Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Mazda to Roll Out Demio EV in Japan this Fall

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 04:36 PM PDT

Mazda is looking to get into the electric car market this fall with the limited release of 100 Demio EVs in western Japan.

The Demio EV is based on the Demio, or the Mazda2 as it’s known elsewhere, and will be available for lease in the Chugoku region to local government and corporate customers. The Demio EV gets a range of about 200 kilometers and can seat five.

Source: Tree Hugger
Image: Mazda

MIT Student Team Bringing Power to the People — Plus Heat

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 04:33 PM PDT

Sun-Powered System Could Provide Electricity, Heat, and Cooling to Rural Schools And Clinics.

Matthew Orosz and Amy Mueller work with locals in Lesotho to implement their solar ORC system. Photo courtesy of STG International

A startup company established by a team of MIT students and alumni aims to change how electrical energy is provided to clinics in remote and isolated parts of Africa.

The team has developed a patented technology that uses a mirrored parabolic trough to capture sunlight, heating fluid in a pipe along the centerline of the mirror. The fluid then powers what is called "a sort of air conditioner in reverse: Instead of using electricity to pump out cold air on one side and hot air on the other, it uses the hot fluid and cold air to generate electricity. At the same time, the hot fluid can be used to provide heat and hot water."

Solar ORC setup in Lesotho. Photo courtesy of STG International

A system prototype has been installed at a small clinic in the southern African nation of Lesotho. By next year, the team plans to have five fully operational systems installed in isolated clinics and schools there for field-testing. The key element of the system is a device called a scroll expander. It is used to convert the heat to power — a process that is described in a coming paper to be published in the ASME Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power.

Matthew Orosz, PhD, is the lead author of the paper. In a press announcement, he says the idea for the project began years ago, when he spent two years working in a village in Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer — with no access to electricity or hot water. He says some 60,000 clinics worldwide have similar situations. He returned to MIT determined to provide a solution.

Working with fellow student Amy Mueller, their thesis advisor Harold Hemond, the William E. Leonhard Professor of Engineering at MIT, and others, Orosz set up a nonprofit company called Solar Turbine Group (now known as STG International) to develop the solar technology he envisioned as a practical alternative for these off-the-grid facilities.

Orosz explains there are only two viable options today to provide electricity for such places: a solar photovoltaic (PV) array or a diesel generator. Both are somewhat less expensive to install than his company's solar trough system, but when the costs of replacement parts and fuel are factored in, he estimates the solar trough system will be substantially cheaper over its lifetime.

The pilot system, which Orosz and colleagues built at Lesotho's Matjotjo Village Health Clinic in 2008, provided the initial proof of principle, even though it took years to get all the parts working properly in the remote location.

The clinic in Lesotho, now closed for renovations, is expected to reopen early next year, when the team plans to return to the site and begin full-time operations with the newly automated setup. Over the course of the year, they plan to install four more systems at other schools and clinics in that country, with help from Lesotho's ministries of health and education and three local engineers who are members of the STG team.

From a business perspective, the team hopes to create a local source of jobs and revenues; the systems will be built, owned and operated by local companies set up for that purpose, Orosz says.

Here’s a video on it all:

Africa will be a welcome home to energy innovations like what is being developed by STG International as it leapfrogs dirty fossil fuels for clean energy opions.

Source: MIT news , STG International

Overwhelming, Bi-Partisan Senate Finance Committee Majority Votes to Extend Wind Power Tax Credits

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 04:27 PM PDT

By an overwhelming, bi-partisan margin of 19-5, the Senate Finance Committee today (August 7) passed the “Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act,” legislation that would extend both the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) for utility-scale wind power and the investment tax credit (ITC) for community and offshore wind power, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced.

If passed by Congress, “these extensions would drive the growth of American wind industry manufacturing jobs and billions of dollars in private investment in homegrown energy,” AWEA stated.



