Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Fat- and Oil-Burning Plant Could Power 18,000 Homes

Posted: 20 Aug 2012 06:48 PM PDT

A £20-million clean energy plant has been proposed for a site at Shoreham Port in West Sussex, England. Portslade, Southwick, and Shoreham could all be powered by the proposed energy plant if it is approved and becomes operational. (Shoreham has a population of about 19,000–20,000.)

Edgley Green Power is the company responsible for the plan and potential construction. They would like to have the new plant running by 2014.

It would be built at Fishersgate terminal on a one-acre site next to the Shoreham Power Station. If completed, about twenty new permanent jobs would be added to the local workforce. During the construction phase, over seventy temporary jobs are estimated to be necessary.

Shoreham port has been said to be a very good location because the fuel sources can be brought there in bulk quantities by ship for processing, which means no new roads need to be constructed and no additional vehicles on existing roads. Additionally, the fuels used to burn to generate electricity would be recycled from other uses and contexts.

Used cooking oil, tall oil pitch, animal tallow, and waste vegetable oils unfit for human consumption are some of the fuel sources. Though it may be obvious to some that the waste vegetable oils would need to be unfit for human consumption, it is worth mentioning because sometimes critics of vegetable oil burning energy plants believe it is virgin oils that will be used and therefore there will be a food source taken away from people. For this facility, no virgin plant oils will be used.

Tall oil pitch is created during the wood pulping of coniferous trees in Scandinavia and Canada.

A European Union renewable energy directive stipulates that 15% of the UK’s energy should come from renewable sources by 2020.

West Sussex is located in the south of England and known for the natural beauty of its open spaces. It is also one of the sunniest places in England, so there is an interest in solar power development there.

Image Credit: Ian Stannard, Wiki Commons

Phase-Out of the Federal Wind Tax Credit a Good Thing?

Posted: 20 Aug 2012 06:43 PM PDT

Energy and Environment News has a very long story on a new angle for the federal wind tax credit debate: a phaseout. This article raises several issues, apart from that policy strategy, that are worth a quick discussion.

1. Why Would Wind Compete with Natural Gas?

The article waxes long about the trials of the wind industry in the face of low natural gas prices, implying that utilities choose new natural gas power plants over wind power on the basis of price. I'm a bit skeptical.

Wind power is inflexible, meaning utilities have to take the power whenever the wind blows. Natural gas power plants have typically been flexible, used to provide peaking power to meet rapid changes in electricity demand. From the perspective of adding new power supply, the two aren't competitors.

Or am I mistaken? Are there are a lot of utilities choosing to add new natural gas power plants as baseload/inflexible power that would otherwise have chosen wind power?

2. Are We Really Basing 20- to 40-year Electricity Prices from Natural Gas on Today's Gas Price?

The article notes that natural gas power plants have a current levelized cost of $45-55 per Megawatt-hour, compared to $60-90 for wind projects that do not receive the federal tax credit (based on the quality of the wind resource). Since this is much less than estimates made last year, when gas prices were higher, one can only assume that the estimators believe that gas prices will remain forever low.

I'll take that bet.

3. Why Would the Tax Credit Matter?

Most wind power in the U.S. has been either installed in states or the environmental attributes (renewable energy credits) sold to states with renewable energy mandates. Thus, the wind tax credit isn't really the market-driver, but instead is transfer payment from federal taxpayers to electricity ratepayers in those states. Utilities in Minnesota, with a mandate for 25% renewable energy by 2025, for example, will have to meet that goal whether or not the contract for wind power costs 11 cents (without any federal subsidies) or 7 cents (with the credit and accelerated depreciation). Utilities in Iowa get to buy wind power very cheap, because the low-cost wind projects in that state use the federal tax incentives and then sell their renewable credits in neighboring states (e.g. Illinois).

I can think of a few reasons that the tax credit still matters:

  • Utilities are buying more wind power than they are required to, because it is so cheap.
  • Developers have projects that are financed based on the tax credit, and they fall apart without it.
  • Merchant wind power projects (selling into a competitive wholesale market) are relying on it.

If it's the first, then the tax credit is going to slow the wind industry. If it's the second, it's largely a short-term problem. If it's the third, it won't really affect new projects so much as it will punish developers who chose to gamble on the longevity of the credit.

