- Clean Energy Crowdfunding — Crowdfunding Wind & Solar Projects in the UK
- Renewable Electricity Generation up Considerably in Most US States
- Bicycles — Cleantech?
- Carbon Nanotubes Improve, Cut Cost of Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells
- Solar Cell that Shines in Order to Produce More Electricity (Record-Breaking Technology)
- U.S. Teams with India in Massive New Biofuel Project
- The Road to 2020 (Part III): Real Ambition
- Huge Savings on Heating & Cooling Possible with Efficiency Controls
- Awesome Electric Bike (A2B Metro)
- How the Middle-East Revolutions Push Renewable Energy Forward
- US Military Cooperates in German Small Town Energy Revolution
- Obama vs Romney on Energy (Chart)
- Nature’s Billion-Year-Old Battery Key to Storing Energy
- States in NE Cap & Trade Program Have Increased GDP at Twice the Rate of Other States, Cut CO2 20% Faster
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 07:24 AM PDT
Community-funded or crowdfunded wind and solar power is now being encouraged in the UK by renewable energy networking site EnergyShare, which is offering up £5,000 each for the first 5 renewable energy projects that also raise £5,000 on their own via the crowdfunding website. Another company, Abundance Energy, is also trying to get individuals and businesses to help fund and gain from clean energy projects, encouraging them to invest as little as £5 in wind turbines for an upcoming project. Is crowdfunding about to sweep into the clean energy sector?
This is similar to what Solar Mosaic is doing in the US and what the Solar Schools program is doing for schools across the UK, but it is still a rather quiet trend, and the question is, will it take off? I certainly think it will. There is something very uplifting and fun about crowdfunding. And renewable energy is one of the most-liked, most-supported things on the planet. Combine the two and you allow people to ‘go solar’ or ‘go wind’ in steps and in cooperation with others, for a common good (what renewable energy is all about). If you’re also offered nice returns on investment, as it seems Abundance Energy is offering, what’s not to love?
Real quickly, let’s run down what these two new options entail (since I’ve already covered Solar Mosaic and Solar Schools a bit).
As stated above, EnergyShare is offering matching funds to early crowdfunders of solar or wind power projects. This initiative was just launched on April 12.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for community energy projects to increase their funding support by unlocking the power of the local community on peoplefund.it,” said Nick Underhill, managing director of Keo Film’s digital division. ”We are looking forward to seeing communities really get behind some great projects.”
EnergyShare and peoplefund.it are owned by Keo films, and as far as I can tell, they seem to just really be behind crowdfunding and renewable energy (while making a living off it themselves, I imagine).
Abundance Energy’s first project is an effort to raise £1.3 million for a Resilient Energy wind turbine in the Forest of Dean. “Abundance will raise the money by offering debentures – a type of bond issued by an individual project. In return, the project commits to pay the member a share of the profits it makes generating green energy,” Business Green writes.
Again, it looks like an effort to find creative funding for clean energy projects while also providing more people with the chance to prosper from clean energy investment. Here are some more details.
This is exciting stuff, in my opinion — skeptics amongst you, am I missing something or is this 100% good news?
If I’m not off my rocker and this really is as cool as it looks, I certainly hope more folks will pioneer clean energy crowdfunding in the U.S. soon.
Image Source: Abundance Energy
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT
Non-hydroelectric renewable generation has increased in many states over the past decade. In 2011, Maine had the highest percentage of non-hydroelectric renewable generation, at 27% of total in-state generation, up from 20% in 2001 (see maps). South Dakota and Iowa followed, with 21% and 17%, respectively, in 2011, up from 1% and less than one percent in 2001. Wind is the largest driver of this increase across all states.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-923, Power Plant Operations Report.
Note: Data for 2011 are preliminary.
Including hydropower changes the picture dramatically. Hydroelectric generation is often separated from other renewable generation as it is both larger (on a national basis) and highly variable from year to year. Some states generate considerably more electricity than they consume. In particular, significant excess hydropower generation in the Pacific Northwest flows south to California in the spring. In 2011, the states with the largest shares of generation coming from renewables, including hydro, were: Idaho (93%), Washington (82%), and Oregon (78%). Hydroelectric production was particularly high in 2011 in the Pacific Northwest.
More than half of all states have put in place Renewable Portfolio Standards to promote generation from renewable sources. Federal production tax credits and grants also contributed to increases in renewable capacity and generation between 2001 and 2011. Wind was the fastest growing source of non-hydroelectric renewable generation, as many operators of wind turbines have benefited from these programs. Detailed descriptions of the various State RPS programs (which may not count all non-hydro renewables as eligible) are available from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.