Vote Greeted with Guarded Optimism

AWEA, along with US wind power industry and market participants and supporters, greeted the welcome news with cautious optimism, as previous efforts to extend the wind power PTC and ITC have come to naught.

“While there are several more steps that need to be taken in the legislative process in order for this extension to be passed into law, this is a very positive development, as it positions the tax credit extensions to be part of final tax extenders negotiations,” explained AWEA vice president of Public Affairs Peter Kelley.

“While the full Senate may take a vote on the bill in September, the House of Representatives has stated that it will not take up tax extension legislation prior to the November elections.”

Response from the US wind power market and industry participants has been mixed. Some, such as wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, are cautiously encouraged by the PTC's revival, while some of nation's largest utilities, including Chicago-based Exelon, are working to assure the tax credit extension doesn't make it through Congress.

As part of its “Power of Wind: Powering a Cleaner, Stronger America” campaign, AWEA is urging US wind power supporters to use its website to send a “Thank You” letter to senators on the Senate Finance Committee who voted in favor the bill.

Millions More Acres for Renewable Energy Projects in the U.S.

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 09:06 AM PDT

Whether you call it three-dimensional chess, rope-a-dope, or just plain old steamrolling over the opposition, the Department of Defense has been upping the ante on its renewable energy initiatives despite pushback from Republican leadership in Congress. In the latest maneuver, DoD has just joined with the Department of the Interior to explore the potential for wind, solar, and geothermal energy on millions of acres of land at military facilities in the western U.S.

DOI and DOD sign MOU for renewable energy projects

DoD will also explore offshore wind potential at coastal installations on the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Hawaii.

An MOU on Renewable Energy for DOD and DOI

The two agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding that focuses on 13 million acres of public land in the prime renewable energy regions of the continental U.S. as well as coastal areas.

These 13 million acres consist of land that was previously under the jurisdiction of DOI’s Bureau of Land Management but had been set aside or “withdrawn” for use by the military.

Two limiting factors will affect how much of that land will eventually be developed for renewable energy. One is the avoidance of conflict with military operations. The other, of course, consists of environmental impact.

That second factor is going to be a dicey one, but not necessarily a minimal one.

Aside from land use parameters laid out in the new agreement, DoD is beginning to establish a track record on habitat preservation on military lands, and non-government groups like the Nature Conservancy are also contributing to the body of knowledge on appropriate renewable energy site development.

In addition, the U.S. EPA has been identifying millions of acres in appropriate sites for renewable energy projects through its Re-Powering America’s Land program, which focuses on brownfields and Superfund sites.


A Blueprint for Renewable Energy

The new agreement complements an existing initiative of the U.S. Army, called the Energy Initiatives Task Force. EITF was launched last year as a kind of renewable energy strike group to speed up the construction of renewable energy projects at Army facilities. Rather than piling management of these projects onto the already full plate of individual base commanders, EITF set up a central office of experienced personnel to work with the renewable energy industry on utility-scale projects.

As part of the new agreement, DoD and DOI will launch a pilot program that streamlines the authorization of solar installations, beginning with military facilities in Arizona and California. The two agencies will also co-chair a forum with the offshore wind industry this fall and set up a working group for geothermal energy.

Combined with microgrid technologies, the primary goal is to provide military facilities with enough renewable energy capability to operate without relying on the commercial grid.

As a side-effect, DoD renewable energy installations could easily end up providing a significant amount of excess energy to the civilian grid, as shown by a study of DoD’s geothermal potential.

Image: Wind turbines and buffalo, Some rights reserved by C. G. P. Grey.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


Chevy Volt Leads July US Car Sales

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 08:59 AM PDT

General Motors’ Chevy Volt led the way in U.S. July electric vehicle (EV) sales.

According to The Green Car Website, the Chevy Volt posted sales of 1,849 units in July, an increase of 125 cars compared to monthly figures for July, 2011. Meanwhile, year to-date figures have reached 10,666 units, a rise of 2,780 units from the same time twelve months earlier.

