- At 50% Renewables, PG&E’s “Green Option” Looks to Offer Customers More Clean, Renewable Power
- SolarCity & Tesla Motors Team Up to Offer Off-Grid Living
- Ford to Recycle Money?
- Solar Energy Storage Pilot Project
- Energy-Efficient Light Bulb Savings Calculator
- The Convenient Truth about Green Jobs
- Ferrari Working on Green Hybrid
- Ferrari’s Super Sweet Private High-Speed Rail Plans
- Cleanweb — Next Big Step for Cleantech?
- The Gasoline-Free Future and How to Get There, If Ever
- Harvard Crowd-Sources Organic Solar Cell Research Project
- Why “Passive Activities” May Be Clean Energy’s Biggest Hurdle
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 10:20 AM PDT
More than 50% of Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) now comes from renewable energy sources with greenhouse gas emissions of zero, but the pioneering power utility isn’t stopping there. PG&E yesterday announced it has requested California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) regulators for approval of its Green Option program.
Customers, public officials and environmental advocates have united in their call for PG&E and its peers in the California power sector to look for more ways to promote and foster renewable energy development and use and reduce their carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the company noted in a press release. “On behalf of our customers, PG&E is already one of the largest suppliers of renewable energy in the country,” said PG&E senior vice president and chief customer officer Helen Burt.
“We have heard from many of our customers, however, who want to do even more to support clean energy and the green economy. Our Green Option, backed by an independent third-party’s environmental certification, will give them that choice.”
Another Green Option for PG&E Customers
The San Francisco-based electric utility’s Green Option program entails it purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) “to match the portion of each participating electric customer’s energy that is not already covered by PG&E’s eligible renewable energy deliveries.”
RECs verify that the energy customers purchase comes from clean, renewable sources, such as wind farms and solar energy systems. Through the Green-e Energy program, PG&E will work with the SF-based non-profit Center for Resource Solutions to validate the voluntary RECs the utility purchases on behalf of customers who sign on to the program.
Joining with PG&E to help the program succeed are the cities of Berkeley, Carmel, Davis, Hayward, Napa and San Jose, all of which “plan to collaborate with PG&E to make the program a success.” Prominent environmental organizations are also lining up behind the program, which PG&E expects to launch in 2013 given CPUC approval.
PG&E in 2010 reduced its CO2 emissions from electricity sales nearly 25% to 15.6 million metric tons, their lowest level since the electric utility began publicly reporting them in 2003.
PG&E’s CO2 emissions rate fell 23% to 445 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity delivered to its customers. That was 35% lower than the California average and just 1/3 the national average for electric utilities. PG&E's emissions rate takes into account emissions from both PG&E-owned power generation and power purchased from third parties, the company noted.
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 10:00 AM PDT
Tesla Motors Teams With SolarCity For Off-The-Grid Homes (via Gas 2.0)
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, has ensured that his company is more than just a car company. If anything, Tesla Motors is a battery company, selling its lithium-ion battery packs to the likes of Toyota, Daimler, and now SolarCity, installer of solar panels. The two companies have been working for…
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT
Ford Looking To Add Shredded Money To List Of Recyclable Materials (via Gas 2.0)
As automakers continue to look for ways to make themselves more profitable and efficient, their interest in renewable materials has grown and grown. With many old petroleum-based standbys growing more expensive oil prices took off, car makers like Ford are looking to renewable alternatives. One alternative…
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 04:30 AM PDT
S&C Electric, a leading smart grid and energy storage company based out of Chicago, is starting work on a pilot project that will store solar energy using lithium-ion batteries. The £200,000 project will involve a 75kW lithium-ion battery system at an “eco-home project” in an undisclosed location.
“The average home uses around 1.5kW of electricity so the battery should provide power for around 50 homes in the development,” Andrew Jones, managing director for S&C Electric Europe, said. “The system can also control how you feed energy back to the grid. Without that control you would have to dig up the road and add cables to export the unused solar power.”
As energy storage costs (especially li-ion battery costs) drop, energy storage combined with increasingly cheap solar power becomes more and more attractive. I have the feeling this pilot project is the start of something big. Of course, S&C Electric is hopeful it is as well, but it is also pushing for increased policy support for energy storage to push this possibility forward.
“One of the challenges for energy storage is there are not the clear market signals for firms to invest in the technology and bring the costs down…. There needs to be a signal from policymakers to show storage firms the market will be there if they invest in bringing costs down.”
As we’ve written previously, there has been a push to get an energy storage act implemented in the U.S. If it were, the energy storage market would expand at a much faster rate and costs would come down more quickly (as they have for solar and wind power). However, as with anything energy related these days, grid lock in Congress is preventing anything good from happening at the moment.
