Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Make Fannie Pull a U-turn for Solar (Take Action)

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 01:37 PM PDT

 
A useful note from our friends over at Vote Solar about an ├╝ber important solar/clean energy/energy efficiency policy, PACE financing:

Friends,

For over two years we’ve been fighting to get PACE programs back on track nationwide. Well, the fight continues – and we need your help now.

These promising clean energy finance programs were ready to deliver huge savings and economic benefits across 28 states – until Fannie, Freddie and their regulators at the FHFA threw up roadblocks blocking American homeowners from participating.

-[Take Action Button]-

A federal judge has since ordered the FHFA to reconsider its PACE decision, this time with a real legal process and input from the public. (That’s you!). And with overwhelming input from PACE supporters, they’ve already changed their position slightly. But we need them to do a complete 180.

Click here to tell the FHFA to stop blocking PACE and start supporting American jobs and energy savings.

We have until Sept 13 to make our voices heard. Let’s get loud!

Onwards!

Adam + The Vote Solar Team


Drought-Stricken Farms Have 1 Lifeline — Wind Power

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 10:00 AM PDT

 
nrdc switchboardby Bob Dean of NRDC

The killing of Billy the Kid was still within living memory for some on the stark, wind-swept prairie outside Ft. Sumner, N.M., when Powhatan Carter’s grandfather settled there to raise cattle in 1937.

Twelve years later, Pow was born there, where he runs the family cattle business his grandfather began.

After two years of drought, though, Carter's land is so dry that even the durable native grasses in his pasture are dying.

With little grazing land remaining, and the cost of feed sky high, Carter has sold about half of his 450 beef cattle, months before he normally would and at a poor price. Soon, he said, he’ll have to sell more.

To rebuild his herd and restore the dead turf will take years, Carter said, adding to the strain of keeping his grandfather’s homestead intact.

“It’s just hard to keep the land in the family, because most people are land rich and cash poor,” Carter said in a telephone interview. “An outside boost makes all the difference.”

Fortunately for Carter, he gets such a boost, about $35,000 a year for the electricity produced from the seven wind turbines towering above a series of rocky bluffs at the edge of his pastureland.

Come rain or shine, the winds blow steady, the turbines spin, and the checks come in the mail. And, for Carter, the extra cash means one thing.

“Survival,” he said, “able to stay home, where you’ve always lived.”

Watch NRDC’s Bob Deans talk about the future of wind power in America.

Welcome in any year, income from wind turbines has become an economic lifeline for thousands of farmers and ranchers like Carter across the country’s vast heartland. With more than half the country searing in the worst drought in half a century, much of the nation’s corn, wheat and grasslands parched to ruin and cattle ranchers struggling to feed or liquidate their herds, wind turbines are providing back-up income that is helping to keep family farms and ranches alive.

“It’s truly a blessing for us,” said Carter. “It’s kind of like the sky falls with a little more rain.”
 

 
Windmills have been part of the landscape of the American West for more than a century, harnessing the force of the wind off the plains to pump water from wells or generate electricity for homes long before power lines crisscrossed the country.

Photo by Melanie Blanding

Modern wind turbines, of course, are much larger in scale, with generators the size of tractor-trailers perched atop steel towers typically 200 feet tall. The power they produce goes into the commercial electric grid, where wind turbines are beginning to make a significant contribution to the nation’s energy supply.

Wind provided 4 percent of the nation’s electricity during the first four months of this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By the year 2030, theU.S. Energy Department reports, they could produce 20 percent of the country’s electricity, as much as nuclear power plants generate now.

More than 98 percent of wind turbines are located on farms, ranches and other private lands. And the industry pays out more than $400 million a year to property owners and local tax collectors, according to the Washington-based trade group, the American Wind Energy Association.

Those payments make up a growing part of a diversified revenue stream for more and more of the nation’s farmers.

“It’s there every year," said Joe Jury, a fourth-generation wheat and silage farmer on family land near west Kansas town of Ingalls. "It’s there to use as you need it, when you need it, and, in years like this, to use it to make up for the crop income that doesn’t come in.”

The $18,000 Jury receives each year for the nine small wind turbines on his cropland is money he can count on in tough times, “kind of like a rainy day fund,” he said.