4. Could an Expiring/Phasing Out Credit Be a Good Thing?

In the short term, it will be bad for the industry, as illustrated by history in the adjacent chart from AWEA. But in the long run wind power will get cheaper and natural gas – a finite resource – will not. And one of the big logjams for renewable energy projects right now is an inability to actually use the federal tax incentive.

That's because a lot of developers don't carry the tax liability necessary to offset their power generation, and the list of big corporations that do is relatively short, giving them a lot of market power. In fact, in exchange for partnerships with wind projects to access the federal tax credits, these companies routinely get rates of return from 10% up to 49%. (I discuss this issue in more detail here).

The short supply of tax equity partners lets them charge high prices, increasing the cost to wind power developers of using the tax credits and perversely increasing the cost of electricity from wind power.

The tax credit has also created an environment where community-based wind power, with its multiplier to jobs and economic benefits (and political benefits), has an uphill struggle to compete. (There's a great counter-example of a wind farm in South Dakota with 600 local owners made possible by the cash grant in lieu of the tax credit. I've also discussed how low-cost financing could allow solar developers to opt out of the federal tax credit and still lower the cost of solar energy by 25%).

If there's no tax credit, however, there's no high-priced tax equity market or artificial barrier to local ownership. And both of these changes may benefit the industry in the long run.

This post originally appeared on ILSR's Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

U.S. Could Lead in Wave Power, But China Does…For Now

Posted: 20 Aug 2012 06:32 PM PDT

The U.S. has yet to deploy a fully commercial-scale wave power plant, while China is already planning for the installation of its second, third, and fourth wave power plants from SDE, an Israeli company. When they are all completed, SDE will have a total of 12 commercial wave power ventures worldwide including Chile, Mexico, Tanzania, and Kenya. As for the U.S., we might be lagging behind now but that could change pretty soon.

SDE builds three new wave power plants in China


SDE leads in wave power

SDE first came to the attention of CleanTechnica in 2010 when it announced its first wave power plant in China, close on the heels of another deal signed with India.

At the time, SDE claimed that it had more deals in the works and it looks like the company has followed through.

China’s first SDE installation was in Guangdong Province on the South China coast, and the three new ones are being constructed in Guangzhou. The first in this threesome is already completed, the second is nearing completion and the third will get under way soon.

Wave power from Israel

SDE’s system is based on buoys, which bob up and down with the waves. Energy from this motion is transferred to a series of pistons, which pump pressurized oil to a generator that creates electricity.

In addition to harvesting energy from waves, the device also scavenges motion from the ebb and flow of tides.

According to SDE’s press materials, the typical cost of electricity from its wave generators is about 2 cents per kilowatt hour.

U.S. plays catch-up on wave power

Right, so we all know you can’t drive your car with a wave power buoy on it, but the electric vehicle market is poised for skyrocketing growth and the winners will be those with access to low cost, low risk sources of electricity.

Fossil fuels are only one of many potential sources of electricity and over the years they have proven to be high risk sources, with impacts ranging from chronic community malaise related to coal mining operations here at home to death and injury for American troops related to fuel convoys and other military operations overseas.

Given the impact of fossil fuel dependency on military effectiveness, it’s no surprise that the U.S. Navy has been pushing for more wave power along with biofuel and other forms of alternative energy.

The first grid-connected wave power device in the U.S. was installed for a Navy base in Hawaii, and the Navy has been providing funding and test bed support for a number of private sector wave power companies such as Ocean Power Technologies.

Meanwhile, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company is set to begin operating the first fully commercial scale wave power generator in the U.S. some time this fall.

Image: Ocean wave (cropped). Some rights reserved by mikebaird.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

New Construction Methods Could Make Offshore Wind Turbines More Efficient

Posted: 20 Aug 2012 06:28 PM PDT

A Cambridge University engineer is urging the wind power industry to look at the designs for offshore wind turbines in an effort to increase their efficiency and decrease the amount of energy required to produce and install the massive towers at sea.

Jim Platts of the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge believes that the wind power sector could achieve much higher payback ratios if turbines were installed using guyed towers rather than the heavy free-standing towers currently in use.

