- World’s Biggest Community-Owned Solar Farm Hits Minimum Funding Mark
- Sydney to be Home to Australia’s Largest Multi-Roof Solar PV Installation
- Fuel Efficiency Driving America Toward a Sustainable Environment (and Economy)
- First Solar Announces Strong Results, to Start Work on 139-MW Campo Verde Solar Project
- Offshore Use of Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines Gets Closer Look by Sandia Labs
- iPhone App to Encourage Recycling
- New Project Creates 2,000 Wind Farm Jobs for Ireland and the UK
- Invest a Few Pounds for a Piece of a Solar Farm
- Yet Another Study Digs Up the Dirt on “Clean Coal”
- Solving the Landfill Problem with Resource Recovery Facilities
- Electric Cars — Intro Video on Various Electric Cars from Fully Charged 2012 in Ireland
- Minnesota Gets Group Solar Discount Offering
- Clean Energy Growth Projections Soooooo Off Back in 2000
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 10:23 PM PDT
Community-owned solar project enthusiasts have something to celebrate in the UK: the world’s biggest crowd-sourced solar farm has reached its funding milestone of £2.5 million, putting it on track for the next phase of funding.
The project, called Westmill Solar, is located between Swindon and Oxford in south-central England. The 5-megawatt, 21,000-panel PV installation was built on farmer Adam Twine’s land about a year ago.
As part of the original contract, Twine kept the right to buy back the solar farm from the original owners. Now Twine is looking for small investors, preferably locals, to form a solar cooperative of sorts.
Now that the first hurdle of £2.5 million has been secured, the rest of financing comes from institutional bond holders for the remaining £12.5 to £14 million. The bonds will be at an interest rate of about 3.5 percent.
The details of the solar farm buy-back are a tad complicated, but include the following:
The feed-in tariffs and revenue from exporting electricity are expected to gross about £1.7 million. The bondholders will take about £800,000. After the running costs of about £200,000 are accounted for, about £700,000 will available to pay back some debt and provide a small return to investors. Investors aren’t expected to get rich quick, but over time Westmill Solar could show big returns eventually.
In other news, community-owned solar farm investors around the UK are crossing their fingers that there aren’t any huge volcanic eruptions any time soon.
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 09:05 PM PDT
Sydney’s solar project is an indication of the growing viability of commercial-scale solar power in this Solar Feed-in Tariff-free environment. In the absence of FiTs or affordable and efficient energy storage technology, solar’s strong suit is powering buildings that are occupied and consuming electricity during the day. In combination with an effective regimen of energy saving, efficiency, and awareness amongst those who occupy the buildings daily, solar PV is an excellent tool for both saving money and reducing CO2 emissions.
Although the main purpose of the 1.25MW of forthcoming solar PV installations is to trumpet the council’s green ambitions, underlying this seems to be the business case for investing in solar PV vs GreenPower, according to insights by Nigel Morris of Solar Business Services. Although in the short term, the price of producing solar power will be more expensive, the rising price of grid power means that producing solar power will likely be more cost-effective in the long-term, especially in light of the City’s localised power generation goals.
“The City of Sydney is delivering on its commitment to reduce carbon pollution by 70 per cent and produce 30 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 — one of the most ambitious programs of any Australian government,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said in a media statement.
“The solar PV project produces no pollution when generating electricity — unlike coal-fired power, which is responsible for 80 per cent of our pollution.”
“Energy produced locally through solar panels, trigeneration systems or fuel cells will reduce the need to spend billions of dollars on new coal-fired power stations and network upgrades, which are driving up household electricity bills,” the Lord Mayor said.
Further proof of its desire to stand out as a leader amongst Australia’s local councils in the field of greenhouse gas emissions abatement, Sydney has even chosen to forego the effective federal government subsidy that is usually afforded to renewable power generation systems through the Renewable Energy Target. The city chose to ‘retire’ the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) rather than sell them. This was done “so that the City’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through renewable energy projects will go beyond the Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Target — increasing the amount of renewable energy generated in Australia,” according to a tender committee document.
