Thursday, June 28, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Remote Microgrids Will Help Developing World

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 07:46 AM PDT

A recent report has shown that remote microgrids are likely to play a crucial role in the surging appetite for power as the developing world requires more and more energy with the expected increases in population and raise in living standards among the chronically poor.

The demand for energy in the developing world — specifically, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America — is expected to grow in tandem with projected increases in human population and rising living standards among the chronically poor. In particular, the demand for electricity is growing much more rapidly in these burgeoning economies than the rate of expansion of conventional electricity grids in the major industrialised world.

Hence the report from Pike Research, which found that remote microgrids are especially suited to help meet this surge for electricity, and they can do so without increasing the carbon emissions.

According to Pike Research, “the global remote microgrid market will expand from 349 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity in 2011 to over 1.1 gigawatts (GW) by 2017, the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts, translating into total projected revenue for the sector of more than $10.2 billion by 2017.”

"A widening recognition of the contribution renewable energy makes to rural development, lower health costs (linked to air pollution), energy independence, and climate change mitigation is shifting renewable energy from the fringe to the mainstream of sustainable economics," says senior analyst Peter Asmus. "Remote microgrids can serve as the anchors of new, appropriate scale infrastructure, a shift to smarter ways to deliver humanitarian services to the poor."

Funnily enough, despite remote microgrids being the most commercially advanced of the microgrid sectors, they are still relatively unknown to investors and vendors. Nevertheless, that is changing, as large companies who are involved in a wide variety of microgrid markets focus their attention on remote microgrid sector, among them General Electric.

Source: Pike Research
Image Source: Rejané Claasen

Bauhaus Boat/Barge/Houseboat for Sale and Completely Solar Powered

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 07:40 AM PDT

“Bauhaus is a British build groundbreaking electrically powered cruising houseboat, combining sophisticated insulation with the most up to date, well proven energy producing devices and energy saving appliances.” And now you can read all about it, and even relish in a video of the Bauhaus created by the vessels own creators.

There has been a lot made of this boat/barge/vessel/flat/house — people wanting to know how it was made and how they could make their own.

Well, the vessels creators heard your cry and have provided a massive blog post explaining “Was ist das?”

The boat is fully solar powered using a “1.7kw PV system which provides you in the current setup in central London with enough energy to cruise or live pretty much carbon neutrally throughout the year.”

Apparently the Bauhaus is currently up for sale — originally built in the Netherlands it has since been moved to London. If you want to know anything about the vessel, or in fact, if you want to know everything about the vessel, check out the website.

Tablet PCs Save Energy — iPads Cost Only $1.38 Per Year to Charge

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 07:36 AM PDT

Before we get started, I think you should know that this particle story pertains to tablet PCs in general, and their ability to save a considerable amount of electricity, and the iPad is just an example of one. Tablet PCs, in general, consume little power, so it isn’t that the iPad itself is particularly efficient.

Back of Samsung Galaxy Tab

The power consumption of desktop PCs is almost always less than 100 watts. Most of the time, however, cumulative energy usage (total energy used over a period of time) is a sum of the appliance’s time in use and wattage. Time used is just as important as wattage.

You will realize the importance of this in the computer calculations I make below.

In other words, cumulative power consumption/energy usage equals appliance wattage multiplied by time used (more detailed explanation).

Real World Example:

A common but low-power personal desktop computer with a dual core CPU (this is the predecessor of the faster i3 processors) consumes 40 watts on average with normal use and a few programs open, such as the Google Chrome browser, Skype, and a text editor.

If you haven’t already realized, the power consumption (in watts) of such a computer is equal to 40 times the time used. It is common for people to leave their personal computers on all day — in extreme (but still common) cases, computers are left on for 24 hours per day. 40 x 24 = 960 Wh (Watt-hours), or 0.960 kWh, assuming that all power-saving features are turned off. (I made this assumption for the sake of simplicity because people’s computer usage and power saving settings vary widely.)

After a month, this amounts to 28.8 kWh, which costs $2.88 USD, assuming an average electricity cost of $0.10 per kWh. The total annual cost is $34, which is about 25 times more than the tablet PC mentioned above. Despite the fact that tablet PCs have very limited capabilities compared to desktop PCs, and do not provide anywhere near the performance that desktops do for the money, they are portable, convenient, and energy efficient.