“It helps cover variable costs, equipment costs and other fixed costs you might have,” Jury said in a telephone interview. “It’s just additional income that helps you when things are short.”

A half hour west of Amarillo, Tx., new wind turbines are going up on the farm where Perry Kirkland raises wheat, sorghum and corn.

“It’s definitely welcome revenue, and it couldn’t come at a better time," said Kirkland. "It’s been very stressful and difficult to make farming stand on its own the past two years because of the drought.”

Seasoned farmers and ranchers don’t expect an easy time of it earning their living off the land. The money they get from wind turbines, though, provides a bit of a cushion that, in some cases, enables them to continue a way of life they cherish.

“If it’s not a lifesaver, it’s certainly something that has allowed farmers and ranchers in this area to continue to do what they want to do,” said AJ Swope, executive director of Class 4 Winds & Renewables, a non-profit trade association and advocacy organization in Amarillo.

“I don’t think people who aren’t in this industry understand how fiercely those ranchers hang on to that identity,” said Scott White, oral historian with the National Ranching Heritage Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

“They consider themselves caretakers of the land. But, when nature is destroying it, it kind of takes their feet out from under them,” said White. “The turbines help, and what the money’s mostly going for is repairing fences and barns and supplying feed to cattle.”

Similar sentiments are being echoed across the American breadbasket, where the summer drought has meant hard times not just for ranchers and farmers, but for the tractor dealers, grain brokers, lumberyards, hardware stores and myriad other businesses that rise and fall on the fortunes of agriculture.

“If affects everything in rural America,” said Jury. “It affects the whole economy. A year like this, everybody kind of goes into survival mode and pulls back. You’re just struggling trying to stay afloat.”

Photo by Melanie Blanding

Wind turbines are helping to diversify the rural economy, providing jobs that don't dry up in a drought. Nationwide, some 75,000 Americans make their living building and maintaining wind turbines. A good technician can earn $70,000 a year or more, solid income in most farming communities and attractive to younger people who want to make a living in the communities where they were raised.

“Our enrollment keeps growing,” said Andrew Swift, director of the Texas Wind Energy Institute at Texas Tech. About 100 students are enrolled, he said, in the school’s bachelors degree program in wind energy. “It’s been big, and growing, and keeps us all hopping.”

The graduates, some of whom don't see a bright future on the farm, are finding work on the turbines.

“When wind first came, there was a real breaking point around here in terms of the demographics,” explained Greg Wortham, mayor of Sweetwater, Tx., a major wind energy hub. After a few tough years in the cotton business, a new generation was coming of age when farming’s future looked bleak. “Wind came along at exactly the same time,” Wortham said, providing good-paying jobs that helped keep young people in the area. “Wind," he said, "was crucial.”

Wind turbines and the transmission lines they rely on have boosted the tax base in scores of rural communities that have been struggling for decades.

“It’s an economic developer’s dreamland,” said Don Allread, judge and chief executive of the Texas panhandle county of Oldham.

A decade of wind development has increased his county’s property tax base from $156 million to more than $500 million, he said. As a result, “We were able to give a 10-percent reduction in the taxes, while increasing our revenues by more than 12 percent,” he said. “In a small county like ours, that’s a tremendous amount.”

As often happens when new technologies change the landscape in unfamiliar ways, wind turbines have favored those who are best positioned to take advantage of them, meaning, in large part, owners of large parcels with strong winds.

“Bankers down in Abilene call them their windinaires,” said Swift.

For the most part, wind turbines aren’t making farmers and ranchers rich. In hard times, though, the cash coming in from wind turbines just might make the difference between keeping the family ranch or farm, or having to find another way of life.

“It’s nice to have it if you do need a new truck or something,” said Carter, the New Mexico rancher. “But most people just need it to survive.”

Bob Deans, Associate Director of Communications, Washington, DC

Bob Deans

I started out in the news business when I was ten years old, delivering my hometown paper, the “Richmond Times-Dispatch.” I spent nearly 30 years as a newspaper reporter. That included a four-year stint as the chief Asia correspondent, based in Tokyo, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other Cox newspapers, and eight years covering the White House. I’m a former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and author of the 2007 book, “The River Where America Began: A Journey Along the James.”


