Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

5 Solar Power Facts that Obama and Romney Did Not Debate

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 12:27 PM PDT

A company called inovateus solar has just issued a white paper called The Good News About Solar: Five Facts You Should Know, which is perfect timing because, although fossil fuels got quite a bit of notice during last night’s debate between President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, solar power facts were in short supply. However, the two candidates did spend a lot of time talking about improving the climate for U.S. businesses, so let’s check into the five solar power facts offered up by this particular U.S. company (from South Bend, Indiana to be precise) and see how that relates to President Obama’s energy and economic policies.

solar power facts not discussed in obama romney debate

Solar Fact #1: The U.S. Solar Industry Continues Strong Growth

According to the white paper, the global solar industry has averaged 40 percent growth per year for the past nine years, and the U.S. is up to more than 5,700 MW of installed solar capacity.

A nice chunk of the domestic growth is coming from job-creating public-private solar partnerships for new installations on federal property, especially as the Department of Defense aggressively pursues solar power with strong support from the Obama Administration.

Solar Fact #2: The Cost of Solar Continues to Drop Dramatically

Inovateus also notes that the average cost of solar panels dropped by an “astonishing” 50 percent in 2011 alone.

The installed cost of solar power is also dropping, but at a slower pace. That’s the bad news, since “soft costs” such as permits, installation, and grid connections can account for about half the overall cost of a rooftop solar array.

However, as part of President Obama’s SunShot initiative, the Department of Energy has formed partnerships with the private sector to bring down the soft costs of solar power. Part of that involves a juicy $10 million in prizes for winning DOE’s new “Most Affordable Rooftop Solar competition.

Solar Fact #3: Solar Power Creates Jobs

The white paper totals up more than 100,000 workers in the U.S. solar industry, or more than double the estimated employment in 2009.

That’s a pretty impressive record given the aftereffects of the 2008 economic collapse, and it’s no accident. When President Obama pushed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka “the stimulus”) through Congress in 2009, he didn’t get as much money as he wanted, but he did get enough to pump millions of dollars into solar projects that have created new green jobs, including a program for converting derelict brownfields to clean energy.

Solar Fact #4: Solar Incentives are Only a Fraction of Coal, Oil, and Gas Incentives

Inovateus notes that federal incentives are vital for U.S. businesses to compete in the global market, but current policies fall short.

That’s not for lack of trying. President Obama’s solid support for clean energy incentives such as the wind energy tax credit is well documented, but conservative leadership in Congress has resisted.


Solar Fact #5: Solar is an Essential Part of the Energy Mix

According the white paper, “solar is already the fastest growing energy sector in the US and by 2014 it will likely be the largest source of new electric capacity in America.”

Now, the wind industry might have a bone to pick with the latter part of that statement, considering wind’s epic growth over the past few years, but the undeniable fact is that clean energy is here to stay, and there is practically limitless potential for growth.

In the course of last night’s debate, Governor Romney took issue with what he described as an under-use of federal land for new fossil fuel development, but (aside from bending the facts) he ignored the big picture. The Obama Administration has opened up more federal lands for alternative energy development, so for what it’s worth, there has been and will be more exploitation of public property for energy production.

In the big picture, energy is energy, and if a new form of energy can do a better job than the old, then it’s out with the old and in with the new. Otherwise, horsepower in its literal form would be playing a far bigger role in the U.S. energy mix right now. Not a pretty picture, right?

Speaking of the big picture, clean energy is only one side of the job-creating coin. The other side is the Obama Administration’s pursuit of new federal fuel efficiency standards that create jobs, which did at least get some coverage in the debate.

Image (cropped): Solar power, some rights reserved by david.nikonvscanon

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

California Moving Towards Large Bike-Sharing Programs

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 10:00 AM PDT

The US has long lagged behind Europe, with regards to bike sharing and bike infrastructure. Currently, California isn’t home to any large bike-sharing programs, but within the next year there will be at least five opening in major Californian cities.


For those that may not know, a common bike-sharing program is a collection of automated stations that are placed at relatively close intervals to each other and allow users who possess a day pass or annual membership to check out bikes simply with a swipe of a card. The checked out bikes can generally then be dropped off at any other vending station once the user has reached their destination.

