Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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Wind & Solar Pushing Down Price of Electricity in Australia

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 03:22 PM PDT

Editor’s note: as briefly mentioned below, this same thing has happened in Germany, which we’ve written about several times; and it has happened in Texas and several other places, and will happen anywhere there is strong renewable energy penetration. For more on this, take a stroll through our merit order effect archives, and check out the posts linked above. You can also read more about this on our Cost of Wind Power page. The concern, as seems to have been the case in Australia (see below) and Germany, is the potential for utilities to pocket electricity cost savings while raising the price of retail electricity — not right.

Anyway, here’s Giles’ full piece. This post was originally published on Renew Economy. It has been reposted with full permission.

The rules of Australia's energy markets continue to be redrawn after the South Australian pricing regulator on Tuesday cut its calculation of wholesale energy costs and recommended that retail electricity prices be cut by 8.1 per cent.

The draft decision by the Energy Services Commission of South Australia (ESCOSA) may only directly impact the customers of AGL Energy on standing contracts in that state – but it's likely to have a profound ripple effect on the energy industry in Australia.

The decision recognises that the game is changing because of the growing impact of renewables and falling demand. It also recognises that the industry's power over the regulators is waning fast, and its ability to gold plate its assets – be they networks or generation plant – is rapidly declining.

ESCOSA – against the wishes of the conventional energy industry – has redrawn the way that prices should be estimated. It was a bit of a no-brainer, because ESCOSA had previously allowed the wholesale price allowance to reflect what the utilities estimated as the long run marginal cost of energy. But it turned out that this calculation was up to three times the actual cost – ESCOSA had allowed electricity companies to pass on a rate of $90 per  MWh, although the cost of the electricity on the open market had dropped to as low as $30 per MWh.

ESCOSA now proposes a calculation that better reflects the cost of purchasing energy on the wholesale market, and all the hedging that takes place as well. The result is that – even after taking into account the carbon price and the cost of renewable energy schemes – the wholesale component of the electricity bill will come down sharply – and translate into a cut in retail bills. It suggests that these cost reductions be reflected in the bills of all customers, not just those on standing charges.

This ruling should not come as a surprise, except to those who insist that wind and solar does nothing but add to the cost of electricity. For much of the past year, wholesale electricity prices have been trading at or around their lowest levels since the creation of the National Electricity market more than a decade ago, yet retail electricity bills have soared, thanks to billions of dollars in network spending which is now being heavily scrutinized.

But apart from a few instances, such as IPART's decision in NSW where wholesale costs had a minor depressing effect in its recommended retail electricity estimations – consumers have not benefited from this fall.

South Australia, however, is a special case because the actual cost of buying electricity on the wholesale market has been impacted more directly by the "merit order effect" – the downward pressure on wholesale prices caused when wind and solar farms (which have zero cost fuels) are constructed and produce energy.

South Australia has the highest penetration of wind in Australia – it accounted for around 26 per cent of energy supply in the year to the end of July, overtaking coal and trailing only gas. It also has the highest penetration of solar PV in the country – 2.4 per cent of its electricity last year was sourced from rooftop panels – and this has made a major contribution to reduced demand on the NEM, and in turn to lower electricity costs. Indeed, AEMO has cut its energy demand forecasts for the state by 10 per cent, mostly due to a 7 per cent reduction from the solar-powered residential sector, where one in 5 houses has a rooftop solar installation.

The influence of wind and solar is expected to increase in coming years. AEMO predicts that solar PV will make up 3.4 per cent of energy demand in the state in the current year – rivaling the penetration in Germany, which has had a dramatic impact on wholesale prices. By 2020, it says, the solar PV could account for 6.4 per cent of demand. It estimates that one third of solar PV installed in the state is producing at times of peak demand.

This, in turn, has led to the state's two coal-fired generators, to be put in mothballs because the ageing plants can no longer make money with wholesale prices falling so low. The two plants that once provided 30 per cent of the state's energy have now been shunted out of the market by a combination of wind and solar – apparently more expensive – and lower demand. This is the future faced by the conventional energy industry everywhere – in the eastern states, in the US, and in Europe.

This table below explains what happened in South Australia. In 2010, ESCOSA allowed a wholesale price component of $93.93, plus estimates from line losses, various fees and the cost of the the two components of the renewable energy target (large scale – essentially wind – and small scale – essentially rooftop solar).

