Friday, July 6, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Power-Generating Windows Offer New Horizons for Office Energy Efficiency

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 11:47 AM PDT

For solar enthusiasts on limited budgets, rooftop panels are no longer the only way to produce clean electricity. Try all of the south-facing windows, instead.

According to a recent article in Science Daily, “New Insights Into Power-Generating Windows,” Jan Willem Wiegman will graduate from TU Delft with with an Applied Physics Masters and his research into power-generating windows. As a student, he calculated how much electricity can be generated using luminescent solar concentrators. Importantly, these are not costly new windows he’s talking about, just windows that are fitted with a thin film of material, which absorbs sunlight, then directs it to narrow solar cells at the perimeter of the window. Wiegman shows the relationship between the colour of the material used and the maximum amount of power that can be generated.

Such power-generating windows might offer remarkable potential as an inexpensive  source of solar energy that can attract many new renewable energy champions whose budgets have previously been restrictive in converting to solar energy.

For those wishing to dig deeper into the technology, Wiegman’s research article, written with his supervisor at TU Delft, Erik van der Kolk, has been published in the journal Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells.

Urban office towers may be likely candidates for this energy generating application, as the majority of them feature more window square footage than what’s on the roof.

Science Daily writes: “Windows and glazed facades of office blocks and houses can be used to generate electricity if they are used as luminescent solar concentrators. This entails applying a thin layer (for example a foil or coating) of luminescent material to the windows, with narrow solar cells at the perimeters. The luminescent layer absorbs sunlight and guides it to the solar cells at the perimeter, where it is converted into electricity. This enables a large surface area of sunlight to be concentrated on a narrow strip of solar cells.”

Color is also part of how this technology works best. Luminescent solar concentrators are capable of generating dozens of watts per square meter, however, the amount of power produced depends on the color and quality of the light-emitting layer. Wiegman’s research shows a relationship between the color of the film or coating and the maximum amount of power.

A transparent film can produce a maximum of 20 watts per square meter — not quite enough to power a building, but certainly enough to power office equipment. A computer would need a window measuring 4 square metres. The efficiency increases if the film is able to absorb more light particles. This can be achieved by using a foil that absorbs light particles from a certain part of the solar spectrum. A foil that mainly absorbs the blue, violet and green light particles will give the window a red colour. Another option is to use a foil that absorbs all the colours of the solar spectrum equally. This would give the window a grey tint. Both the red and the grey film have an efficiency of 9 percent, which is comparable to the efficiency of flexible solar cells.

Source: Science Daily

Image Credit: Eric Verdult


Graphene Could Tap the Seven Seas for Drinking Water

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 09:21 AM PDT

MIT uses graphene to desalinate seawaterA team of researchers at MIT has developed a way to use atom-thin sheets of graphene for water filtration, which could lead to an inexpensive and energy-efficient way to desalinate seawater. Though we can’t exactly drink our way our way out of the effects of rising sea levels, drawing more potable water from the ocean would provide a critical boost to the world’s water resources at a time of rising heat, drought, and human demand.

Energy Efficient Desalination

Currently, the desalination method of choice is a process called reverse osmosis. The drawback is that it requires a significant level of water pressure, which in turn requires a copious amount of energy.

One solution has been to improve the efficiency of conventional reverse osmosis. The U.S. Navy, for example, has developed a prototype for a high-efficiency desalinating system that uses about 65 percent less energy.

An entirely different approach is illustrated by the University of Colorado, where researchers are working on a microbial fuel cell that can run on seawater or wastewater. Aside from generating electricity, the new fuel cell would desalinate and purify water, and also produce hydrogen gas.

A Graphene Solution for Desalination

Like the microbial fuel cell, the MIT research represents a significant break from reverse osmosis technology.

As described by MIT writer David L. Chandler, the team fabricated a sheet of graphene containing a precise series of holes, just one nanometer across. With the addition of other materials, the edges of the holes interact on a molecular level with water to either repel or attract.

Since the graphene process is based on a chemical interaction, it requires very little water pressure compared to reverse osmosis (as Chandler notes, reverse osmosis requires a membrane that is 1,000 times thicker than graphene).

In terms of energy use, a graphene-based system could generate desalinated water at a far greater rate using the same amount of energy, or it could simply be run at lower pressure.

That flexibility could provide graphene desalination systems with a greater range of applications, using small-scale solar power and other forms of renewable energy rather than having to rely on a relatively large supply of fossil fuels.

