Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Original Video: Renewable Energy in Germany 2012

Posted: 20 Jul 2012 05:10 PM PDT

Sometime ago, I was asked in a comment how common photovoltaic systems are in Germany today. So, I thought I would make a little video to answer that question once more. Some of the clips were recorded in April, but most of them just a few days ago.

Since the year 2000, Germany has developed from a pro-renewable energy country into a renewable energy powerhouse aiming for a complete transformation of its energy system.

In Germany, most of the renewable energy capacity is owned by individuals or community power projects. In this grassroots energy revolution, millions of households, villages, and even entire regions have already declared their partial or total energy independence by becoming independent power producers. This is driven by the concept of energy autonomy, of not being dependent on multinational corporations or energy sources that destroy the world that future generations have to live in. It was made possible by policy frameworks that enabled and encouraged people to invest in renewable energy sources and enforced market access by removing obstacles that prevent renewable energy projects around the world to this very day.

This video tries to show how this bottom-up push toward a 100% renewable energy system looks. Enjoy the video!

Renewable Energy in Germany 2012!

Which Future Will We Choose? (Reader Post)

Posted: 20 Jul 2012 03:13 PM PDT

Below is a truly excellent guest post from a regular CleanTechnica reader, 15-year-old Jared Conner. You can see that Jared has bright ambitions in his bio at the end. This is actually a speech he wrote (I think for a class). I initially thought this was a much better fit for Planetsave, so I published it over there. However, on the second look, I decided it was also a great fit for CleanTechnica, so here it is:

The Fate of Mankind (via Planetsave)

  by Jared Conner People, As humans, we have long considered the Earth as invincible, unchangeable, and unable to be exploited. The thing is, we are wrong. Because of our flawed beliefs over the last two centuries, we have begun to wound, change, and exploit the Earth. And if we do not unite…

Lightweight Construction on the Way to Volume Production

Posted: 20 Jul 2012 01:00 PM PDT

Automated production of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CRP) is now possible. Until now, these components, which are essential to future reductions in car and aircraft weight, had to be made by hand.

Lighter weight building materials are highly desired by car and airplane makers — they could greatly reduce the fuel they use, and, by association, the carbon dioxide they emit.


New materials that can be mass produced will allow these reductions in fuel use. One such material is carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CRP). It’s roughly 60% lighter than steel, and 30% lighter than aluminum. And it has other advantages, such as never rusting.

Many of the components of certain aircraft and of Formula 1 Racers are already constructed of CRP. And BMW will be releasing a car in 2013 that is constructed entirely out of CRP.

The production of CRP, though, is still very labor intensive. So, a group of 72 different companies, educational institutions, and research institutes, have banded together to create the MAI Carbon Leading-Edge Cluster Initiative, in order to get carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics in shape for mass production.

“Our goal is to reduce the manufacturing costs of CRP components by 90 percent over the five years of the project. We intend to accomplish this primarily through new production methods that are also well-suited for volume production,” notes Prof. Dr.-Ing. Klaus Drechsler, head of the Fraunhofer project group and holder of the Chair in Carbon Composites at the Technische Universität München.

You can read more about this news directly from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft on Page 2.

Image Credit: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft


Wind Farms Add Nearly $6B, 20K Jobs to Illinois Economy

Posted: 20 Jul 2012 09:10 AM PDT

Illinois’ 23 largest wind farms will add $5.8 billion to local economies and result in the creation of more than 19,000 jobs over their useful lives, according to an Illinois State University Center for Renewable Energy study released this past week. The results provide additional fuel for US wind industry participants and supporters lobbying Congress to extend a key renewable energy subsidiy: the wind energy production tax credit or PTC.

"It's important that decision-makers are educated about the economic development impact wind energy has on state and local communities so that informed decisions regarding future adoption of wind energy projects can be made," said David Loomis, director of Illinois State's Center for Renewable Energy. Loomis presented his findings at a press conference Tuesday at the sixth annual Advancing Wind Energy in Illinois conference in Normal.



“Boom and Bust” Federal Renewable Energy Policy

Recent history suggests that allowing the wind energy PTC to expire will drastically reduce growth in a market and industry that’s been one of the few bright spots in the US economy in recent years. The CEO of Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, recently stated that expiry of the wind energy PTC could result in an 80% drop in the US wind energy market. A study done for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) indicates that as many as 37,000 jobs would be lost.

To confound things, opponents in Congress at one and the same time push for additional cutbacks in support for renewable energy and clean energy, and rolling back of environmental and social welfare protections won long ago while pushing to preserve or increase fossil fuel industry subsidies, including the Keystone XL pipeline.