The second column shows the increase when the impact of the carbon price is added in. But the third column reflects the new estimates, based on a formula that reflects the cost of buying energy on the market (not simply the spot price, because utilities need to hedge and lock in long-term contracts), with an additional $8/MWh of "headroom" – a profit margin that retailers can play with to "compete" with each other, plus line losses and (slightly lower) estimates of the cost of the RET.

Note: The REC Agents Association underlined the impact of solar PV on wholesale prices in a research note that also points out that estimates of the impact of the cost of the small scale component of the renewable energy target have been grossly over-estimated, particularly by those seeking to have the target reshaped.

The RAA says the combination of rooftop solar and solar hot water has caused a 1.2 per cent fall in power consumption across the NEM – around half of the reduction noted in the market. It estimates this can be quantified at $20 per MWh, or 2 cents per kWh, and the contribution of rooftop solar to reducing power consumption is expected to more than double by 2015 – with further impact on wholesale electricity prices.

And it notes, the cost of the small-scale scheme will continue to fall. From 2014, once the multiplier is phased out, it will account for less than one per cent of retail electricity prices. It also notes that the real cost of the scheme is well below the $40 a certificate that retailers are allowed to pass throught to their customers. The market price of these certificates is close to $30.

Gamechanging Vestas V164 Wind Turbine Continues Groundbreaking Development (8MW Wind Turbine!)

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 02:53 PM PDT

Vestas Wind Systems has been at the heart of the wind industry’s development across the world and continues in that role with the development of its V164 platform, which is not only on track for prototype deployment but has recently seen a technological development allowing the turbine to now reach a capacity of 8 megawatts!

“The V164 platform was from the very beginning developed with a possible potential of increasing the turbine size,” said the Danish company in its press release. The development of the technology behind the V164 has now reached a point where an 8MW version will offer low-cost energy while leaving the reliability and structural integrity of the turbine unchanged.

"As we progressed in the technology development it was clear that an 8 MW version of the turbine will offer lower cost of energy and at the same time keep the reliability and structural integrity of the turbine unchanged," said Executive Vice President and CTO, Anders Vedel.

Vestas V164 Nears Completion and Increases to 8MW

The development of the new V164 turbine is progressing according to schedule, with several main components currently nearing completion:

  • The blade mould for the 80-metre blades is ready at Vestas' testing facilities on the Isle of Wight, UK, and the production of the first blade for testing purposes will be initiated during Q4.
  • The prototype hub has been cast and is ready for testing.
  • The generator and gear box will be ready for testing in Q1 2013.


"We are getting closer to installation of the prototype every day, and it is very satisfying to see the first major parts of the V164-8.0 MW under completion,” said Vedel. “This turbine is truly going to be a game changer. When you stand beside the blade mould for the 80 metre long blades you can really sense the scale of the turbine.”

Vedel noted that the complete drivetrain will be tested at Vestas' facilities in Aarhus, Denmark on a test bench currently being built to the purpose.

"Our capability to do in-house testing of the V164 gives us a competitive advantage. It improves the reliability of the turbine and thereby the business case certainty for the customers. The test bench will be commissioned in January 2013.”

The company are still targeted for installation during 2014.

Source(s): Vestas 1 & 2

Solar Cell Made of a Single Molecule: Electrical Current Generated from Individual Protein Complex

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 02:41 PM PDT

A method to measure the photocurrents of a ‘single functionalized photosynthetic protein system’ has now been developed by researchers. The researchers are confident that they can show that such a system could be integrated and “selectively addressed” inside of an artificial photovoltaic device’s architecture while still being able to retain its “biomolecular functional properties.”

solar cell solar

Photosystem-I (green) is optically excited by an electrode (on top). An electron then is transferred step by step in only 16 nanoseconds.

The protein is essentially a light-driven and highly efficient single-molecule electron pump, a pump that can potentially act as a power generator in nanoscale electric circuits.

The researchers were investigating the photosystem-I reaction center — that’s a chlorophyll protein complex that is located in the membranes of chloroplasts from cyanobacteria. Photosynthesis is used by algae, plants, and some bacteria in order to convert the Sun’s energy into usable and storable chemical energy. “The initial stages of this process — where light is absorbed and energy and electrons are transferred — are mediated by photosynthetic proteins composed of chlorophyll and carotenoid complexes.”

