Friday, June 29, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

2 Electric Car Teams Racing Around the World

Posted: 29 Jun 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Ah, races around the world — so much fun. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for around-the-world stories, ever since Around the World in Eighty Days. From what I hear, two electric car teams are in competition to become the first to circle the world only powered by electricity. Here’s the story from Chris DeMorro of sister site Gas2 (enough Friday Fun for you yet?):

Two Electric Car Teams Vying To Be The First To Circle The World (via Gas 2.0)

The older I get, the more I subscribe to certain truisms, and it seems to me that truth really is stranger than fiction. Over a hundred years ago, Jules Verne penned "Around The World In 80 Days", a story about a wager to travel the width of the world in the ascribed amount of time. Electric car…

Turn Your Beer Mug into a Paint-On Solar Charged Battery

Posted: 29 Jun 2012 04:27 AM PDT

Rice U researchers develop paint-on li-ion batteryPaintable and printable solar cells are lowering the cost of solar power, and now researchers at Rice University have come up with a battery to match. They have developed a new paintable lithium-ion battery that can be applied to almost anything from beer mugs and bathroom tiles to plastics, glass and steel. Since the new battery can be charged with a small solar cell, the team envisions low cost, paint-on devices that can harvest solar energy and store it for later use, too.

Painting with Batteries

The new technology is based on separating the components of the battery into five  paintable solutions, like a high tech paint-by-numbers kit.

The positive current collector is based on carbon nanotubes, and the cathode contains lithium cobalt oxide. A third component is a polymer separator made with a proprietary resin called Kynar Flex (made by the company Arkema).

The anode contains lithium titanium oxide, and the negative current collector is based on an off-the-shelf copper paint.

That sounds simple enough, but the team found that getting the right properties to make the separator stick on was the tricky part.

Low Cost Solar Batteries on the Way

The team really did test the paint-on battery on a beer stein along with other common objects such as bathroom tiles, and they were able to power a light with it after charging the battery on either white light or the lab current.

The research-scale product was hand painted, but lead author and researcher Neelam Singh points out that it would be fairly easy to scale up the technology to commonly used industrial spray-painting techniques.

One key to lowering the cost of the technology will be to develop paintable solutions that can be applied in open conditions, rather than relying on vacuum deposition technology or other intensely controlled environments.

The New Energy Aesthetic

If solar inks and other liquid solar power technologies develop apace with paintable batteries, it’s likely to lead to a new generation of  options for architecture, interior design and product design, in which objects and surfaces can be used to harvest energy, store it and power lights and other devices.

The possibilities really multiply when combined with ultra-efficient lighting, namely OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology,  which enables the creation of entire light-integrated surfaces.

Image: Some rights reserved by Tusca Mendaharin.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

6 Useful, Portable, Solar-Powered Products

Posted: 29 Jun 2012 04:00 AM PDT

Everyone loves a good little solar-powered product, right? Here are six potentially useful and portable ones via sister site Green Building Elements:

Guest Post: Top 6 Useful and Portable Solar-Energy Powered Products (via

Have you missed an important call or appointment because while shopping all day long your cellphone runs out of battery and there's no available electric outlet wherein you can recharge it?  Have you ever wished you can bring your electric outlet (at home) to your camping site so that you will have…

On the Right Track: Green Buildings, Clean Energy News Highlights Obama’s Energy Policy

Posted: 29 Jun 2012 12:54 AM PDT

Photo courtesy: NREL

Leadership from the Obama Administration has set the federal government on the right track in terms of energy policy, engaging state and local government, private sector businesses and local public interest groups in efforts to boost energy efficiency and clean energy use. Two announcements this week drive the point home.

On June 26, the Obama administration announced that 36 additional states, local governments and school districts have joined the President’s “Better Buildings Challenge.” With nearly 300 million square feet of of building space in their care, joining the program not only helps insulate the owners of these buildings from high and volatile fossil fuel energy costs, it opens up the likelihood of putting thousands to work conducting energy audits and energy efficiency upgrades.

Joining the Better Buildings Challenge also lays the foundation for many years’ worth of work that will not only reduce energy consumption and wasted energy, but will reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of environmental pollution.

Further supporting Better Buildings Challenge members by streamlining federal administration related to the program, the Treasury Dept. is providing new tax guidance that will make it easier for state and local governments to gain access to more than $2 billion in existing low-cost financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, according to the US DoE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) news release.