"Nobody is going to be commuting across the city on bike share," said Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. "It gives them mobility within the destination area for that first-mile, last-mile… it allows people to go out to lunch without having to worry about re-parking."

Bike sharing has long been a part of large European cities like Paris, Barcelona, and London. Recently, some American cities, such as Denver, NYC, Boston, and Washington, D.C. have also started up ambitious programs. And now, California is scheduled to open bike sharing systems in Anaheim, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Francisco and some other cities near the Caltrain corridor.

“Bike advocacy groups, which have long lobbied for making California's streets more friendly to cyclists, are hailing bike sharing's arrival—even if planned improvements to cities' respective bicycle infrastructures remain years away.”

The rapid deployment of bike sharing programs in California is at least in part thanks to the great success that other areas have already had with them.

Source: California Planning And Development Report
Image Credits: Estacio via Wikimedia Commons

2012 NOVA Innovation Competition Finalists Announced

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 08:00 AM PDT

The US Green Building Council-Northern California Chapter (USGBC-NCC), along with Saint-Gobain, one of the world's premier building materials businesses, announced the finalists for the NOVA Innovation competition.

Out of a field of 168 entries, eight finalists made it through the process in which judges helped select the cream of the crop, the release said.

New Family Home with Solar Panels via Shutterstock

Some of the judges that selected the last eight range from MIT experts, Webcor, a top building contractor, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the US Green Building Council-Northern California Chapter.

The NOVA Innovation competition will take place in 2012 in San Fransisco at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo on November 15, 2012.

The eight finalists will pitch their ideas in a formula that's similar to speed dating, in front of key business people from Saint-Gobain at the Expo.

There is much at stake, both financially and opportunity-wise, for the winners. First prize will grab $50,000, second place is worth $25,000 and third $10,000. However, all Nova participants will have the opportunity to work with the Nova External Venturing Organization in looking at possible ideas to develop.

Nova officials are really looking forward to these crop of participants for this year’s event.

“This year’s NOVA Innovation Competition has attracted our largest field of entrants yet. And it’s no wonder; word has finally gotten out that Saint-Gobain offers startups tremendous value in providing access to a global market along with the support, resources and expertise that comes from the building materials industry leader,” said director of NOVA External Venturing and Northboro R&D Center, (Saint-Gobain’s largest R&D Center in North America), Rakesh Kapoor, in the statement.

Here is the list of finalists who will be pitching their ideas in mid-November:

Aquamost Inc. (Brookfield, Wisconsin, USA) – A chemical-free system for the remediation of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and other oil/gas well wastewater, combining catalyst plates, UV light and electricity.

Architectural Applications (Portland, Oregon, USA) – An air conditioning efficiency technology that uses  membrane-based, air-to-air heat and moisture exchangers integrated into the building envelope system to create healthier indoor environments with much less energy.

Blue Water Bioproducts (Port Huron, Michigan, USA) – Developer of eco-friendly polyurethane resins made from lignin, a pulp and paper industry waste product.

Encapsulix (Simiane, Provence, France) – Developer of thin-film coating equipment that make OLED, LED lighting, photovoltaics, organic electronics more durable and less expensive to manufacture.

Heliotrope Technologies (Oakland, California, USA) – Developer of energy efficient electrochromic glass windows that can switch between solar transparent, heat blocking and heat and lighting blocking states.

PlanGrid (Sunnyvale, California, USA) – Complete collaborative platform for construction information and the fastest pdf viewer in the universe.

Smarter Shade (South Bend, Indiana, USA) – A daylight control platform that enables a new or existing window to go from clear to dark with the touch of a button, which activates a sliding film.

ThermoCeramix Group (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) – A radiant heat system integrated into sheetrock and tiles for ceilings and walls.

Source: Saint-Gobain

Solar Industry’s First Comprehensive Solar PV Module Rating Standards System Created

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 07:10 AM PDT

A first-of-its kind way to easily compare and analyze competing photovoltaic modules online is being released by the Principal Solar Institute, an online resource and reference guide for the solar market.


PSI PV Module Ratings were designed so that solar customers could easily make informed and fact-based decisions between different PV modules.