EIA recently released preliminary data through December 2011 on generation, fuel consumption, and other statistics from the electric power industry in the Electric Power Monthly and Electricity Monthly Update. A significant share of generation from biomass and solar photovoltaic resources occurs in the end-use industrial, residential, and commercial sectors and is not included in the utility-scale electric power data presented here.
This article was originally published on the website of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 06:51 AM PDT
Now, aside from cleantech, there are a few other things that stand out as helping with all or most of the above — some are related to food and some are related to transportation and urban design. While I don’t think it makes sense for us to get into the food topics much here, there’s one transportation and urban design topic that often comes to mind as a potential sector of relevance for CleanTechnica (I have a feeling you can guess what that is) — bicycling, of course.
While we don’t post on bicycling much here, we do post on high-tech bikes, new electric bikes, and electric vehicles of other sorts. It always seems a bit odd, though, to think that we ‘can’ cover hi-tech and electric bikes but not normal bikes. Why not post on conventional bicycles, as well? Presumably, they’re not cleantech (I’ve never seen them mentioned in any definition of cleantech). But in the context of the purpose of this site and cleantech, as just discussed above, and since I don’t think it makes sense to just cover hi-tech and electric bikes and vehicles but not conventional bicycles (widely considered the most energy-efficient mode of commonly used transportation), I think it’s about time we include ‘low-tech’ bikes within our content jurisdiction,… as well as the more high-tech bikes we already cover from time to time (like those with cool LED lights).
One might be opposed to this idea if they thought cleantech was just about replacing dirty tech and that bicycling wasn’t replacing dirty tech trips made by automobiles, but it is…. Bicycling is growing at a very rapid pace, similar to solar power. Additionally, as Katie Omberg of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) recently noted, bicycling is increasingly being viewed as a key component of a different lifestyle (not just a recreational activity) — a cleaner, healthier, cooler lifestyle. She shared a few recent ads that featured bicycling as such in a post on the LAB blog; I’ll close with two of those and one more along those lines to get the mood of this new focus going a bit:
(And if you want to read a bit more along the lines of this post, check out this 10 benefits of bicycling post.)
More posts along the lines of what I’m thinking about:
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT
Forests of carbon nanotubes are an efficient alternative for platinum electrodes in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSC), according to new research by collaborators at Rice University and Tsinghua University.
The single-wall nanotube arrays, grown in a process invented at Rice, are both much more electroactive and potentially cheaper than platinum, a common catalyst in DSCs, said Jun Lou, a materials scientist at Rice. In combination with newly developed sulfide electrolytes synthesized at Tsinghua, they could lead to more efficient and robust solar cells at a fraction of the current cost for traditional silicon-based solar cells.
Lou and co-lead investigator Hong Lin, a professor of materials science and engineering at Tsinghua, detailed their work in the online, open-access Nature journal Scientific Reports this week.
DSCs are easier to manufacture than silicon-based solid-state photovoltaic cells but not as efficient, said Lou, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science. "DSCs are sensitized with dyes, ideally organic dyes like the juices from berries – which some students have actually used in demonstrations."
Dyes absorb photons from sunlight and generate a charge in the form of electrons, which are captured first by a semiconducting titanium oxide layer deposited on a current collector before flowing back to the counter electrode through another current collector. Progress has been made in the manufacture of DSCs that incorporate an iodine-based electrolyte, but iodine tends to corrode metallic current collectors, which "poses a challenge for its long-termreliability," Lou said.
Iodine electrolyte also has the unfortunate tendency to absorb light in the visible wavelengths, "which means fewer photons could be utilized," Lou said.
So Tsinghua researchers decided to try a noncorrosive, sulfide-based electrolyte that absorbs little visible light and works well with the single-walled carbon nanotube carpets created in the Rice lab of Robert Hauge, a co-author of the paper and a distinguished faculty fellow in chemistry at Rice's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology .
"These are very versatile materials," Lou said. "Single-walled carbon nanotubes have been around at Rice for a very long time, and people have found many different ways to use them. This is another way that turns out to be very well-matched to a sulfid-based electrolyte in DSC technology."
Both Rice and Tsinghua built working solar cells, with similar results. They were able to achieve a power conversion efficiency of 5.25 percent – lower than the DSC record of 11 percent with iodine electrolytes a platinum electrode, but significantly higher a control that combined the new electrolyte with a traditional platinum counter electrode. Resistance between the new electrolyte and counter electrode is "the lowest we've ever seen," Lou said.