The price tag for the project is $6 million, meaning that the overall cost per watt comes out $4.80, compared to a cost of between $2 and $3 watt for more competitive large-scale installations. In addition to the forfeited REC benefit, the cost difference can be further accounted for by considering the other factors involved. These include the broad, holistic, and community-focused nature of the city’s solar plans (and associated costs), the varied nature of the installations themselves (most are standard installs, but BIPV and solar electric vehicle charging points also appear in the list), as well as the top-end expertise and components that are to be employed.
Top image via City of Sydney
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 08:58 PM PDT
Combining Efficiency Standards and Fuel Fees
A new set of recommended vehicle efficiency standards and fuel fees from the ClimateWorks Foundation (CWF) and International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) reveals the route toward saving money and emissions. By continuously tightening vehicle performance standards and gradually increasing reasonable fuel fees, the report finds the United States could cut vehicle emissions 48 percent by 2030, while creating 190,000 jobs to build more efficient cars by 2020.
Recent results have shown increasing fuel efficiency works. The CWF-ICCT report found the current 35.5 mpg by 2016 standard, set in April 2010, is expected to reduce vehicle emissions by 18 percent while saving every car owner $3,000 over the life of their vehicle.
Higher Efficiency Targets, Stronger Economy
And even with automakers’ increasing efficiency, the American auto industry just set a new fuel efficiency record of 23.8 mpg, and has grown 24 percent while adding 150,000 jobs since June 2009, a trend described as "onshoring" by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "What critics miss about the wisdom of setting strong fuel efficiency standards is that manufacturers throughout the auto supply chain gain certainty for what innovative and efficiency-boosting products they should invest in," said NRDC’s Ronald Hwang. Considering a recent Consumer Reports study showed fuel efficiency is the top concern for prospective auto buyers, the correlation between more efficient cars and increased sales isn’t a surprise.
According to the NRDC, if U.S. fuel economy standards are raised to 54.5 mpg by 2025, the economy will truly shift into gear. NRDC estimates that, by 2030, increased efficiency measures will create 484,000 new jobs, save drivers $125 billion dollars, cut oil imports by a third, and reduce emissions equal to removing 90 million cars from the road.
Internal Combustion in the Eternal Driver’s Seat
Finding ways to reduce gasoline use and emissions remains an incredibly important goal for policymakers, because for all the hope about hybrids and electric vehicles, the internal-combustion engine isn't going anywhere.
A new study from the National Petroleum Council, a non-partisan committee established in 1946, concluded internal combustion would remain the dominant power source for vehicles until at least 2050. Fortunately, the council also found vehicles could become up to 40 percent more efficient using existing technologies.
These finding are important to keep in mind as the nascent electric vehicle industry develops. While President Obama estimated a million electric vehicles would be on our roads by 2015, plug-in sales are falling short of his target. Only 17,500 plug-in vehicles were sold across the U.S. in 2011, and Pike Research estimates 410,000 plug-ins will be sold by 2015. If this trend holds true, cumulative U.S. sales won't reach one million until 2018. But even these modest goals pale in significance to the estimated 254.4 million registered passenger vehicles in the U.S. now, with roughly 13 million autos sold in 2011 alone.
So, considering all these factors, it's clear that vehicles becoming more efficient holds incredible environmental and economic potential. What's unclear is if the country's political gridlock and well-funded oil interests could slam on the brakes. Here's hoping progressive policy keeps us moving on the road toward a sustainable transportation future.
Fuel economy photo via Shutterstock
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 08:47 PM PDT
It’s been a good news week for thin-film solar photovoltaic (PV) market leader First Solar. The Tempe, Arizona-based solar PV manufacturer and project developer was the first, and so far the only, solar PV manufacturer to post a 2Q profit, and an unexpectedly higher one at that. Management also announced that it is developing a utility-scale solar power farm in California’s Imperial Valley, an area that’s literally and figuratively become a hotspot for solar and geothermal resource development in the US.