This at a time when the job and economic growth continue to flag. The Illinois State Center’s report notes that the state’s 23 largest wind farms support some 814 permanent jobs in rural areas, with an annual payroll of nearly $48 million. In addition, they yield $28.5 million in annual property taxes and $13 million a year in extra income for landowners who’ve leased their land to wind farm developers.

Illinois has been a leader in US wind energy development. Illinois ranks fourth in the nation in terms of total installed wind power, with 2,743 MW online as of the end of 2011. It ranked second, behind California, for the most new wind energy capacity installed, according to AWEA statistics.

Looking forward, planned wind farm projects in Illinois would create another 12,700 jobs and result in millions more dollars flowing through local economies through landowner lease payments and property taxes.

Planned new wind power capacity in Illinois’ McClean County alone totals 700 MW, enough clean, renewable electricity to power some 192,000 average homes. Livingston County (501.5 MW), Henry County (411.6 MW), and Ford County (145 MW) follow McClean in terms of Illinois counties with the most permitted wind energy projects, according to the ISU Center for Renewable Energy’s report.

Much of these vital economic, environmental, and social gains would be lost if Congress continues to oppose renewal of the wind energy PTC, according to the report. First enacted in 1992, the wind energy PTC has been a critical element underlying rapid growth and development of US wind power. It’s due to expire at year-end.

"In order to keep new jobs coming from wind energy, we need to see important state and federal policies in place," Loomis said. "We're on the cusp of seeing real price declines, which is why the subsidy is needed. In three to five years wind energy will be cost-competitive with other forms of electrical generation without the subsidy."

US Leading the World in CO2 Emissions Cuts? Will It Continue?

Posted: 20 Jul 2012 09:07 AM PDT

There’s been a bit of chatter this week about the US leading the world in CO2 emissions reductions. David Roberts of Grist has a great piece on why almost nobody is talking about it, which includes how and why it’s happening.

One of our readers (who I hadn’t met before) actually dropped me a note the other day asking me if the news was legit and if it was really mostly from an increase in natural gas production.

I ended up writing a reply that I thought made for a good post. So I’m putting most of that here, with some additional comments….

Yes, but…

Yes, CO2 emissions in the US have dropped “a lot” (7.7% since 2006, and 1.9% last year alone). The International Energy Agency writes, “US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions.”

Some of the key reasons for that are the economic downturn, natural gas replacing coal on the electric grid at a somewhat fast past, and perhaps La Niña (which results in a drop in the use of energy-intensive air conditioning).

Electricity use in the US. (Source: CIA World Factbook)

But, that was the past, what about the present and the future?

With the economy picking up, the heat rising (especially with a transition from La Niña to El Niño), I’m afraid this trend will slow or reverse this year.

On the natural gas topic: natural gas is, by most studies, significantly better than coal. But there are studies that have found we aren’t adequately accounting for leakage rates. Though, the latest study I’ve seen on the matter disagrees. It’s hard to know.

I’m not really a big fan of natural gas — think it won’t do enough and we’d be much better off putting a price on carbon and putting more into renewables. But the fact of the matter is that natural gas (artificially or not) is basically as cheap as any other major energy source these days (see the LCOE tab). So, until something changes, it’s going to continue its rapid growth.

So, I can only hope the natural gas supporters and the studies finding it isn’t as bad as coal are at least right. But that really doesn’t solve the problem that it’s still not considered to be enough….

Adding on to all that, there are some more things to consider. Coal is going out because of two things: 1) better air, climate, and water regulations from the EPA, and 2) an increasingly high cost relative to its competitors. Natural gas is one of those competitors, but so are increasingly cheap solar and wind power.

What if…

NREL’s new tool for comparing LCOE is great (for the uninitiated, LCOE is essentially the standard format for comparing the cost of electricity of different energy sources), but it’s a bit biased against solar and wind. Why? It’s including prices for old and new technology, while new solar and wind technology costs have dropped hugely in the past year alone. Not so for their competitors.

Nonetheless, it shows wind as highly competitive — median of $0.05/kWh, the same as natural gas combined cycle, and only higher than hydropower ($0.03/kWh).

Solar is higher, but rooftop solar competes with the price of retail electricity. And it has already hit grid parity in some regions.

Now, as stated above, many have hinted that natural gas prices are artificially low, that it’s essentially a fracking Ponzi scheme. That argument looks pretty convincing to me. At the very least, as one CleanTechnica reader and commenter (David Fuchs of the Hephaestus Project) recently noted, “While natural gas prices are falling due to production, there is a current lower limit of 4 cents a kwh. The lower limit is due to the cost of delivery, drilling, etc. No new technologies are on the horizon that will bring that price down.” The fact that land and “soft” costs don’t add up to more than $0.05/kWh today is already a bit surprising to me, but this low cost seems to be about as low as it can go, and hardly beats wind power in many locations.