Solexel, Solar Startup, Has Raised $150 Million in Investments for Its Thin-Silicon Technology

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 07:30 AM PDT

 
thin-silicon solar cell

Solexel, a thin-silicon solar technology startup, is aiming to bring its 20%-efficient photovoltaic modules to the commercial market by 2014. At a cost of $0.42 per watt, such a high efficiency for this technology would certainly have its uses.

Funding a solar startup isn’t cheap, though. Just last week the firm raised another $11.5 million in investments, bringing its total resources so far to nearly $150 million.

Source: Green Tech Media
Image Credit: Solexel


Biological Mechanism for Coiling and a Strange New Type of Spring Discovered

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 07:00 AM PDT

 
Researchers have finally unraveled the biological mechanism behind the creeping of a plant’s tendrils, leading to the discovery of an unusual type of spring.

20120902-173552.jpg

The new type of spring is quite soft when pulled gently upon, but becomes stiff when pulled upon strongly. Rather than unwinding into a flat ribbon form under stress, “the cucumber’s tendrils actually coil further. Understanding this counterintuitive behavior required a combination of head scratching, physical modeling, mathematical modeling, and cell biology — not to mention a large quantity of silicone.”
 

 
A cucumber plant’s tendril starts as a straight stem that grows until it finds something to support its weight. Once it has secured itself at both ends, it differentiates into a left-handed helix and a right-handed helix that are connected at the center.

“It’s easy to create one of these twistless springs with a telephone cord,” says Gerbode, “and they’re annoying. But with the phone cord, you can pull on both ends and it will straighten out into a flat ribbon. What’s strange about the cucumber tendril is that if you pull on the ends, it actually overwinds, adding more turns to both helices.”

20120902-173606.jpg
The previously unknown key to the tendril’s behavior is a spring made of “two joined, opposite-handed helices whose bending stiffness is higher than their twisting stiffness. In other words, to form this specific structure, the materials involved have to make it easier for the ribbon to twist axially than to change its curvature.” When the structure is combined with other factors such as the structure of the g-fiber cells and moisture variation, it allows for the interesting behavior of the tendril.

The researchers think that this discovery will lead to new types of bio-inspired twist-less springs. “This is likely to be useful anywhere we need a spring with a tunable mechanical response.”

Source: Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Image Credits: Joshua Puzey and Sharon Gerbode


Power-Pipe Heat Exchanger Reduces Water Heating Costs by 40%

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 06:30 AM PDT

 
Word on the street is, the Power-Pipe Drain Water Heat Recovery (DWHR) System created by RenewABILITY Energy could reduce your water heating costs by as much as 40%. By recapturing significant amounts of the heat that is lost with the used hot water, you could see a significant reduction in your bills.
20120902-181825.jpg

The system is designed to use the outgoing hot water in the drain pipes to preheat the cold water that is headed into the water heater, raising the incoming water temperature as high as 75°F, greatly reducing the energy needed to heat the water.
 

 
“Water falling down a vertical drain stack does not run down the middle of the stack, but instead clings to the inside wall of the pipe. In a DWHR application, falling drain water forms a thin film that rapidly imparts its heat to the colder pipe wall. The Power-Pipe® captures much of this heat, then ‘recycles’ it to raise the temperature of incoming cold water.”

Source: TreeHugger
Image Credits: RenewAbilityEnergy


“Bird-Safe” Wind Turbines May Soon Take Flight

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 06:00 AM PDT

 
The impact of wind farms on birds has been a topic of debate and concern for many people for years. To many, wind turbines are utterly destructive “bird blenders,” while others don’t buy into that notion. (We’ll come back to that the issue later in this article.)

To help address the bird issue completely, Jerry Lynch, the president of Sigma Design, is working towards testing, improving, and manufacturing Raymond Green’s patented wind turbine, which is designed with the specific intent to be safe for avian creatures.

Catching Wind Power® (CWP) Compressed Air Enclosed Wind Turbine

The 89-year-old Raymond Green, who is a California resident and World War II veteran, felt strongly about entrusting this technology to a veteran-owned company, and the person of choice was Lynch, who is a former U.S. Navy serviceman.

This turbine design utilizes no exposed turbine blades, but instead a form of air compression cone technology. It’s name? Catching Wind Power® Compressed Air Enclosed Wind Turbine.
 