Imperial Valley: Solar PV Hotspot
First Solar yesterday announced it’s developing the Campo Verde Solar Project, a planned 139-MW solar PV farm near El Centro in Imperial Valley. Construction is due to start in 3Q and be completed in 2013, creating some 250 construction jobs.
San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is taking on the electricity as per the terms of a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved in late May.
Campo Verde is jointly owned by First Solar and US Solar Holdings LLC. First Solar has contractual rights to acquire 100% of the project, however, and is in the process of doing so.
Better than Expected 2Q Results
Earlier this week, First Solar reported that its 2Q profit spiked up 82% year-over-year (YoY), which sent prices of shares in the company soaring, according to a Fox Business News report. Rising sales and profits is also leading First Solar management to increase production at its PV plants, which produce the industry’s lowest-cost thin-film cadmium-telluride (Cd-Te) solar cells and modules.
Back in May, management stated the company intended to cut 2012 PV production by about one-third, to 1,400-1,700 MW. That’s been revised upwards, with First Solar now planning to manufacture 1,800-1,900 MW of Cd-Te PV modules this year.
In its 2Q earnings call, CEO Jim Hughes said First Solar is seeing higher demand for its thin-film solar panels, as well as for solar PV farms.
Facing cutthroat competition on prices, along with the ripple effects of global economic weakness and cuts or elimination of key subsidies, First Solar, along with industry peers, has been selling assets to pay down debt and shore up its cash and financial position. It has sold nearly 2,000 MW of solar farms, and has another 900 MW worth that it’s looking to sell.
Photo Credit: First Solar
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 08:33 PM PDT
Do the best offshore wind turbines operate with a horizontal or vertical-axis mechanism? That question is being reexamined by Sandia National Laboratories' wind energy researchers who are now re-evaluating vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) to help solve some of the problems of generating energy from offshore breezes using horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs).
The economics of offshore wind power are different from land-based turbines, due to installation and operational challenges, Sandia Labs noted in a recent press announcement. Sandia contends that VAWTs can offer three significant advantages that can reduce the cost of wind energy:
Sandia is conducting its research under a Department of Energy solicitation for advanced rotor technologies for U.S. offshore windpower generation. The five-year, $4.1-million project began in January of this year.
Wind Energy Technologies manager Dave Minster said Sandia's wind energy program is aimed at addressing the national energy challenge of increasing the use of low-carbon power generation.
But VAWT blades must overcome problems with cyclic loading on the drive train. Unlike horizontal-axis wind turbines, which maintain a steady torque if the wind remains steady, VAWTs have two "pulses" of torque and power for each blade, based on whether the blade is in the upwind or downwind position. This "torque ripple" results in unsteady loading, which can lead to drive train fatigue. The project will evaluate new rotor designs that smooth out the amplitude of these torque oscillations without significantly increasing rotor cost.
Because first-generation VAWT development ended decades ago, updated designs must incorporate decades of research and development already built into current HAWT designs. Reinvigorating VAWT research means figuring out the models that will help speed up turbine design work.
Another challenge involves braking. Older VAWT designs had no aerodynamic braking system and relied only on a mechanical braking system.
HAWTS use pitchable blades, which stop the turbine within one or two rotations without damage to the turbine and are based on multiple redundant, fail-safe designs. Barone said new VAWT designs will need robust aerodynamic brakes that are reliable and cost-effective, with a secondary mechanical brake much like on modern-day HAWTs. Unlike HAWT brakes, new VAWT brakes won't have actively pitching blades, which have their own reliability and maintenance issues.
In the 1970s and 1980s, VAWTs were actively developed as windpower generators until being overtaken by HAWTs.
The first phase of the program will take place over two years and involve creating several concept designs, running those designs through modern modeling software and narrowing those design options down to a single, most-workable design. In the second phase, researchers will build the chosen design over three years, eventually testing it against the extreme conditions that a turbine must endure in an offshore environment. In addition to rotor designs, the project will consider different foundation designs.