There are quite a few steps left to go between the MIT research and real-world application, though. So far the system has checked out on computer modeling. The next step would involve additional an analysis of its economic feasibility.

One Graphene to Rule Them All

If graphene seems to be popping up everywhere, that’s because, well, it is. Since its discovery in 2004, graphene has generated thousands of research papers for applications in various types of filtration (Chandler mentions DNA and gas separators, in addition to water), solar power, and next-generation electronics along with many others.

The study of this unique material has also given rise to new ways of tweaking conventional materials to achieve similar results, such as the “plastic graphene” developed at the Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain.

Graphene is an ultra-thin, ultra-strong sheet of carbon atoms that has superior properties as a semiconductor, though it is notoriously difficult to work with, let alone fabricate on a commercial scale.

Image: Some rights reserved by Anil Jadhav

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

What Are Top EV-Friendly Cities Doing for Electric Vehicles?

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 08:30 AM PDT

Max Frankel of the Center for American Progress recently had an interesting post on Climate Progress about what top EV-friendly cities are doing to be so friendly to EVs, based on a new report from the Center for American Progress. Here’s the full post from Max/Climate Progress:

Sixteen cities around the world have set a cumulative target to sell almost six million electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles by 2020. If they reach this goal, EVs would account for about 6% of total vehicle sales and about 20 million cars on the road.

new report called the EV City Casebook highlights how these leading cities are putting the right pieces into place to encourage the adoption of EVs:

"Cities are also leading by example. Many have already added electric vehicles to municipal fleets and incorporated hybrid buses into public transportation. They are placing charging spots at public buildings and, in some cases, offering discounted electricity rates for EV users from municipal-owned utilities. Just as important, cities are using their convening power to assemble multi-stakeholder groups that include city planners, automakers, utilities, infrastructure suppliers, academic and research institutions, and city and national officials. These groups work together to create a roadmap for EV readiness that considers all stakeholder perspectives and seeks to identify and address technical, economic and regulatory barriers to EV adoption and integration."

The sixteen cities involved in the collaborative project are Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, BrabantStad, the Goto Islands in Nagasaki, Hamburg, Helsinki, Kanagawa, Los Angeles, New York, North East England, Portland, Research Triangle in North Carolina, Rotterdam, Shanghai, and Stockholm.

Three cities, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Los Angeles have taken the lead and are instituting innovative programs to reach their ambitious EV targets. Here's a look at what they're up to:


Amsterdam is a 219 square kilometer city with a population of a just over 780,000. There are almost a quarter million registered vehicles and the average commuter travels 8 kilometers everyday. Amsterdam currently has about 750 Evs in use and aims to have 10,000 on the roads 2015. To accomplish this goal, the city has number of initiatives in the works.

First, Amsterdam has reserved almost €9 million for subsidies. They pay companies up €5,000 for each electric car, €10,000 per electric bus, and €40,000 per electric truck that they integrate into their fleets. A pilot program run in 2009 yielded encouraging results, with over 200 EVs purchased.

Next, the City has a Car2Go program. Started in 2011, electric vehicles can be dropped off an picked up at any time from public parking spots for a nominal fee. This program closely resembles the Bikeshare and Zipcar programs we see in the U.S. Additionally, stating in 2013, an online database will provide live and up-to-the-minute information about the location and status of the city's nearly 1,000 EV charging stations.

Finally, Amsterdam is slowly transitioning its taxi fleet to EVs. By the end of 2012, 40 of the city’s 2,500 diesel taxis will be electrically powered, up from 10 the previous year.

Amsterdam also aims to be fossil fuel free by 2040, powering its electric cars, trucks, boats, and buildings with energy generated by wind, solar, and biomass.


Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain with a population of of more than 1.6 million people. It is a dense metropolis where people rely heavily on motorbikes and scooters to get around. The city has almost a million registered vehicles, but plans to expand its electric fleet from the 400 it has today to about 3,000 by 2014. Barcelona also aims to have almost 4,500 charging stations in two years.

In order to accomplish these goals, Barcelona has installed a series of "Mobecpoint" charging stations around the city to encourage the use of electric two-wheelers. The city is second only to Rome in its use of motorbikes and the Mobecpoint stations charge them for free. Barcelona hopes to encourage electric scooters enough so that they make up half of the two wheeled vehicle fleet. Volta Motorbikes, a popular manufacturer, has introduced an electric two wheeler named the 'Barcelona' due to its "design, environmental respect and quality."