Meanwhile, projects like the one above and like the new largest energy storage station in the world (a BYD project in China), keep the sector moving forward and keep providing us with optimistic news to pass on to you.
Image: solar panels & sun via Shutterstock
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 04:00 AM PDT
GE has launched a cool energy-efficient light bulb savings calculator on its GE Lighting website. The calculator, of course, only features GE light bulbs (6 of them) — would be great if someone created such a calculator/webpage for a larger selection, especially with some LED bulbs added in. Nonetheless, I think the main purpose this serves is showing people how much they can save by switching to more efficient bulbs. Playing with the calculator for a second, I think you are definitely pushed to go for the most efficient bulbs, since they clearly offer the most savings.
Anyway, take a stroll on over to the calculator to check it out yourself and be sure to share it with others, especially those less likely to already be aware of the financial savings that come from energy-efficient lighting.
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:53 AM PDT
It's time to take back the narrative about clean energy.
Since the bankruptcy of a few high-profile clean energy companies, political opponents and media pundits have tried to label the entire industry a failure. This is a gross distortion of the on-the-ground reality — and it shows how disconnected people are from what's really happening in this sector.
The clean energy industry is extraordinarily diverse, ranging from small contractors to massive industrial manufacturers. Recognizing the local value these sectors provide, states around the country are putting policies in place to attract new businesses and large amounts of private capital. And it's working.
Massachusetts is the perfect example. After signing the Green Communities Act into law in 2008, the commonwealth has seen an explosion of new companies. There are now 64,000 people employed in Massachusetts' clean energy sector today.
I traveled to the commonwealth with Andrew Satter, our senior video producer at the Center for American Progress, and brought back this piece from the front lines of the clean energy economy.
This article was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:49 AM PDT
Video: Ferrari Previews V12 Hybrid-KERS System For Upcoming Supercar (via Gas 2.0)
For fans of performance cars, there is nothing in the world quite like a Ferrari. You don't even have to like cars at all to love the Ferrari, the epitome of European excess and luxury wrapped in a sleek supercar package. Yet unlike other European automakers, like Porsche, who has embraced hybrid…
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:39 AM PDT
Ferrari Trains Take To The Track In Italy (via Gas 2.0)
When I first read this story, I thought it was some kind of belated April Fools post. A Ferarri train you say? Seems impossible, impractical, unaffordable. Yet the Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori (NTV) is the first, and largest private high-speed rail line to open in Europe, and many rich and powerful…
Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:31 AM PDT
Why Cleanweb Will Beat Cleantech (via Ecopreneurist)
An excellent slideshow on the huge potential of cleanweb to scale clean technology and really make an impact with – reduced emissions, better lifestyles and a better, more powerful tomorrow. What is Cleanweb? According to Sunil Paul,who coined the term- CleanWeb" is a category of clean technology…
Posted: 24 Apr 2012 08:13 PM PDT
Since I’ve been reporting on acceptable alternative fuels that smartly divert us from global dependence on nothing but fossil fuels, this recent news from MIT highlighting an auto industry perspective on the proposal for an Open Fuel Standard caught my eye. The spokesman, Toyota's Tom Stricker, discussed a number of relevant items, including consumer acceptance of flexible-fuel vehicles and the price, the engine that drives most transportation decisions.
What follows is the published MIT story, my emphasis (bold/underline) and comments added between block quotes:
Let’s steer clear of ethanol for right now, noting this dubious fuel alternative has completely upended the way corn was once a basic food worldwide, and read more from Nobel prize chemist, George Andrew Olah, who co-authored “Beyond Oil & Gas: The Methanol Economy.”
Granted, our government once provided subsidies to support the capital outlay of automobile manufacturers making FFVs for California but the contribution was nowhere even close to the billion-dollar range.
Of course nothing has been mentioned about methanol, the fuel used at the Indianapolis 500. Get information from the Methanol Institute.
Of note, there is no mention of M85 (85 percent methanol) here, which was regarded as a highly successful FFV program in California for 25 years until it was ended in 2005.
California’s former FFV champions might strongly disagree with this.
Judging from the history of the California FFV program, there was an abundance of available technology and contented drivers, even back in the 1990s.
In this era, we need to be more aggressive in demanding fueling alternatives that can blend with fossil fuels and the worldwide supply chain they support. This is really a critical issue. Gas and oil have been here such a long time, helping drive transportation technologies and infrastructures that would have otherwise been impossible. Fossil fuels might never be completely scratched from the lineup. Instead, the best term to keep in mind might be naturally occurring attrition.