I cannot tell you what is best for you. Tablet PCs are not for everyone, so, please think carefully about whether a desktop, laptop, or tablet PC would suit you best.

Another thought about DC-powered tablet PCs: they are easier to power with solar! Solar panels generate DC current by default, which can charge tablet PC batteries, so only a solar panel and voltage regulator is needed to charge a tablet PC, rather than the larger and, hence, more expensive inverter, batteries, voltage regulator, and solar panel that would be required for a desktop PC.

If you do want a tablet PC, good choices are available, such as the Toshiba Thrive product line, as well as that of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, and the Blackberry Playbook.

Photo Credit: 3 Sverige

Cheap Pay-As-You-Go Solar for Developing Countries (Awesome)

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Very seldom do I use the same title as a story I’m reposting, but I couldn’t come up with an alternative to this one… except by adding “Awesome” at the end, which it is. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a huge fan of developing countries leapfrogging fossil fuels and going straight to decentralized solar energy. Here’s another story on a company we’ve covered a couple times before, Eight19, via Priti Ambani and sister site Ecopreneurist:

Cheap Pay-As-You Go Solar for Developing Countries (via Ecopreneurist)

When you switch on a light- you have power! Quite literally. The power to connect, to use modern technology, listen to music, run advance cooking appliances. But the same power also ends itself to some very basic needs like plain and simple light – to read, study, cook. More than half a billion in…

ROI a Misused Metric for Electric Vehicles? (Response to “Honda Fit EV Faces Tough ROI Arguments”)

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 06:11 AM PDT

ROI is a consideration that is increasingly referenced by implication if not specifically mentioned in alternative energy issues. It is a tool designed to reduce uncertainty and, like other such cost/benefit considerations, it attempts to take human errors and uncertainty out of the decision-making process.

Recently, Eric Loveday compared the Honda Fit EV to its petrol counterpart. In his analysis, using the return on investment (ROI) to compare the vehicles, the EV came up wanting. But it is humans that make assumptions when using this measure. It is humans that suffer the effects of pollution. It is humans that may suffer a shortage of petroleum. And so it is humans who must decide how we should spend our funds. ROI is a formula that artificially abbreviates a problem we might have difficulty putting into words. We can use a formula but how often do we assume that ROI is an unbiased and absolute truth not requiring further clarification?

The Assumptions in ROI

The formula for ROI is relatively simple: the net benefit of an investment/cost of the investment. The net benefit is the gains less the cost. If the overall value is negative or if there are other potential investments with a higher ROI then they are recommended. This is the justification Loveday uses to compare the petrol to the EV Honda Fit. But the simplicity is also the problem. “Benefit” and “cost” must be defined — simple enough when we are only dealing with money but what about our time, risks, prestige in ownership, or simply public opinion.

While ROI is at home with financial analysis, it is often applied to other considerations. We could speak of the ROI of children. They are certainly an investment of time and money, but we don’t, because our goals are not strictly to get the highest return. Like owning an EV, we may simply want to enjoy the experience. For a long time, car advertisements have appealed to the experience and not the financial analysis of ownership. Yet when it comes to an EV, suddenly we are supposed to start considering the returns on our investment? At the least we can conclude that this view of the EV, when negative, is more like a political attack advertisement.

ROI is part of a family of Financial Management Tools, including cost-benefit analysis, payback periods, Internal Rate of Return (IRR), Net Present Value (NPV), and Economic Value Added (EVA). Each one gives us a window, or perspective, on an intangible financial situation. It is only a shorthand to describe that situation into a label: the investment, the kids, the car. It is a simplification and not an entire picture. If Loveday errors, it is in the presumption that the label of "the car" is the situation and that ROI narrowly considered is the only measure of value.

What is Not Included in ROI?