The city's LIVE program (Logistics for the Implementation of the Electric Vehicle) is an open platform that provides information to users about everything from charging stations to opportunities for new innovation and investment. It also issues EV registration cards needed for using the municipal charging stations. LIVE is regarded as "the first citizens' office in Europe to provide information regarding electric mobility."

Through LIVE, Barcelona released an app called Chargelocator, which allows mobile users to find the nearest and cheapest available charging station.

Like Amsterdam, Barcelona is working on an EV car sharing program. This one is being worked on in collaboration with MIT and may resemble the University's ideas for the City Car.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles has more than 2.5 million registered vehicles for its 4.1 million residents. Commuters travel an average of 23 miles a day and nearly 80% of them do it via passenger vehicle. Currently, Los Angeles has about 2,000 EVs in use, but aims to get that number closer to 80,000 by 2015.

To help reach that goal, the State of California has added a $2,500 purchase rebate in addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit on electric vehicles. California also allows drivers traveling alone to use the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on highways if they are driving Zero-emissions cars.

In late 2011, the city of Los Angeles started using long-range all-electric eBuses to shuttle passengers to and from the terminals at LAX airport. The buses are significantly cleaner and cheaper than conventional buses; in fact, some estimate they can be up to $500,000 cheaper than normal buses over their life time.

The city of LA also started requiring all new construction projects to contain EV readiness infrastructure.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has taken a number of steps to further the development and deployment of EVs. It has invested $60 million in smart grid technology for the city, upgraded the local power grid to cope with EV charging stations, and provided a $2,000 discount to people who install EV charging stations in their homes.

Finally, the city is involved in a number of collaborative projects with local universities and state agencies to study and prepare for the rollout of a future EV fleet. LA has entered into a partnership with Shanghai, China to "cooperate and share data from their respective EV demonstration programs."

It will still be many years before EVs become truly "mainstream." But forward-thinking cities are preparing for their roll out today, setting the stage for a new phase in transportation.

Max Frankel is a senior at Vassar College and an intern with the energy team at the Center for American Progress.

Challenges with End of 1603 Clean Energy Grant Program

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 08:00 AM PDT

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently took an important look at what the end of the 1603 grant program for renewable energy means for developers in the industry. Here’s a summary of that:

Certain Types of Projects May Find It Harder to Attract Tax Equity Investors

The expiration of a federal grant program at the end of 2011 may make it more difficult and expensive for developers of certain kinds of renewable power projects to access private capital, a new report suggests.

That, in turn, may lead to fewer projects coming on-line.

“Our interviews with financial executives active in the renewable energy market suggest that the end of the Section 1603 Program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act means that financing renewable power projects is about to become more difficult,” said Michael Mendelsohn, an NREL analyst who co-wrote the report “1603 Treasury Grant Expiration: Industry Insight on Financing and Market Implications,” with John Harper of Birch Tree Capital, LLC.

In the United States, the renewable power sector has benefitted from federal tax incentives and the availability of institutional-scale tax equity investors able to use the tax incentives. The incentives include income tax credits – production tax credits or investment tax credits – that can reduce taxes owed by a project investor as well as reduced tax obligations resulting from accelerated depreciation of project assets.

These tax benefits can represent a powerful incentive for private investment, but realization of these benefits is hampered by the complexity of monetizing their value, the illiquid nature of the investments and uncertainty about how long tax policies will last.

Most renewable energy developers lack sufficient tax liabilities to benefit directly from the tax incentives. Instead, the developers have created partnerships and other financial structures with large financial and other companies that can make use of these incentives.

During the 2008-2009 financial crisis, tax equity investors largely withdrew from the renewable energy project financing market. The number of tax equity investors willing to make new investments decreased from about 20 to five.

“Industry experts told us that tax equity was almost unavailable for all but the largest and highest quality projects,” said co-author Harper. In response, Congress enacted the Section 1603 Program.

The Section 1603 Program, which expired December 31, 2011, offered project investors a cash payment equal to and in lieu of the 30% federal investment tax credit. The program freed many developers from having to rely on third-party tax equity investors to monetize the tax credits.