There's much work to be done, however. "The carbon nanotube-to-current collector still has a pretty large contact resistance, and the effects of structuraldefects in carbon nanotubes on their corresponding performance are not fully understood, but we believe once we optimize everything, we're going to get decent efficiency and make the whole thing very affordable," Lou said. "The real attraction is that it will be a very low-cost alternative to silicon-based solar cells."
Pei Dong, a graduate student in Lou's lab, and Feng Hao, a graduate student at Tsinghua, are lead authors of the paper. Co-authors include Rice graduate students Jing Zhang and Philip Loya, Yongchang Zhang of Tsinghua and Professor Jianbao Li of Hainan University, China.
The project was supported by the National High Technology Research and Development Program of China, the Welch Foundation and the Faculty Initiative Fund at Rice.
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 05:56 AM PDT
The purpose of solar cells is to capture as much light as possible and produce power from it. But researchers from the University of California, Berkeley think they should do a bit of light-producing of their own. These researchers think “solar cells should be designed to be more like LEDs, able to emit light as well as absorb it,” the Optical Society notes.
Why? Because this results in greater solar cell efficiency, more electricity per solar cell.
The UC Berkeley researchers are scheduled to present their findings on their groundbreaking research on this matter at the Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics (CLEO: 2012) coming up May 6-11 in San Jose, California.
Explain this, Again — How Does Producing Light Make a Solar Cell More Efficient?
“What we demonstrated is that the better a solar cell is at emitting photons, the higher its voltage and the greater the efficiency it can produce,” says Eli Yablonovitch, principal researcher and UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering.
Solar cells, it is rather well known, can’t convert all the light energy they receive into electricity. This is what solar cell efficiency is all about. While some multiple-junction solar cells have hit efficiencies over 40%, the theoretical efficiency limit of typical crystalline solar cells is around 30%. Getting to that efficiency has been a challenge, though, and a bit of a mystery for about 50 years. But researchers at UC Berkeley think they’ve cracked the code. Here’s more from the Optical Society:
So, in the end, the researchers worked to send photons back out of the solar cell. Interesting. And certainly a bit counterintuitive.
Still confused a bit about how sending photons out of the solar cell can help increase its efficiency? Here’s a little more detail on how a solar cell works and why this is good:
“Solar cells produce electricity when photons from the Sun hit the semiconductor material within a cell. The energy from the photons knocks electrons loose from this material, allowing the electrons to flow freely. But the process of knocking electrons free can also generate new photons, in a process called luminescence. The idea behind the novel solar cell design is that these new photons – which do not come directly from the Sun – should be allowed to escape from the cell as easily as possible.”
Alta Devices Looking to Bring High-Efficiency, Light-Emitting Solar Cells to Market
Of course, at least one company has already been formed to try to pioneer such solar cells in the marketplace. Alta Devices, based in the San Francisco Bay area, “used the new concept to create a prototype solar cell made of gallium arsenide (GaAs)…. The prototype broke the [single-junction solar cell efficiency] record, jumping from 26 percent to 28.3 percent efficiency. The company achieved this milestone, in part, by designing the cell to allow light to escape as easily as possible from the cell – using techniques that include, for example, increasing the reflectivity of the rear mirror, which sends incoming photons back out through the front of the device.”
Alta Devices’ ”most recent solar panel has been verified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at 23.5% efficiency,” a new solar panel efficiency record, the company noted in February of this year. (Note that a solar panel has lower efficiency than a solar cell since it also contains other components.) Alta Devices is working hard to get to commercialization as fast as possible. In that process, I imagine it will continue attempting new world records and the theoretical maximum efficiency of a single-junction solar cell.
Eli Yablonovitch, principal researcher of the study “The Opto-Electronics which Broke the Efficiency Record in Solar Cells” and a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering, is optimistic. He hopes researchers will achieve efficiencies of close to 30% in the coming years.
Overall, this is already quite significant research for solar cell scientists and companies of all stripes, as it applies to all types of solar cells and has wide-ranging implications in the field.
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 05:17 AM PDT
The U.S. has just launched a five-year, $125 million alternative energy research project with India, aimed partly at developing biofuels from non-food crops. The biofuel project, funded by the Department of Energy and led by the University of Florida, has the goal of managing climate change and reducing U.S. dependence on petroleum products — and that adds an intriguing element of geopolitics and petrodollars to the mix.