"The development of the wind turbine industry, and the way in which it works with the civil engineers who make the heavy supporting towers and foundations, which are not visible out at sea once the turbines are installed, mean that we have ignored something which is almost embarrassingly obvious in our race to meet the targets set for renewable energy production," said Platts.

"We urgently need to reduce the high levels of energy embedded in offshore wind turbines which make them both ineffective in energy payback and costly in financial terms. We can do this fairly easily if we invest in more innovative methods for making and installing the towers and foundations that support them."

The effectiveness of a wind turbine is determined by one key figure: it’s harvesting ratio.

This ratio is a measure of the energy it provides compared to the amount of energy required to manufacture the tower.

Wind turbines comprise three main elements: the blades that harness the wind energy; the gearbox and generator mechanisms that produce the electricity; the tower that supports these moving parts; and the foundations that hold the tower in place. The tower is conventionally made of steel and the foundation in steel and concrete.

A turbine used on land will see two-thirds of the total energy invested to produce the tower embeeded in the moving parts, with the final third invested into the tower structure. Onshore turbines usually achieve a harvesting ratio of 40:1.

However, when you situate a turbine offshore, with the need for heavier towers and massive foundations, the harvesting ratio drops to 15:1. "When you look at offshore wind turbines you see a series of slim structures – what you don't see are the far heavier supporting structures below the surface that they slot into," said Platts.

"Steel is prone to corrosion and to fatigue," Platts added. "This begs the question: could we do better with other materials. The answer is yes, we can use composites for towers just as we do for blades. They are lighter, stronger, corrosion free and more resilient than steel."

A preliminary study conducted by the University Institute for Manufacturing suggests that guyed towers could offer significant advantages that conventional heavy towers lack. The use of steel cables fixed to the sea bed by screw anchors could result in significantly slimmer towers and less weighty foundations.

The study found that with the resulting reduction in steel and concrete, the harvesting ratio would increase to 25:1.

"The use of guyed towers is just the first step for the industry to take. The second step would be to make towers in composite materials which are less energy intensive to make than steel which relies on smelting and concrete that also depends on a chemical reduction process in manufacturing cement.  Composites also have a longer life than steel as they stand up to fatigue much better. Using these new materials could increase the harvesting ratio still further to 32:1 and extend the lifetime of a turbine installation from the present 20 years to up to 60 years," said Platts.

"The Finnish wind turbine manufacturer Mervento has shown the way with a guyed turbine designed for use in the Baltic. Other producers – such as those making turbines for sites in the North Sea – need to take heed and invest in research into designs that take a similar approach to making the industry far more energy efficient and sustainable."

Source: University of Cambridge
Image Source: Phil Hollman

Portugal’s First Offshore Wind Turbine Installed and Certified

Posted: 20 Aug 2012 06:24 PM PDT

Portugal’s first offshore wind turbine has been installed and certified care of the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), which provided certification services for the design, fabrication, and installation of the 2MW WindFloat Agucadoura unit. The floating wind turbine now sits in waters of slightly less than 50 metres some 4 kilometres off the northern coast of Portugal.

The installation of the WindFloat Agucadoura also marks another milestone, according to ABS. The WindFloat project was the first offshore wind deployment in the world that did not require heavy-lift equipment offshore.

According to ABS, “final assembly and pre-commissioning took place in a controlled shoreside environment.” Additionally, the installation was the “first deployment of a semisubmersible structure supporting a commercial-size wind turbine.”

"Up until today, all offshore wind farms have been based on bottom fixed foundations in water depths less than 30 m," says ABS Offshore Account Manager Lars Samuelsson. "As we go deeper, floating offshore wind turbine foundations may become a cost-effective alternative."

"As wind demonstrates massive potential as a source for renewable energy, ABS is proud to partner with projects such as the WindFloat," said ABS Chairman Robert D. Somerville. "With our decades of offshore experience, we have a great existing body of knowledge that we can use to develop guidelines for the next generation of projects that capture growing alternative energy sources such as wind."

Source: ABS
Image Source: Principle Power

Bill and Melinda Reinvent the Toilet, Solar Power Wins

Posted: 20 Aug 2012 02:23 AM PDT

How’d this one slip past us? Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced the winners of its Reinvent the Toilet Challenge and the top prize went to a souped up, solar-powered model that produces hydrogen and fertilizer. If you’re thinking this sounds like another pricey high-tech green gadget for next-generation McMansions, think again: the aim of the challenge is to kickstart the development of low cost toilets for the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to modern sanitary facilities.

