Monday, April 23, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Clean Energy Crowdfunding — Crowdfunding Wind & Solar Projects in the UK

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 07:24 AM PDT

clean energy crowdfunding

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,” 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 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

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.

The platform is aimed at individuals who are unable to install their own onsite wind turbines or solar panels but want to benefit from the returns of green energy projects.

It will also be open to businesses, pension schemes, charities and other organisations. The original investment is paid back over the lifetime of the debenture, or as a lump sum at maturity.

Resilient Energy’s project already has planning permission for a 500-800kW turbine it intends to install this year. Investments can range from £5 to £50,000 and Abundance has said it expects investors to get a rate of return of between 6.4 and 8.5 per cent during the lifetime of the project.

Debentures will be issued on a first come, first served basis, and the offer will close once the target amount is reached. Early bird discounts will also be offered to people from the Forest of Dean or nearby area.

The company aims to raise £250m of investment over the next five years and already has “several million pounds” of renewable energy projects planned for its first year.

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

Related posts:

  1. Looking for Help Crowdfunding an Eco or Social Enterprise?
  2. UK Groups Push for the Grassroots Solar & Wind Energy Route
  3. Clean Energy Projects & Business Link Drop

Renewable Electricity Generation up Considerably in Most US States

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-923, Power Plant Operations Report
Notes: Non-hydroelectric renewables include generation from wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable sources such as wood and wood wastes, municipal solid wastes, landfill gas, etc. Data for 2011 are preliminary. 

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.

renewable energy share hydroelectric

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.

Related posts:

  1. Electricity Generation Share from Renewables Up in US
  2. How Renewable Electricity Generation in Germany Has Changed (Chart & Statistics)
  3. Renewable Energy Accounts for 13% of U.S. Electricity by April 2009

Bicycles — Cleantech?

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 06:51 AM PDT

What is the purpose of cleantech and our coverage of it? There are many purposes, of course, but I’d say some of the top things on the list are addressing global warming, improving human health, reducing human suffering, increasing energy independence, creating a more democratic energy system, reducing inequality, and improving the economy.

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:

Related posts:

  1. Awesome Electric Bike (A2B Metro)
  2. On Bike Share System Provides Affordable and Sustainable Transportation Solution for Campuses
  3. Hertz Now Offers Electric Bicycle Rentals! (in London)

Carbon Nanotubes Improve, Cut Cost of Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Coincidentally, or not, researchers at Rice University and Tsinghua University have come to essentially the same conclusion as researchers at the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineeringcarbon nanotubes can help improve dye-sensitized solar cells and cut their costs. Here’s more detail on the matter from a Rice University news release (linked above):

Pei Dong, a graduate student at Rice University, holds a lab-built solar cell that combines a carbon nanotube current collector and a sulfide-based electrolyte. The combination could make such solar cells more efficient and less expensive than current dye-sensitized units. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

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.

A dye-sensitized solar cell developed at Rice University and Tsinghua University replaces platinum with carbon nanotubes and iodine electrolyte with a sulfide-based electrolyte. The researchers hope to make dye-sensitized solar cells better and cheaper. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

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.

Arrays of vertically aligned single-walled carbon nanotubes (VASWCNTs) grown at Rice University are key to making better and cheaper dye-sensitized solar cells, an alternative to more expensive silicon solar cells. The arrays are transferred to conducting glass, topped with a second electrode of titanium oxide and surrounded by iodine-free electrolyte developed at Tsinghua University. (Credit: Lou Lab/Rice University)

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.

Related posts:

  1. Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells with Carbon Nanotube Thin Films Cut Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell Costs
  2. Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells Reach Highest Efficiency Ever
  3. Gold & Silver Nanoparticles Improve Efficiency of Thin-Film Solar Cells at Australia's Swinburne University of Technology

Solar Cell that Shines in Order to Produce More Electricity (Record-Breaking Technology)

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 05:56 AM PDT

Solar cells are awesome, and LEDs are awesome, but what about solar cells that also act like LEDs — double awesome? It seems so, and perhaps most notably, such solar cells also have increased voltage.

Eli Yablonovitch and Owen Miller, who worked out the theory for the new solar cell efficiency. The monitor in the picture illustrates the new physics concept where increased light emission yields higher efficiency. Photo courtesy Eli Yablonovitch.

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:

“Fundamentally, it's because there's a thermodynamic link between absorption and emission,” Miller says. Designing solar cells to emit light – so that photons do not become “lost” within a cell – has the natural effect of increasing the voltage produced by the solar cell. “If you have a solar cell that is a good emitter of light, it also makes it produce a higher voltage,” which in turn increases the amount of electrical energy that can be harvested from the cell for each unit of sunlight, Miller says.

The theory that luminescent emission and voltage go hand in hand is not new. But the idea had never been considered for the design of solar cells before now, Miller continues.