In second was Chevy's competitor, the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, seeing 588 units sold. The Prius plug-in hybrids have sold 5,035 models this year so far.

Nissan's LEAF has taken a bit of a hit with their market share, selling only 395 units of their electric vehicle. That’s a decline of 57.6%, compared to monthly statistics for July, 2011. The Nissan LEAF also has seen their year-to-date sales drop by 26.3%, with only 3,543 vehicles sold so far this year.

Ford Focus Electric sales also have been lukewarm in July, a drop of 57% from 89 models bought in June to 38 units sold in July. In 2012 so far, 135 Ford Focus Electric units have been bought.

Customer response to Honda's Fit EV in July was tepid, with 7 units sold.

Source:  The Green Car Website
Image Credit: Chevrolet Volt image via Shutterstock

GE, Enel Green Power To Build One of the Largest Minnesota Wind Farms

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 08:47 AM PDT

General Electric (GE) and Enel Green Power North America are teaming up to build one of the biggest wind farms in the state of Minnesota.

Wind Turbine near Lake Benton, Minnesota

GE will commit $156 million in capital, or about 51% ownership stake in the project, which will see the 200 megawatt (MW) Prairie Rose project use GE made turbines, according to a statement released by GE.

Enel Green Power will commit a 49% ownership share, approximately $149 million in capital, and oversee the farm as project manager.

Meanwhile, both Enel Green Power and GE raised about $190 million in tax equity from a syndicate headed by J.P. Morgan. When the project is completed, the tax equity will be invested and cut both GE and Enel Green Power's stake in the wind project. Other companies in the syndicate include Wells Fargo Wind Holdings LLC and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

The new project will help boost the local economy, creating 300 construction jobs, while creating close to 12 permanent jobs, and bringing approximately $850,000 annually in local tax revenue.

On the environmental side, the wind farm will take 650,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually out of the atmosphere, while providing enough power to support 75,000 homes.

"This transaction showcases GE's ability to provide both world-class technology and flexible financing structures for our customers and advances our long-term partnership with Enel Green Power, an established renewable energy leader," Kevin Walsh, Managing Director of Power and Renewable Energy at GE Energy Financial Services, said in a statement.

The cost of the project is around $305 million and will be located near Harwick, Minnesota. Mortensen Construction will oversee the constructing of the wind farm. The project is set for completion by the end of this year. The new wind farm will supply all of its power under a 20-year agreement to Xcel Energy subsidiary Northern States Power Company.

Enel Green Power North American can further its ownership stake in the wind farm, with an option to buy an extra 26% from GE's share later this year and in 2013.

Source: General Electric
Image Credit: Minnesota Wind Turbine, via Shutterstock

Renewables Shine through India’s Blackout to a Clean Energy Future

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 08:36 AM PDT

India's recent blackouts are a case study for what happens when power demand outstrips the capacity of an aging grid fed by centralized fossil fuel power plants without smart grid technology – rolling blackouts become a way of life. But they may also be just the opportunity renewable energy needed to power India's future.

There are lessons to learn from India's troubles, especially as climate change drives electrical demand up while changing traditional water access and weather patterns. India relies heavily on coal and hydropower to meet its electricity needs. But when rising coal prices and an exceptionally dry monsoon season limited the ability of power producers to ramp up supply, the grid couldn't keep up.

And the problem is only going to get worse.  An estimated 40 percent of India's population isn't connected to the grid, the country's economy is growing between 8-10 percent per year, and it expects to add 88 gigawatts (GW) of new generation capacity by 2017. All that demand must be met one way or another, and for many Indian policymakers, that means more coal plants.

But what if instead of dirty coal, India's yawning energy gap was filled with distributed renewables and microgrids? It's not only possible, but is already happening.

Wind and solar keep the lights on

Wind energy was credited with ending the blackout in Western India's Jodhpur state almost immediately, according to local reports. "The power generated through wind energy put an end to the outage within two hours, providing us with around 800-900 MW power," one local energy official said. "We immediately switched to wind power and resumed power supply at hospitals, water pumps, railways, high court and administrative offices."

