Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Drop in Los Angeles Vehicle-Related Pollutants, Study Finds

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 10:03 PM PDT

California’s Los Angeles Basin has seen a radical drop in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), 98 percent over the past 50 years, despite residents of the area burning more than three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel as they did back in the 1960s.

"The reason is simple: Cars are getting cleaner," said Carsten Warneke, Ph.D., a NOAA-funded scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research last week.

The magnitude of the drop in VOCs was a surprise even to the researchers who were expecting a drop of some sort to occur over the period of their research. Looking solely at the years between 2002 and 2010, the concentration of VOCs dropped by half!

"Even on the most polluted day during a research mission in 2010, we measured half the VOCs we had seen just eight years earlier," Warneke said. "The difference was amazing."

VOCs are primarily emitted from tailpipes of vehicles, and “are a key ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone which, at high levels, can harm people's lungs and damage crops and other plants,” said NOAA.

Although gasoline consumption in Los Angeles has nearly tripled since 1960, levels of vehicle-related pollutants called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have plummeted.

For the new study, Warneke and his colleagues evaluated Los Angeles air quality measurements from three sources: NOAA-led research campaigns in 2002 and 2010, which involved extensive aircraft sampling of the atmosphere; datasets from other intensive field campaigns reaching back five decades; and air quality measurements from the California Air Resources Board monitoring sites, which reach back two to three decades.

The study saw an average drop of 7.5 percent per year over the period of the study. "This is essentially the kind of change we would expect, and it is very good to find that it is actually taking place," Warneke said. Though, there were a few specific VOCs that did not drop anywhere near as quickly, including propane and ethane, which are chemicals sourced from the use and production of natural gas, and not vehicles.

Warneke said that he would expect the decrease in emissions of VOCs by cars to continue in Los Angeles, given that engine efficiency continues to improve, and older, more polluting vehicles drop out of the fleet of all vehicles on the road.

But this drop in VOCs does not relate very well to an overall drop in ozone levels in the region. According to the researchers, “the air chemistry that leads from VOCs to ozone is more complex than that,” and while ozone pollution has dropped in the Los Angeles Basin area since the 60s, the levels still don’t meet ozone standards set by the EPA.

The improvement in this one measure of air quality in Los Angeles may not surprise many longtime residents, Warneke said. People who lived in the city in the 1960s often couldn't see nearby mountains through the smog; today, they often can.

Source: NOAA
Image Source: EyeshotPictures on Flickr

Ireland Looks to Pumped Storage, Local Renewable Energy Co-ops to Become a Net Energy Exporter

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:58 PM PDT

How best to take full advantage of the energy contained in intermittent winds is one of the most challenging problems facing wind power technology and renewable energy project developers. Using surplus wind energy to pump water uphill for storage and releasing it to generate electricity as required — so-called "pumped storage" — is one proven way of doing so, but an estimated €3.6-billion ($4.68-billion) project taking shape in Ireland could take the concept to another level.

Some 50 potential pumped storage sites in coastal Atlantic areas have been identified thus far as part of the "Spirit of Ireland: National Energy Independence" project since it was conceived by Trinity College Dublin professor of Applied Physics Igor Shvets and first proposed three years ago, but that’s only one key facet of the project plan, the Irish Times reports.



Ireland’s National Energy Independence Project

Looking to produce as well as consume clean, renewable power locally, the Spirit of Ireland group is setting up Irish Energy Co-operatives, purpose being the establishment of community-based renewable energy initiatives capable of feeding electrical power into a common grid. That would keep locally generated clean power within the local community.

"The local producer-owner model is as good as any other when it comes to maximising employment and RD opportunities of renewable energy – it shouldn't only be a question of local communities leasing their land to big developer-owned renewables projects," Irish Energy Co-operatives spokesperson Cormac Walsh told the Irish Times.

"Well planned, medium-scale projects that will attract innovation will keep the secondary benefits of renewable energy in the control of local communities. This is just as important as the big multi-million euro projects."

The first local renewable energy producer–consumer co-op was created a month ago with the formation of the Aran Islands Energy Co-operative (Comharchumann Fuinnimh). The wind co-op owners are hoping to team up with the new owners of three wind turbines on Inis Meain to upgrade them, as well as add additional turbines over time. Surplus wind power they produce could then be used to pump seawater up to cliff-top reservoirs for storage, and subsequently for power generation.

Aran Islanders are looking to the renewable energy co-ops to become totally energy independent by 2022. "The backers of the new co-op hope that if the island becomes self-sufficient in energy and can generate a cheaper price for itself, it can provide a commercial advantage for energy-hungry companies to come and set up there," the Irish Times’ Ronan McGreevy reported.