A high-efficiency Alta Devices solar cell. Credit: Joe Foster, Alta Devices.

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.

Related posts:

  1. Silicon Solar Cell Efficiency World Record Set in Analytical Test by Solar3D
  2. Boeing to Start Commercial-Scale Production of High-Efficiency (but Not Record-Breaking) Solar Cells
  3. New Flexible Solar Cell on Plastic Efficiency Record

U.S. Teams with India in Massive New Biofuel Project

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 05:17 AM PDT

DOE partners U.S. with India for biofuel researchThe 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…”

Image: Some rights reserved by kevin.j.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Related posts:

  1. Tessera Wins BLM Approval for Massive Solar Project, (and Chevron: for a Tiny One)
  2. Europe to Invest in Massive Solar Power Plants in India
  3. Researchers Combine Brainpower on Massive Thermoelectric Project

The Road to 2020 (Part III): Real Ambition

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.

Real Ambition

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.

–> Continue reading about the German clean energy revolution on Page 2…

Related posts:

  1. The Road to 2020 (Part I) — Energiewende
  2. The Road to 2020 (Part II) — States on a New Course
  3. Germany, Denmark’s Renewable Energy Transition Empowering Offshore Wind (Part of Largest Infrastructure Investment Program in Europe Since World War II)

Huge Savings on Heating & Cooling Possible with Efficiency Controls

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 04:00 AM PDT

This is a guest post from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) — enjoy!

by Frances White, PNNL, (509) 375-6904

PNNL estimates potential HVAC energy savings for U.S. commercial buildings

PNNL researchers found commercial buildings could substantially cut their power bills if they retrofitted their packaged rooftop heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units, such as those shown here in the Seattle area.

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.

A Pacific Northwest National Laboratory study found that U.S. commercial building owners could save between 28 and 67 percent on their heating and cooling bills if they added four efficiency controls to their packaged rooftop heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, also known as HVACs. Estimated savings varied according to local climate and energy costs.

“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:

  • Air-side economizers use cool outside air to chill the building instead of creating cool air with the HVAC compressor. Some building codes already require cooling systems to include these, unlike the three other controls examined by the PNNL team.
  • Supply fan speed controls slow or speed up the ventilation fan that circulates the building’s air based on whether or not a desired temperature or amount of fresh air has been reached instead of continually running the fan at full speed.
  • Cooling capacity controls run the HVAC compressor at different speeds based on need.
  • Demand-controlled ventilation slows or speeds up fans and air intake based on carbon dioxide levels inside the building instead of running ventilation fans at a constant rate.

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.

Big savings

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.

Average Percent Cost Savings
Small Office 46 %
Stand-Alone Retail 43 %
Strip Mall 35 %
Supermarket 24 %

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.

Average Annual Dollar Savings Nationwide
Small Office $1,496
Stand-Alone Retail $10,820
Strip Mall $11,000
Supermarket $24,200

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.

Image Credits: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by PNNL – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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Awesome Electric Bike (A2B Metro)

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 03:00 AM PDT

Saturday night, I was having a chat with a friend here in Poland about an electric bike he wants to buy. Of course, I thought that was cool, since I’m super into bikes (including electric bikes). But when he shared this video of the sweet electric bike with me the next day, I thought, “Wow, that is a sweet one!” It’s not new — it’s a 2011 model — but I think it’s worth a share, so here’s that video of this beauty:

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How the Middle-East Revolutions Push Renewable Energy Forward

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 02:30 AM PDT

Since December last year, a wave of demonstrations has been taking place in many parts of the Middle East. Rulers have been forced from power and regimes have been brought down. The revolutions have also caused drastic changes in the economy, not only in this region, but all over the globe. How does the Arab Spring in the Middle East drive forward the development of renewable energy?

The Arab Spring spikes oil prices

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:

  • Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant in Morocco. This 500-MW CSP plant was announced back in November 2011 (one month before the Arab Spring broke out)
  • TuNur CSP plant in Tunisia, announced by the Desertec foundation in January this year. Once finished, the CSP plant will have a total capacity of 2 GW — roughly twice the amount of a typical nuclear power plant. In other words, it would be, by far, the largest solar thermal power plant ever to be built.

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).

PS10 solar power tower in Spain

PS10 CSP tower in Spain. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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:

“Abu Dhabi is becoming justifiably renowned as a hub for progress… we are on the brink of an exciting sustainable future — clean energy for all”

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:

"Job creation can help alleviate the poverty and corruption that triggered the Arab Spring. What Tunisia now requires, is a clear perspective for its young population to let them fulfill their rights, jobs, democracy and a path to prosperity. With the TuNur project we take a concrete first step in this way."

Source: Geopolicity's The Cost of the Arab Spring

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US Military Cooperates in German Small Town Energy Revolution

Posted: 23 Apr 2012 02:00 AM PDT

Bruchmühlbach-Miesau ©

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.

