gallon. The time will come, people will look back and say, "You're kidding me, cars back then only got 25 miles to the gallon? You're kidding!" We can do much, much better than that and I believe that one of the ways we do that is having a joint public-private partnership to invest in new technology related to fuel efficiency as well as new sources of energy.

I happen to think that liquefied coal may be a source for us if we can sequester  the CO2, I believe that nuclear power, plug in cars, electric cars, battery technology may be a way of reducing our emissions. I also believe that all of the renewable resources, ethanol, biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, wind power, solar power, we have a lot of sources that we can tap in to.

Romney is now on the opposite side of virtually every single energy issue he supported in 2007. Now, for instance, he routinely mocks an American-made electric car, the Chevy Volt.

That's the beauty of running on an Etch A Sketch platform. It allows Romney's campaign to "shake it up and start all over again" when needed.

Related posts:

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  2. Hilarious Colbert Segment on Newt, Santorum, Romney, Algae Biofuels, Windmills, Global Warming, & More (VIDEO)
  3. South Korea to Invest a Whopping $85bn on Green Technology in 'Green New Deal'

Prius Rebound Effect Wrong

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 05:58 AM PDT

This is a special guest post by Shakeb Afsah and Kendyl Salcito, via CO2 Scorecard (h/t Climate Progress). I remember several years ago hearing this claim that Prius drivers drove more and ended up having a net negative effect on the environment as a result. I assumed that was true, despite being surprising. Oh, the days before I was a blogger and saw more clearly all the misinformation spread around the internet and through the mass media! This is a big one, and big thanks to the folks at the CO2 Scorecard for covering it. Here’s the full post:

There is a new term circulating to suggest that by choosing fuel-efficient and low-energy consumption technologies we actually end up increasing our energy use and CO2 emissions. The "Prius Fallacy" is now the catchphrase for the uselessness of energy efficiency that David Owen of The New Yorker has pitched in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and amplified as the central theme in his recent book Conundrum. Owen has disseminated his claims on the opinion pages of theNew York Times, and the catchphrase has over 4,000 hits on Google within two months after its invention.

We have detailed the empirical flaws in Rebound repeatedly (see the links above) but have not directly tackled the metaphor itself.

The Prius Fallacy rests on two key assumptions: (1) that Prius drivers drive more because they are paying less in gas, and/or (2) that Prius drivers use money saved on fuel to purchase or participate in energy- & carbon-intensive goods and activities.

To address the first assumption we turned to the work of Professor Ken Gillingham of Yale University. Prof. Gillingham meticulously compiled a micro-dataset on personal automobiles for his doctoral research at Stanford. This dataset contains information on personal vehicle registration from automotive data supplier R.L. Polk and actual odometer readings reported by the California Bureau of Automotive Repair, who conduct emissions tests. At our request he matched Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) to compare the distribution of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for a sample of 4,208 Prius owners and around 4.6 million other automobile drivers in California.

The result obliterates the Prius Fallacy's first assumption. As shown in the comparative histogram in Exhibit-2, there is no difference in VMT by Prius owners and the rest of  California's drivers. On average Prius owners drove 13,130 VMT/year compared to 13,064 VMT/year for non-Prius owners—a difference of a mere 0.5%. The similarity of the VMT profiles of Prius and non-Prius is confirmed statistically and visually in the overlapping kernel density plot shown in Exhibit-3 (see endnote on data and diagnostic regression). This finding is in line with the simple economic logic produced by Prof. Matthew Kahn of UCLA at the Christian Science Monitor.

When consumers switch from conventional cars to a fuel-efficient hybrid like a Prius which gives 45 miles to a gallon, there is a genuine reduction in the consumption of gasoline – up to 430 gallons per year for an owner who switches from an SUV—an 18-mile-a-gallon vehicle (based on average 13,000 VMT/year).

To understand the significance of 430 gallons (~10 barrels) consider that the US imported roughly 600,000 barrels of gasoline every day in March 2012 (EIA). If around 60,000 people replaced their cars with hybrids, we would eliminate a full day of gasoline import in the course of a single year. If 25 million people replaced their SUVs/trucks and other low mileage passenger cars with hybrids (from America's ~200 million registered vehicles), we could eliminate gasoline imports entirely (given the import average for 2012 so far). As long as Prius drivers don't become the world's largest coal-consumers, it's hard to see any catastrophic rebound here.

But what if Prius drivers do guzzle coal? This leads us to Owen's second assumption: that money saved on fuel is spent on carbon-intensive purchases. The fact is, we don't know how Prius drivers spend the $1500 they save on fuel each year (assuming $3.50/gallon gas prices). Some may hide it in mattresses (zero rebound), some may install solar panels (a case of negative rebound), some may use it for the down payment on a Land Rover (positive rebound). In the worst possible scenario, you can imagine a Prius owner spending all her $1500 to buy anthracite coal to grill burgers in her backyard. We haven't found a study contrasting the purchasing habits of hybrid drivers and conventional car drivers; as such, we can only rely on the aggregate macroeconomic figures.