"The new energy co-op will be open to membership from those who are normally resident on any of the Aran Islands. It will also be possible for groups, organisations, and corporate bodies to buy membership shares in the co-op provided they are based on one of the three islands."

Spirit of Ireland was one of the first renewable energy projects conceived in Ireland. It’s also one of the largest, with the potential to turn Ireland into a net exporter of electricity, according to project backers. Taking a holistic approach to project development, establishing a network of coastal pumped storage sites and wind turbines feeding into a common grid would not only generate cost-effective, clean, renewable power surplus to domestic needs, but it would also bring numerous other benefits to local communities — new investment and green jobs prominent among them, they say.

The Spirit of Ireland project group has been raising first-round capital this past month that will be used to carry out the necessary environmental assessments and initial project development plan outline. Their aim is to have the project built within five to six years, according to the Irish Times’ report.

Photo credit: Carnsore Wind Farm, County Wexford Courtesy: Ask About Ireland

A Two-Step Plan for Australia to Shepherd in Sustainability

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:53 PM PDT

Australian climate change think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions has released a two-part plan for Australia to move away from dirty fossil fuels and lead the world on sustainable energy practices.

The report, Laggard to Leader, recommends addressing fossil fuel consumption by “imposing a moratorium on new coal and gas developments; convening immediate negotiations among coal and gas importers and exporters; using experts on public health, security, social and environmental grounds to make the case for a fossil fuel phase-out.”

To bring Australia to the forefront of renewable energy, the report advocates for “rolling out more than 40 gigawatts of concentrating solar thermal through Australia over the next 10 years; establishing a system of feed-in tariffs; contributing $3 billion per annum to renewable technology research.”

Source: Reve
Image: catwalker via Shutterstock 

Little Solar Boat (Video)

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:51 PM PDT


The fisherman in your family might be interested in this gem of a solar fishing pontoon. The two-person boat has a removable 160-watt solar panel, 30-pound thrust motor, and battery. The boat can run at half speed on solar power alone, or full speed with a continuously recharging battery.

The video has some gratuitous fishing scenes (about 4 minutes worth), but it’s neat to see the little solar boat tooling around on solar power as a (presumably) gasoline-fueled pontoon goes by in the background.

The boat can be purchased in Austin, Texas, for $2,000.

500 Electric Miles Across the Alps — the e-miglia Kicks Off In Bavaria

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:48 PM PDT

What better way to celebrate electric cars than by sending a whole fleet of them off on a road trip? That's the purpose of the annual e-miglia electric vehicle festival taking place in Rosenheim, Germany. The third e-miglia and its fleet of EVs successfully kicked off on Sunday.

The participants: a BMW Mini E, a Lampo3, a Mercedes E-Cell, a Nissan Leaf, a Peugeot iON, a Tesla Roadster, a Twike Active, a Zerotracer, and a Zero Motorcycle.

The race: Starting Monday and ending Thursday, the route traces 500 miles across the mountains of Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland.

On Sunday afternoon, almost perfect weather greeted the fans and participants alike as the festival started with the 11am opening of the driver's paddock at Munich's Deutches Museum Verkehrszentrum. The cars were quieter than the drivers and fans alike as preparations were made for the parade lap.


The More You Know

In addition to showing off all the awesome electric vehicles it can get its hands on, the e-miglia also exists to educate anyone who will listen about the advantages of electric cars. While waiting for the parade lap to start, participants were able to speak to drivers, co-drivers, and experts about pretty much anything e-mobility-related (range, charging, the source of the electricity, roadside assistance, insurance coverage, you name it).

The press conference started at 2pm, with a veritable host of presenters: these included organizer Richard Schalber, Hans-Josef Fell (Member of the Bundestag and energy policy spokesman), Horst Schneider (Member of the Executive Board, TÜV SÜD), René Bänzinger (Consul of the Embassy of Switzerland), Hans Urban (CEO of Schletter), Dr. John Hoerl (sole director of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road AG), Kurt Sigl (President of the Federation e-mobility), Dirk Vincken (AVD), and last but not least, Tim Ruhoff, the current unbeaten e-miglia champion from 2010 and 2011.

Tim Ruhoff and his co-driver Anna Baumeister also had the honor of leading the parade lap from Munich to the city of Rosenheim, this year's official host for the e-miglia event.