ROI is a measurement within a specific time frame. It is the return on investment within a year, the duration of the lease, or the lifetime of the vehicle. The analysis favors quick returns over stable or even sustainable ones. An owner can run both the Fit EV and the petrol EV in his garage and, according to Loveday’s calculations, the petrol EV will have a higher ROI as long as the owner survives. Carbon monoxide poisoning is outside of the scope of this ROI analysis. This is equally true of pollution in general, the political implications of depending upon foreign oil, the financial implications of our balance of payments, and the resulting national debt. But it doesn’t have to be, because all of these things are also benefits and costs. They are part of the intangible situation of owning or operating an EV.

Loveday assumes that the petrol Fit and the EV Fit are essentially the same vehicle and feels it is similar to comparing two petrol vehicles, something that is often done. Graphite, coal, coke, charcoal, lampblack, graphene, diamonds, and bucky balls are all made of the same element, but because the potential usage is so very different, they might as well be entirely different substances. The EV may look like a car, but the motor is very different.

Loveday assumes one vehicle for all situations immediately putting the EV at a disadvantage. The contrary assumption of a daily commute through several miles of stop and go traffic would put the petrol vehicle at a disadvantage. The electric vehicle excels at short distances and, for a two-car family, it often becomes the vehicle of choice. The actual intended usage, the situation, will entirely change the results.

“Garbage in Garbage Out"

If we choose to narrowly define our costs and benefits, the answer supplied by ROI will be similarly limited. The human decision process has flaws, and so we turn to guidelines like logic and formulas, but part of that process is the assumptions (human decisions) we make using an ROI metric. And so we may have only moved the flawed decision process back to the level of assumptions and gained only the appearance of certainty.

We want certainty and we need accuracy, but when our need for certainty over-reaches our desire for accuracy, we tend to accept any answer. It is the quest for certain answers that drives us to formulas, but may also bias us to eliminate or assume anything where we can’t supply a hard number. And then the ultimate mistake is to assume our final answer is somehow better than the information we originally supplied.

ROI may assume we have unlimited funds or at least a “disposable income” beyond our necessities. For many, the present commercial electric vehicles may be out of the question. A ROI analysis with assumptions different from those offered by Loveday may show another electric vehicle package, like the Leaf, a very good investment over 3 to 5 years, but it will require capital up front. Those who most need financial relief, may find that they simply don’t have enough upfront capital that will allow them to afford the cheapest long-term alternative. In this case, ROI does not supply a practical answer to the family car.

Why Do We Favor ROI Analysis?

We may have some reluctance in being critical of ROI. It seems to suggest a weak mind that can't handle numbers. That same kind of reluctance was the subject of a story you may remember as a child: "The Emperor's New Clothes." No one wanted to admit there was a problem because it would reflect upon them.

Over the last 200 years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed corporations as people. This doesn't make it so, but corporations have become the Emperors of our world, and similar to dealing with children or the insane, we bow to what they are capable of comprehending. Business policy is too weak to handle intuitive leaps of understanding. And so, the ever adaptable human uses formulas like ROI to bend and dehumanize life into a business perspective. This twisted mindset threatens to increasingly make us work for our money (like mini corporations) instead of making our money work for us.

What Can We Assume?

Life is not going to be reduced to formulas. The return on investment is only one measure of what might be considered a “wise” decision process. The next time you hear an article or someone mention return on investment, take a careful look at what benefits and costs are not being considered in order to make sure it is not only the "appearance of certainty." In the end, ROI is a tool. It is not a person. It is not a goal. It may not even be “truth.”

Photo Credit: Honda Fit

Hydropower Continues to Grow Steadily

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Hydropower is the grandfather of renewable energy. But it’s still growing at a steady clip. The bulk of the recent growth, as with just about everything energy related, is in China. Here’s the story from the Earth Policy Institute on sister site sustainablog:

Hydropower Continues Steady Growth (via sustainablog)

By Hayley Moller World hydroelectric power generation has risen steadily by an average 3 percent annually over the past four decades. In 2011, at 3,500 billion kilowatt-hours, hydroelectricity accounted for roughly 16 percent of global electricity generation, almost all produced by the world's 45…

Making Better Biofuels, from Beer Broth

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 05:31 AM PDT

Cornell researcher make fuel products from beer brothCornell researchers have figured out a way to make biofuel products from beer broth,  and their findings are so exciting that the normally unflappable Royal Society of Chemistry has conferred “hot” status on a paper describing the beer-to-biofuel process. The beer broth in question isn’t suitable for tippling, which makes it a little less exciting to some of us, but it could lead to a low-cost method for producing high-value biofuel precursors.

