Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Carpet Mimics “Mud Hole” to Harvest Energy from Ocean Waves

Posted: 20 Jun 2012 10:58 AM PDT

UC Berkeley mimics mud for wave energy carpetCarpets and mud don’t usually make a good pairing, but a new energy-harvesting “carpet” takes its inspiration directly from, yes, mud. Currently under study at the University of California, Berkeley, the rug-like device would mimic the ability of muddy sea floors to absorb energy from ocean waves, and it would convert that energy to electricity.

Mud, energy and waves

As described by writer Ceri Perkins at Physics World, mariners have been known to seek out a “mud hole” when a storm is on the rise, knowing that waves are likely to be calmer in areas where the ocean floor is thick with mud.

Likewise, researchers have long been intrigued by the ability of muddy seabeds to absorb energy from ocean waves.

At UC-Berkeley, researcher Mohammad-Reza Alam envisions an elastic “carpet” that would rest on springs. The gravitational force of waves overhead would make the carpet ripple, just as it interacts with mud on the sea floor, and that movement would be transferred to generators.

Power from the ocean floor

In a recently published abstract detailing the results of his studies, Alam describes his “carpet of wave energy conversion” as a “synthetic seabed,” but that doesn’t mean that the horizontal structure would rest on the seafloor, let alone smother anything beneath it.

So far, Alam has demonstrated the carpet concept in computer modeling. Further development is needed to design an optimal height and placement for the structure that would anchor it to the seabed, and environmental impact parameters would have to be established to identify appropriate types of sites.

More wave power carpets

Another approach is the Wave Carpet developed by the Texas-based engineering firm KBSI, with the help of funding by the Office of Naval Research.

The Wave Carpet is designed to float, not to rest on the ocean floor, but like Alam’s wave carpet it could also serve the dual purpose of generating energy while creating relatively calm areas in ocean waters.

KBSI foresees its Wave Carpet being used to created buffer zones around aquaculture sites or around other ocean power generating equipment such as ocean thermal energy conversion stations.

More ocean power from the Navy

Funding for KBSI’s Wave Carpet is just one of the Navy’s forays into wave and ocean power generation.

The Navy’s wave power demonstration site in Hawaii has been upgraded to serve as a test bed for promising new wave energy technologies from the

private sector, and the Navy has provided funding for Lockheed Martin to develop a new kind of ocean thermal energy conversion system.

Image: Some rights reserved by Bob Richmond.

Follow me on Twitter:@TinaMCasey.


Stion Sets New Solar Efficiency Record of 14.8% for Commercially Available Monolithic CIGS Modules

Posted: 20 Jun 2012 07:36 AM PDT


Stion, a US company manufacturing high-efficiency, thin-film solar modules, today announced that it has achieved a new aperture efficiency record for fully certified, monolithically integrated CIGS, commercial modules (65 cm x 165 cm). The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) verified the 14.8% aperture efficiency (and 13.4% module efficiency).

These solar modules are manufactured at Stion’s Hattiesburg, MS factory.

"Reaching 14.8% efficiency on a commercial module out of our factory in MS is a significant operational and technical advancement," said Chet Farris, Stion's President and CEO. "We plan to continue driving our technical roadmap while maintaining our focus on capital costs and product costs."

Just this March, Stion’s first commercial shipment of these modules from its 100-megawatt production was sent out.



"This is a truly outstanding result and we congratulate Stion on its rapid progress in Hattiesburg," said Rommel Noufi, the lead researcher for thin-film solar cells at NREL. "Achieving 14.8% efficiency using a large-area production process indicates that Stion is continuing to make significant innovations in CIGS technology that are reproducible and scalable. It speaks to the continued importance of US-made thin-film modules in helping meet the Department of Energy's SunShot goals."

Due to the rapid price in conventional PV solar panels, some have declared the imminent death of thin-film solar. However, thin-film certainly still has some advantages and with continued advancements combined with a balancing of supply and demand in the conventional PV market, thin-film solar may still have a promising future.