Climate Neutral

The city of Rosenheim is one of many working to reduce its own impact on the environment; the efforts there are titled "Project 2025." The city's goal is to become climate-neutral by 2025, and it considers e-miglia an important part of that goal. Thomas Bugl, the city's economic affairs officer, said:

"One must simply have ridden in an electric car, in order to experience and appreciate the advantages of this new technology. We're very happy to host the e-miglia in Rosenheim. It's an ideal occasion to refine this concept for all participants. Unfortunately, there are still a number of prejudices [associated with electric mobility], but these are quickly overcome through proximity and experience.

"We're very lucky to be part of the e-miglia this year. It's the perfect event for Rosenheim."

After completing the 45-mile parade lap to Rosenheim, the competitors will be in place for Monday's trip. The entire entourage will head towards the city of Salzburg, where they will stop to recharge, and then towards the city of Bruck, which is the final stop for the day. GPS live-tracking is available from the event website.

Source: e-miglia via Oekonews.at
Image Credits: e-miglia

Energy Efficiency: What Are the Laggards Thinking?

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:41 PM PDT

Why do some states avoid creating policies that encourage consumers and businesses to save energy? What's the psychology of the laggards?

A new report by the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy sheds some insight as it examines the states that consistently fall behind in the organization's annual energy efficiency ranking.

The bottom states are: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The good news is that even these laggards are beginning to adopt policies to save energy, according to the report, "Opportunity Knocks: Examining Low-Ranking States in the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard."

But they still have a lot of catching up to do. And why did they fall behind in the first place?

The report authors, who interviewed 55 stakeholders, found that one reason is a general lack of awareness about energy efficiency's benefits. Another is an aversion to government mandates. But one of the most fascinating barriers is a misperception about energy costs.

Industry folklore says that consumers in states with low electric rates have no motivation to save energy. This folklore discourages policymakers from putting time and money into energy efficiency programs. In truth, these states have good economic reasons to  encourage consumers to insulate, install better lighting, and undertake other energy savings measures. It turns out that even though electric rates are low in these states, consumers are paying high monthly bills.

This may sound counterintuitive. But consider these numbers. In Alabama, electric utilities charge 10.67 cents/kWh, and households pay an average $147.69/month for electricity. Similarly, in South Carolina, rates are 10.5 cents/kWh, and monthly bills are $137.59/month. Compare Alabama and South Carolina to Massachusetts and California, two states with aggressive energy efficiency efforts. Massachusetts' electric rates are high, averaging $14.59 cents/kWh, but monthly bills are low, only $97.34. California, too, has high rates of 14.75 cents/kWh and low monthly bills of $82.85.

So, electric rates are higher in Massachusetts and California, yet households in those two states pay less per month for power than households in Alabama and South Carolina. This is because they consume less power. Households in the efficient states have an edge; they need less electricity each month to secure the same level of comfort and service in their homes as those in Alabama and South Carolina. So, there should be plenty of good motivation for households in the low-rate states to pursue efficiency measures.

Another point of confusion involves the cost to society of investing in energy efficiency. Because it's generally categorized with other 'green' initiatives, energy efficiency is perceived as boutique and expensive. To the contrary, it is cheaper to avoid energy use than to make new electricity, according to ACEEE. Energy efficiency measures cost an average 2.5 cents/kWh while building a new power plant cost 6 to 15 cents/kWh. Because of this cost differential, several states now mandate that utilities institute cost-effective energy efficiency before building new generation.

These are arguments, unfortunately, that might get lost in the din of an election year, one in which energy is shaping up to be a major issue. However, as is often the case, the states are leading the way and not relying on federal policy. Even the laggard states are picking up their pace when it comes to energy efficiency, as the ACEEE report describes. Read more on the ACEEE website.

Huge, Overlooked (by Most) Fossil Fuel Subsidy

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 10:00 AM PDT

Here’s a great recent post from Dana Nuccitelli, via Skeptical Science:

The International Energy Agency (IEA) made headlines recently by concluding that fossil fuels received far more global subsidies than renewable energy in 2010. However, it appears that the IEA survey only included data from the countries with the largest fossil fuel subsidies, which are mainly developing countries whose economies largely depend on fossil fuel production. National Geographic’s The Great Energy Challenge also includes fossil fuel subsidy data from developed countries (Figure 1), bringing the total global value close to $500 billion for 2010.

Bear in mind that exactly what is defined as a “subsidy” can be rather subjective, so these are just rough estimates.

Figure 1: Global fossil fuel subsidies in billions of dollars per country from National Geographic.  Click the image for a larger version, and click here for more information.

It’s worth noting that this trend is changing.  For example, in the USA in 2011, fossil fuel subisidies in the form of tax breaks were down to $2.5 billion while renewable energy and energy efficiency programs received $16 billion in subsidies.  Even many developing countries like Iran (with the largest orange circle in Figure 1 at over $80 billion in 2010 fossil fuel subsidies) dramatically reducing their subsidizing of fossil fuels (in 2011 Iran’s subsidies were down to $20 to $30 billion).