Interviews with industry participants led the authors to conclude that the Section 1603 Program provided multiple benefits to renewable energy projects, including:

    • Increased speed and flexibility of project finance arrangements
    • Lower transaction and financing costs
    • Stretched supply of traditional tax equity
    • Support for smaller and new-to-market project developers and projects using innovative energy technologies, both of which previously found it more difficult to tap tax equity markets
    • Lower developer or project cost of capital as a result of the ability to use more debt

While impacts associated with the expiration of the Section 1603 Program are uncertain, the report says industry experts predict renewable power projects again will have to rely more heavily on external tax equity investors to obtain a portion of their financing. Several potential outcomes:

  • Less-established renewable power developers, especially those with smaller projects, could have more difficulty attracting needed financial capital and completing their projects. Tax equity investors are likely to focus on established relationships with proven developers and on larger projects.
  • Development of projects relying on newer or innovative technologies that lack extensive operational track records may be slowed because many tax equity investors are seen as highly averse to technology risk.
  • Projects relying on tax equity financing likely will be more expensive to develop because of the transaction costs and potentially higher yields required to attract tax equity capital.

Electricity Storage is About Location, Location, Location… and Cost

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 07:30 AM PDT

The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) recently had a pretty interesting and useful post on electricity storage you might be interested in checking out. Here’s a nice graphic from the post, followed by the intro:

“Electricity storage can be deployed throughout an electric power system—functioning as generation, transmission, distribution, or end-use assets—an advantage when it comes to providing local solutions to a variety of issues. Sometimes placing the right storage technology at a key location can alleviate a supply shortage situation, relieve congestion, defer transmission additions or substation upgrades, or postpone the need for new capacity. The examples above and below illustrate the wide range of storage applications, though neither is intended to provide a comprehensive listing of storage technologies.

“Some storage technologies are mature and fully commercial, such as pumped hydro and thermal storage. Others are still evolving in terms of technology and their economic and operational roles in the power grid, such as battery storage or flywheels. The costs can be significant when it comes to energy storage, particularly with emerging technologies. On the other hand, electricity storage technologies offer price arbitrage opportunities and fast-response services that conventional technologies cannot match. The future application of storage technologies will depend on how rapidly the technologies improve and costs drop, the implementation of new pricing and valuation schemes for the services storage can provide, and the cost and efficiency of alternatives.”

To read more, which includes a closer look at pumped hydro, thermal storage, battery and wind, distributed batteries, and emergency power, check out: Electricity storage: Location, location, location … and cost.

Brain-Powered, Solar-Powered Recycling

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 07:26 AM PDT

World's first solar powered robotic recycler from ZenRoboticsFinland-based ZenRobotics Ltd. has been marketing a robotic recycling system that works like the human brain, and now another layer of sustainability is being slathered on top. In what is apparently a worldwide first, the Belgium recycling company Containers Maes will install the company’s ZenRobotics Recycler™ system and run it on solar power.

A Robotic Recycler that Works Like a Brain

Though Containers Maes has enthused that it was a “no-brainer” to choose the ZenRobotics Recycler, the heart of the system is its brain-like controlling technology.

Called the ZenRobotics Brain, the system was inspired by the cerebellum, which is responsible for the timing and coordination of movements. The ZenRobotics Brain uses at least six different types of sensory devices to provide the recycling system’s off-the-shelf robotic arms with a real-time stream of information that enables high-precision sorting.

That includes several different kinds of cameras as well as, 3-D scanners, tactile feedback, and metal detectors.

The ZenRobotics Brain is also capable of responding to changes as well as “learning” from its mistakes.

A Solar Power Solution for Recycling

One obstacle standing in the way of long-term sustainability for the bulk recycling industry is its heavy reliance on fossil-fueled vehicles and machinery.

The ZenRobotics Recycler, for example, involves an energy-sucking conveyor belt in addition to the energy required for running the robotic sorting arms and the controlling system.

The system does cut down on fuel use related to waste hauling, though. Designed to handle construction debris, the ZenRobotics Recycler is transportable and can be installed temporarily on site, eliminating the need to truck unsorted waste to a central facility.

The real “game-changer,” as Containers Maes puts it, is combining the recycling system with solar power and other forms of renewable energy.

Here in the U.S., the gigantic waste disposal and recycling company Waste Management has also been transitioning to alternative energy and energy efficient technology, including its “BigBelly” solar powered trash compactor and various landfill gas initiatives.

Note: Check out YouTube to see the ZenRobotics Recycler in action, check out their YouTube video.