“Stion's unique approach to CIGS leverages proprietary materials and device expertise along with a robust, high-volume manufacturing process based on readily available, standardized equipment,” the company notes. “Utilizing a monolithically integrated circuit design instead of assembling individual cells into a module enables a lower bill of materials and more streamlined manufacturing process.”

For those who have mentioned this in the past, or might be curious about this, I am planning to create a “Solar Facts” page that lists all current solar efficiency records, as well as other key solar facts… but it’s going to take a little while longer for me to get to that. In the meantime, we’ll be sure to update you on any new solar records (like the one above) that come across our desk.

Source: Business Wire
Image Credit: Stion

Commercial Solar Now Cost-Competitive in US

Posted: 20 Jun 2012 07:09 AM PDT

this film solar panels

Editor’s note: the costs discussed below, of course, do not take into account the important health benefits and environmental benefits of using solar power instead of dirtier alternatives. Add those in, and we’ve got an even better solar cost situation. Of course, the Stanford researchers were looking at the price of going solar for utilities and businesses since that is the primary factor  they consider. However, for businesses, the CSR and publicity benefits of going solar are also important (even financially beneficial) and are not examined by the researchers.

A conversation with Stefan Reichelstein on the economics of solar power.

STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS — Nearly everyone thinks that generating electricity via solar power is good for the environment, but there's much less agreement on whether it makes sense from an economic point of view. At what point will solar power be competitive with electricity generated by conventional, fossil-fuel plants, and how long will subsidies need to remain in place before the solar industry can stand on its own? Those are some of the questions addressed in "The Prospects for Cost-Competitive Solar PV Power," a new working paper by Professor Stefan Reichelstein of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Michael Yorston, graduate student in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford. Their paper breaks new ground in studying the life-cycle cost of electricity generated by solar photovoltaic, paying particular attention to key factors such as location, public subsidies, and the long-term learning effects in manufacturing solar panels.

Here is an excerpt from our discussion with Professor Reichelstein:

Stanford GSB: Why did you decide to study the economics of solar photovoltaic power at this time?
Stefan Reichelstein: Renewable energy and solar in particular remain rather controversial in the public debate about energy policy. Passions have been running high. What motivated me is the bewildering range of statements you have out there regarding the cost effectiveness of electricity based on solar PV. Given the range of opinions, I wanted to do my own analysis. I'm looking at it from the point of view of a business economist who is interested in measuring the life-cycle cost of this abundant energy source.

Your main conclusions?
Solar PV is not yet competitive with fossil fuel, like natural gas, from the perspective of a utility that can either build a new natural gas power plant or invest in solar installations.

For a commercial power user, say a business with plenty of rooftop space, the cost of generating your own electricity is now on par with what the business would need to pay in retail electricity prices. In that sense, grid parity has been achieved for commercial-scale installations. However, I need to add immediately that this is subject to two important qualifiers. The facility has to be in a favorable location, such as the Southwestern United States, and secondly the business must be able to take advantage of the current federal tax subsidies.

Concerning the future, and this may sound like a pun, the future of solar PV looks rather bright. The industry has consistently been able to lower the cost of solar panels. If this trend can be maintained for the next 10 years, and if subsidies are continued for that period, there is a real prospect for solar to become cost competitive on its own (that is, without a subsidy), at least for commercial installations. Utility-scale installations will take longer to become competitive; possibly 15 years, though it obviously becomes murkier to make projections that far into the future.

What happens if subsidies disappear or are sharply reduced?
The current federal tax subsidies come out of the Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and will be in place until 2016 unless Congress changes the rules. The solar panel manufacturing industry has been on a remarkably steady learning curve for several decades now, which has pushed down the systems price of solar panels at a dramatic rate. However, this learning curve seems very much dependent upon production volume. So, if the tax subsidies were to cease, new production volume would probably be lower, and the effect of that would be to slow down the rate of cost improvements.