Until this breakthrough, there weren’t any methods that were sensitive enough to measure the photocurrents that are generated by a single protein. “Photosystem-I exhibits outstanding optoelectronic properties found only in photosynthetic systems. The nanoscale dimension further makes the photosystem-I a promising unit for applications in molecular optoelectronics.”

The primary challenge to the physicists was that they had to develop and master “a method to electrically contact single molecules in strong optical fields. The central element of the realized nanodevice are photosynthetic proteins self-assembled and covalently bound to a gold electrode via cysteine mutation groups,” a Technische Universitaet Muenchen news release states. ”

The photocurrent was measured by means of a gold-covered glass tip employed in a scanning near-field optical microscopy set-up. The photosynthetic proteins are optically excited by a photon flux guided through the tetrahedral tip that at the same time provides the electrical contact.” Using this technique allowed the researchers to monitor the photocurrent being generated in single protein units.

The research team is publishing the results of the research in the journal Nature Nanotechnology this week.

The research was the result of interdisciplinary cooperation between researchers, led by Joachim Reichert, Johannes Barth, and Alexander Holleitner (Technische Universitaet Muenchen, Clusters of Excellence MAP, and NIM), and Itai Carmeli (Tel Aviv University)

Source: Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Image Credits: Christoph Hohmann (NIM)

Accelerating the Drive toward Renewable Energy (Exclusive Article from Adnan Z. Amin)

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 02:26 PM PDT

Editor’s note: The following is an exclusive CleanTechnica article from one of the world’s top renewable energy leaders, Adnan Z. Amin. I hope you and enjoy it as much as I did.

By Adnan Z. Amin

In 2011, while the cost of renewable energy technologies continued to fall, global total investment reached a record $257 billion, and global renewable power capacity exceeded 1,360 GW. With these investments, renewable energy has moved from a niche, environmentally driven option into an economically viable solution to meet the growing energy demand of a rapidly growing global population.

Many nations are currently making critical decisions on how to supply their populations soaring demand for energy. For some, this involves expanding their existing infrastructure, whereas for others it involves creating entirely new energy systems. Either way, the decisions that these nations make now will stay with them for decades, and will undoubtedly impact their future economic growth, social development, and environmental sustainability. To ensure that these decisions are rational, decision makers must be informed of the true costs and implications of all the options for meeting their energy needs.

To ensure that renewable energy receives the consideration it should: we must realise that our real challenge has moved from the idea, and growing public support for that idea, to creating concrete action. It is the practical issues that surround the development and deployment of renewable energy that pose the pressing questions now. These issues span many subjects, including policy, investment, technology, and technological costs. Creating pragmatic solutions for the future will unlock the true potential of renewable energy to provide clean, secure, and sustainable energy to all.

clean renewable energy sourcesOne way of increasing the global momentum of renewable energy technologies, whether in innovation or implementation, is by identifying the business case for renewables. We can do this by demonstrating the many situations where renewable energy has reached grid parity, or where it has created energy access, or reduced the costs of powering businesses. This will empower people to create solutions for the practical issues that are currently constraining uptake.

Fortunately, there are numerous international initiatives that are promoting and recognising practical contributions to renewable energy globally. I have the honour of being involved at a high level with several of these. One is the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's global initiative "Sustainable Energy for All," which aims to achieve universal access to modern energy services, double the improvement in energy efficiency, and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030. The Secretary-General has called on governments, private sector, and civil society to make commitments towards achieving these complimentary objectives, and many, including the International Renewable Energy Agency, have answered this call.

Another international initiative is the Zayed Future Energy Prize. This annual award spurs innovation by recognising contributions made to renewable energy and sustainability that display innovation, long-term vision, and leadership, while also creating a real impact in the world. The Prize reflects the vision of the late Ruler of Abu Dhabi and Founding Father of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and is awarded for categories ranging from large corporations through to high schools that have made significant contributions to creating a sustainable global energy future. This clearly acknowledges that the contributions that will transform our energy system will come from a multitude of sources.

Renewable energy is poised to power a new energy paradigm. But the potential of this energy revolution will be hamstrung unless we work to answer the practical questions facing development and deployment. Through the combined efforts of policy makers, courage of investors, and innovation of scientists, we have already shown that we are capable of realising the potential of renewable energy. The global growth in renewable energy investment and capacity attests to this. But to truly realise the global potential of renewable energy, we need to focus our efforts on creating pragmatic and relevant solutions to the real issues facing us.