Nevertheless, despite the movement in the right direction, global fossil fuel subsidies are still much higher than renewable energy subsidies, despite the fact that fossil fuels and associated technologies have been established for decades to centuries.  Fossil fuels also receive another massive subsidy which is rarely taken into account in these types of calculations – carbon emissions.

Social Cost of Carbon

As we know, carbon emissions impact people and our economies through their contribution to climate change through the increased greenhouse effect.  The climate change associated with these emissions has a myriad of effects (i.e. rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more frequent extreme weather events, etc.), many of which result in bad effects on people.

It’s very challenging to quantify the total dollar impact of these changes, but economists try to estimate the economic damage done by a each ton of carbon (or carbon dioxide) emissions, which they have termed the “social cost of carbon” (SCC).  SCC is effectively an estimate of the direct effects of carbon emissions on the economy, and takes into consideration such factors as net agricultural productivity loss, human health effects, property damages from sea level rise, and changes in ecosystem services.

SCC estimates generally range from $5 to $68 per ton of CO2 emitted, though a few more conservative ecoomists put the figure lower, and some economists argue it could potentially be much higher in the near future.

The Huge, Overlooked Fossil Fuel Subsidy

Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels in 2011 totalled 31.6 billion tons.  Given the SCC range of $5 to $68 per ton of CO2, those emissions correspond to a cost of $158 billion to $2.1 trillion per year, globally – roughly $23 to $300 per person.  Note that the IEA and National Geographic listed global fossil fuel subisides at $400 to $500 billion.  The central estimate of the social cost of carbon emissions is roughly twice that total.

These carbon emissions may reasonably be considered a subsidy because they impose various costs on society (on agricultural productivity, property damage, human health, etc.), but since most countries don’t yet put a price on carbon emissions, these costs are not reflected in the fossil fuel market price.  Rather than fossil fuel producers and consumers paying these costs, society as a whole picks up the tab.  Therefore, fossil fuel prices are kept artificially low (Figure 2), which is generally the purpose of subsidies.

Figure 2: Average US coal electricity price vs. Muller, Mendelsohn, and Nordhaus (2011) and Epstein (2011) best estimate coal external costs.

Fossil Fuel Industries Benefit, You Pick Up the Tab

However, with all subsidies, somebody has to pick up the tab.  Usually it’s taxpayers who provide the funds to implement the subsidy, but in this case it’s everyone who is adversely impacted by climate change, which is basically everybody in one form or another.  For example, you pay higher food prices as climate change impacts agriculture (i.e. wheat prices rose as a direct consequence of the 2010 record Moscow drought, heat wave, and wildfires).

Worse yet, as Samson et al. (2011) showed, the countries with the lowest CO2 emissions will generally experience the largest associated climate impacts (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Top Frame – National average per capita CO2 emissions based on OECD/IEA 2006 national CO2 emissions (OECD/IEA, 2008)  and UNPD 2006 national population size (UNPD, 2007).  Bottom Frame: Global Climate Demography Vulnerability Index. Red corresponds to more vulnerable regions, blue to less vulnerable regions. White areas corresponds to regions with little or no population (Samson et al 2011).

Carbon – the Forgotten Fossil Fuel Subsidy

It’s rather rermarkable that everyone tends to overlook this immense fossil fuel subsidy, which amounts to somewhere in the ballpark of $1 trillion per year at present, globally.  It’s certainly a difficult figure to quantify with a large possible range of values, but it’s also a huge cost which fossil fuel producers and consumers do not directly pay.  While the market price of fossil fuels remains artificially low, we all pick up the tab to the tune of approximately $150 per person per year, on average, though those costs are unevenly distributed.  However, Economics 101 says that the people who benefit from those emissions (fossil fuel consumers) should be the ones paying their cost through a price on carbon emissions.

Climate contrarians in particular tend to neglect this huge fossil fuel subsidy in two main ways.  First, they claim that developing nations need “cheap” energy (a favorite argument of John Christy, for example), when fossil fuel energy is not actually cheap, and in fact poorer nations tend to pay the lion’s share of the associated climate costs (Figure 3).  Second, they claim that it will be cheaper to adapt to climate change than to mitigate carbon emissions (i.e. MoncktonMichaels and Cato, and the CEO of ExxonMobil have recently made this argument).  In this context, “adaptation” means continuing the economic drain of these hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies every year,which is several times higher than the cost of climate mitigation.