Many cooks in the alternative energy kitchen
The new endeavor, somewhat cumbersomely tagged the Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center, (JCERDC), also includes solar and energy efficiency components led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The biofuel component totals about $21 million for a team that includes the University of Florida, University of Missouri, Virginia Tech, Montclair State University, Texas A&M University, Show Me Energy Cooperative, and Green Technologies.
The Indian team is headed up by the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology — but wait, there’s more. The project is part of a larger endeavor that provides for the U.S. to leverage private sector investment in an international fund focused on developing South Asia’s alternative energy resources.
Biofuels over here and over there
Here in the U.S., the new project will give a boost to the ambitious U.S. biofuel program that President Obama announced last year. That program was designed partly to help create sustainable economic growth in rural communities through new biofuel crop farming, transportation and refining operations.
There was also an interesting international potential in last year’s announcement, since it teamed the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the U.S. Navy. The Navy’s role is to serve as an early-adopting market for new biofuel products, helping to build economies of scale that will lower the price of biofuel for the consumer market.
That’s all part of a broad Department of Defense push to wean itself from petroleum, and in terms of Navy operations, that goes beyond a strong domestic biofuel economy in the U.S. It also means developing a strategic chain of alternative fuel providers in countries around the globe where governments and social conditions are more stable than in the Middle East.
Though military strategy is the primary focus, the Navy also plays a major role in global humanitarian efforts, and in order to sustain those efforts a reliable network of fuel suppliers will need to supplant the increasingly risky, price spike-bedeviled petroleum trade (besides, according to the latest offering from Hollywood, you never know where those pesky alien invaders will strike next).
Connecting the dots to global energy security
The Navy’s interest in global biofuel security was illustrated earlier this year, when top Navy brass visited a biofuel conference in Australia to underscore the Department of Defense’s interest in algae biofuel. With President Obama’s strategic defense plan shifting focus from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific, it looks like the biofuel partnership with India is another important piece of the puzzle.
As for the mockery that the President met with earlier this year when he enthused over algae biofuel, as a well known figure in Indian history famously said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you…”
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 04:30 AM PDT
The first two parts of this series took a closer look at the political changes that occurred here in Germany at the beginning of this still young decade. Last year saw a 180° course correction by the conservative federal government in terms of energy policy. While the nuclear phaseout didn’t happen because of a sudden change of heart by all the politicans of the government coaliton, it did change the future of the German energy market significantly. This post will look at the implications of this decision on the energy market and why the goal of the federal government to reach a 35% share of renewable electricity generation is called anything but ambitious in Germany.
A 20% Gap that Will Be Filled
To understand the impact of the nuclear phase-out, it’s important to know the current relevance of nuclear power in Germany. Back in 2010, nuclear power still contributed about 22% or 133 TWh of gross electricity production in Germany. In 2011, this value already declined to 18% or 110 TWh. That means that nuclear power has a similar share in Germany as it does in the US (21% in 2012 up through March, according to EIA’s latest monthly power report). Of course, most reactors approach end of life within the next two decades in the US as well, so the question of how to replace them isn’t really limited to Germany.
According to the phase-out law, the remaining nuclear reactors will be shut down stepwise till 2022. While this obviously means that the nuclear energy age is coming to an end here in Germany, it also means that at least 20% of the entire electricity market of Germany is up for grabs over the course of 10 years. This alone is without a doubt quite a significant change and I think we all know that with change comes opportunity. But I am getting ahead of myself….
Implications for the “Nuclear States”
Now, to fully understand how this has changed the “game” for the push to renewable energy sources, we have to look beyond the national numbers and zoom in on the state level.
Nuclear power was never evenly spread across the nation here in Germany. Before 2011, there were 17 nuclear reactors spread across five states (out of Germany’s sixteen). Up until recently, all of those states were governed by the same center-right coalition that is currently in control of the federal government, with Angela Merkel as chancellor.
After the decision was made to accelerate the long-standing phase-out of nuclear power, 8 old reactors were shut down immediately. The remaining 9 reactors are positioned in only 4 states. While nuclear power made up about 20-25% of the nationwide electricity mix, it was more significant to those five states. It actually used to be and remains to be the backbone of the baseload electricity production capacity for those states, with a statewide share of approximately 50% of the electricity production.
For many years, the conservative governments of the southern states remained rather skeptical about renewable energy sources. They actively blocked the expansion of wind power by putting arbitrary restrictions in place that made the profitable use of inland wind farms impossible or held them up in a loop of permission procedures. In Hesse, the government even continued to denounce the potential of renewable energy as being enough to power the nation as late as December 2010.