A Beer Broth Primer

Like beer, ethanol is produced by microbial digestion in the form of yeast fermentation. In the two-step process, starches like cornstarch are converted to sugar by enzymes, and then the sugar is converted to ethanol by yeast.

According to writer Anne Ju of Cornell, the fermentation broth for ethanol is identical to that of beer in terms of its chemistry, which is why the ethanol industry calls it “beer broth,” except that for a variety of reasons you would not want to drink it.

Ethanol is water-soluble, so the next step to producing fuel is to separate ethanol from the water in the beer broth. This distillation process is energy-intensive, and it is a main reason why the cost of ethanol fuel relatively high.

A Step Toward Low Cost Biofuel

The Cornell team approached the problem from the perspective of creating an oily, non-soluble fuel precursor in beer broth that could be separated from water without undergoing expensive distillation.

Using donated beer broth from a nearby corn ethanol plant, they tailored the community of microbes in the broth to draw the fermentation process out to a series of steps.

The end result was a fuel precursor called caproic acid, a fatty acid that occurs naturally in some animal fats.(Another name for caproic acid is hexanoic acid, referring to its derivation from hexane, which is a constituent of gasoline).

The tricky part was to get the pH and temperature into the right range, to prevent the microbes from shifting over to methane production.

What Now, Beer Broth?

According to Ju, the process can be integrated easily into existing ethanol production facilities. However, researchers used 5-liter tanks for bioreactors, which is quite a bit smaller than the massive commercial scale tanks used in the ethanol industry. Scaling up will be the next hurdle.

Now that the concept of tailoring beer broth communities has been proven, the team also expects to be able to create communities of microbes that produce other products, too.

A Bioeconomy Role for Beer

While we’re on the subject of beer, it’s worth nothing that drinkable beer has been starting to play a role of its own in the emerging bioeconomy, which President Obama recently expressed as the National Bioeconomy Blueprint for transitioning the U.S. out of fossil fuels and petrochemicals.

Noted microbrewery Karl Strauss got a jump on things a few years ago, when it started up a venture to convert its waste yeast to ethanol.

At the mega-brewery end of the scale, AB-InBev (formerly Anheuser Busch) recently partnered with Blue Marble Bio to convert brewery waste into carboxylic acids (fatty acids used in soap making, among other things) as well as biogas.

Image: Some rights reserved by Greencolander.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

24-Hour EV Distance Record Set by Renault Zoe

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 05:00 AM PDT

I think we actually mentioned this in one of our news roundups, but with Gas2 posting a full piece on it, I wanted to just go ahead and give this cool story a little more of a spotlight. Check it out Chris’ story on the Renault Zoe setting a new 24-hour EV distance record:

Renault Zoe Sets 24 Hour EV Distance Record (via Gas 2.0)

In case you haven't noticed, I have been focusing my posts on more sporty, fun, and sexy green car posts than in the past. Yet not every record requires a high-performance car, and with electric cars still in their infancy, there are lots and lots of records up for grabs. The latest record-setter…

Happy Chevy Volt Drivers (Videos)

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 02:00 AM PDT


Chevy has put out a handful of videos of users discussing the Volt (in a good way, of course). The Volt had the highest satisfaction rating in Consumer Reports of any car in the most recent ratings, so Chevy is happy to tout its owners’… happiness. Who wouldn’t be? We actually featured some happy Volt owner comments we had received here on CleanTechnica back in April, and this seems like a good natural extension of that. Check them out and let us know if you have any extra comments:

h/t Climate Denial Crock of the Week

Solar Power is Alive and Kicking in Spain, but Flawed Electric Power Act Needs Correcting

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 12:49 AM PDT

Photo courtesy Abengoa

A hangover of bad debts from a speculative real estate/property boom threatens to overwhelm Spain’s banks, the national government and the entire economy, potentially bringing about the demise of the single European currency, the euro, along with it. Generous feed-in tariff (FiT) rates for solar and wind energy also led to a boom in Spanish renewable energy, one that’s been deflated as a result of the fiscal austerity that the Spanish government has subsequently been forced to take.