If the current preferential tax treatment is kept in place for about the next 10 years, and the observed learning curve holds up, we are projecting that, at that point in time, solar-generated electricity would be competitive with that generated from fossil-fuel power plants.

Why will it take longer for utility-scale installations to stand on their own, than for commercial-scale installations?
You have different benchmarks. For commercial-scale – and also for residential — solar, the benchmark is the retail price of electricity, while for utility-scale projects it is the wholesale price. The difference between the two is the cost of transmission, distribution, and administration; that is, everything that gets you from generating the power to delivering it to your customers.

What assumptions are you making about the cost of generating electricity from fossil fuels?
We believe that natural gas, as opposed to coal, is the most important fossil fuel competitor to renewable energy. In our cost projections, we have assumed a modern combined-cycle gas power plant with the price of natural gas given by the historical average observed in the United States over the past 10 years.

Are you factoring in the price of oil?
No. Oil is not used widely to generate electricity. The price of oil would be relevant to our analysis only to the extent that you want to compare gasoline-powered cars against electric vehicles.

Isn't it true that panel costs have dropped sharply because of excess capacity in the industry?
Yes, solar panel producers are waiting for demand to catch up with current industry capacity. Until that happens, the panel producers will continue to hurt in terms of profits. In the last year, panel price came down about 40%, a drop that can't be attributed to the learning curve alone. Without the capacity glut caused by new entrants, but taking into account the historic learning curve, we would have predicted a drop in prices of about 20% in 2011. Without the excess capacity in the industry, our estimate of the current life-cycle cost of electricity generated by solar PV would have been about 15% higher than it was.

In large part, solar PV panels are semiconductors; does Moore's Law apply to them as well?
Yes, in a sense. Moore's Law speaks to the rate at which the number of transistors doubles on an integrated circuit. In the context of solar panels, it appears that whenever the total cumulative amount of panels produced doubles, the unit cost decreases by 20%.

What is driving the economics of solar power?
A mix of federal tax incentives has been especially helpful to commercial-scale installations, and even to home installations. We've also seen dramatic growth in recent years of utility-scale installations despite their current cost disadvantage relative to fossil fuel power plants. The reason appears to be the additional subsidy mechanisms at the state and local level. Here in California, Assembly Bill 32 (a 2006 law that set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and the state's "renewable portfolio standard," which requires that 33% of California‘s electricity come from renewable resources by 2020, seem to be driving demand. Other countries (such as Germany) have different subsidy mechanisms that yield similar effects.

– Bill Snyder

This post originally appeared on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website.

Image: solar panels on Walmart stores via Walmart Stores

Air Canada Makes Its Very First Biofuel Flight

Posted: 20 Jun 2012 05:35 AM PDT

Air Canada made its very first biofuel flight on Monday, heading from Toronto to Mexico City, in an effort to focus the spotlight on the industry’s commitment to greener transportation.

The flight was made by an Airbus 319 using recycling cooking oil and jet fuel for the journey. According to the aircraft maker, this could cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 40 percent. The flight took place to coincide with the Rio+20 summit, a United Nations sustainable development conference in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, and it was organised by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

“Today’s flight with Air Canada proves that the aviation industry is in a strong position to reduce emissions,” said Fabrice Bregier, president and CEO of Airbus.

“To make this a day-to-day commercial reality, it now requires political will to foster incentives to scale up the use of sustainable biofuels and accelerate modernization of the air traffic management system,” Bregier said.

“We need a clear endorsement by governments and all aviation stakeholders to venture beyond today’s limitations.”

Source: AFP

East Africa to See Natural Gas Boom?

Posted: 20 Jun 2012 05:34 AM PDT

A huge swathe of natural gas reservoirs have been discovered off the East coast of Africa and are set to catapult the region into being a major natural gas player on the world scene.

Already, planned investments worth tens of billions of dollars actually exceed the gross domestic products of some host nations, including the regional powerhouse Kenya, and all the way down to the impoverished Mozambique.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, East Africa’s coastal region — which stretches out to the Seychelles — holds 441.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas; that’s approximately 50 percent more than in Saudi Arabia.