Fostering Clean Energy Innovation

The Obama Administration announced another noteworthy piece of clean energy/energy efficiency news this week. On June 27, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the DoE is awarding more than $102 million in grants to 104 small businesses across the country to help advance clean energy innovation. The clean energy innovation grants will span small businesses in 26 states, “helping to continue to develop promising technologies with a strong potential for commercialization and job creation.”

Small businesses play a big role in the US economy. They created 64% of total net new jobs– 14.5 million in absolute terms– in the US between 1993 and 2008. Moreover, nearly 40% of the US science and engineering workforce are employed in small businesses, the EERE notes.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, employing half of all workers in America and creating two out of every three new jobs in the U.S.,” Secretary Chu noted in a statement. “Bringing these innovative technologies to market is just the latest step in the Energy Department’s efforts to support the critical role that small businesses are playing in creating jobs for American workers and expanding our country’s clean energy economy.

“These businesses are helping to reduce our dependence on imported oil and protect our air and water, while ensuring that the United States leads in the global clean energy race.”

The clean energy innovation grants are to be funded through the DoE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).

This week’s 104 grant award winners are in the so-called “Phase II” stage of clean energy innovation, at a point where they are ready to “build on the conceptual work undertaken in Phase I and pursue next steps in bringing the technologies to market,” the EERE press release explains. Phase II grants can total as high as $1 million for work spanning more than two years. Phase I grants can total as high as $150,000.

This week’s Phase II awards span a variety of renewable and clean energy technology, ranging from large wind turbine towers and particle accelerators for medical applications to more energy-efficient data centers and advanced imaging and X-ray technologies. Details of the 104 Phase II award-winning projects are available on the DoE Office of Science website.

Renewable Energy Group Leaders Winners of Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Central Midwest Award

Posted: 29 Jun 2012 12:30 AM PDT

Ernst & Young LLP recently announced the winners of their Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Central Midwest Award, giving the award to Ames, Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group's Chairman, Jeff Stroburg and President & CEO, Daniel J. Oh.

Awarded by an independent panel made up of previous winners of the award, leading CEOs, private capital investors, and other regional business leaders, the awards were presented at a special gala held early in June in Kansas City, Kansas.

Renewable Energy Group is a “biodiesel producer with a nationwide distribution and logistics system,” the company writes. “Utilizing an integrated value chain model, Renewable Energy Group is focused on converting natural fats, oils and greases into advanced biofuels. ”

Unsurprisingly, upon being awarded, Stroburg and Oh praised the employees of Renewable Energy Group for driving positive organisational results and attributed the company’s excellent status to the team as a whole.

Stroburg and Oh also recognized and thanked the company's shareholders during the ceremony; the firm went public via initial public offering in January 2012

"Ernst & Young has honored outstanding entrepreneurs like this year's winners for the past 26 years," said Randolph Buseman, Ernst & Young LLP Entrepreneur Of The Year Program Director for Central Midwest. "These business leaders have accomplished so much and contributed a tremendous amount to the community."

Source: Renewable Energy Group

Televisions Are Getting Bigger and More Energy Efficient

Posted: 29 Jun 2012 12:00 AM PDT

The big-screen television is the pride and joy of many households the world over — poor and less so — and as the years go by, those same huge-ass televisions are getting more and more energy efficient. According to the latest rankings of the 10 efficiency leaders in three size categories, even the largest model is operating on only 64 watts. That’s less than the typical incandescent lightbulb.

The stats come courtesy of nonprofit TopTen USA, which ranked the 10 most efficient televisions in three categories: small-, medium-, and large-sized TVs. Considering that televisions in the average US household are on for 5 hours every day, it’s good to know which TV is harming the environment the least.

“Choosing the best of the best matters,” says Norman Dean, Executive Director of TopTen USA. “Few consumers realize that there is a wide range of power use even among the relatively efficient televisions that qualify for the Energy Star label.”

What’s fascinating about that statement is the examples you can find to prove it.

Let’s look at the 60-inch Sharp LC-60LE847. It’s ranked second on the list of TopTen Large TVs for June 2012, is one of 59 Energy Star–qualified televisions that size, and uses an estimated 104.5 kilowatt hours of energy each year.

That’s almost half the number of other Energy Star–qualified, 60-inch models which are using as much as 195 kilowatt hours of energy a year.