 
Sigma Design is a Middlesex-based company, and this project could create as many as 25 new technology jobs.

"We hope that some visibility sends some people of interest our way, and that we can figure out a way to fund it," Lynch said.

"We just waited for a good windy day," Lynch said of the preliminary testing done by his company, which has worked on alternative energy development with about 150 clients around the world during the last 15 years. "We collected some good preliminary data and put together a plan of what needs to be improved and done to commercialize this."

This turbine can be produced in a variety of sizes, from small personal turbines to large-scale wind farm turbines.

Bird Deaths from Wind Turbines

Due to an unusually large number of avian deaths at the 31-year-old Altamont Pass wind farm, caused by old wind turbine technology that in some ways may actually attract birds because of its lattice structure, wind farms have garnered scrutiny for being destructive to birds. Most wind farms do not kill nearly as many birds as Altamont Pass, however.

Wind turbine bird deaths are actually rare compared to window-caused ones. This may be because wind turbines are obvious, and windows are transparent. Birds fly into windows because they can’t see them.

On top of the fact that Altamont Pass wind farm is 31 years old, and was built when the United States wind industry was still in its infancy (it was one of the earliest wind farms), that wind farm was built right in the place of a bird migratory path.

Altamont Pass bird fatalities account for up to half of all wind-farm caused bird fatalities in the United States combined! So, that wind farm really was built in the wrong place, and with the wrong technology.

Nonetheless, a new wind turbine design that kills fewer birds would be nice… if it can compete with mainstream wind turbines and help to shut off truly deadly coal and natural gas power plants a little quicker.

Source: Daily Record


Danish Wave Energy Startup Weptos Builds 1st Full-Size Plant

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 05:30 AM PDT

 
Weptos, a Danish wave energy startup and the developer of floating Wave Energy Converters (WEC), has opened a new research and development center in Fredericia, Denmark.

20120902-175703.jpg

Opened in August 2012, the new production facility is Weptos’ new center for the development and design of its first commercial wave energy plants.
 

 
“Anchored to the seabed, the Weptos system is built up of a number (~20) of asymmetric rotors that move independently, the rotors are connected to a single axle, which drives a generator. The many rotors using the same axle, makes the generator rotating movement uninterrupted. Under normal operating conditions the rate of axle turn is about 20 to 40 rpm. A possible generator solution could therefore be existing technology from commonly used wind turbines. The span of the system is flexible so that the capacity is optimized at all conditions; in a calm sea the span is wide, in high seas the span is narrowed — this also reduces the stress of the structure.”

You can read more about the experimental study on the technology here.

Source: Nordic Green
Image Credits: Weptos


HP EcoPOD Data Center, Ultra-Efficient, Self-Contained and Modular

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 04:30 AM PDT

 
The HP POD 240a, nicknamed the EcoPOD, is an ultra-efficient and self-contained data center that uses only a fraction of the energy that a traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ data center uses, while still being able achieve 10 times more information technology (IT) capacity.

The efficiency of the EcoPOD comes down to it’s design, fully utilizing the resources available and not powering the unused.

“A typical brick-and-mortar data center is often overprovisioned and underutilized, powering 100% of its resources, while using far less. The EcoPOD’s modular design, by contrast, helps enterprises quickly and efficiently expand data center capacity. The EcoPOD has the capacity for 44 industry-standard racks, up to 4,400 servers, and 44 kilowatt per 50U rack—the equivalent of just less than 9,000 square feet of traditional data center IT in a 900-square-foot package.”

For more, check out the HP news release on it.


Telluride Community Keen on Buying Solar Panels from SMPA Paradox Valley Project

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 04:00 AM PDT

The California legislature may have squashed a proposed community solar bill that would have enabled renters and others to share in solar power project development, but the movement continues in Colorado. The Telluride Daily Planet reports that customer interest in reserving solar PV panels in a San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) community-owned solar power project has been "somewhat overwhelming."


SMPA is building a solar PV farm on the floor of the Paradox Valley west of the southwestern Colorado town of Telluride. The municipal utility has opened ownership in the project up to homeowners, renters, second homeowners, organizations, and government organizations, by allowing them to purchase any and all of the electricity produced by the solar panels at the project site.