Most importantly, until we put a price on carbon emissions (and to their credit, a few countries and regions have), fossil fuels will remain extremely heavily subidized at a time when we need to be quickly phasing out our reliance on them.

Black Lung Cases Doubled in Last Decade, While Coal Industry Fought New Health Protections

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:10 AM PDT

In the last ten years, as cases of black lung among American coal miners doubled — hitting "epidemic" scale — the coal industry and anti-regulatory politicians have fought to prevent federal agencies from creating new standards that would improve miner safety.

That's according to an investigation from National Public Radio, The Center for Public Integrity, and the Charleston Gazette.

The reporters looked at health data and regulatory records, finding an alarming surge in cases of black lung in U.S. miners — even while opponents of regulation worked to stop any new laws designed to reduce the problem. NPR released part one of its investigation recently:

Black lung experts and mine safety advocates have warned of the resurgence of the disease since 1995. New reporting by CPI and NPR reveals the extent to which federal regulators and the mining industry failed to protect coal miners in the intervening years.

An analysis of federal data by CPI and NPR also shows that the mining industry and federal regulators have known for more than two decades that coal miners were breathing excessive amounts of the coal mine dust that causes black lung.CPI and NPR also found that the system for controlling coal mine dust is plagued by weak regulations and inaccurate reporting that sometimes includes fraud.

"This is clearly a public health epidemic," Laney says. "This is a rare disease that should not be occurring. It's occurring at a high proportion of individuals who are being exposed."

Rates of black lung have doubled nation-wide in the last decade. In Appalachia, cases of the most advanced form of black lung have increased four-fold since the 1980′s.


What is causing the rise in black lung? According to public health experts and industry experts, it's a combination of outdated coal dust regulations and miners working longer hours.

The last time any major regulations were established was 1969. That year, Congress established the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which created a new coal mining regulatory agency and significantly tightened standards for coal dust in the air. Cases of black lung fell by 90 percent after the law was passed.

But over the coming decades, as miners started working far longer hours, the problem came back in a big way:

Rasmussen first started charting an increase in serious black lung cases about 15 years ago.

"We began to see the appearance of younger miners who had worked in the mines only since the dust suppression following the '69 act that were showing up with complicated pneumoconiosis or progressive massive fibrosis," he says.

Since 1970, NIOSH epidemiologists documented test results for 43 percent of the nation's coal miners. In 1995, the tests began to indicate more and more black long, rapid disease progression and the unexpected occurrence among relatively young miners.

"From the patterns and from the severity, from the prevalence of the disease, this must be a situation in which the dust in many, many mines is simply not adequately controlled," says Edward Petsonk, a pulmonologist at West Virginia University and a consultant for NIOSH. "There's nothing else that could possibly cause this."

But rather than protect sick miners from black lung  — a problem that has been growing steadily over the last 15 years — the coal industry and anti-regulation crusaders in Congress have prevented any new rules on coal dust from moving forward.

Ken Ward, a leading coal journalist who runs the blog Coal Tattoo, wrote a companion piece to the NPR/CPI investigation about the failure of regulators to help improve conditions for miners:

Over and over, that's been the story of government efforts to improve the system intended to protect miners and end black lung. One proposal or another has died, been dropped or thrown out in court after one side or the other wasn't satisfied with the details.

…At the same time, efforts by then-MSHA chief Davitt McAteer to focus on black lung — and many other issues — were diverted.

When Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, among their government streamlining proposals was to eliminate MSHA [The Mine Safety and Health Administration]. Mine safety duties would be given instead to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, weakening the greater protections federal law gives to miners.McAteer and other top Labor Department officials spent years fighting the change. They eventually won, but the damage to their agenda — including black lung reforms — was significant.

"It was dramatic," McAteer recalled. "You spent your time not at the task of improving mine safety and health, but defending yourself against what they were trying to do."

The consequences have been deadly. As anti-regulatory politicians repeat their lines about "job killing" federal rules, rates of black lung have doubled — killing more than 70,000 miners since 1970.

Read these two investigations. They powerfully illustrate the real consequences of rolling back environmental and health regulations.

This article was originally published on Climate Progress. It has been reposted with full permission.

Ethanol Process that Boosts Recoverable Energy By 2000%?