TopTen Small TVs June 2012 TopTen Medium TVs June 2012 TopTen Large TVs June 2012
1 Magnavox 26ME402V/F7 1 Samsung UN40EH5000F 1 Sharp (Aquos) LC-70LE745U
2 Magnavox 22ME601B/F7 2 Panasonic TC-L42E5 2 Sharp LC-60LE847U
3 Samsung UN26EH4000F 3 Samsung UN40EH6000F 3 Sharp (Aquos) LC -60C7450U
4 Philips 26PFL4507/F7 4 Panasonic TC-L42D30 3 Sharp (Aquos) LC-60LE745U
5 Sansui SLED2480 5 Samsung UN32D4000ND 4 Samsung UN55ES6100F
6 Insignia NS-24E730A12 6 Samsung UN32EH4000F 5 Samsung UN60ES6100F
7 Magnavox 19ME601B/F7 7 Samsung UN32D4000ND 6 Samsung UN46EH5300F
8 LG 22LS3500 8 Philips 32PFL4507/F7 7 LG 47LM6700
9 Philips 22PFL4907/F7 9 Samsung UN32EH5000F 8 Samsung UN46ES6100F
10 Philips 22PFL4507/F7 10 Philips 32PFL4907 9 Samsung UN46EH6000F
10 Panasonic TC-L47E5

Samsung led the way with 12 of the 31 televisions on the three lists, including the top 3 places on the ‘Large TVs’ list, which is a TV of 46 inches in size or greater. Magnavox topped the ‘Small TVs’ list, which is for 31-inch TVs and smaller, with Philips, Panasonic, LG, Insignia, and Sansui also nabbing good places amongst the list.

For more information, including the methodology behind the assessment, head on over to the TopTen website.

Sol Invictus — German Government Cuts Solar FIT

Posted: 28 Jun 2012 04:50 PM PDT

Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun, was the roman sun god and patron of the late emperors. While the sun is without doubt invincible and, in human terms, a never-ending source of energy, the pro-solar energy policy of Germany has come under heavy attack this year. As a result, the German government has passed a law that will cut incentives for solar power, the solar feed-in tariff, by up to 20% today.

So, how is a massive cut for in incentives a win for the invincible sun? Well, here is my take on the events and why hearing "Germany decided to cut support for solar" is actually a victory in an ugly battle that might lead to global change… but that’s perhaps a bit too dramatic.



Once Upon a Time On a Battlefield

Attacks on the pro-solar policy framework of Germany are nothing new. They are actually more of a recurring event that happens every time the "Renewable Energy Act" gets reformed or whenever solar power installations break a record. All of this started with the stark opposition of the current government coalition against the "German Renewable Energy Act" back in the year 2000, when those parties weren’t in power. They especially disliked the concept of providing independent investors with a technology-specific feed-in tariff that was high enough to turn a profit if investors made wise choices when developing their project. Back then, Angela Merkel’s conservative party was basically fundamentally opposed to the the core principle behind the success of the “Renewable Energy Act.”

At the start and until 2003/04, this uncapped and guaranteed possibility to turn a profit with clean energy investments did not apply to solar power because it did still received subsidies in the form of a credit incentive program — the 100,000 roof program aiming for 350 MW of solar power. Disgruntled by the reality that the Renewable Energy Act has proven to be more successful and efficient than portfolio-standards/quota-systems, the opponents focused their criticism on the support of photovoltaic energy use in Germany… something that was a pure waste of money and would never accomplish anything according to their opinion. In 2009, the opposition parties of the early 2000s managed to win a majority in the federal election and form a government coalition. The parties are Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the free-market and business-friendly Liberal Democrats.

Here We Are Again

This February, things turned very ugly though, when the economics ministry (responsible for regulating conventional energy markets) and the environment ministry (responsible for renewable energy sources) proposed a rapidly drafted revision to the renewable energy act at a joint press conference. This draft was proposed just 6 weeks after another revision of the law went into force on January 1, 2012. The content of the proposal was so radical that it was soon dubbed "The Solar Phase-out Law," or even the beginning of a rollback of the "Energiewende" and nuclear phase-out.

In the eyes of the economics minister Philipp Rösler (the head of the free-market oriented "Liberal Democratic Party" and the vice-chancellor), a rapid revision was necessary due to the "out of control" growth of solar power capacity in 2011. Soon the usual bunch of anti-renewable energy vultures within the conservative party joined the criticism and voiced their support for rapid cuts to "contain solar energy." They are a relatively powerful group within Angela Merkel’s conservative party and have close ties to powerful industry groups and the conventional power and energy corporations. This anti-solar coalition of politicians within the government and vested economic interests in the private sector was also heavily disgruntled by the decision of its party leadership to speed up the phase-out of nuclear power a few months before. It's safe to say that the situation was serious and more than dangerous for effective pro-renewable policy. Especially since pro-renewable supporters are a minority within the government, and the public was distracted by the looming European debt crisis.