Image (cropped): Courtesy of ZenRobotics.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Some Key Points Big Media Isn’t Telling You about Abound Solar & DOE Loan Guarantees

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 07:00 AM PDT

I didn’t even get into the whole Abound Solar story when the company filed for bankruptcy — didn’t really see the point of it. But Media Matters has published a great piece on it, “What AP Isn’t Telling You About Abound Solar,” that I think is worth a share. Here it is:

Following the announced bankruptcy of Abound Solar, which borrowed about $70 million against a $400 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, the Associated Press is giving oxygen to attacks from Republicans saying the clean energy program shows the Obama administration “wasting taxpayer dollars.” While passing along GOP talking points, AP forgot to report these key facts:

1. Abound Solar was one of the few higher-risk loan guarantees. Over 87 percent of the funds for the Department of Energy’s 1705 loan guarantee program went to low-risk power generation projects, which are required to secure contracts with power purchasers before receiving a loan guarantee, virtually eliminating the risk of default. Like Solyndra, Abound Solar built solar panels and struggled to compete with Chinese manufacturers.

2. Congress set aside $2.47 billion to cover defaults. For a loan guarantee, the DOE is only on the hook if the company defaults on the loan, and the DOE is not able to recover the funds during the bankruptcy process. Even if all of the higher-risk (non-generation) projects defaulted on the full amount of their loan guarantees and “no assets were to be recovered, the DOE would still have $446 million remaining to cover additional project losses,” according to a Bloomberg Government analysis. Here is a chart comparing the amount that Congress budgeted for the 1705 program versus the current losses:

Current losses were measured as $9 million for Beacon Power, $535 million for Solyndra and $60 million for Abound Solar.

3. Four Indiana Republicans pressed the Energy Department to support Abound. In addition to the four Indiana Republican Congressmen who urged DOE to grant the loan guarantee to Abound, Mitch Daniels supported a tax credit for the company and two major Republican donors were Abound investors.

HotAir, a popular conservative blog, concluded from Abound’s bankruptcy that “investing in solar energy was a bad idea” because otherwise, “the free market would take care of it.” But the loan guarantee program is designed to address a market failure. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report stated that there is a “dearth of capital for potentially lower-cost breakthrough technologies” that need to scale up, reflecting “fundamental, structural markets short comings.”

And while the drop in solar panel prices hurt some solar manufacturers like Solyndra and Abound, it benefitted many of the solar generation projects and helped solar installations surge, contrary to the right-wing narrative that solar energy as a whole is failing.


Reporters’ eager pursuit of failing clean energy companies may have a self-fulfilling dynamic. As GreenTechMedia reported, Abound Solar was partially hurt by “a flinchy DOE” wary of letting Abound continue to draw down from its loan, and “a media faction hungry for Obama DOE scandals.”

Community-Owned Solar / Solar Gardens for 4/5 of Americans?

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 06:30 AM PDT

Not everyone owns a house. And not every house is suitable for solar. In fact, 4/5 American homes aren’t suitable for solar! (That is, based on a 2008 study, which is when solar prices were much higher than today, and technology not nearly as good.) But the point is, how do we get everyone on the solar bandwagon? Well, if you read the title, I think you’ve got an idea — community-owned solar, or solar gardens. I’m a big fan of these things, but I haven’t written about them in awhile, so I was happy to see a recent community-owned solar post up on sister site sustainablog. Here’s that post in full:

Community-Owned Solar Gardens Make Clean Energy Possible for All (via sustainablog)

One of the biggest setbacks for people looking to invest in solar is a lack of a suitable place to put the solar panels. A solar installation both has to be in the right direction and the right angle to extract enough energy from the sun's trajectory for the system to be financially feasible. When…

Sport Mode on Honda Fit EV is Addictive (Driver Review)

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Susanna Schick of Gas2 (and occasionally CleanTechnica) has had the chance to test drive the Honda Fit EV. One of the benefits of living in LA and blogging about electric vehicles, I guess. She’s posted an extensive review of the Fit EV over on Gas2, including video of a test drive. Here it all is:

Review: I'm Addicted To Sport Mode On The New Honda Fit EV (via Gas 2.0)

Honda invited us to preview the Fit EV at a special test track in Southern California. Specifically, a nice little course they'd set up in a parking lot at the Rose Bowl, as well as a spin around the 'hood on our own. Because I don't like having to reign in my driving style to keep from terrorizing…

Do We Really Need Electricity Retailers?

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 05:30 AM PDT

People understand what a retailer is: it's where you go to buy and collect stuff – shoes, clothes, groceries, petrol and other items. They are the points of sale between the manufacturers and wholesalers, and the consumers.

But what about electricity retailers? Is that where you go to buy and collect electricity? Well, actually, no. Electricity retailers don't actually deliver you any electricity at all. As the diagram below – taken from a presentation by UNSW electricity expert Hugh Outhred – will tell you, that comes straight from the generators via the transmission network and the distributors. And now, some of you will get electricity from solar PV modules on your roof.