Going Solar No Longer a Paradox for SMPA Customers

SMPA’s Paradox Valley solar power project is due for completion in October, but the municipal utility is currently taking reservations. "People are very enthusiastic, and the interest is somewhat overwhelming,"  The Daily Planet reporter Collin McRann quoted Kristin Kuhlman of the Carbondale-based Clean Energy Collective.  "It's been fantastic. The demand is very high, and we're starting to get a lot more reservations."

SMPA is installing solar PV panels at the Paradox site at the rate of around 300 per day. All 4,680 are expected to be up and running come October. CEC will operate the farm for SMPA, which owns it. All told, the Paradox Valley solar farm will have a capacity of 1 MW and generate enough clean, renewable electricity for around 200 average US homes.

SMPA has priced single, 235-watt PV panels at the Paradox solar power project at $705. According to The Daily Planet, each one is projected to produce around $45 of electricity per year. That excludes available tax exemptions and other factors, however. When those are taken into account, buying PV panels at the Paradox Valley site is some 30% less expensive than homeowners or other buyers purchasing and installing them at their own homes or other sites.

Included in SMPA’s calculation is the cost of maintenance. "The owner of the panel never has to go to the garden and fix it or make sure it's working up to standards," Kuhlman told The Daily Planet. "And it's owned, maintained and insured for the next 50 years."

Adding to the innovative retail financing, Paradox Valley solar PV panel owners will be able to sell or gift the panels to other SMPA members.

Community solar is on the rise more broadly speaking in Colorado. Local, smaller scale solar PV project developers are showing very strong interest in building so-called "solar gardens" in Colorado. So many applied for Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community solar gardens program recently that the utility had to close the application window just 30 minutes after it opened.

Photo Credit: Jeffco Public Schools


Brazilian Renewable Energy Revenue in 2011 Exceeds $104 Billion

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 03:30 AM PDT

Brazilian 2011 revenue in the renewable energy sector reached $104.3 billion, according to a recent report from Research and Markets.

According to the report, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for revenue for Brazilian renewable energy markets between 2007 and 2011 was 2.5%.

Meanwhile, market consumption of renewables advanced within 2007-2011 at a CAGR of 3.9%, reaching a total of 451.9 kilowatt hours in 2011.

As emerging market countries like Brazil continue to grow, the importance of advancing renewables as mentioned in this report is ever important in getting towards environmental sustainability.

Source: Business Wire
Image Credit: Brazilian Flag image courtesy of Shutterstock


AW-Energy Raises $9 Million to Commercialize Wave Power System

Posted: 04 Sep 2012 02:00 AM PDT

 

Drawing of WaveRoller.

A Finnish developer of systems that generate power from the motion of waves, AW-Energy Oy, has raised $9 million from investors to build an innovative hydroelectric plant. The country's biggest utility, Fortum Oyj (FUM1V), is projected to help commercialize this technology.

Sitra is an innovation fund that reports to the Finnish parliament and Tekes. It also helped to fund this project, according to AW-Energy.

The technology is called a WaveRoller (we’ve been writing about it for years). It is a device equipped with a panel that is moved back and forth by sea waves — it’s affixed to the sea floor. Movement of its panel causes it to generate electricity.

Whenever electricity is generated, it is always a conversion of one form of energy into another (even a substance) — whether it is transforming fuel to heat, fuel to electricity, wind to electricity, sunlight to heat, sunlight to electricity, heat to mechanical energy, or something else. Converting wave movement into energy is the process of converting the kinetic energy that waves possess (kinetic energy is energy possessed by a body due to its movement) into mechanical energy (which is the movement of the panel), and then finally, a device attached to the panel converts the mechanical energy into electrical energy (which is, of course, the desired product).

If you want to go even further back in the energy conversion process, you will see that wind energy plays a role in this process, as well. Or, even further back: nuclear fusion generates sunlight -> sunlight reaches earth and heats areas unevenly, causing air to move -> wind blows against seawater, causing waves to form -> waves move the panel to generate electricity.

Three WaveRollers were installed in a pilot project off the coast of Portugal in August, costing $6.8 million USD (€5.4 million).

Source: Bloomberg
Photo Credit: AW Energy Website


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