Adnan Z. Amin is Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, and a jury member for the Zayed Future Energy Prize, an annual award that celebrates achievement in renewable energy and sustainability.  Mr. Amin is a development economist specializing in sustainable development.

Image Credits: renewable energy technologies at Discovery World via mjmonty; wind turbine, solar panel, & globe via Shutterstock; and Adnan Z. Amin via himself

My Friend, Cleaner Cars, & Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 01:23 PM PDT

Editor’s note: If you haven’t noticed, we don’t write much about hydrogen fuel cells here on CleanTechnica. Quite frankly, it’s got some big hurdles that we’re not so sure it can overcome — at least, no time soon (and we need clean transportation to roll out soon). Nonetheless, this guest post offered up by one of our readers seems pretty on point. It does a good job outlining hydrogen’s key obstacles, but also notes the minor progress that is being made and some recent announcements. Have a look and tell us what you think:

by J.C. Mac

“Just tell them their fuel bill could be reduced by 15 – 20%," I said to my friend, a long-distance lorry driver. We'd been discussing fuel alternatives for a few hours as my friend — also the chairman of his local green-watch committee — wanted to convince his employers to convert his HGV, currently guzzling dirty diesel for 8 to 10 hours each day, to LPG fuel.

Though LPG does offer significant savings on fuel bills, my friend's bosses were not 'financially equipped to transform their fleet' – a to-be-expected response, really.

But it's not just about the money.

Whilst the savings one can make from choosing a more environmentally friendly fuel supply stand for themselves — UK diesel costs, on average, 144.47 pence per litre; petrol costs 140.13 pence per litre; and LPG costs 74.21 pence per litre — the greatest benefit of LPG or other alternative fuels over diesel and petrol is the reduced impact on the environment. LPG, for instance, despite also being a fossil fuel, burns much cleaner than its dirty competitors.

A few weeks later my friend was sporting a badge saying 'I'm L.P.Great' and told me he'd converted his own car to LPG, thereby offsetting some of the damage done during his long-distance driving.

We then discussed hydrogen as an alternative to other fossil fuel products and he told me his bosses had investigated this as an alternative, but were concerned that hydrogen is still mainly extracted via fossil fuels.

Whilst hydrogen cell fuel vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions – they only produce heat and water vapour – there is a fundamental issue that has plagued hydrogen production for decades; around 48% of global hydrogen is still produced through steam reforming of hydrocarbons (such as natural gas), which releases carbon dioxide as a by-product into the environment.

So just as important as knowing how your four-minute eggs were farmed, it’s as crucial to know how your hydrogen was produced. Unfortunately, most hydrogen produced in the world today is neither renewable nor clean.

Nonetheless, it is possible to produce ‘green’ hydrogen through renewable electrolysis, a process that uses renewable electricity to produce hydrogen when an electrical current is passed through water.

As the UK government, like many others across the EU, recognise more must be done to end an extant ignorant reliance on fossil fuels and dirty energy, green-fuel development (especially in the transport industry) has seen a boost in the financial backing of new initiatives.

As for my friend's bosses being resistant to investing in a hydrogen-powered transportation infrastructure, there still remains (alongside the non-green production methods) a series of obstacles to overcome.

Good and Bad Side to Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles


  • A fuel cell has simple construction, is less complicated than a conventional gas or diesel engine, so mass production costs would become extremely low.
  • It is not subject to high temperatures, corrosion, or any of the structural weaknesses found in other engines.
  • It runs quietly, and its sole tailpipe emission is water vapor.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are far more energy efficient than gasoline-fueled vehicles, with double the efficiency of internal combustion engines.

Obstacles to Overcome

  • In order to introduce hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road, it is not only vehicle technology that must be changed, but also the entire fuel supply and distribution system. This doesn't come cheaply. Conceptually, replacing the current oil-based infrastructure with hydrogen would cost billions of dollars.
  • Although abundant in the universe, hydrogen is fairly rare in our atmosphere, meaning that it has to be extracted (for example through electrolysis, as explained above) and currently, the process is not cost efficient.
  • On-board storage is a major issue. A hydrogen tank would currently be too large for a standard passenger car.
  • It is very flammable, which further adds to the on-board storage issues.

UK Projects Accelerate 'Green' Hydrogen Energy

Five UK initiatives will demonstrate how the use of fuel cell systems and hydrogen technologies in low-carbon energy systems and transportation can be integrated with other energy and transport components, such as renewable energy generation, refuelling infrastructure, and vehicles, to develop holistic systems working together.