The electricity retailers are simply competing for the right to send you a bill, to package up a range of tariffs and lock you into a contract. They are the archetypal middle-man, and the question that is now being put is: Are they of any use?

The question arises because retailers have long been part of an economic model that relies on consumers buying more electricity. That means that retailers can sell more contracts, generators can build more power stations and distributors can build more poles and wires to transport the electrons. But that business model is now changing – demand is falling, energy efficiency is at a premium, more and more consumers (both residential and business) are producing their own energy – and the retailers, like some of the other parts of the value chain – are getting in the way.

One of the biggest problems for retailers is a basic one – they aren't very good at what they do. They find it almost impossible to hold on to customers. Last year, the major electricity retailers reported that the "churn" rate for 2010/11 was nearly 25 per cent. That means, they lost nearly one in four of their clients, and then they had to go and pay to get them back again, and then bill you for it.

It may have something to do with the long-run inability of retailers to engage with their clients. International surveys show that electricity retailers have the worst relationship with their customers of just about any customer-facing group – their relationships are fleeting, and usually coloured by complaints about price hikes and connection problems.

Still, they make a profit. According to the most recent annual accounts for 2010/11 for the biggest retailers, their gross margin – the difference between the cost of electricity they pay the distributors and generators, and the cost of packaging up you bill and collecting money from customers – was between $150 to $200 per customer. The overall cost of retailers equates to around 15 per cent of your electricity bill, or around $350 a year, depending were you live. That's nearly half the cost of generation.

But that's not the end of it. Retailers are now being accused of pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from schemes that have supported the introduction of technologies such as rooftop solar. For instance, they are allowed by pricing regulators – with the exception of the ACT – to charge customers $40 for each small scale technology certificates (STCs), when the market price has rarely risen about $26. And there are about 45 million STCs washing around the system this year. That has grossly inflated the cost of the schemes, and the returns to retailers, even with their carrying costs.

And electricity retailers are also accused of picking up more profits from exports of excess electricity back to the grid from rooftop solar systems – for which they pay 6c/kWh (and in some cases nothing at all) and then sell it to the houses in the same street for up to five times as much. The retailers can do this because have managed to convince the pricing regulators that the difference is made up with fixed grid, billing and other costs. But the solar industry reckons they are profiting handsomely – hence the push for a "fair value" of solar.

One thing they do achieve is to manage pricing risk, and the rapid and often steep swings in wholesale electricity prices. They do this through a range of hedging policies and by being "vertically integrated". That means they also own generators, so when the price moves one way, they make it up by increasing profits elsewhere. Unfortunately for customers, this has meant that few have enjoyed the benefits of the lowest wholesale electricity markets since the start of the NEM. Like banks, electricity retailers are slow to pass on the benefits of falling costs, but quicker to act when prices (or rates) go up.

So what would happen if we got rid of retailers? The biggest challenge would be managing the wholesale price risk – electricity is one of the biggest traded markets, bigger by a long shot than carbon. We would need interval metering throughout and, to provide financial risk management, we would also need a carefully designed derivatives market accessible to small players. Such a market was envisaged in the 1990s, but banks and other financial market players argued that this could have been a constraint on competition.

Outhred says perhaps the best answer is to turn them into service providers. "We need energy service companies instead of retailers," he says. "Because of the way they operate, energy retailers mess-up efficient management of uncertainty and deter end-users from energy efficiency improvements, as well as pocket a fee for doing so."

Evolving into a service provider, however, would require a massive cultural change. But it may be one that is forced upon them. If the electricity retailing business is about collecting data (metering) and sending out bills, then there is a host of competing organizations that are specialists in data management and IT that can take that role, and offer snappy new devices that offer in-house monitoring and controls. If it is about customer management, there are a host of customer service specialists that can do that better too; and now there are a host of technology providers that can offer alternatives to sourcing electricity from the grid. And now these specialists are recognising their are opportunities to work together. The best chance the retailers have of surviving – apart from regulatory protection – is to strike up some alliances or their own, and to get out of the way of progress. The sooner the better.

This post was originally published on REnew Economy. It has been reposted with permission.