Since the summer of 2011, the situation has changed completely. The very same conservative government of Hesse now thinks that the potential of renewables is more than enough. Its new goal is to achieve a 100% renewable energy supply by 2050 and accomplish a renewable energy share of 20% for final energy consumption (excluding transportation) by 2020.
But the government of Hesse is not alone in its sudden change of opinion and goals. In fact, its goals are among the least ambitous among the German states. Most states obviously dislike the idea of importing a huge portion of their renewable energy from other states, when they could produce it closer to home. Especially since 10 years of massive renewable growth in some states has shown huge benefits for regional economies in terms of jobs, economic growth, and as a consequence: tax revenues for notoriously cash-strapped municipalities (in Germany business taxes are raised by the municipalities and every windmill, rooftop-solar, or biogas power plant is a business).
So, while the federal government favors offshore wind farms that offer a slightly higher capacity factor and the potential to become an export opportunity for German industry giants, the states have their own priorities. For them, it has become a unique opportunity to bring new investments, new industries, and new jobs to their “shores.” Furthermore, it has also become a question of who will become a domestic energy exporter, thereby creating cash inflows for their regional economies.
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 04:00 AM PDT
by Frances White, PNNL, (509) 375-6904
PNNL estimates potential HVAC energy savings for U.S. commercial buildings
RICHLAND, Wash. – U.S. commercial building owners could save an average of 38 percent on their heating and cooling bills if they installed a handful of energy efficiency controls that make their heating, ventilation and air conditioning, also known as HVAC, systems more energy efficient, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The estimated savings were based on computer modeling and simulation of building energy usage. The controls that could provide these savings are not widely available commercially, but the report’s authors hope their analysis will encourage manufacturers to expand their production.
“Investing in an American economy that is built to last includes taking advantage of all of America’s energy resources while working to improve efficiency,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “By making heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in buildings more energy efficient, American businesses can save a significant amount of money by saving energy.”
Completed for the Department of Energy, the report examines options for improving the efficiency of commercial rooftop systems called packaged HVACs, which combine compressors, fans and heat exchangers into one unit. Packaged HVACs regulate temperatures inside more than 60 percent of the commercial building floor space in the United States, where commercial buildings consume as much energy as about 90 million typical American homes each year. And about 35 percent of that is used by HVAC systems, which are often poorly maintained or ignored, causing them to run inefficiently.
“The potential savings from adding advanced controls to existing packaged air conditioners with gas furnaces is enormous,” said PNNL engineer Srinivas Katipamula, who led the study. “The estimated savings depend on local climate and energy prices and range from a whopping 67 percent cost savings in San Francisco to a still-substantial 28 percent in Seattle.”
For the report, Katipamula and his PNNL colleagues considered implementing four different control methods to existing rooftop packaged HVACs:
The study team tracked the effects of using these methods with a building energy simulation software called EnergyPlus. The software created computer simulations that took into account 15 climate zones in 16 major U.S. cities.
They studied four types of commercial buildings: small offices of 5,500 square feet, stand-alone retail buildings of 25,000 square feet, strip malls of 22,500 feet and supermarkets of 45,000 square feet. More than 1,400 different simulations estimated the potential savings in electricity used to power fans and cooling compressors, as well as the gas used to produce heat. Energy savings were then translated into dollars and cents.
Different climates, different controls
In general, the researchers found that installing a multi-speed fan control had the greatest impact on energy savings in hot cities such as Miami. And demand-controlled ventilation created the best possible energy savings in colder cities such as Chicago, Duluth and Seattle.
The team reasoned that because ventilation fans generate some heat when they move, slowing fans with multi-speed fan control in hot climates could reduce the amount of chilling needed. And in colder climates, they suspected that demand-controlled ventilation prevents unnecessarily sending warm air outside, which then prompts HVAC system to create more warm air to maintain desired temperatures inside.
When the research team added up all the numbers, they found the best possible percentage cost savings was 67 percent, which could occur when all four controls are added to a rooftop packaged HVAC at a small office building in San Francisco. And the minimum percentage cost savings was 28 percent and could come from adding all four controls to a supermarket in Seattle. The table below shows the team’s calculations on each building types’ average cost savings.