As Owen and others have pointed out, about 6-8 percent of the US GDP is spent on energy in a given year. This 6-8% share of the GDP accounts for the total energy we consume—including items like the direct gasoline we buy, the electricity we consume at home, and the indirect or embodied energy used in the production of our cars, dishwashers, etc. The 6-8% share accounts for our aggregate spending behavior—the dollars we directly and indirectly spend on energy consumption.

We expect that an average Prius owner will spend the extra money the same way they spend the rest of their money. In the worst case scenario, then, where 8 percent of a Prius driver's $1500 fuel savings is spent on energy $120 ($1500*8%) is re-injected into the energy economy. But only 8.3% of the energy expenditure in the US economy is associated with coal—the fossil fuel of most concern (see data and statistical endnotes). Therefore $10 (8.3% of $120) or just 0.7% of the total fuel efficiency savings will rebound to generate CO2 emissions from coal.

Natural gas and petroleum account for 75.5% of energy expenditure in the US. This implies that around $91 ($120*75.5%) or 6% could rebound in the form of energy use from natural gas and petroleum. The total worst case scenario for indirect rebound associated with fossil fuel use adds up to 6.7% (0.7% + 6%).

Some rebound proponents have argued that dollar spent on energy has a two- or three-fold multiplier effect. It is hard to see how that is possible—if up to 8% of our GDP accounts for energy use, it already includes the energy component of the rest of the 92% of the GDP. Both direct and indirect energy use within the economy are included in the 8% share. Adding a two- or three-fold multiplier on top of that would lead to phantom accounting.

There is little in the way of a solid theory or verifiable empirical estimate that proves the existence of multiplier effect in this particular context. And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the proponents of rebound and assume the existence of multiplier effect, the share of the $1500 savings will on average account for rebound worth $201 (13%) and $301 (20%) for two- and three-fold multipliers respectively.

So, at her worst, an average Prius driver is re-injecting $101-$301 of her $1500 savings into energy use from fossil fuel. And that's near the worst-case scenario. If Prius drivers don't drive more than conventional drivers, and if Prius drivers must (lacking evidence to the contrary) be considered among average American consumers, where's the real fallacy?

Final Thoughts

We've written about other failed anecdotes in Owen's Rebound reporting in the past, including the fallacy that efficient refrigerators have rebound effects – more people buy side-by-side fridges as cooling food gets cheaper. As shown in our earlier research note, rising sales of energy efficient refrigerators coincided with a 3.3% total energy consumption reduction between 2001 and 2005, even as 5.2% more households invested in more than two refrigerators.

Owen's preference for narrative over fact is concerning, not just because he is informing Americans on key components of climate policy without researching the realities, but because as an established and respected staff writer at The New Yorker he is so well positioned to disseminate this simple and false storyline.

Data and Statistical Notes

A: Description of the vehicle-level dataset

  • Professor Ken Gillingham's dataset on vehicle ownership and driving behavior is an example of micro-level datasets that are most appropriate for understanding the energy rebound effect at a high-resolution level. Prof. Gillingham compiled this composite vehicle-level dataset for his doctoral research that aimed to quantify the impact of the changes in gasoline prices on consumer behavior in terms of two key effects—how much consumers drive and what vehicles consumers choose to buy.
  • This dataset includes all new vehicle registrations in California from 2001-09 and all of the mandatory smog check program odometer readings for 2002-09. Including the information on demographics, prices, make, model and other variables, the full dataset has tens of millions of observations.
  • We focused on the subsample of Priuses for which there was a title change, and we observed the smog check odometer reading.  The analysis in this research brief compared the VMT of these Priuses first to all vehicles that had a title change and second to all vehicles. In both cases we found no evidence of the "Prius Fallacy".
  • Additionally, a diagnostic simple regression check was conducted using a dummy for the Prius and controls for demographics, the gasoline price, and economic conditions. The calculation turned out a negative coefficient on the Prius—suggesting that Prius owners may actually drive less than others with similar wealth, location, etc.  This simple check was conducted only for assurance in the comparative histogram of VMTs shown in Exhibit-2.

B: Calculation of the ballpark estimate of energy expenditure by fossil fuel source (2009)

prius rebound effect not true


**Source: Annual Energy Review (AER) 2010, US Energy Information Agency (EIA)

**We are thankful to Jon Koomey for helping us crunch the estimates on energy expenditure.

C: Estimate of gallons saved when SUV driver switches to a Prius.

Shakeb Afsah is the President and CEO of the CO2 Scorecard Group and is a leading environmental reporting and disclosure specialist. Kendyl Salcito serves as the Policy Communications Specialist for the CO2 Scorecard initiative. This piece was originally published at the CO2 Scorecard website.