Posted: 24 Apr 2012 07:00 PM PDT
A crowd-sourced solar cell research initiative at Harvard University called the Clean Energy Project is about to get a big boost: the initiative, which has relied on a network of home and office personal computers, is scheduled for a block of time on the Trestles supercomputer at the University of California, San Diego. The project is designed to help develop the next generation of low cost organic solar cells.
A supercomputer and crowd sourcing mashup
The supercomputer will enable CEP to leap over a number of less-than-ideal factors that can hobble distributed computer networks, including hardware compatibility, data transfer, and donor scheduling.
Despite the impediments, since its inception in 2010 CEP has already catalogued more than 6 million molecular motifs that could lead to the development of next-generation solar cells based on organic technology.
The molecules were submitted by a network of volunteers recruited through the World Community Grid, a project of IBM, which recently made headlines for an advanced energy research project to improve electric vehicle battery performance.
When the CEP database is available later this year, it will speed up the pace of organic solar cell development by enabling researchers to perform relatively inexpensive computer modeling to identify promising molecules; that is, molecules capable of absorbing the broadest possible spectrum of sunlight and convert it into usable energy.
Without the database, the characterization of organic molecules is a laborious, expensive undertaking.
Advantages of organic solar cells
Solar cells based on organic materials – basically, polymers or types of plastic – have a number of advantages over conventional silicon cells. They have the potential to cost far less, partly because the manufacturing process is relatively simple and energy-efficient. They use little or no toxic substances and their light weight, flexibility and transparency provide for a multitude of uses that are prohibitively expensive or impossible to achieve with silicon.
Dr. Alán Aspuru-Guzik, an associate professor at Harvard who leads the CEP initiative, explains the overall advantages of organic technology:
"Solar cells are environmentally friendly but still very expensive investments," said Aspuru-Guzik. "Highly engineered materials are needed, as well as novel designs for solar cells and fuel cells based on organic molecules, which often require compounds with very specific characteristics to efficiently capture and/or storage energy. To make them cost-competitive and more widely accessible, we need new, inexpensive materials that perform better than existing technologies."
The Trestles supercomputer
Like CEP, the Trestles supercomputer is also relatively new, having been deployed at UCal-Davis in February 2011. It is part of a nationwide system of open-access research called TeraGrid.
The name Trestles refers to the supercomputer's potential for use as a bridge to help data-intensive but modestly scaled research projects get to the next level.
According to U-Cal's press materials, Trestles debuted at #111 on the top 500 list of supercomputers. It can run at a peak speed of 100 teraflop (one teraflop is equal to one trillion calculations per second).
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 24 Apr 2012 04:42 PM PDT
The "passive activities" issue has to do with an important IRS determination to prevent wealthy people from creating more tax shelters. The basic idea is that if you earn tax credits from investments that you don't "materially participate in" (e.g. investing in a wind farm) then you can only use those to offset taxes that you pay on the same kind of income (e.g. renting property). Both activities are considered "passive," because the rich person isn't the wind farm mechanic, nor are they typically the rental property superintendent.
In renewable energy, it means that the two major federal incentives — the Production Tax Credit and the Investment Tax Credit — can only be used to offset passive income tax liability. And since few Americans own rental property or have other passive income liability, it means few Americans can effectively invest in renewable energy projects and get these credits.
The rules on passive income taxes and credits can't be effectively changed because, as tax attorney Greg Jenner puts it, "it would be like pulling on the thread in a sweater. The passive loss rules are the primary defense in the tax code against tax shelters and once you start to unravel them, there will be no turning back."
Thus, using the tax code to boost renewable energy creates two major problems: artificially capping the renewable energy market and curtailing local ownership.
I outlined the first issue in December, in Federal Tax Credits Handcuff Clean Energy Development:
Local ownership of renewable energy also suffers when incentives come through the tax code.
The logical entities like cooperatives, schools, or cities are ruled out because federal wind and solar incentives are for taxable entities, not these rooted community organizations. Instead, communities seeking local ownership have to either perform complex legal acrobatics to set up private corporations or sacrifice as much as half of the value of the tax incentives by forming a partnership with a tax equity partner. When community wind projects succeed, like with South Dakota Wind Partners, organizers admit that repeating the success is unlikely in light of the legal and financial complexities.
It's understandable in today's political climate that renewable energy boosters spend more time on keeping existing incentives alive, but if Americans hope to (someday) achieve a 100% clean energy future, they will need energy policy that's no longer handcuffed to the tax code.
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