An innovative off-grid solar project also managed to keep the lights on during the blackout. Meerwada, a remote central Indian village, had no access to electricity until SunEdison built a 14-kilowatt solar plant in the community for the same monthly price per resident for power from kerosene.

India's power woes could make it possible

While these two examples are vastly different in scale, they illustrate how renewables could become a much larger part of India's energy future. With so many remote communities, building new distributed generation makes more sense financially than building new centralized power plants and transmission lines.

Indian citizens have become accustomed to dealing with frequent blackouts through the use of microgrids and backup generators, and the jump to a system of community-based grids centered around renewables with backup generators already in place would likely work within the population's existing energy mindset.

Shifting to a distributed generation system would also help the country's wind energy industry, which has seen new capacity additions cut in half, due largely to difficulties interconnecting to the national grid and receiving revenue from state-owned utilities.

Massive potential for renewables

In this context, it's reasonable to think that India could make a massive jump toward renewables, especially solar. A recent report predicted solar power will reach grid parity in India by 2017, and the off-grid solar market has been forecast to install more than 1 GW per year by 2017 at the same price of diesel power. India already has a goal of 20GW solar capacity by 2022, and one firm contracted to build solar in the country thinks it'll actually install 40 GW within a decade.

But even these projections may not estimate the country's true capacity for new renewables. Former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, speaking days after the blackout, said half the country's 2030 energy requirement of 400GW could be met by renewables. "Ideally, 215,000MW can be generated from renewable energy resources… 50,000MW of hydro power by creating regional waterways… 60,000MW solar energy from large-scale solar power plants… 50,000MW from nuclear power… and 65,000MW using wind energy."

India wind farm image via Shutterstock

Smart Home Test Shows 88% Reduction in Household Power Consumption

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 08:25 AM PDT

Osaka Gas and Sekisui House have been cooperating in an experimental project for the past year and a half to answer the burning question "Yes, but how well does it actually work?" I speak, of course, of the rising trend of smart homes and communities.

Osaka Gas and Sekisui House Complete Experimental Smart House

The partnership between Osaka Gas and Sekisui House (two well-known names in Japan) started back in February 2011, with the Smart Energy House project. The idea was to test out ways to reduce both reliance on outside sources of energy and also carbon dioxide emissions — in other words, meet energy efficiency goals — and the test parameters involved a lot of batteries.


On Practical Evaluations and Multi-Type Battery Systems

The first step was building and equipping the house – with a 700W natural gas fuel cell, a 5.08kW solar cell, and 3.5kWh lithium ion batteries. A HEMS (home energy management system) was installed to balance out the three power sources, and various bits of the house were constructed with energy efficiency in mind (think stuff like LEDs everywhere).

The second step was to stick a three-person family in the house and watch them for a year (it's less creepy than it sounds). The experiment ran from July 1st, 2011 to June 30th, 2012. After it was completed, all the information gathered was carefully analyzed.

Just the Facts, Ma'am – Analyzing Results

According to the partnership's numbers, power consumption was reduced by 88%. The amount of power purchased from outside the home was 584kWh – average in Japan for a three-person household for a one-year period is 4830kWh. Reducing carbon dioxide output was even more successful. Specifics on how, exactly, this was accomplished has not been published (at least, not where I can find them), but the partnership claims that the house generated a negative 137kg over the course of a year. As a comparable household generates something like 4770t of CO2 per year, they're calling it a 103% reduction. Also not published were initial costs of the batteries installed, or the cost of potential replacements.

Although the one-year experiment is now complete, Osaka Gas and Sekisui House aren't finished. Research is slated to continue through the end of 2014, focusing on better balancing and control of the battery systems. Further experiments with incorporating electric cars into the house grid are on the table, as well as a return to using proper ventilation and pure solar heat instead of total climate control of closed-off rooms to manage comfortable living spaces.