Toyota + BMW to Advance Electric Vehicle Technology

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Electric Vehicles (EVs), if I were to bet on it, are the future of automobile transportation. It seems that every car company and their mother are now investing in EVs with a look to be an EV pioneer or leader. And some companies are evening teaming up, like BMW and Toyota:

Toyota, BMW Team Up On EV Technology (via Gas 2.0)

The Japanese Giant Toyota, and the Bavarian Beast known as BMW, could not be more different car companies. Toyota vehicles have the perception of stoic, no-frills, affordable reliability. BMW's are brash, expensive, "look at me" cars driven mostly by those with an inflated sense of self-worth…

Potential from Extending & Expanding Energy Efficiency Programs

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 04:30 AM PDT


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2012.

Analysis included in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2012 shows that extending and expanding certain energy-related policies beyond the current sunset dates and current implementing regulations incorporated in the AEO2012 Reference case could reduce projected national energy consumption in 2035 by nearly 6%. Although these policies do not directly aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, they reduce the carbon intensity of the U.S. energy mix, so that projected energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2035 are reduced by 8% relative to the Reference case.

The AEO2012 Reference case generally reflects energy policies and regulations as legislated at the time EIA performed the analysis. Yet, some policies have had a history of being subsequently amended or revised. Amendments and revisions have extended the sunset provisions of the policy, raised efficiency standards, or expanded the scope of the policy to include new devices or uses. The Extended Policies case assumes a continuation and/or an expansion of certain energy policies, consistent with their implementation to date.

Unlike the Reference case, the Extended Policies case assumes the extension and/or expansion of several existing efficiency programs in the buildings, industry, transportation, and utility sectors.

Selected assumptions in the Extended Policies case include:

  • Buildings sectors—additional residential and commercial equipment efficiency standards that cover more equipment, as well as more stringent building energy codes
  • Transportation sector—more stringent fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles
  • Industrial sector—extended investment tax credit for combined heat and power equipment that also increases the capacity levels eligible for the credit
  • Utility sector—extended tax credits for renewable energy technologies

Additional analysis of the Extended Policy case and other side cases can be found in the full Annual Energy Outlook 2012.

This article was originally published on the EIA website.

Video of Nissan Leaf Setting Backwards Driving Record

Posted: 06 Jul 2012 04:00 AM PDT

In case you haven’t heard, a Nissan Leaf driver set a new record for reverse driving up the Goodwood hill. I initially avoided covering this, as it didn’t really do much for me, but then I watched the video over on Gas2 and thought it was worth a share after all. Here’s the Gas2 post & video:

Video: Watch The Nissan Leaf Set A Backwards Driving Record (via Gas 2.0)

The annual Goodwood Festival of Speed is a celebration of all things automotive. Put on by the awesome Lord March since 1993, Goodwood attracts gearheads from across the globe who want a chance to race up the famous hill climb. This year featured a record number of alt-fuel vehicles, among them a Nissan…

Predicting Wave Power Will Double Energy Generated

Posted: 05 Jul 2012 04:39 PM PDT


The energy generated from wave capture technology can be doubled by implementing new methods developed to predict wave power.

Significant advancements in marine renewable energy are possible because of new research from the University of Exeter. The research could pave the way to making wave energy a more viable source of power.



The research was done by a group of mathematicians and engineers from the University of Exeter and Tel Aviv University. They created a way to accurately predict the power of incoming waves. This predictive ability will make the technology much more efficient, allowing the extraction of twice as much energy as is currently possible.

The UK has great potential for wave energy. It’s actually been estimated that the electric requirements of the UK could be supplied entirely from wave power. But the current technologies to extract and convert energy from the ocean are still immature when compared to solar and wind technologies. And they are as of yet not commercially competitive with other power sources without subsidy.

There has been very clear progress made by leading developers, but there are many challenges remaining. Most importantly, there are no viable technologies to prevent the devices from being damaged by the hostile marine environment, and for improving the efficiency of energy capture from the waves.

This new research addresses both of these problems “by enabling control over the devices that extract wave energy. The key to this is to enable devices to accurately predict the power of the next wave and respond by extracting the maximum energy.”

“The research focused on point absorbers, commonly-used floating devices with parts that move in response to waves, generating energy which they feed back to the grid. Point absorbers are already known to be much more efficient in the amount of energy they produce if their response closely matches the force of the waves and previous research has looked at trying to increase this efficiency.”

“However, this is the first study that has focused on increasing the device’s efficiency by predicting and controlling internal forces of the device caused by forthcoming waves.”

The researchers created a system which predicts the size of the incoming wave. The resulting data allow a specialized program to create, in real-time, the ideal response for a wave of a specific size. Since “the device responds appropriately to the force of the next wave, it is far less likely to be damaged and would not need to be turned off in stormy conditions, as is currently the case.”