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:00 AM PDT

If this news below is legit, this is quite a big deal. Ethanol isn’t exactly the most loved of alternative fuel options, but this Michigan State University breakthrough below could help to boost its use and popularity. Here’s the low-down from Chris of sister site Gas2:

New Ethanol Process Boosts Recoverable Energy By 2000% (via Gas 2.0)

With so much focus on electric cars these days, it can be easy to forget how much money and effort is being funneled into biofuels. Ethanol has gotten a bad rap in recent years, with everyone from conservative deficit hawks to liberal environmentalists deriding it as a dead end. But a new breakthrough…

Back to the Drawing Board for Morpheus the Green Spacecraft

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 08:34 AM PDT

Just a few days after the Curiosity rover made its heart-stopping descent onto the surface of Mars, another kind of spacecraft drama played out right here on Earth. On August 9, NASA’s experimental “green” landing craft Morpheus made its first unassisted flight at Kennedy Space Center. That endeavor quickly ended with a bang when Morpheus crashed and exploded into flames, but it’s  just a bump in the road along NASA’s path to more sustainable forms of space exploration.

NASA's green spacecraft morpheus before crashing

Greener Fuel for Next-Generation Spacecraft

The Morpheus project was designed partly as a test bed for new “green” propulsion systems. The propellant for this test, a mixture of liquid oxygen and methane, has a number of advantages over conventional propulsion systems like liquid hydrogen or hypergols (hypergolic fuels tend to be highly toxic).

The methane could be reclaimed from other space operations. And, according to NASA, the International Space Station already produces enough waste methane to provide a full tank for Morpheus. Both methane and oxygen could also be manufactured on other planets during the course of a mission.

The methane-oxygen combination is also very inexpensive, and it has proved to be safer to handle while performing better than conventional propellants.


Reuse, Recycle, Explore Space

Morpheus is also of interest because it represents NASA’s trial of a “lean development” approach to engineering. The entire project was conducted by NASA engineers based on the success of a previous test bed project called Pixel that had tried out the methane-oxygen propellant in unassisted flight.

Pixel was built out of available spare parts from the company Armadillo Aerospace rather than custom-fabricating new parts (Armadillo specializes in reusable spacecraft).

Morpheus is also designed to provide for more functionality while using less hardware. The propulsion system is integrated into its descent and landing systems, and its 1,100 payload could accommodate a small humanoid robot or a rover.

Fittingly, Morpheus was tested at repurposed area of the Kennedy Space Center, the previous Space Shuttle Facility.

One Giant Step for Green Spacecraft

As of this writing, NASA has not identified the precise cause of Morpheus’s failure, except to state that it was a hardware problem and not due to the propellant.

However, NASA already credits Morpheus with providing a gateway to the next generation of low-cost, high-efficiency space exploration:

“The workforce behind Project Morpheus has gained valuable experience that will provide the corner stone for design of future missions. In addition, the project is setting mid-range performance and design requirements that will drive down the production cost of future landers – Project Morpheus is taking the lessons learned from our industry partners to facilitate this alternative design approach.”

NASA is also involved in a number of other sustainability initiatives, including the development of electric aircraft in partnership with Google.

Image: Some rights reserved by Morpheus Lander.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

The Wind Gateway Story

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 08:28 AM PDT

Early in 2010, a sustainability innovator from one of Poland's top-rated business schools signed up for a wind turbine blade inspection course to learn more about the behind-the-scenes activities of one of the fastest-growing industries in renewable energy. At the time, Denmark was one of the few places on Earth that offered this type of training, so it came as no surprise that both the course and its field work were located in a relatively uninhabited part of that country.

What was surprising, however, was that the course consisted of overworked ex-military personnel who had not been home in weeks. “I'm thinking of leaving the wind industry so I can get some rest,” one of them said. Another three individuals, all of whom needed to renew an important certification, never showed up at all because they had to attend to a malfunctioning turbine near the Mediterranean Sea.

“That's when I realized that the number of trained individuals who can perform mechanical labour on wind turbines was not adequate to meet demand,” says Jonathan Scott, the teacher who made the journey (Scott is also a business developer, an entrepreneur, and an amateur rock climber; he made the trip, in part, to investigate job opportunities for climbers with rope access safety qualifications).

In fact, every field worker Scott spoke with agreed that a lack of skilled labour was a major headache in the industry and that the situation was destined to become worse as turbines continued to be manufactured, and as the existing ones became older and required more maintenance.

Scott immediately began formulating a software tool that would help field workers conduct blade inspections and write professional reports accompanied by pictures and videos. The idea was to allow workers to complete their inspection reports on-site as inspections were conducted, thereby saving approximately 2-3 hours of post-work later. With a telecommunications link, the software could also allow information to be sent to individuals in other parts of the world for an on-the-spot analysis by experienced personnel.

As a business manager who understands the importance of recruitment and training, Scott envisioned that the software might also provide a 'gateway' into the wind industry for women, entrepreneurs, engineers, more ex-service people, and other suitable candidates — all of whom have the capacity to perform basic inspection work, but currently lack the qualifications and experience to conduct repairs.