Their research also showed that Fairbanks, Alaska, could be home to the maximum annual dollar savings for all four building types. Fairbanks could experience savings as high as $52,217 per year at a supermarket and as low as $923 at a small office. The team reasoned that Fairbanks’ dollar-saving advantage was due to its cold climate, which benefits more from the decreased ventilation that occurs with demand-controlled ventilation, as well as the city’s relatively high energy costs. The table below shows the average dollar savings that each building type could experience by installing all four controls.
But savings weren’t limited to cash and energy use. The team also found that a substantial amount of carbon emissions could be avoided if HVAC energy efficiency is increased. As many as sixteen 200-MW coal power plants — which generate enough energy to power 3,000 to 4,000 American homes — could sit idle if just half of the nation’s packaged rooftop HVAC units on commercial buildings were retrofitted with controls, the simulations revealed.
Return on investment
Three companies currently manufacturer HVAC controllers, but only one company offers a product with all the control options that resemble the team’s simulations, Katipamula said. To help the manufactures better understand their market, the report also examines potential prices for the controllers and how long it would take for building owners to recoup that cost.
Based on the estimated dollar savings, the team predicted a building owner could recoup his or her investment in a few years. For example, they looked at adding supply fan speed control and demand-controlled ventilation to a supermarket. If that store spends $7,523 to equip its HVAC system, it would see a return in three years, while it would take the same supermarket five years to see a return if the controls had a higher price tag of $12,539.
“Our report makes a convincing case for manufacturers to produce more advanced HVAC controllers and for building owners to adopt these energy-saving methods,” Katipamula said.
Next, the team will test the estimated savings in the field. They’re installing controllers into HVAC systems used on two rooftop units at an office building on PNNL’s own campus in Richland, Wash. They’re also planning to install several controllers in various commercial buildings across the United States. Once installed, the controllers will allow the researchers to measure real energy and costs savings.
The PNNL team will also expand its simulations to include more variables, such as looking at heat pumps to calculate potential energy savings. Heat pumps are more common in mild climates than the gas furnaces simulated for this report.
This research was funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
REFERENCE: W. Wang, Y. Huang, S. Katipamula and M.R. Brambley, “Energy Savings and Economics of Advanced Control Strategies for Packaged Air-Conditioning Units with Gas Heat,” December 2011, PNNL Report No. 20955 for U.S. Department of Energy.
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 03:00 AM PDT
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 02:30 AM PDT
Rising Oil Prices
Several of the countries that have been involved in the Arab Spring are big oil exporters, but the destruction in the political and economic system has had a massive impact on how much oil these countries can produce and distribute. Take Libya, for example — revenues have dropped by about 84% since war broke out. Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia have also taken big financial hits from the Arab Spring.
At the Singapore International Energy Week conference in late 2011, United Arab Emirates' oil minister, Mohammed bin Dhaen al-Hamli, defined a "reasonable" price for oil to be $80 to $100 a barrel — an increase of $30 to $50 (approximately twice the amount!) compared to five years ago.
Oil demand, if anything, has risen over the last 6 months. Combine this with a reduced oil supply as a result of the rebellions, and oil prices naturally go up.
In many ways, the Arab Spring has given oil-exporting countries, which weren't stricken by any serious upheaval among the population, a significant economic boost. On the other hand, instable and high oil prices have made the oil-importing countries start looking at renewables.
Renewable has Become Affordable
The demand of solar panels, wind turbines and other technologies that harness renewable sources of energy has never before been greater. The increasing oil prices are in some areas now on par with solar and wind, even without being heavily supported by government incentives.
Desertec is an ambitious project involving a series of massive solar power farms in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. This will not only generate electricity for the population in this region, but also be sent to Europe where emission cuts and green energy goals are slowly creeping in. In fact, the European market is the main goal.
So far, two Desertec projects have been given green lights:
What is concentrated solar power? CSP is not the same as solar photovoltaics (what most people refer to as solar panels). CSP plants convert sunlight into heat, which is used to drive a steam turbine that generates electricity. Photovoltaics convert sunlight directly into electricity with the photovoltaic effect.
Since both technologies are based on solar energy, photovoltaics and CSP share many of the same benefits and issues. Most significant differences include better possibilities for energy storage by using molten salt in CSP, and that these power plants require higher insolation levels (which is why these massive power plants are being built in the MENA region).
The TuNur project, when finished, has a capacity over three times greater than the world's largest solar PV power plant, which has 600 MW of capacity.
The Ouarzazate and TuNur CSP plants (and those yet to be announced) will produce electricity that will be sent on high-voltage DC transmission to Europe.