The current project schedule calls for these houses to go on the market in 2015. I wouldn't go back to Japan for one, but I'd be curious about similar projects in the U.S. – what about you? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: Eco Japan
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gamification in Clean Tech: GBO Hawaii

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 08:20 AM PDT

Players in GBO Hawaii are impact investors, and can invest in clean energy, alternative transportation, and sustainable food businesses.

A new board game from aims to make clean tech, and sustainability in general, fun. GBO Hawaii (ages 13+, 2-4 players, 45 minutes, to 1.5 hours) is a game of strategy, impact investing, and skillful maneuvering of public policy. The idea is that players are impact investors, and invest their money across the island state of Hawaii to help create clean energy, alternative transportation, local food, and waste reduction businesses.

The aim? To get the best triple bottom line return on investment:

  • people (you get points for creating green collar jobs),
  • planet (you get points for offsetting dirty energy, waste, and imports of processed, GMO food), and
  • profit (you earn dividends on your green business investments)

Here’s a 1-minute video explaining the game in more detail:

It’s kind of like Monopoly from the investment angle, but instead of driving everyone else into the poor house, the game brings out a spirit of coopetition… sometimes your investments benefit other players and vice versa. If you invest in a green building retail store, for instance, and then someone else starts a green construction company, your store will benefit from having the construction company as a commercial customer (you’d draw extra Resource Cards).

So… Monopoly: drive everyone to bankruptcy, build at all costs, spend time in white collar prison without losing any of your assets and then bribe your way out. Anyone else believe this game helped contribute to the global economic crisis?!?

GBO Hawaii: everyone invests and has a chance to make money and do good, but one player just does better than others and wins the game.

Here’s the Resource Card representing the Clean Tech Engineer Entrepreneur, with which you start clean tech businesses:

(There are other entrepreneur types for each of the other sustainable industries).

For teachers looking for a way to integrate sustainability into the classroom, GBO Hawaii is a great way to engage students to think about economics, public policy, and the impacts of business. Each business card has educational material on the back:

In addition, there are free, downloadable lesson plans, slide deck PDFs, and other teacher resource materials on the GBO Hawaii home page.

The game is also adaptable. It is easily modified to become a card game that is simpler and quicker, or can be played as a board game with 2-4 players.

The game is available on Amazon.

The Road to Energy Savings for Small and Medium Businesses

Posted: 07 Aug 2012 07:28 AM PDT

Small businesses are ignoring energy savings, leaving money on the table. Energy costs are rising every year, at a healthy clip of 6-8% annually. An increasing number of small and medium businesses quote energy costs as their biggest expense behind real estate and labor. But the small business energy landscape is changing.

A small or medium business in this case is defined as one with typically less than 200,000 sq.ft. of building area and no dedicated energy manager. They span all verticals and can incur monthly bills ranging from $500 to $20,000. Until recently, these smaller businesses lacked options to do much about these rising costs.

Larger businesses typically have energy managers and access to sophisticated and expensive software for energy management solutions. Smaller businesses lack access to these solutions. A recent report by the Center for an Urban Future highlighted the impact of small business in reducing energy costs.

"At a time when small businesses need all the help they can get, one big opportunity to reduce costs has gone mostly ignored: becoming more energy-efficient.  Significant savings – up to thousands of dollars a year for even the smallest firms have been left on the table."

The 30 million small businesses in the country spend more than $60 billion a year on energy. Energy Star reports that small businesses that invest strategically can cut utility costs 10 to 30 percent without sacrificing service, quality, style, or comfort. All the contributions to a cleaner environment are a big bonus. Yet, why are these going ignored and what can be done about it?

Roadblocks to Big Energy Savings For Small Business Owners

Lack of financing : Realistically, most businesses do not have ready capital for energy improvements or energy management software. Cash and credit is tight and is much preferred to be invested in other operational aspects of the business.