The original "Solar Phase-Out Law" proposal included a wide range of changes that were officially focused on reducing incentives to install more solar power. In reality, it was the strongest attack on the fabric of the successful "German Renewable Energy Act" since it was passed into law in 2000. Among the gems of the ministries’ wish list were harsh 30-40% cuts to feed in tariff rates, the ability to further adjust feed-in-tariff rates by ministerial decree without consulting the parliament and exempting 10-20% of the generated electricity from receiving feed-in tariff payments. To make things even worse, the proposed changes should take effect retroactively* only 2 weeks after the proposal was made. (*Retroactively because it was obvious that the legislative process to pass the law would take longer than 2 weeks.)

From Proposal to Legislation

What followed was a legislative dispute that took more than 4 months and was accompanied by a massive anti-renewable/anti-solar campaign throughout many media outlets that aimed at reducing the popularity of solar power among the public. But there were also pro-renewable/pro-solar voices in the media and even mass demonstration by the solar industry together with unions and activists.

The legislative process and dispute already started within the administration then raged on among the government coalition within the parliament. An altered version was then debated on the floor of the Bundestag (the German parliament), and finally at the Bundesrat (the upper house of parliament), where representatives of the state governments had to vote on an already heavily altered and softened version of the original proposal. But despite massive pressure by the federal government on the states to adopt the law, the events took a decisive turn as the state representatives voted to block the anti-solar legislation with more than two-thirds of the votes in a united effort across party lines.

This massive "NO" by the states forced the federal government to discuss a resolution of the conflict with a so-called "Mediation Committee" in accordance to the German constitution. One month later, and after a new environment minister was appointed by Angela Merkel just days after the Bundesrat decision, the committee reached an agreement last night which was passed by the Bundestag today.

The Result

With the agreement between the states and the federal government, the political dispute that dragged on for four long months and kept the entire German solar industry with more than 100,000 employees in limbo has finally come to an end.

Here is an overview of the changes, cuts, and the new solar FiT rates:

  • The law will take effect retroactively on April 1st. Projects that were already under development and received a permit before that date are exempt.
  • Small photovoltaic plants of up to 10kW will receive 19.5 euro cents per kWh.
  • Plants of 10-40kW will recive 18.5 euro cents per kWh.
  • Plants of 40-1000kW will receive 16.5 euro cents per kWh.
  • Plants of 1-10 MW will receive 13.5 eurocents per kWh.
  • Plants larger than 10 MW will no longer receive FiT payments.
  • FiT rates will decrease by 1% every month starting from July.
  • After 15 monthly cuts, cuts of 1% per year will begin again in 2014.
  • The federal government has pledged to draft a proposal to increase R&D for energy storage solutions as well as an incentive program aimed at the commercialization of decentralized storage solutions within the next 6 months.
  • FiT support (guaranteed profitability if properly planed) of solar power will cease when 52 GW are reached.
  • Photovoltaic power will continue to have priority on the grid beyond the 52 GW mark.

As you can see, the final results of this battle are not perfect, but they are world’s apart from what the anti-solar coalition had wished for. In fact, the most likely result will be a continuation of the solar power boom here in Germany for the years to come. Many analysts actually predict that the 52 GW mark could be reached as early as 2015/16, which would be a doubling of 40% of the solar capacity of the world within 3-4 years. While more solar power is awesome, there are too many ifs and hows to be really happy about the outcome. Furthermore, the discussion remains focused on how to integrate renewables into the “market” instead of the other way around. The big question is how to integrate the existing fossil power plants into a renewable-energy-dominated power system, not the other way around.

The Moral of the Story

Since the main purpose of this entire circus started by anti-solar members of the administration and government coalition was to prevent the further expansion of solar energy by rapid action and changing the rules in favor of the big energy corporations, this decision is more than a defeat for them.

Sol Invictus, the invincible sun, rules supreme but somewhat battered. All the gigawatts that will now be installed are important steps toward establishing a decentralized renewable energy system. Photovoltaic power is back on track to achieve the unthinkable in Germany. It could break the baseload-centric conventional fossil power system for the first time since the age of industrialization began.

Furthermore photovoltaic power might become the cheapest source of energy sooner than many people can imagine.

But before that day will come, there will most definatly be another attack on solar power… as it is tradition apparently. We’ll see when and how that inevitable next attack happens. 10 GW of new solar capacity might be a good reason to bring the circus back in down.

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