“The gas discoveries offshore in Mozambique and Tanzania are large and world-class, with potential for more to come, including prospects for an oil leg,” said Duncan Clarke, CEO of oil consulting company Global Pacific.

“These finds will lead to LNG (liquefied natural gas) plants … and will make the zone akin to the Northwest Shelf in Australia,” which can produce 23 billion cubic meters a year, he told AFP.

Baobab field next to Pemba bay, Pemba, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.

For example, Houston-based Anadarko in June announced that it had found up to 60 trillion cubic feet of natural gas resources in northern Mozambique, which led to the company proposing an investment of $15 billion to set up LNG facilities. Mozambique’s gross domestic product for 2011 was only $12 billion.

“It will bring a huge flow of foreign direct investment in the region that would contribute to rapid economic growth in the region,” said Silas Olang, east African coordinator from resources watchdog Revenue Watch Institute.

But there will be difficulties in setting up major industry in the region.

“There’s very limited infrastructure in place,” said Tim Dodson, vice president for exploration at Norway’s Statoil on the company website.

Mozambique is, again, a good example of the problems that will be faced. Pemba is a port city, and the closest for offshore drillers. It is located 3,000 kilometres north of the capital of Maputo, linked by dirt roads and with very little housing.

Not only that, but the countries in question lack the skilled workforce to set up such industries, with only 50 mining graduates a year.

Time will tell, but the hope is that the investment and risk of losing said investments will minimise the soon-to-be expected corruption so native to the region. This won’t be a problem solved anytime soon, though — production is planned for five years from now, and may take even longer.

“There could be the expectation that natural gas will be exploited tomorrow and we’ll benefit immediately,” said Olang. But that simply is not going to be the case.

Of course, the green community is a bit split on natural gas. Many see it as an important “bridge fuel” to more truly clean, renewable energy. However, others have shown that it’s effect on the climate is so bad that it’s not worth using as a bridge fuel (even if that’s all it would be used for, which seems debatable in the instance above), and it has also been linked to earthquakes on several occasions and pollution of local water supplies.

I know our readers are also a bit split on natural gas — what are your thoughts about all this?

Source: AFP
Image Source: F H Mira

Congress Still Hates Biofuel (For the Military)

Posted: 20 Jun 2012 05:09 AM PDT


The U.S. military is — perhaps unsurprisingly — one of the driving forces behind alternative fuel sources; after all, not being dependent on potentially hostile foreign countries for vital fuel is a matter of national security. However, in the short term, said alternative fuels are more expensive than standard fossil fuels, and that creates a few problems.

A recent study done for the U.S. Air Force by the RAND Corporation concluded that higher prices for alternative fuels are unlikely to drop any time soon; as massive a consumer of fuel as the U.S. Defense Department is, it's only a fraction of the worldwide market and can't significantly influence price. In other words, the production scale needed to make alternative fuel competitive with fossil fuels just isn't there, and the Defense Department can’t make that happen on its own.

Congress Still Hates Biofuel, Apparently

The study is a response to a measure recently proposed that would block the purchase of biofuels unless said biofuels are comparatively priced with petroleum-based products. (The matter of subsidies is, at this point, irrelevant; while the subsidies do artificially drive the cost of fossil fuels way down, they do exist and it is uncertain what the price of fossil fuels would be without them in any case.) The measure itself is a response to U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and several million spent on biofuel for a green fleet exhibition.

Mabus believes that the U.S. is capable of creating a market large enough to drive prices down across the board. RAND researcher James Bartis disagrees, according to Reuters:

“Pending a major technical breakthrough, renewable jet fuel and marine fuels will continue to be far more expensive than petroleum-based fuels."

Short-Term Monetary Concerns > Long-Term National Security?