The same month as TuNur was officially locked in, the German and Swiss investment firms, Terra Nex and Middle East Best Select, confirmed that they are undertaking a $2-billion, 400-MW CSP project in Oman.
The three projects mentioned above are just a part of what has happened in the last several months, and an even smaller part of the many projects to be announced in the near future.
Political, financial and industry leaders gathered earlier this year in Abu Dhabi at the World Future Energy Summit, the world's foremost meeting committed to advancing future energy and clean technologies. There, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, stated the following:
Supports Local Economic Growth
The renewable energy projects that we see taking place in the Middle East and North Africa obviously have clear environmental benefits. Parts of the MENA region uses disturbingly small amounts of renewable and green sources of energy compared to the rest of the world. Consequently, these are also the places where the potential for seeing a complete turnaround in energy is the greatest.
Then there are the many socio-economic benefits that come with a new flourishing industry.
Desertec Foundation estimates that 60% of the TuNur plant's production costs will be spent within Tunisia, creating numerous jobs, a major advantage for the overall economy in a country that just threw its government out the window.
Fethi Somrani, director of TuNur Ltd., stated the following about the situation:
Source: Geopolicity's The Cost of the Arab Spring
Posted: 23 Apr 2012 02:00 AM PDT
A Small Town in Germany
The municipality of Bruchsmühlbach-Miesau consists of typical German small towns and villages. Located in the West German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, this collection of settlements is home to about 10,500 people. What’s not so typical about the town of Miesau is the fact that it’s also home to the “Miesau Army Depot” (also known as the US Army’s “Ammunition Center Europe”). It’s the largest American ammunition depot outside the US and just a few miles from the famous Rammstein Airbase and Landstuhl Medical Center.
But Bruchsmühlbach-Miesau is special for another reason as well. It’s part of the growing number of German municipalities and regions that actively work towards a 100% renewable energy supply.
In order to make a further step towards this 100% goal, the mayor approached the US Army authorities with a plan of putting a 1-MW solar PV plant on the roof of huge storage buildings inside the massive military base.
The local American military authorities and the national German authorities responsible for affairs concerning foreign military bases soon approved the plan and the project was about to be build. At that point, the project was halted because it still required additional approval from the Pentagon itself. In March 2012, the project finally received the long-desired approval from Washington and will be operational in May or June of this year.
Energized by this success, the community of Bruchsmühlbach-Miesau is already planning its next project in cooperation with the US base. If everything works out as planed, the community will proceed to build a biogas cogeneration plant in 2012. This project will reduce the annual heating oil consumption of the “Miseau Army Depot” by up to 443,000 liters / 117,000 gallons.
A Piece of the Puzzle
But the cooperation with the US Army is not the only renewable project of the municipal utility and the towns people. The community already operates:
Besides its current projects in cooperation with the US Army, it also plans to build another wind farm consisting of 5 turbines that will be finished in 2013. Those modern turbines will produce an additional 47 GWh/a. A huge addition to its renewable, clean and emission-free electricity production capacity. Due to the strong emphasis on local participation, regional value creation, and the overall positive experience of wind power, this new wind power project received the approval of 95% of the citizens and no NIMBY group was founded to oppose it.
With this mix of local renewable energy sources, the community of Bruchsmühlbach-Miesau will produces 290% of its electricity demand by 2013. Making this German community of 10,500 people an energy-exporting region, despite mediocre renewable resources, and without harming the enviroment.
What Does This Mean?
100% renewable energy is not fiction, nor unrealistic fantasy. What’s possible there, is possible everywhere. The technologies are ready and can be built within a few months or years. Those communities that embark on this mission benefit economically, culturally, and socially. Bringing people together, keeping the money in their community, creating jobs for their neighbors and income for the farmers that shaped their region for centuries, and building a better & sustainable future for their kids. They do this not because it is easy, but because it is right! That’s the spirit of the small-town energy revolution.
Based on an article by the “Renewable Energy Agency” to commemorate the “Energy Community of April 2012.”
Posted: 22 Apr 2012 05:29 PM PDT
Notably, Big Coal and Big Oil have already put over $16 million into ads attacking Obama — if that doesn’t tell you who’s more on the side of dirty energy and who’s more on the side of clean energy, hopeful the info below will.