Related posts:

  1. Energy Efficiency Rocks — Rebound Effect Overblown
  2. The Rebound Effect/Jevons Paradox: Not as Strong as Pseudo-Environmentalists Claim
  3. How Bad Ideas Keep Rebounding Into Public Discourse: The Rebound Effect and Its Refutation

Looking for a Bamboo Keyboard? Of Course You Are, & iZen’s Got One

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 05:46 AM PDT

iZen is apparently a wicked-cool Colorado startup that offers bamboo keyboards and iPad stands! It’s looking for the funding for its second round of production over on Kickstarter. Of course, if you help fund it, you can get some special offers and other goodies. Here’s the kickstarter video and widget, followed by a bunch of pictures of the cool keyboard and a little more info:

“Until now, environmentally friendly electronics has been an oxymoron. We envision a future with less plastic filling up our landfills, and iZen keyboards are a catlyst for this change. iZen Bamboo is the first eco-friendly bluetooth keyboard on the market. Its low profile, portable design is great for anyone on-the-go, and the simple and natural look will add more Zen to your life. Hand-made out of 92% bamboo, this keyboard is renewable, recyclable, and won't pile up in landfills. It works wirelessly with iPads, iPhones, Macs, Androids, tablet PCs, smart phones, and many other Bluetooth-enabled devices. And let’s face it, it’s gorgeous! We self funded the first round of production which just hit the internet and local stores. After only a couple weeks, we are already almost out of inventory and we need your help to fund our next round of production!”

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Ferrari Hybrid in the Works (Confirmed)

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 05:36 AM PDT

Yep, Ferrari’s the next big car company to jump on the electric bandwagon. There was formerly some speculation about it developing a hybrid, and that is apparently now confirmed.

Here’s more from Chris over on Gas2:

Is this a sign of the end-times? Ferrari, perrenial maker of fast and exotic sports cars, has finally caved to international pressure as governments the world over crack down on carbon emissions. The noble Italian carmaker has confirmed reports that it will be building a mass-produced (at least for Ferrari) hybrid vehicle utilizing the same KERS flywheel technology it uses in Formula 1.

KERS, or Kinetic Energy Recovery System, has become popular in various motorsports as a way to provide a significant power boost for passing. The systems are heavy and expensive, but not meeting carbon standards will cost Ferrari even more money as governments will levy heavy fines against any automaker whose cars are not up to snuff. Ferrari has been a leader in curbing its emissions…but only because they gave off so many emissions in the first black.

Up until now, Ferrari has been pretty anti-hybrid for production cars, though they have shown off some hybrid concept cars in recent years. But the reality of the world is catching up, and the reality is that hybrid cars don't have to be boring. Porsche is doing a fine job of marketing hybrid sports cars, including one they plan on charging almost $800,000 for. Porsche hybrid sales are skyrocketing, and while Ferrari is doing fine, hybrid and electric cars are gaining traction among the wealthy and elite. Ferrari no doubt wants a slice of that green car sales pie.

No details have emerged on what shape the hybrid Ferrari will take, but it will add another awesome dimension to Ferrari's lineup if you ask me. And I'm willing to bet it will carry a hefty price premium. Ferrari doesn't do anything half-assed, and I have no reason to believe that a hybrid prancing pony will anything but awesome.

Source: Gas 2.0 (

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Electric Sportscar Ice Racing (VIDEO)

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 05:22 AM PDT


From what I’ve noticed, there’s a pretty passionate electric car racing community out there. I often see stories on the subject over on Gas2. Normally, I pass on covering these, as I don’t see them as all that relevant to tackling global warming and our oil addiction. However, this one caught my attention and seemed ‘cool’ enough to warrant a repost.

ERA's sporty electric RaceAbout coupe has apparently proven itself in many arenas. However, as you may know, one of the steepest challenges for EVs is cold weather. To prove that it could handle the cold, the ERA RaceAbout was recently driven by Janne Laitinen to a top speed of over 155 mph… on ice! “Which would have been a Guinness World Record … if only such a record existed,” Jo Borras of Gas2 notes.

Here’s a video and a bunch of photos via Nokian Tires.

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Plastic Bag Recycling Gets a New Spin from Science

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 04:44 AM PDT

ORNL converts plastic bags to carbon fibersIt looks like plastic bag knitters the world over are going to have to make room for a new recycler in town. Scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have figured out how to recycle plastic bags by extracting the polyethylene to make carbon fibers, which can be fabricated into new strong, lightweight components for – well, for practically anything that can be made out of plastic.