Source: Sandia National Laboratories
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 06:26 PM PDT
Next time someone gives you a hard time for messing around on your smartphone, let them know you aren’t just wasting time with Angry Birds or Words with Friends — you’re recycling! Preserve and Recyclebank have gotten together to create an iPhone app that locates the nearest #5 plastics recycling location. Dropping off your plastic containers gets you more than a warm and fuzzy feeling — Recyclebank gives you points that can be redeemed for discounts at other businesses.
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 06:16 PM PDT
Sharing renewable energy capabilities and demands makes for cozy partnerships between countries — Ireland and the UK are setting an example of such. The wind farm will be worth about €8 billion. The two countries have signed a contract that sets up wind farms in Ireland and exports some of the energy, via undersea cables, to the UK. This lovely cooperation also creates about 2,000 green jobs between the two countries. It’s a win-win! Source: Power Engineering
Image: Agnieszka Guzowska via Shutterstock
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 05:15 PM PDT
The crowd sourcing project allows for small-time investors to purchase a return of 5.7-8 percent of the project’s profits over 25 years.
Officials said that a minimum of £500,000 was needed to ensure that Padero Solar, the company installing the home panels, could begin installations.
This isn’t the first crowd-funded investment in the UK. A wind project initially went kaput after the German turbine supplier went belly-up, but that project has been restarted and needs about £130,000 to reach its minimum target.
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 05:11 PM PDT
If coal advocates want to prove that their favorite fuel can continue to dominate America’s energy future, they’re going to have to work a little harder. Researchers from Duke and Baylor universities have just announced a finding that polluted runoff from coal mines has degraded more than 22 percent of streams in a region of southern West Virgina, with substantial impacts often occurring miles downstream from the area of runoff. It’s just the latest piece of evidence that “clean coal” is exactly the oxymoron that it appears to be.
Coal Mines and Downstream Pollution
While the impact of runoff from both surface and underground coal mines has been well documented in nearby waterways, the effects farther downstream have not been as closely studied.
To help fill in the blanks, the Duke-Baylor team used NASA images to chart an area in southern West Virginia where 480 miles of streams had been buried during surface mining operations occurred between 1976 and 2005, covering about five percent of the land.
By overlaying that information with an archive of water samples collected during part of that same period, the team found that pollution from the mining operations could have an impact on 1,400 miles of streams in the region, extending far beyond the parts that were buried during valley fills.
All together, though the mining operations covered “only” five percent of the land in the area of study, they accounted for the degradation of 22 percent of the streams in the region, and possibly as much as 32 percent.
The study’s co-author and biogeochemist Emily S. Bernhardt of Duke explains:
"Our findings offer concrete evidence of the cumulative impacts surface mining is having on a regional scale. The relationship is clear and direct: The more mining you have upstream, the higher the biological loss and salinity levels will be downstream, and the farther they will extend."
Beginning of the End for Clean Coal
The study suggests that coal mining permits should assess the potential for downstream impacts far beyond the area of operation, which adds yet another layer of complication to a fuel under siege.
Coal’s recent troubles started with a bang in 2008, when a massive coal ash lagoon in Tennessee spilled more than 5 million cubic yards of slurry into a nearby river. Aside from the immediate devastation, Duke researchers found lingering health impacts from exposure to toxic metals and radioactivity in dust and sediment.
That episode blew the lid off of the nationwide issue of coal ash disposal, which involves a web of similar lagoons around the country, virtually all located near waterways.
On top of that, a recent study in Pennsylvania suggests that the surface impacts of underground mines on ponds, springs, and wells, as well as homes and other buildings, are far greater than previously acknowledged.
Underground mine fires such as the notorious, still-burning Centralia coal mine fire are another source of disruption above ground, as well as air quality impacts.