Work on the software began in March 2011, and although the first prototype was designed for turbine blade inspections, it quickly became apparent that a similar software package could be developed for the inspection of towers, nacelles, and equipment such as gearboxes and generators. A version in Android was developed so the software could be installed in tablets and smart phones, due to the rising popularity of these devices (when the idea for project began, Apple's iPad had just been introduced).

While the software project developed, additional feedback from workers made it clear the wind industry had other voids (read: opportunities) that needed to be filled, so Scott and his team began designing an even grander project; one that would help workers help themselves to overcome the difficulties of a growing industry in which the infrastructure has not yet fully developed.

Called Wind Gateway, the resulting project, in the form of an easy-to-use website, focuses on providing free educational material, dedicated search engines, information exchanges, job search and job improvement tools, skill development, best practice posts, and other self-help and career-enhancing offers.

Being university-based, Scott developed the project so that it is easy to analyze and develop the results, in order to keep up with changes and further advances the wind industry and its people. Factors that prove to be the most promising in terms of worker support and productivity, job creation, job security, value and profitability are then studied to determine if they can be adapted to help other industries.

Both projects are so intriguing that, in October of 2011, Wietold Bielecki (Rector of Kozminski University, Poland's top-rated business school) and Andrzej Kozminski (founder and President of Kozminski University) awarded the first MBA scholarships in the history of the university to the two individuals who worked hardest to develop the software and put together the basics of Wind Gateway  (Bartlomiej Wachowski and Slawomir Sierocki).

Today, both projects are almost finished, but the volunteers involved have done as much as they can (to date, 20 people from 9 different countries have worked on these projects). Specialists are now needed to put the finishing touches on the almost-completed results – which, when finished, will be disseminated free of charge to the men and women who work in the wind industry.

Interested in helping?

Read about the fascinating Wind Gateway Projects at IndieGoGo and chip in to make it all happen!

Energy Peak Demand Disappearing in Australia

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 08:00 AM PDT

It has been estimated that around one quarter of the revenue earned by Australia's electricity generators – and nearly all their profits – come from a short period – between 36 and 100 hours – of "super peaks" of demand that push wholesale electricity prices beyond $5,000 per megawatt hour or more. But what if those peaks never came?

We're about to find out, because this graph below published by the Australian Energy Regulator reveals that there were virtually no peaks above $5,000/MWh in 2011/12. The graph tells the story for previous years.

The returns for Australia's generators for this period have not yet been announced, but as we saw in the December half with Loy Yang A's plunge into the red (before its purchase and refinancing by AGL Energy) those generators with high debt levels will be suffering badly. Those generators owned by vertically integrated companies can take it on the chin and offset it with higher earnings from their retailing operations.

Sadly, the record low wholesale costs being recorded this year in the NEM are not passed on to consumers. At least not yet.

And what is the reason for the disappearing peaks? For that we can go to the Australian Energy Market Operator report and find that milder weather (fewer extreme hot days when everyone flicks on their air conditioners at the same time), reduced demand from manufacturers, more efficient and cautious use by commercial and residential users in the face of higher retail prices, and the growing impact of rooftop solar (its deployment trebled in the past year). Welcome to the merit order effect.

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

Wind & Solar to be Cheapest Electricity in Canberra

Posted: 13 Aug 2012 07:00 AM PDT

The Australian government's chief energy forecasting body has published a dramatic revision of its cost estimates, predicting that onshore wind and solar PV will deliver the cheapest forms of energy by 2030 – with solar PV dramatically cheaper than all other energy forms by 2050.

The Australian Energy Technology Assessment (AETA) prepared by the government's Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics slashes its previous estimates of the cost of a whole range of renewables technologies, and in some cases doubles the predicted cost of coal-fired generation in the decades to come – with or without the addition of carbon capture and storage.

Its estimates of the cost of gas generation are relatively unchanged, around $130/MWh, but in its most controversial conclusion is says that nuclear energy currently represents the cheapest form of energy – saying that its range of costs is between $55 and $100/MWh, even though the experience in the UK is that new nuclear requires tariffs of at least $220/MW to get built.

BREE's Professor Quentin Grafton said in the report, which was prepared in conjunction with engineering group Worley Parsons, that by 2030 some renewable technologies, such as solar PV and wind, are expected to have the lowest LCOE of all of the evaluated technologies.

"The results indicate that Australia's energy future is likely to be very different to the present," the report concludes. "This has profound implications for electricity networks, how energy is distributed and Australia's ability to meet its targeted greenhouse gas emissions reductions."