Spinning carbon fiber from a plastic bag, with science

The ORNL process is a far cry from simply cutting plastic bags into strips. Using a high-tech spinning process combined with another step called sulfonation, the researchers produced polyethylene-based fibers with surfaces that can be customized “down to the submicron scale.” So, in addition to being used in products like lightweight car parts, the fibers can be used in advanced devices used for filtration and electrochemical energy harvesting, among others. The interior structure of the fiber can also be manipulated, depending on how the processing is conducted.

So, what is sulfonation?

Sulfonation is a reaction in which a bundle of fibers is dipped into a chemical bath, bonding the plastic molecules together. The result is a single black fiber that cannot melt into a puddle, as ordinary plastic does.

And carpet recycling, too

Aside from having the kind of extraordinary weight-to-strength ratio demanded of new materials in a more energy efficient economy, the new carbon fibers are also made from an inexpensive, seemingly endless feedstock. But if the world ever bans plastic bags (ha!), not to worry. Recycled carpeting – of which there are untold millions of tons in the U.S. alone – also contains plastics that can get a second life, quite possibly in those new electric vehicles we’ll all be driving some day.

Image: Knitted plastic bag, Some rights reserved by dumbledad.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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More Evidence of a Distributed Solar Sweet Spot

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 04:32 AM PDT

If the cost of electricity were the only factor in energy discussions, we’d probably have a lot more coal and a lot less renewable energy.  But the truth is that renewable energy can compete on cost and distributed renewable energy has a lot more value beyond just electricity, as illustrated in this one facet in this brief examination by the Clean Coalition.

Distributed solar finds a cost sweet spot.

In their analysis, the Clean Coalition focused on two elements: the cost to produce electricity from solar facilities of various sizes and the cost to deliver that power (via the distribution or transmission system).  As it turns out, fees to access the transmission system and transmission losses can offset any economies of scale from central station power generation.

The chart below illustrates the “sweet spot” balance between economies of scale and costs for transmission.

For context, in their latest examination of the levelized cost of energy generation, investment bank Lazard shows these prices are competitive with new coal power plants and substantially cheaper than new gas peaking power plants.

Of course, there’s more to the value of distributed renewable energy than just cost to generate and transmission access, whether it’s the economic multiplier from potential local ownership or the political value of community-based generation.  But it’s good to know that even in this narrow view, distributed generation can compete with large-scale power generation.

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

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MIT’s Crazy 3-D Solar “Tower of Power”

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 07:49 PM PDT

MIT researchers build low cost, high efficiency 3-D solar power towerTake some ordinary two-dimensional solar panels, stick them together to form a crazy looking three-dimensional solar tower that resembles an abstract sculpture of an accordion, and voila! If you are part of the intrepid team of researchers from MIT who dreamed up that arrangement, you have just boosted the overall efficiency of the solar panels by up to 20 times, and in the process you have caused thousands of solar power researchers around the globe to smack their heads and wonder why they never thought of that.

 3-D solar plays the angles

Actually, at least one company has already begun to exploring the 3-D approach, in a way. Last year CleanTechnica reported on the California firm Solar3D (what else?), which has a prototype under development for a 3-D solar cell. Last week the company announced that its simulations indicate the new cell  “can produce 200% of the power output of conventional solar cells.”

That’s great, but it’s a different approach than the road MIT is taking. From the outside, Solar3D’s solar panels look like – well, like regular solar panels, only a bit thicker; the 3-D effect is on the inside.  The company also hopes to integrate its technology into solar roof tiles, which would be a bit impractical with MIT’s configuration.

MIT’s 3-D solar tower

The MIT team, headed by Associate Professor of Power Engineering Jeffrey Grossman, has come up with a truly 3-D arrangement of solar panels that consists of blocks or towers. The research first came to CleanTechnica’s attention last November with the announcement that the team’s 3-D tower could generate almost as much solar power on a cloudy day as when the sun is shining. Now the team has published a study in the journal Energy and Environmental Science that details its results, based on tests of three different configurations.

Minuses and pluses of 3-D solar power

The researchers note that the tower itself would require more panels to cover the same footprint as an ordinary 2-D configuration, which would make it more expensive. On the positive side, the 3-D arrangement enables the solar tower to capture sunlight at optimal angles throughout much of the day without the need for  a mechanical sun-tracking system. That saves money on installation costs, maintenance and whatever energy is needed to run the system.

According to MIT writer David Chandler, the ability of a 3-D module to function with a relatively uniform power output regardless of the weather or the seasons is also of value in terms of integrating distributed solar energy into the grid.

Cheap solar power, the 3-D way

Assuming that the price of solar cells continues to drop while the expense of a sun tracking system and other components remain relatively stable, the use of extra panels for a 3-D configuration will become more cost effective.

Shipping and installation have a significant effect on the total cost of solar power, and the team also took that into consideration. The concept is for a unit that can be

transported in a flat, compact form that easily expands like the bellows of an accordion once it arrives on site.

Image: 3-D glasses, some rights reserved by julia.chapple.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


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