Successful Cooperation

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.

“This is the first time the US Military approved the construction of a community owned solar power plant within one of their bases.” -Mayor Werner

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:

  • a wind farm consisting of 10 turbines that generates about 37 GWh/a (image above)
  • a biogas plant that generates 2.7 GWh/a
  • and at least 200 rooftop solar systems generating additional 2 GWh/a

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.”

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Obama vs Romney on Energy (Chart)

Posted: 22 Apr 2012 05:29 PM PDT

Rebecca Leber of Climate Progress has put together a good chart comparing Obama and Romney on energy policy and energy policy statements. While the text is sometimes a bit flavorful with its style of writing / presenting of the facts, the content is very useful for anyone who cares about energy matters.

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


  • Oil production reached its highest level in eight years last year. Between oil and gas drilling rigs, the United States now has more rigs at work than the rest of the world combined. Imports fell to lowest level in 16 years, under 50 percent of oil consumption. [White House, 3/12/12]
  • Raised safety standards for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, strengthening well design, testing, control equipment and workplace safety. The region was not hurt economically by a temporary moratorium, which has the same unemployment as two years ago and had rising personal income in 2011. [White House,3/30/12, NOLA, 4/15/12]
  • Crude oil production from federal lands and waters was higher in 2011 than any of the last three years of the Bush Administration. [Energy Information Administration,3/14/12]


  • Opens up the Florida portion of the Gulf of Mexico to new drilling, the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelves, public lands, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Accelerates drilling permits. [, 2011]
  • Called the temporary moratorium on drilling in the Gulf following the Deepwater Horizon disaster "illegal." [CBS News,3/9/12]


Big Oil Subsidies


  • Calls on Congress to end oil subsidies and to double down on clean energy investments. [White House, 3/28/2012]
  • Pledged to cut subsidies for oil, coal, and natural gas internationally, among G20 nations. [Economist,10/1/09


  • Romney's plan cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, but does not make specific mention of oil and gas loopholes which let oil companies pay much lower effective federal rates. [Mitt, 2011]
  • Romney has blasted Obama for wanting to close these loopholes for the industry, saying the president is increasing taxes. [, 3/4/12]
  • Asked directly in an interview about whether he is for or against subsidizing Big Oil, Romney responded: "I'm not sure precisely what big tax breaks we're talking about." [Fox News, 4/3/2012]
  • Romney supports the House Republican budget, which preserves the $40 billion in subsidies for the oil and gas industry. [Center for American Progress, 3/20/12]


Gas Prices


  • "There's no silver bullet. Anybody who tells you otherwise isn't really looking for a solution; they're trying to ride the political wave of the moment." [LA Times, 3/16/12]
  • Domestic oil production is at its highest level in eight years, but drilling has no correlation to gas prices, the Associated Press confirms. [AP, 3/22/12]
  • Rein in market oil speculators with more funding for market oversight and CFTC, increased penalties for illegal activity. Dodd-Frank financial reform includes rules on speculation [CNN, 4/17/12; Media Matters, 4/18/12]


  • "He's now decided that gasoline prices should come down. The gas hike trio has been going in the other direction. Time for them to go, probably hand in their resignations if he's really serious about that." [Boston Globe, 3/19/12]
  • Calls to repeal Dodd Frank and opposes reining in Wall Street speculators, calling Obama's move "gimmickry" [, 4/17/12]


Energy Efficiency


  • Finalizing new modern standards requiring cars and light-duty trucks to achieve an average fuel economy rating of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — double the rate in 2010. These savings will cut U.S. oil use by 2.2 million barrels per day by 2025—a move that will save drivers $8,000 per vehicle due to fewer gasoline purchases compared to a 2010 car. [White House, 3/12/12]
  • Began the Better Buildings Initiative, which makes commercial facilities 20 percent more efficient by 2020. [NYT, 12/3/11]
  • Directed federal agencies to make $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades in two years. [NYT,12/3/11]


  • Against raising standards for energy-efficient lighting, which was coauthored by Republicans and signed into law by President George W. Bush. "The government would have banned Thomas Edison's light bulb," Romney said. "Oh yeah, Obama's regulators actually did." [Huffington Post, 3/19/12]
  • Supports the House GOP Ryan budget, which would cut investments in energy efficiency by 20 percent in 2013. [, 3/19/12]


Public lands


  • Announced he would "allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes." [1/24/12]
  • Signed a sweeping public lands bill in 2009 that designated two million acres of wilderness and three national parks. [AP,3/31/09]
  • Created a national monument of a Civil War-era Fort Monroe, Virginia, embracing the 1906 Antiquities Act. [National Trust For Historic Preservation, 11/1/11]