Here’s the chart and a more detailed comparison of Obama and Romney on energy issues, also via Ms. Leber (the remainder of this post is reposted from Climate Progress):
Oil and gas production
Big Oil Subsidies
Air Pollution From Power Plants
Fuel efficient cars
Posted: 22 Apr 2012 03:26 PM PDT
New research at Concordia University is bringing us one step closer to clean energy. It is possible to extend the length of time a battery-like enzyme can store energy from seconds to hours, a study published in the Journal of The American Chemical Society shows.
Concordia Associate Professor László Kálmán— along with his colleagues in the Department of Physics, graduate students Sasmit Deshmukh and Kai Tang — has been working with an enzyme found in bacteria that is crucial for capturing solar energy. Light induces a charge separation in the enzyme, causing one end to become negatively charged and the other positively charged, much like in a battery.
In nature, the energy created is used immediately, but Kálmán says that to store that electrical potential, he and his colleagues had to find a way to keep the enzyme in a charge-separated state for a longer period of time.
"We had to create a situation where the charges don't want to or are not allowed to go back, and that's what we did in this study," says Kálmán.
Kálmán and his colleagues showed that by adding different molecules, they were able to alter the shape of the enzyme and, thus, extend the lifespan of its electrical potential.
In its natural configuration, the enzyme is perfectly embedded in the cell's outer layer, known as the lipid membrane. The enzyme's structure allows it to quickly recombine the charges and recover from a charge-separated state.
However, when different lipid molecules make up the membrane, as in Kálmán's experiments, there is a mismatch between the shape of the membrane and the enzyme embedded within it. Both the enzyme and the membrane end up changing their shapes to find a good fit. The changes make it more difficult for the enzyme to recombine the charges, thereby allowing the electrical potential to last much longer.
"What we're doing is similar to placing a racecar in on snow-covered streets," says Kálmán. The surrounding conditions prevent the racecar from performing as it would on a racetrack, just like the different lipids prevent the enzyme from recombining the charges as efficiently as it does under normal circumstances.
Photosynthesis, which has existed for billions of years, is one of the earliest energy-converting systems. "All of our food, our energy sources (gasoline, coal) — everything is a product of some ancient photosynthetic activity," says Kálmán.
But he adds that the main reason researchers are turning to these ancient natural systems is because they are carbon neutral and use resources that are in abundance: sun, carbon dioxide and water. Researchers are using nature's battery to inspire more sustainable, man-made energy converting systems.
For a peek into the future of these technologies, Kálmán points to medical applications and biocompatible batteries. Imagine batteries made of enzymes and other biological molecules. These could be used to, for example, monitor a patient from the inside post-surgery. Unlike traditional batteries that contain toxic metals, biocompatible batteries could be left inside the body without causing harm.
"We're far from that right now but these devices are currently being explored and developed," says Kálmán. "We have to take things step by step but, hopefully, we'll get there one day in the not-too-distant future."
Partners in Research: This research was funded by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Posted: 22 Apr 2012 03:09 PM PDT
This article was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.
Northeastern states participating in America's first carbon cap and trade program have outperformed the rest of the country in GDP growth and reduction in global warming pollution.
That's according to a new report from Environment New Jersey, which examined emissions data and economic growth indicators from 2000 to 2009.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a nine-state cap-and-trade market designed to reduce emissions in the utility sector 10% by 2018. A recent independent analysis showed that the program has already created $1.6 billion in economic value and set the stage for $1.1 billion in ratepayer savings through investments in efficiency and renewable energy.
This latest report shows that states under the RGGI program saw a 20% greater reduction in per-capita carbon emissions than non-RGGI states — all while growing per-capita GDP at double the rate of the rest of the country.
It is, however, very difficult to pinpoint the exact impact that RGGI had on these emissions reductions. While the program has been in the works since the early 2000′s, it was only implemented in 2008. The combination of increased penetrations of natural gas and the economic downturn likely had the biggest roles to play in the emissions dip.
But some officials in the region believe that RGGI did play a part. SolveClimate News reported on reactions to the news:
While we can't say exactly what role RGGI played in these drops, we can make many other observations with certainty: The program has helped stimulate more efficiency and renewable energy, it has helped local businesses grow, it has added enormous economic value to the region, and it has not driven up electric rates.
Let's compare real-world experience to the outlandish claims made by opponents of the program.
The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity actually claimed that RGGI would drive rates up in New Jersey by 90%. And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pulled his state out of the program, calling it a "gimmicky tax." According to program administrators, proceeds from carbon credit auctions brought $29 million to New Jersey in 2010, leveraging $3 to $4 in benefitsfor every dollar invested.
Opponents who claim cap and trade is bad for the economy simply don't have a leg to stand on.
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