Congress is dubious about Mabus' beliefs, claiming that he doesn't have the numbers to support his declarations. Bartis, in the report, claims that military fears of running out of fuel are invalid, as it consumes less than half a percent of global daily demand — much less, even, than the United States produces domestically.

The study then went on to say that the Navy and the Air Force are vital to stabilizing oil-producing regions, mostly by ensuring safety at sea. Bartis and the study do not, however, assess the finite nature of fossil fuels, at which point the military's fear of running out of fuel in the long term suddenly starts to look very credible indeed.

Questons or comments? Let us know below.

Source & Image: Reuters

High Winds, Boston High-Rises, and Eastern Wind Power Vertical-Axis Turbines

Posted: 20 Jun 2012 01:48 AM PDT

Photo courtesy: Eastern Wind Power

An interesting, if somewhat belated post on urban wind power:

You don’t usually think of cities as prime sites for wind turbines, but Eastern Wind Power (EWP), a manufacturer of vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWT), is evaluating installations on 10 Boston high-rises.

Chicago, justifiably, has earned the moniker, “The Windy City,” but Boston is even windier, EWP notes. The company has installed Onset Computer Corp. weather stations atop two buildings, according to a June 14 press release, including 60 State St. and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Connected to the Web, the weather stations will provide EWP the data it needs to assess the potential for its VAWTs to cost-effectively produce clean, renewable electrical power for on-site use. Assessments for the remaining eight high-rises are expected by 2013.



Getting a Handle on Wind Speeds at Elevation in Boston

Wind energy’s power potential is proportional to the cube of its speed. As such, obtaining accurate, comprehensive readings on wind speed over time are critical to evaluating possible sites, EWP explains. The Department of Energy estimates that an average wind speed of 5.6 meters/second, about 12.6 mph — which is about the average in Boston — has almost twice the energy available as a site with a 10 mph average.

At the utility scale, wind turbines keep getting bigger, with the latest models slated for use in offshore wind farms capable of generating as much as 6 MW of electrical power. In contrast, vertical-axis and small-wind turbines are “Lilliputian” in scale, Eastern points out. The vertical-axis design and much smaller footprint of EWP’s 50-kW VAWT makes installing them in densely built-up urban areas feasible, however.

Another important aspect of EWP’s plan to install its VAWTs on Boston high-rises is that wind speeds increase substantially with elevation. At 509-feet, the 60 State St. building isn’t Boston’s tallest, but EWP expects encouraging data from the weather station it has installed there.

Based on a site study conducted atop MIT’s Green Building in Cambridge, EWP estimates that a Sky Farm array made up of 10 of its 5-kW VAWTs erected atop a 500,000-square-foot high-rise could cut purchased grid power by 10%. A single Sky Farm installation would generate around 45,000 kWh of clean, renewable electricity per year, sufficient to power six to eight homes, EWP says.

“One turbine can power a building’s electrical emergency/backup, eliminating the need for a diesel generator,” commented EWP president Jonathan Haar. “It can also produce more usable energy than a 10,000-square-foot solar photovoltaic array.”

EWP has been working with Siemens to improve its generator and inverter. A working prototype was installed at Martha’s Vineyard Airport in 2010 and is now grid-connected and generating electricity.

$2.24/Watt vs $4.44/Watt: Solar in Germany vs Solar in the US

Posted: 19 Jun 2012 03:06 PM PDT

As reported previously, Germany had about 21.6 times more solar power installed per capita at the end of 2011 than the US (301.47 MW per million people versus 13.973 MW per million people). In absolute numbers, Germany had about 5.63 times more solar power installed (24,678 MW versus 4,383 MW). These differences also translate into big differences in solar costs, as the most recent installation cost numbers show.

According to BSW Solar, the average cost of installed solar power per watt peak was €1.776, or $2.24, in Q2 of 2012 (as we noted back in May). By contrast, as the most recent GTM Research and SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report finds, the average price per watt for solar in the US was $4.44 in Q1 of 2012. That’s a pretty huge difference. And it’s just a testament of what strong solar policy can do for solar power costs.