"Until now, there was no accepted standard for comparing the critical characteristics of PV modules between different manufacturers, or even across a single product line," says Matthew A. Thompson, Ph.D., executive director of the Principal Solar Institute. "The PSI Ratings elevate the solar industry in a rigorous approach similar to the financial sector, which turns to Standard and Poor's Ratings for investments, and the air conditioning industry, which relies upon SEER Ratings. We are closing the gap in the solar power industry's urgent need for a method to uniformly evaluate PV modules in order to make technologically and financially optimal decisions."

Photovoltaic modules are able to create electrical power while under a very wide variety of environmental conditions. These conditions, such as: irradiance, nominal operating cell temperature, and other ambient conditions exert considerable influence over how much electrical power is generated. Even if two different modules have the same nameplate wattage, they may react to different conditions very differently. “The PSI PV Module Rating is a comparative number that can be used with pricing information, providing power plant designers and buyers with a consistent basis for choosing a particular PV module.”

Michael Gorton, CEO and chairman of Principal Solar, Inc (PSI; OTC Pink: PSWW), explains: "No industry can be considered mature until it has adopted standards. As tireless, passionate promoters of solar as a near-term solution to so many energy-related issues, the Principal Solar Institute is committed to driving solar energy to the forefront of the national energy debate. These standards will help to build the solar industry's solid foundation of credibility in the minds of energy leaders, investors and industries around the world."

Source: BusinessWire
Image Credits: Wayne National Forest Solar by Wayne National Forest (some rights reserved)

UK Could Avoid 40% of Energy Demand and Save £10 Billion per Year

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 05:09 AM PDT

The UK could avoid 40 percent of electricity demand and save in excess of £10 billion per year if amendments are made to the upcoming Energy Bill by incentivising energy efficiency and creating a ‘market’ for electricity savings.

These are the findings from a new report published Tuesday by the Green Alliance and WWF-UK (PDF) that highlights research commissioned by the Government which found that effective measures to reduce electricity could result in huge savings for the consumer and the environment.

The potential savings currently available to the UK over the next seventeen years add up to the equivalent of 15 nuclear power plants.

Sadly, the draft Energy Bill currently contains nothing to plug the existing gap in the UK energy sector. Rather, it puts in place policies that pay for new low-carbon supply and contains no potential for reducing electricity demand.

What is a Negawatt?

What is a Negawatt?

"The Coalition can show it cares about hard pressed families by making sure the energy system rewards energy saving as much as energy production,” said Green Alliance's director, Matthew Spencer.

“An electricity efficiency feed-in tariff is the simplest way of doing this, and evidence from the USA suggests that it will incentivise a wave of new energy saving amongst business and households. The Energy Bill offers the opportunity to support negawatts as well as megawatts, and to do so at a lower cost to the UK economy."

The report published Tuesday looked at three ways that the government’s Electricity Market Reform could help reduce national electricity demand:

  1. reform the proposed capacity market to incentivise demand reduction;
  2. extend the existing energy efficiency obligation so that it requires suppliers to reduce their customers' electricity demand; and
  3. introduce a new electricity efficiency feed-in tariff (FiT)

It found that an electricity efficiency feed-in tariff (EE FiT) — a new financial incentive for energy saving — would be the most effective option to save consumers on their energy bills.

Currently, according to the Green Alliance and WWF-UK, an Energy Bill without it is simply going to reward the building of expensive power stations rather than actively pursue lowest-cost energy efficiency. Their argument is that the Bill must incentivise energy demand reduction rather than allow for high-demand by matching that demand.

“Energy efficiency is the obvious 'win-win' in the upcoming reform of our electricity market; keeping a check on rising energy bills while also reducing our dependency on fossil fuels,” said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK.  ”Thus far the draft Energy Bill has failed to recognise this gilt-edged opportunity, and energy efficiency is conspicuous only by its absence.

"The Green Alliance/WWF report released today demonstrates that the case for implementing an Electricity Efficiency Feed-in tariff in the Bill is overwhelming. WWF urges Government to ensure that when the Energy Bill is published it includes options to adequately incentivise energy efficiency.”

Source: WWF-UK

Bike-Friendly Communities Increase Biking (Infographic)

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 05:02 AM PDT

Data from the latest American Community Survey shows that more people are riding their bikes in communities that make strategic investments for bicycles.

No real surprise there.