Lack of customized solutions: Most business solutions available currently are tailored for larger sized businesses and are complex to install and use. Smaller businesses end up with a dearth of good solutions and most of those are sponsored by the utility.

Lack of technical expertise: Most small firms lack the technical expertise and staff to identify and implement energy efficiency projects. They do not have budget to hire a dedicated energy manager and the business owner or CFO lacks time to gain expertise. Bill payment gets treated like an accounting function. Alternatively, they get called upon by many energy consultants but lack the ability to make and execute holistic plans for their business.


Changing Energy Landscape is Presenting Small Business Owners with Effective Energy Solutions

A number of recent advances in financing, energy data availability, utility engagement and web-based tools to manage energy are changing the landscape.

Green Button Standard: The federal government is making huge advances to provide energy usage data to customers. The "Green Button" initiative challenges utility companies to provide customers with electronic access to their energy usage information. This implies that business customers can download their usage data telling them how much energy they used and when they used it.

Web Based Tools and Applications: The Green Button data file is a spreadsheet of numbers with no real meaning by itself. But the easy availability of this data has spurred innovation in software tools and calculators that can turn these numbers into meaningful data for customers. These tools are web-based calculators that do not require any software installation and have an easy to use interface, ideal for business owners with scrappy IT infrastructure. These provide valuable recommendations and predictions and typically cost less than yearly tax filling fees for a small business.

There is a growing list of third-party developers with interesting applications based on this data. Tendril has developed an application marketplace for such tools. These standards and ecosystems are fueling the rise of startups such as Watts At Work, which are targeting self-service solutions for the small commercial customer. Suchi Sharma, Founder of Watts At Work says,"For far too long, consumers have been unable to have transparent energy usage data which could guide their decisions and purchase. The arrival of web-based data tools, emerging regulatory frameworks and data standardization is enabling the growth of customer choices. This is great news for both consumers and application providers to unleash innovation in this space."

Utility & Consumer Engagement: Utility companies are not far behind in proving valuable energy use insights to their customers.  They are now engaging and educating consumers on every level – through their website, bills and more. They are teaming up with innovative companies like OPOWER that have helped reincarnate the energy bill that customers see.  OPOWER has improved the way utility companies engage with their consumers – from the quality of the information provided to the way it’s presented and delivered. It helps people use energy more efficiently and ultimately save money on their energy bills.

Driving Consumer Behavior Through Time-Varying Pricing Tariffs: Traditional electricity supply cannot meet peak demand at its highest.  This typically occurs during peak summer days. Utility companies are therefore exploring more effective pricing methodologies that help reduce consumer usage and save them money like Time Varying Pricing (TVP).

The basic way that TVP works is that consumers pay not only for the quantity of electricity they use but also based on when they use it. For example, electricity rates are high when used at peak times (summer afternoons) and lower during off-peak times (late nights). TVP is a great way to get consumers to moderate their peak use demand that ultimately saves them money. But statistics show that less the 1% of the energy consumer base in the US is on a TVP plan.

California utility companies like PG&E and SCE are taking the lead to change this by introducing mandatory TVP for their business customers starting Fall 2012. The catch with TVP is that a business now requires some level of sophisticated analytics of their historical usage to pick the right tariff plan and demand response programs to save money and energy. Clearly the 'one-size-fits-all' scenario does not work here. This is again an example where web-based applications are transforming much of this decision space to be self-service. Melon Power, a Washington DC based startup provides commercial benchmarking tools based on Green Button data. Watts At Work's innovative rate engine provides self-service commercial bill analysis for multiple rate plans as well as demand response options. It generates a personalized recommendation based on Green Button data to select the lowest price tariff and demand response option. Currently the product is available in California’s PG&E service area with plans to expand.

The way businesses use energy is changing. The growing innovations in the small business energy space presents a number of opportunities for businesses to take control of energy costs and find effective and personalized solutions.

Image via shutterstock 

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