The point I’m taking awhile to get to is this: what if natural gas wasn’t exceedingly low? My guess is that we’d have a lot more wind power and a lot more rooftop solar power. Would it have replaced coal as much as natural gas has? I don’t know. In the end, did we get a win with low natural gas prices and a cut in emissions? I don’t know — I can only hope so.

Here’s another big “what if” is about the future: As noted above, natural gas can’t go much lower. But renewable energy can, because its fuel costs are zilch, and a lot of the cost is still in the technology, which can become much more efficient. Here are some more apt comments from that reader mentioned above:

On the horizon for solar PV are more efficient cells.  Which will lower the cost of solar.

For wind there are larger windmills and ocean based both of which will reduce the cost per kwh further.

10-12 years in the future we have nanotechnology. At which time the cost of solar will fall rapidly and so will the cost of energy storage.

By 2030 the entire fossil fuel industry will be on its death bed as new technologies make the old way of generating energy obsolete.

Furthermore, high “soft” costs from a nascent solar industry are being chipped away at fast, further bringing down solar costs.

So, here’s hoping that renewable energy grows fast enough to increase emissions reductions. And let’s hope staggering heat waves and drought wake people up to the threat of global warming.

Oh yeah, and if we simply had a price on carbon that made the cost of electricity from coal and natural gas reflect their true costs (or at least get somewhere closer to them), what a different story it would be today! (15% reductions since 2006? 20%?)

And what a different story it could be tomorrow!


Clean Tech Projects Demonstrating the Importance of ‘Low Hanging Fruit’

Posted: 20 Jul 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Given the huge disparity between the contributions made to GHG emissions by the First World when compared with less developed nations, it's hardly surprising that, a lot of the time, cleantech projects are aimed very much at the West.

Innovations and initiatives such as jet fuels produced from algae, wave disk generator engines, or government incentives for investing in photovoltaic panels, to pick three examples at random, obviously aim to benefit the planet as a whole, but are very much targeted at societies where people have enough disposable income to put money towards flights, cars, and independent energy production.

co2 emissions reductions

CO2 emissions image via Shutterstock

Of course, to an extent, this is because only these countries have the resources to fund and carry out the level of R&D that goes into such technologies, but even if this weren't the case, focusing efforts in this why makes a great deal of sense, especially when we consider that, going by The World Bank's figures, the average annual per capita CO2 emissions of a US resident is 18 metric tonnes, whilst in a country such as Uganda, it's only 0.1 tonnes (a mere 0.6% of that American figure.)

However, whilst reducing the energy consumption of a nation that has built its infrastructure around a massive dependence on fossil fuels is a considerable political and cultural challenge, using technology to bring down the already small carbon footprint of a developing nation can be a much more straight forward task.

From a cleantech perspective, developing nations offer 'low hanging fruit', where something as simple as the quick-fix of more efficient stove designs can have a large impact on a community's energy consumption, and, at the same time, greatly increase the quality of life enjoyed in the area. For example, in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda (where 95% of cooking is done using fuel wood) a recent project conducted by Climate Care to disseminate stoves that burn more efficiently has helped reduced the amount of wood needed for fuel by locals, helping to reduce both deforestation and the proportion of income families are forced to spend on fuel.

Likewise, in Ghana, where deforestation is being carried out at one of the highest rates in Africa (thanks largely to charcoal production for cooking), the distribution of insulated stoves, or 'Gyapas' as they're known, has helped families to reduce their charcoal consumption by up to 25%. The project has saved over 72,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent already, and by 2016 is expected to save in excess of 800,000 tonnes.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan villages around Badakhshan are having their dependency on kerosene lamps ended by the installation of hydro electric power stations which are managed locally having been built with the help of engineers from Germany working in conjunction with the Afghan government's Energy Supply for Rural Areas programme, allowing communities to benefit for the first time form a reliable source of electricity, provided in a sustainable way.

Whilst, undoubtedly, people will always see the ultimate end of cleantech to be the discovery of some sort of 'Holy Grail' system of energy production that will allow the lifestyles enjoyed in the most prosperous parts of the world to be maintained, it should be remembered that, for much of the world, it's incredibly simple pieces of technology that stand to make the biggest difference.

Author Bio: Steve Waller writes on a wide range of environmental issues from alternative energy sources to green politics on his site,

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