Bill and Melinda Gates reinvent the toilet


U.S. Captures Top Toilet Prize

The top winner was produced by the California Institute of Technology. The Caltech team won a $400,000 grant last year to produce a toilet that can operate without running water, does not discharge into a septic tank, and does not generate pollutants — all for about five cents per user per day.

As the winner of the Reinvent the Toilet challenge, the team gets another $100,000 to fine-tune the device, which is a bit more complicated than your ordinary pot.

When CalTech’s toilet is flushed, the water and waste collect in a small tank called an electrochemical reactor. Powered by solar panels, the reactor breaks down waste into hydrogen gas, water, and solids.

The gas can be used to generate electricity from hydrogen fuel cells; the treated water can be used for irrigation or to flush the toilet; and the solids are rendered into an inert, organic material suitable for use as a fertilizer.

More Goodies from Beyond the Toilet Bowl

Other prize-winning entries came up with designs for toilets that create charcoal and other waste-to-energy products, and capture minerals along with reclaiming water.

All this activity won’t come as a surprise to regular readers of CleanTechnica, where wastewater reclamation is one of our favorite things to talk about. After all, the idea of recovering energy from people going about their daily business is pretty cool, kind of like the Matrix, only not.

In terms of the large-scale municipal sewage treatment plants that dot the landscape, the US is becoming a regular hotbed of sewage resource recovery and sustainable land use (some of those treatment plants cover a lot of acreage). Aside from producing fertilizer and usable water, some of the projects in development or well underway are biogas, biodiesel, bioplastic, solar power, and of course wind power.

We’ve also covered the work of Kartik Chandra, a Columbia University professor who has carved out a name for himself in the wastewater field with a study on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from treatment plants. Chandra has contributed to the development of a system using recovered ammonia to grow bacteria for biofuel, and last summer he received a Gates Foundation grant to produce a low cost municipal wastewater system that generates biodiesel and natural gas for communities in undeveloped areas.

On top of that, the Obama Administration has been getting behind the waste-to-energy trend in agriculture, encouraging dairy farms and other livestock operations to install equipment that generates methane gas and fertilizer from raw manure.

Aside from cutting down on waste disposal costs and reducing environmental hazards, the digesters provide farmers with low-cost energy and a potential new revenue stream. Try that with a lump of coal.

Just sayin’.

Image (cropped): Toilet waterfall, some rights reserved by kevinpoh

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

100,000 MW of Enhanced Geothermal in 50 Years in US?

Posted: 20 Aug 2012 02:17 AM PDT

According to a report from an interdisciplinary panel from MIT, the United States could create the capacity for 100,000 MW of enhanced geothermal in just 50 years with relatively modest investments. If you would like to read the full report, it’s here, but be forewarned that it is over 370 pages.

The estimate of what it could cost to ramp up the enhanced geothermal infrastructure is $800 million to $1 billion over a fifteen-year period. (What did Solyndra cost — $535 million?) Solar and wind are intermittent power sources, though storage systems may make them more attractive over time. Geothermal plants, once established, tend to produce energy nearly constantly and can even outperform coal plants.

Though relatively unsexy in the press, the fact that enhanced geothermal has much less environmental impact than fossil fuel or nuclear power plants seems not to have fully registered with the public. Also, because of their very small footprints, geothermal plants may actually be more environmentally friendly than solar or wind plants. Both solar and wind can require large tracts of land, and solar panels need to be cleaned regularly, which potentially means large amounts of  water usage. Of course, wind turbines and flying creatures like birds and bats don’t mix well.

So, why is geothermal flying so low under the radar? Probably the fact that it is underground mostly is a contributing factor — very few lay people have seen any photos of the mechanisms involved, nor have they visited a geothermal plant to see firsthand what the technology looks like.

Perhaps Romney and Obama need to investigate enhanced geothermal technology more closely as well, instead of going back and forth about coal and solar. If Oregon’s Newberry Volcano has enough geothermal potential to power the whole state, how could geothermal be overlooked ever again?

Image Credit: Stepheng3, Wiki Commons, Public Domain

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