Lead author Dr Guang Li of the University of Exeter said: “Our research has the potential to make huge advances to the progress of marine renewable energy. There are significant benefits to wave energy but progressing this technology has proved challenging. This is a major step forward and could help pave the way for wave energy to play a significant role in providing our power.”

Co-author Dr Markus Mueller of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus said: “The next step is for us to see how effective this approach could be at a large scale, by testing it in farms of Wave Energy Converters.”

The research has just published in the journal Renewable Energy.

Source: University of Exeter
Image Credits: Wave via Shutterstock

Australian Steel Co. Interested in Fast-Growing BIPV Market

Posted: 05 Jul 2012 01:33 PM PDT


Bluescope Steel is hoping to capture a good share of the building integrated photovoltaic market (BIPV), which is expected to increase 10-fold across the globe in coming years and become a key part of new construction, and even building retrofits.

Bluescope yesterday was awarded a $2.3 million grant from the Federal Government under its Emerging Renewables program to accelerate the development of a new roofing profile that combines Australian steel roofing and inverter systems with second-generation thin-film solar technologies.

It follows the awarding of a grant earlier this year from the Australian Solar Institute which will help it combine these systems with a unique thermal element (BIPVT), by erecting the solar panels in an elevated area and capturing and using the warm air underneath.

The company says it expects its product – combining roofing profile designs and incorporating solar panels – will be suitable for "mass deployment" across residential, commercial and industrial rooftops, and without the need for subsidies. It believes it will offer cost advantages over conventional rooftop PV systems by reducing installation  and energy costs and reducing peak demands on the grid.

"The prototype will be easily scaled up to the operational stage ensuring future BIPV systems can be cost-effective without government subsidies," Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said in a statement. "This project will help make Australia a world leader in BIPV development."

In a recent interview with RenewEconomy, Bluescope's head of coating product development, Dr Troy Coyle, said that the company – as a big seller of roofing materials – recognizes that innovation in designs, and incorporating energy production was a key part of the future market. "That is where the roofing industry is heading," she said.

The global BIPV market was estimated to be worth just 1,200MW in 2010, but it expected to jump 10-fold to 11,300MW by 2015. "The market motivator is energy reduction, and the motivator for integration into rooftop design is a reduction of material costs and in building heating costs," Coyle said. "That way we can have it all done in one."

The $477,000 ASI grant is focused on some of software required for such products, while the Emerging Renewables grant – which will be matched by Bluescope in a near $5 million, two year program – will be research and development.

Coyle said that the thermal component was critically important in bringing added benefits to rooftop installations on new buildings. "The additional functionality offsets some of the operational costs of the building," she said.

And it could help in retrofits. A new roof deck above the existing roof surface can incorporate solar cells, and air then flows in the duct created under the new roof surface. This air flow will not only help cool the solar cells during warm weather, improving generation efficiency, but it will also help to heat and cool the building. Warm air generated in winter is used for heating, and as heat is radiated from the cells on summer nights, cool air is then supplied to the building, increasing overall energy efficiency.

Bluescope sees this technology being applicable in the residential, commercial and industrial markets.

Although the costs of BIPV are difficult to estimate, at least in its early commercial deployment, the International Energy Agency last year said in a report that the cost of BIPV would effectively disappear, because it would become integrated into overall building costs, in the same way as double-glazed windows. "PV roof costs may never meet a floor price," it said in its Solar Perspectives report. "We see a growing role for BIPV to satisfy building codes that call for zero-energy buildings. By spreading costs across both the building energy system (or part of it anyway) and the building fabric, it becomes possible to create a new economics for PV that – at the very least – will increase the size of its market."

Note:  Ferguson has certainly been busy these past few days dishing out grants from a funding program he ostensibly no longer controls – the Emerging Renewables Fund now under the auspices of the independent and newly formed Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

No matter, the clean energy industry is champing at the bit for the long promised funds to be distributed, and the two grants to the wave energy groups Oceanlinx and BioPower Systems announced on Tuesday were welcome, along with today's grant for Bluescope.

One fascinating part of the press release, however, came at the end, where Ferguson acknowledged forecasts by AEMO that rooftop solar is likely to account for 5GW by 2020 and 12GW by 2031. No excuses, then, for these forecasts, and for sensible cost assumptions, to be included in the updated Energy White Paper.

This article was originally published on REnew Economy, and has been reposted with permission.

Image Credit: BIPV via Sunslates

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