  • Romney said "I haven't studied […] what the purpose is of" public lands. But he finds it unacceptable when conservation is "designed to satisfy, let's say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state." [McClatchy, 2/16/12]
  • Fully embraced the House Republican budget from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), calling it "bold and brilliant." It sells off 3.3 millions of acres of national parks and public lands. [ThinkProgress, 3/21/12]


Global Warming


  • "I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here's the thing — even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy." [White House, 1/27/10]
  • State Department is leading a group of countries in a program that cuts global warming pollutants like soot, methane and hydrofluorocarbons. [NYT, 2/16/2012]
  • Issued the first ever carbon pollution rules for power plants, affecting new coal-fired power plants. [NPR, 3/27/12]


  • Doesn't believe carbon pollution is a threat, reversing his stance as governor: "I don't think carbon is a pollutant in the sense of harming our bodies." [Politico, 7/18/11]
  • "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us." [CBS, 10/28/2011]
  • Says the Clean Air Act doesn't apply to carbon emissions: "My view is that the EPA in getting into carbon and regulating carbon has gone beyond the original intent of that legislation, and I would not take it there," [Politico, 7/18/11]


Air Pollution From Power Plants


  • Unveiled historic rules that limit harmful mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. The initiative prevents 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year, and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms [EPA, 12/21/11]


  • 'Aggressively" develop all our coal sources. "Coal is America's most abundant energy source. We have reserves that—at current rates of uses—will last for the next 200 years of electricity production in an industry that directly employs perhaps 200,000 workers. [NYT, 4/3/12]
  • Against new EPA regulations of harmful mercury and air pollutants from coal: "I think the EPA has gotten completely out of control for a very simple reason. It is a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private enterprise system, to crush our ability to have energy, whether it's oil, gas, coal, nuclear." [The Hill, 12/5/11]


Fuel efficient cars


  • New modern standards require cars and some trucks to achieve an average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. This cuts U.S. oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels of oil per day by 2025, saving Americans $1.7 trillion and cuts carbon pollution. [White House, 11/17/11]
  • Set a goal that by 2015 there would be 1 million electric vehicles on the road. [White House, 3/12/12]


  • Disparaged the Chevrolet Volt as "an idea whose time has not come" and "I'm not sure America was ready for the Chevy Volt." [Michigan Live, 12/23/11, MSNBC 4/5/12]
  • Against fuel efficiency standards, calling it "disadvantageous for domestic manufacturers." [WJR Radio, 2/23/12]
  • Advocates ending federal loan program helping companies develop and produce efficient cars. [Orange Country Register, 10/24/11]


Clean energy


  • "I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here." [State of the Union, 1/24/12]
  • Transforming the Pentagon into a clean energy operation, reducing the military's dependence on fossil fuels that cost the Pentagon up to $20 billion annually. Investing in hybrid batteries. [National Journal, 4/11/12]


  • "You can't drive a car with a windmill on it." [ThinkProgress, 3/6/2012]
  • Endorses the Ryan House Republican budget, which gives a 60 percent funding increase to coal, oil, and natural gas, while it decreases funding for research on vehicle batteries and solar projects, and loans for fuel-efficient cars. [Politico, 4/17/12]
  • Against the government promoting clean energy, though supports tax loopholes for oil: "Let's pretend for a moment that [Solyndra] didn't go bankrupt. Let's just pretend it was successful … When he picks one [business] that the government gets behind with $500 million, the investments in all the others disappear, because no one wants to compete with the government." [The Hill, 12/20/11]


Green Jobs


  • Historic level of investment in clean energy, a sector now with 3.1 million Americans employed. In 2008, Obama promised to create 5 million green jobs. [AP, 3/22/12]


  • Repeatedly called green jobs fake, for example calling them "illusory" in an op-ed. "[Obama] keeps talking about green jobs, where are they?" [OC Register, 10/11, League of Conservation Voters, 9/15/11]
  • Against renewable energy production credits, which risks the end of 37,000 jobs, according to a figure from Navigant Consulting [Chicago Tribune, 2/17/12]

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Nature’s Billion-Year-Old Battery Key to Storing Energy

Posted: 22 Apr 2012 03:26 PM PDT

This article was originally published on the website of Concordia University.

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.

László Kálmán is an associate professor in Concordia's Department of Physics.

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.

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States in NE Cap & Trade Program Have Increased GDP at Twice the Rate of Other States, Cut CO2 20% Faster

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:

"It's very clear that emissions have decreased in the Northeast. I think it's largely because of low natural gas prices, plus the effects of RGGI on top of that," said Bob Teetz, vice president of environmental services at National Grid USA, a Waltham, Mass.-based electric and gas company. The utility operates 4,000 megawatts of natural gas power plants in Long Island, N.Y.

"All of these efforts are bearing fruit," Ken Kimmell, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, told InsideClimate News. "We very much expect that that progress will continue," as the economy gains strength, he said.

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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