The League of American Bicyclists subsequently created this infographic outlining the growth of bicycle commuting rates:

Friendly Bike Commuting Communities Infographic

Source: League of American Bicyclists

LED Turn Signals for Your Bike, by a 9th Grader

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 05:00 AM PDT

One can only hope that, in the weeks, months, and years ahead, the number of bikes on the road will start to increase and the number of cars will decrease. It might be a wishful optimist’s dream, but there you have it. It’s mine, and I’m sticking with it.

In such a day, Instructables user Adambowker98 is going to be well pleased with himself as he sees bikers zipping back and forth with his turn signals attached to the back of their bikes.

Make Your Own LED Turning Signals

I’m going to take some journalistic license here and assume that the young man’s name is Adam Bowker and he was born in 1998. Either way, he’s created a dead-simple way to create your own turn signals to stick to the back of your bike, so that those few drivers left on the road will know when you’re turning.

Hand bike signals are boring, and who doesn’t love electronics and LEDs? I don’t do much road biking where I actually need turn signals, but they look cool and are fun to make. Also, they go great with an Altoids Bike Headlight on the Cheap!

Check out the full page on Instructables with ingredients and step-by-step instructions on how to make your own turn signals (and stay tuned for the video he’ll be posting soon).

Battery & Other Energy Storage Boosted by US Government

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 04:57 AM PDT

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just published the findings of report that found 39 separate battery and energy storage initiatives with a variety of key characteristics had been implemented across six US agencies.

The six agencies — the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Defense (DOD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — required $1.3 billion over the fiscal years from 2009 to 2012 and supported a variety of technologies, uses, advancement activities, and goals.

The funding provided through the six agencies was available to several types of recipients, such as private industry, universities, and federal labs, through contracts, grants, and other mechanisms.

Federal Agency Battery and Energy Storage Initiatives and Funding Obligations, Fiscal Years 2009 through 2012
Agency Number of obligations Funding obligations
DOE 11 $851,994,808
DOD 14 430,274,229
NASA 8 20,811,374
NSF 4 8,582,868
EPA 1 3,258,029
NIST 1 1,375,000
Total 39 $1,316,296,308

The GAO was requested to complete the study on behalf of US Representative Ralph Hall, Chairman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology; and Andy Harris, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. It was asked to:

  1. identify the scope and key characteristics of federal battery and energy storage initiatives;
  2. determine the extent to which there is potential fragmentation, overlap, or duplication, if any, among these initiatives; and
  3. determine the extent to which agencies coordinate these initiatives.

The “GAO found  that initiatives were fragmented and had overlapping characteristics but did not find clear evidence of duplication.” And though there were some overlap in terms of what the funding went towards, in most cases this overlap was mission- or agency-specific.

Of the initiatives found, 21 of the 39 supported more than one kind of battery or other energy storage technology, and initiatives supported on average two technologies.

Number of Initiatives Supporting Each Type of Technology
Technology Number of initiatives
Li-ion batteries 28
Metal-air batterie 19
Capacitors 17
Lithium-metal batteries 16
Basic energy storage research 14
Advanced lead-acid batteries 11
Redox flow batteries 9
Sodium batteries 9
Flywheels 4
Other 15
Numbers total more than 39 because many initiatives supported more than one type of technology.

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office via Green Car Congress

A123 Systems Goes Up in Smoke But Lithium Batteries Rise from Ashes

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 04:22 AM PDT

File under Another One Bites the Dust: the innovative lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems has just declared bankruptcy. Since the company received a hefty loan from the Department of Energy under the Obama Administration, that makes it a legit political football, especially on the eve of the second presidential debates. Indeed, the predictable kick was swift in coming, but as the ball goes flying down the field, the important thing to watch for is where it lands, and who makes the catch.

lithium ion company A123 Sytems goes bankrupt

Romney and Obama Trade Barbs over A123 Bankruptcy

As always, our friends over at The Hill have done a great job of keeping up with the political action. Under the header “Romney pounces,” The Hill’s Ben Gemen quotes presidential Mitt Romney claiming that the A123 Systems bankruptcy represents a "disastrous strategy of gambling away billions of taxpayer dollars." Gemen is careful to note, though, that the 2009 loan was supported by Republicans in Congress as well as Democrats.

Gemen followed up a few hours later with another piece under “Obama parries,” in which an Obama campaign spokesperson points out that all together, the President’s support for federally funded clean energy initiatives including the wind energy tax credit, solar power, and advanced manufacturing has added up to thousands of new jobs while leading to savings for consumers.