These are the first government-sponsored technology cost estimates published since the Draft Energy White Paper was released last December. That paper virtually ignored solar as a contributing element to Australia's energy grid, but it now recognises that estimates for solar PV were wide of the mark, and its costs have fallen dramatically and would continue to do so (even though the report predicts no cost declines between 2020 and 2030).

The estimates for 2012, 2020, 2030 and 2050 are published below (you may need to click on them to enlarge and view properly). The contrast with the December predictions – published at the bottom –  is informative.

BREE suggests that solar PV will be competing with onshore wind, biomass and nuclear(!) in Australia by the end of the decade, before emerging as the cheapest technology in subsequent years. Its estimates are for a midpoint of around $224/MWh now, around $116/MWh by 2030 and a midpoint of $86/MWh by 2050, and as cheap as $70/MWh by 2020 and $30/MWh by 2050. Even brown coal, without a carbon price and CCS, is costed at around $100/MWh by 2020, nearly double that with a carbon price, and with CCS is costed between $150/MWh and $200/MWh, depending on the technology.

Its predictions for other renewable technologies may also be disputed by some technology developers.

A range of solar thermal technologies are appraised, with current costs estimated at more than $300/MWh, falling to around $200/MWh by 2025, but then making no further progress. Solar thermal developers, along with the International Energy Agency, believe costs will fall to around $100/MWh by the end of the decade. An Australian industry report released in June called "Realising the potential of Concentrating Solar Power in Australia," suggested costs of $120-$130/MWh could be reached.

The AETA report sees the average cost of onshore wind at $116/MW (although some are being built now in Australia for around $80/MW), and while it sees this falling to the low $90s/MW by 2025, it then predicts a gradual rise in costs, which may be disputed by the industry. It says offshore wind would cost around $194/MW now, and be virtually unchanged out to 2050.

In wave power, where Australian developers predict costs coming down to around $100/MWh by the end of the decade, BREE suggests it will still cost around $222/MW by 2025, but then achieve no further cost reductions over the next 25 years.

Geothermal is expected to deliver costs of around $215/MWh (hot rocks) in 2025, and then gradually increase in costs to $222/MWh, while hot sedimentary aquifer's will cost around $154/MWh from around 2020 and also increase in costs. Geothermal developers have previously predicted costs of around $100/MWh, although they have gone a bit quiet on these predictions recently due to a lack of progress.

Among the non-renewable technologies, BREE said combined cycle gas (and in later years combined with carbon capture and storage) and nuclear power offered the lowest LCOE over most of the projection period, and they both remain cost competitive with the lower cost renewable technologies out to 2050.

However, its forecasts for nuclear are astonishing, given the experience in the UK, which already has nuclear plant and is desperate to build more. The BREE report suggests cost for new build nuclear in 2012 in Australia would be less than $100/MWh, rising slightly to around $126/MWh in 2050. Last week, theFinancial Times reported that French nuclear giant EDF is asking for £165/MWh – or $250/MWh – to build the Hinkley Point project, and a French government committee estimated the ongoing costs of nuclear plants already built would be around $88/MW by 2017, and that does not include the capital costs. The BREE report says decommissioning costs were not factored in to its calculations.

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

100+ MPG from the New Lemonhead Buddy

Posted: 12 Aug 2012 05:33 PM PDT

Some days I wish Jo wouldn’t write about scooters so much — because I increasingly want to buy one. Here’s some recent news from Jo on the new Lemonhead Buddy, which gets 100+ mpg (via sister site Gas2):

Genuine’s New Lemonhead Buddy is a 100+ mpg Sweetie (via Gas 2.0)

I'm not gonna lie, Genuine's Buddy line of small-displacement scooters have a special place in my heart. Over the past twelve months, I spent (quite literally) hundreds of hours riding various scoots, from Honda Metros to big-engined maxis, and the Buddy was always "just right". It's a "…

Bicycle Helmet Cams Catch What the Police Can’t

Posted: 12 Aug 2012 05:21 PM PDT

Bicycle helmet cams have probably been around for awhile, but improvements in technology and cost, as well as a more tech-savvy culture, seem to be increasing the number of helmet cams on the streets.

They are being used to catch bad drivers, as the video below shows.


For much more on this helmet cam trend, check out this Planetsave repost below:

Bike Helmet Video Cameras (via Planetsave)

Bicyclist Visibility & a Flashy Bike Helmet   One afternoon as I loaded my bike on the front of a bus I noticed a young man ride up behind me. I sat down on the bus happy to see another cyclist using integrated transit as I was. This is rare in the Florida city where I live. There is only a small…

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