Recent studies from West Virginia University and Harvard University have also exposed the long term, negative impact of coal mining operations and coal burning power plants on local economies and public health.
Adding insult to injury, coal-fired power plants are falling into disfavor in the U.S., resulting in more pressure to export U.S. coal overseas, which in turn is causing a backlash among port communities that will have to deal with the impacts of increased coal shipping.
To cap it all off, coal-fired power plants are tied to the traditional model of centralized energy generation. The centralized model is badly out of date, as this week’s massive India power outage demonstrates.
We probably wouldn’t have any forests left in the U.S. today if coal hadn’t replaced firewood as the fuel of choice, but that was more than 100 years ago. The coal age is over and we have embarked on another history-making energy transition characterized by skipping the middleman (fossil fuels are stored solar power, after all), and going straight to renewable fuels that lend themselves to distributed energy generation, advanced energy storage and smart microgrids.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 07:10 AM PDT
In a recent article written by Ashley Halligan on Software Advice, Halligan interviewed experts heading up two powerful symbiotic relationships between resource recovery centers. Given that Americans, in 2010 alone, generated more than 250 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), more and more innovators are finding ways to make an opportunity of the growing landfill problem.
With insight from both David Specca, Assistant Director for Bioenergy and Controlled Environment Agriculture at the Rutgers University EcoComplex and Barry Edwards, Director of Engineering and Utilities at Catawba County, North Carolina’s EcoComplex, her article describes two unique partnerships, both stemming from the recovery of methane from landfills.
Also describing the landfill gas used to fuel facilities, the article goes on to describe initiatives at BMW’s South Carolina manufacturing facility — sourcing two-thirds of its energy from methane piped from a nearby landfill. Named “Top Plant” by Plant Engineering Magazine and “Energy Partner of the Year” by the Environmental Protection Agency for its Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), the facility has led the state in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Edwards describes the impact of such initiatives: “Applied industrial ecology to waste management will become the predominant waste management method — so you’ll see many similar projects in the immediate future. In fact, we average two tours per week at our complex — that’s the current level of interest shown by others.”
Read more about the growing number of resource recovery efforts here: Resource Recovery Facilities: An Economic And Efficient Energy Supply.
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 07:00 AM PDT
Good answers and focus by the interviewees, though.
A big thanks to one of our Irish readers for passing this along! Here’s the video:
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 04:30 AM PDT
Minnesotans can now participate in a group purchasing program to reduce the cost and uncertainties of going solar. The goal of the program is to reduce the implementation barriers often presented to home and business owners looking into renewable energy systems.
The Make Mine Solar program provides free workshops to increase consumer education, site assessments, installation, and equipment at a reduced cost, and recommends approved installers. On top of this, they provide continued advice and guidance throughout the process.
We chatted with Laura Cina, Managing Director of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) who runs Make Mine Solar, to learn more.
You had a similar program in the Metro area last year. How did that work?
The program went great, we did 15 solar hot water installations, 1 solar air heat installations and had 3 solar PV systems come out if it as well! The solar air heat installations were very low to due to the technology being added very close near the end of the program.
What is the geographical area for this project?
We are offering Workshops and Site Assessments in the Southeast Region of the state, as defined by the CERTs map. Although if you live outside that 15 county area, you can contact one of our installers, listed on our website and ask for the special pricing.
How can people participate in the SE Make Mine Solar bulk-purchase campaign?
There are two ways to participate:
Some people can't purchase solar, so do the next best thing – help other people get a great deal on solar! Plus the more people we get to sign up for the program the lower everyone's prices will be! Tell your friends, tell your neighbors!
What do you suggest people do who may be interested in getting a solar thermal hot water system?