That’s backed up by the Department of Energy, which asserts that fueling costs for electric vehicles are currently the equivalent of $1.00 per gallon. That marker is expected to drop even farther as new technologies come on line.


So Long A123 Systems, Hello New Batteries

From its inception under the Bush Administration, the DOE loan program was structured to absorb a reasonable element of risk, and as it turns out, U.S. taxpayers might not be so much on the hook for the A123 bankruptcy. The four-star global technology company Johnson Controls has already agreed to keep A123′s automotive battery operations humming along, and A123 is optimistic that its other assets will be picked up, too.

Returning to that football metaphor, what the A123 bankruptcy demonstrates is that the U.S. clean tech sector is growing and maturing to the point where some companies have the resources to catch others when they stumble. In other words, a small measure of failure is proving the success of a much broader policy, part of which involves building up the U.S. battery manufacturing sector.

As to where that ball is going to fall, keep an eye on the price of lithium, which is a key factor in the overall price of electric vehicles. Currently, the domestic battery industry relies heavily on imported lithium, but new lithium extraction technologies and new lithium plants in the U.S. could turn that situation around and bring prices down.

Image: Explosion. Some rights reserved by The Official CTBTO Photostream

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

7 Reasons I Love Electric Cars

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 04:00 AM PDT

Not sure what you think about electric cars? Not sure if they’re awesome or meh? I think you can tell from the title what I think. There are probably plenty more reasons than this, but these are the big reasons (for me) to love electric cars:

Nissan Leaf via Nissan

1. Electric cars are better for the environment (and thus, your health). Almost anywhere they charge, electric cars are better for the climate, air quality, and other key facets of the environment. Given that we all rely on a healthy environment to be healthy and live a high quality of life ourselves, this is a huge (often underrated) win for us.

2. Electric cars cut our reliance on oil from foreign countries that don’t like us. US oil production peaked decades ago, and it has peaked in many other developed countries as well — it seems quite likely that it has even peaked globally. For now, though, oil use in the US (and many other countries) is dependent on imported oil (about $1 billion a day) from quite unstable and US-unfriendly nations. From the link above: “Ten of the countries who we import a lot of oil from are also on the State Department's Travel Warning list: Algeria, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.”

SunPower & Ford partnership via CleanTechnica

3. Electric cars can be hooked up to solar panels! If you wanted to make your electric car even a lot greener than the standard, just hook your house up to some solar panels and charge your car at home as much as possible! Of course, there are also public charging stations hooked up to solar panels in some places. And renewable energy is growing fast across the country and the world in any case, making charging of electric cars cleaner and cleaner.

Mitsubishi i via Mitsubishi

4. Electric cars have some serious torque. If you like the thrill of getting off the line super fast, an electric car is for you. Electric cars have constant torque. Even an old Datsun can become the world’s fastest car with a good electric setup — check out the White Zombie for proof.

5. Electric cars have relatively stable (and super low) fuel costs. Compared to the wicked price swings of oil, electricity prices are super stable. And again, as noted above, if you go solar and go electric (for your car), your situation is even more stable. (That is, your fuel costs are $0 or close to $0 for decades.) And those relatively stable fuel costs, pretty much anywhere you charge, are also considerably lower than the fuel costs of a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Mitsubishi i via Mitsubishi” target=”_blank”>Honda Fit EV via Honda

6. Electric cars are super quite. Unlike the roar of gasoline engines, electric cars are super silent. Noise pollution, especially from cars, is really a big stressor on society today. But if we were all driving electric cars, that could be nearly eliminated. (For safety reasons, they need to make a bit of noise, but that noise is added and can be chosen, so it doesn’t have to be so… noisy.)

7. Electric cars are cheaper! Simply with the fuel cost savings, many electric cars are cheaper than your standard gasoline-powered car. Of course, plenty of factors come into play here to determine such comparisons — length of ownership, differences in gasoline and electricity costs where you live and drive, how efficiently you drive, etc — but this is the case overall. Notably, though, if you also factor in health costs (a little harder to do, but worth doing), the scale is even further tipped towards electric cars (in a good way).

What do you think of those 7 reasons? More you’d like to add?

Reposted from Electric Love with permission.

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