“Since Germany is dominated by rooftop systems (72 percent of installations in 2011), this is an impressively low number,” Greentech Media writes. “Assuming a module price of around $0.90 per watt peak, this implies an average balance of system cost of $1.34 per watt peak.”

As our resident German writer Thomas would probably note, a solar revolution in Germany was never a given — it has been fought consistently and solar power myths have been spread far and wide there just as they have in the US. And they still are. But the efforts and intelligence to push it to this amazing point have clearly been greater compared to the opposition than in the US so far.

At least it leaves us with an example to look up to and proof for the naysayers.

And, of course, it’s not to say solar power prices aren’t dropping in the US. As mentioned less than a week ago, the average price of installed solar in the US decreased 17.2% from Q1 2011 to Q1 2012.

Going on along these lines, Greentech Media writes: “Residential system prices fell by 4.8 percent from Q4 2011 to Q1 2012, with the national average installed price falling from $6.18 per watt to $5.89 per watt. Non-residential system prices fell by 6 percent quarter to quarter, from $4.92 per watt to $4.63 per watt. Utility system prices declined for the eighth consecutive quarter in a row, dropping from $3.20 per watt in Q4 2011 to $2.90 per watt in Q1 2012.”

Additionally, it makes the DOE’s SunShot goal of getting installers to put solar up for an average price of $2/watt pretty darn do-able, doesn’t it?

Assuming that solar hardware costs are pretty similar in the US and Germany, one of the prime culprits for the higher overall costs is the “soft costs” of going solar, which is exactly what the SunShot Initiative is currently taking aim at.

More Solar Power in TX Could Save Consumers Over $520 Million, New Study Finds

Posted: 19 Jun 2012 12:52 PM PDT


A new report released today analyzed how much electricity prices for Texas consumers would have been reduced in the summer of 2011 by adding solar capacity to the Texas electricity market. In total, it found potential savings of over $520 million for state electricity consumers.

Additionally, the study found that additional solar capacity would help considerably to reduce growing blackout threats in the state.



Potential Impact of Solar PV on Texas Electricity Markets

The study, "The Potential Impact of Solar PV on Electricity Markets in Texas," examined “the total potential cost savings for electricity customers through reduced prices from additional electricity generation, lower fuel costs from utilizing solar instead of additional fossil fuel electricity generation, and the lower costs for operation and maintenance that come with solar energy.”

The key findings of the report are that “adding photovoltaic solar to the Texas electricity grid in the summer of 2011 could have saved customers an average of $155 to $281 per megawatt hour (MWh) and that avoiding fuel, operations and maintenance costs associated with fossil fuels plans could have saved customers an additional $52 per MWh. Taken together, the total customer benefits of adding solar PV to the Texas grid was valued at more than $520 million.”

Aside from electricity prices, a major concern facing Texas residents this year is that Texas electricity reserves have fallen below targets and will, thus, challenge operations this summer. Additionally, with extreme and prolonged high temperatures this summer (likely), “rotating outages are possible.”

“During last year’s unseasonably hot summer, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the Texas electricity grid, was forced to issue six conservation alerts because of record electricity usage in the state, resulting in electricity shutoffs for customers who volunteered for cutbacks during emergency conditions.”

Solar is a natural fit for Texas electricity grids and for solving this problem, given that solar production would peak when electricity demand peaks in Texas.

“Texas needs more on-peak capacity,” Pat Wood, former chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said. “Solar delivers on peak, it doesn’t use water and it doesn’t create any smog pollution. It is increasingly affordable, competing favorably with other peak-of-the-day resources.”

Aside from the important cost benefits, the benefits of reduced blackout threats (or even fewer blackouts) from more solar on the grid are hard to quantify.

The report was conducted by analysts from the Brattle Group, a consultancy focused on the energy sector, with funding being provided by the Energy Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Image Credit: Duke Energy solar panel installation in San Antonio, TX via Duke Energy

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