The is to get a Virtual Site Assessment for $20. Our certified site assessors will use your answers given there and a satellite photo of your house to make an educated judgement on your sites viability for solar and an educated guess on payback based on the number of people in your home, your current energy source (propane, electricity etc), your current energy use and your possible rebates from utilities. If your site looks promising the next step is an on-site assessment and then choose an installer to help you move forward in the process!
everyone is welcome to attend a workshop as well, we are hosting them in Rochester, Austin, Owatonna, Red Wing and Kiester. These are a great opportunity to bring your Virtual Site Assessment and start asking questions! We will have solar experts on hand to answer questions and the installers there for people to meet.
Tuesday, July 24th 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Wednesday, July 25th 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Wednesday, August 1 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Thursday, August 2nd 6:00 to 8:00pm
Tuesday, August 14th 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Any last thoughts?
People that are currently using electricity or propane to heat their water or use a lot of hot water, like a restaurant, laundry or dairy farm are excellent candidates for a fast payback and stable energy costs for the next 25 years.
To learn more about the program, please visit their website at http://makeminesolar.org. You can also see Frequently Asked Questions or a press release about the program and read recent stories in the Austin Daily Herald and the Rochester Post-Bulletin to see local coverage.
Posted: 02 Aug 2012 04:00 AM PDT
[In June], Michael Noble of Fresh Energy put up a fascinating list of projections made by energy experts around 2000 or so. (I got there via Brad Plumer.) Suffice to say, the projections did not fare well. They were badly wrong, and all in the same direction — they underestimated the growth of renewable energy. It's worth quoting the whole list:
What should we take from this?
Well, mainly that fossil-fuel energy was really cheap in 2000. Oil was about a third the price it is now, coal for electricity about half. That colored those projections. But that's a boring lesson. Let's speculate about some others.
The projections weren't just off, they were way off. You can find similarly poor projections from the '70s that underestimate the spread of energy efficiency and other demand-side technology solutions. (They thought they were going to need hundreds of nuclear plants. See Alexis Madrigal on this.) Similarly terrible projections were also common in the early years of cell phones.
What do cell phones, energy efficiency, and renewable energy have in common? One, they are dynamic areas of technology development and market competition, which makes straight-line projections pretty useless. And two, they are distributed, with millions of loosely networked people and organizations working on them in parallel. Distributed, human-scale technologies come in small increments. They replicate quickly, so there's more variation and competitive selection, and thus more evolution.
Nuclear power, in contrast, comes in gigantic increments only (at least for now). There's a limited number of people doing the R&D, a limited number of entities capable of building or financing the power plants. It's a little easier to know the potential.
When it comes to complex, parallel, loosely linked networks, the dynamics are more fluid and nonlinear changes more likely. They're harder to quantify and predict. And so we consistently underestimate them. Something to keep in mind when pondering what today's projections are going to look like in 2020.
Speaking of keeping things in mind, it seems to me that when projections are consistently wrong in the same direction, it bespeaks a need to update the models and techniques used to project — or at least update our expectations.
For example: Every time there's a new air or water regulation proposed, industry predicts a level-10 economic apocalypse. EPA counters by saying it will only be a level-5 economic apocalypse. Invariably, it's a level-0 economic apocalypse — low costs, lots of lives saved. Yet the political class approaches each new regulation with a peculiar Zen-like no-mind, as though it is the first such argument and all perspectives are equally supported by past experience. Same with projections of energy efficiency and renewables.
So why aren't projections being updated to match what's been observed? It's a complicated question, but at least part of the answer is that projections are not ideologically neutral. There are assumptions and value judgments obscured behind the spreadsheets. Is efficiency a cost or an investment? What externalities are counted and for how much? To what extent is political economy taken into account? What value is placed on the welfare of our descendents (i.e., what is our"discount rate")?
There's no way to do projections without value judgements and assumptions, of course. But it's good to be clear about them and, when they come into friction with experience, to be willing to rethink them. Otherwise we get stuck in a status quo sustaining feedback loop, where fossil-friendly assumptions produce fossil-friendly projections which are then used to justify fossil-friendly policies and investment decisions.
For visions of a clean energy future, brothers and sisters, look not to the soothsaying of thine "experts," but to history, and to hope. Amen.
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