That’s not to say that its FiT hasn’t created lasting benefits and value for the Spanish, or for Spanish commercial enterprises. Spanish installations of utility-scale and distributed solar and wind energy systems will produce clean, renewable electrical power for decades to come, helping insulate consumers from rising fossil fuel costs. They’re also making big cuts in CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as all the other forms of environmental pollution fossil fuel use brings. That’s not to mention all the political pecadillos (use of euphemism here) that will be avoided.

Renewable energy has also been a rare bright spot for Spain in terms of investment and job creation, which stands out starkly given an unemployment rate of some 25%. Spanish companies such as <a href="“>Abengoa, Gamesa and Iberdrola, among others, have become leading multinational players in the solar, wind, renewable energy and clean technology markets, contributing significantly to growing renewable energy use around the world.

A Bright Spot in an Otherwise Gloomy Picture

Solar and wind installations continue to be built in Spain despite the debt/credit crisis. Abengoa yesterday announced the that Helios 1– the first of two parabolic trough concentrated solar power (CSP) plants– went live at the Castilla-La Mancha Solar Complex.

The Castilla-La Mancha Solar complex consists of two identical 50-MW CSP plants. Outfitted with 360 parabolic solar collectors installed over an approximately 110 hectare (280 acre) area, Helios 1 will produce enough clean, renewable electricity to power some 26,000 Spanish households, all the while substantially avoiding CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions– some 31,400 tons of CO2 per year, according to the company.

Abengoa’s become a world solar power leader, having an installed base of solar capacity totaling 593 MW in commercial operation, as well as 1,060 MW under construction across Europe, the US and Africa.

“For the first time in its history, Spain occupies a position of leadership in a major technological-industrial sector of growing importance worldwide. In our country, the renewables sector directly employs over 120,000 people, generates 1 % of GDP, and invests 2.67 % of its contribution to GDP towards R&D; more than double the national average,” writes Abengoa chairman Felipe Benjumea.

“Spain is a world leader in solar thermal technology which provides employment for 25,000 people, with the vast majority of jobs found in regions with higher unemployment rates, and also enables the curbing of burdensome imports of fossil fuels. Spanish companies are building more solar thermal plants abroad than inside Spain, maintaining higher value-added activity in our own country with the resulting development in other sectors, payment of the corresponding taxes, job creation, and the exportation of cutting-edge technology.”

Electric Power Act Flaws Benefit Nuclear, Hydropower at Consumers, Environment’s Expense

Spain still relies on volatile, increasingly expensive and polluting fossil fuels for around 70% of its power needs, the overwhelming majority imported. Moreover, the FiT for solar and renewable energy has not contributed significantly to Spain’s so-called “Tariff Deficit” and debt problems. If anything, it’s been a flaw in Spain’s Electric Power Act that allows nuclear and hydro power providers to charge rates indexed to the rising costs of fossil fuels that have added to Spain’s fiscal shortfalls, according to Benjumea.

The FiT rate premium for Spanish nuclear and hydro allow providers is inflated, allowing them to sell electricity from nuclear and hydropower plants to consumers and the public through the government, at rates correlated not to their cost of production, but to the market price of oil.

“They have sold their energy at very high prices, benefiting from rising oil prices and producing the paradox that the higher the price of oil the dearer the sales price of hydro and nuclear energy in Spain. This is what has caused the €24,000m ($36 million) deficit in recent years,” according to Benjumea. “Of course, this would never have happened had the previous Government tackled the problem eight years ago.”

The first step the Spanish government should take to remedy the situation and help alleviate Spain’s debt crisis is for the government to deduct the amount it’s overpaid to nuclear and hydropower providers over the years from what’s currently owed to them, Benjumea asserts.

Too right, particularly in light of the fact that Spain’s Electric Power Act was, at least at first glance, was formulated to boost sustainable economic and jobs growth, enhance Spain’s energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation.

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