“These projects will complement the joint government/industry project UKH2Mobility, which is currently evaluating potential rollout scenarios for hydrogen for transport in the UK,” says Mark Prisk, former Minister of State for Business and Enterprise.

The projects involve:

BOC, the industrial gases and clean energy business, will provide refuelling technology for Scotland's first fleet of hydrogen-powered buses. Scottish & Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD) will work with BOC to harness the electricity from a nearby wind farm to power a 1MWe electrolyser to split ordinary water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen produced will be stored for use with the bus fleet and can even be converted back to electricity to supplement mains supplies at times of peak demand.

The creation of the UK's first end-to-end, integrated, 'green' hydrogen production, distribution and retailing system, centred around a fully publically accessible, state-of-the-art, 700-bar (10 000 psi) renewable hydrogen refuelling station network across London (led by Air Products Plc).

The delivery of solar-energy-generated hydrogen for Swindon's existing public-access hydrogen refuelling station via an electrolyser, and its use in materials-handling vehicles and light vans at Honda's manufacturing plant (led by BOC).

The integration, in the Isle of Wight, of an electrolyser-based refueller with renewable energy, enabling zero-carbon hydrogen to be produced for use as a transport fuel for a range of vehicles as part of the Ecoisland project (led by ITM Power).

The demonstration of a viable solar–hydrogen energy system, with benefits shared by multiple end-users of a business park in Surrey, through the 24/7 provision of green electricity and heat (led by Rutland Management Ltd, which operates Dunsfold Park and Aerodrome, home of AFC Energy).

Honda — An Ambassador of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology?

To encourage greater take-up of hydrogen fuel cell technology, there is a need for more corporate-funded initiatives to, amongst other things, help expand the number of hydrogen filling stations on our highways.

Ambassadors within the vehicle industry are also essential to establish greater commitment towards developing cost-efficient, mass-market vehicles and clean hydrogen production technologies.

Honda Fuel Cell Vehicle (Credit: Honda)

Honda recently announced it will apply learning from its fuel cell pilot programs to launch a mass-market vehicle powered by hydrogen in 2015.

The fuel cell car will be built as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback and will be powered by an electric motor, with the fuel cell in place of a conventional EV's battery.

Whether or not this is a clever press stunt by Honda executives keen to boost general sales, one has to acknowledge a giant step forward towards offering consumers another alternative to fossil fuels.

20 GW of Geothermal Power Potential in Japan

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 10:24 AM PDT

According to a government report mentioned in a New York Times article, Japan has 20 GW of geothermal energy potential.


Currently, the country has 17 geothermal plants in operation producing about 535 MW. About 80% of the potential geothermal sites are located in national parks or monuments. Right now, nine such locations have geothermal plants, so perhaps there is hope new ones can be sited in sensitive areas anyway, though with appropriate caution and planning. (A large geothermal project is already being built in Fukushima Prefecture at a national park site.)

A huge clean energy push is taking place in Japan, led by very high feed-in tariffs. 24.9 GW of solar and wind power could be developed by as early as 2016, according to a report.

Image Credit: Si-take, Wiki Commons

FPL to Open 2013 Application Period for Solar Rebate Program on Oct. 16

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 09:43 AM PDT

If you are a residential or commercial FPL (Florida Power & Light) customer, and you want to install solar power systems at your home for power generation or water heating, then you can apply to FPL for a solar rebate starting at 8:30 am on October 16, 2012 (yes, click through to that link to do so).

Residents and businesses can apply for the rebates. See below for details.

Florida home with solar panels.

Photovoltaic Program for Residents

Residents can be granted up to $20,000 for their photovoltaic systems ($2,000 per kW of the generation capacity of the solar panels).


Photovoltaic Programs for Businesses

Businesses can obtain up to $50,000 per site, and businesses with multiple locations can receive up to $150,000 combined.

This is a reduction of $2 per watt of the solar PV panels’ electricity generation capacity. This applies to systems up to 10,000 watts (10 kW). And the savings for larger systems are $1.50 per watt for systems 10 kW to 25 kW in size, and $1 per watt for systems larger than 25 kW.

Solar Water Heating Program

For Residents

Residents can receive up to $1,000 per solar water heater. According to the Florida Solar Energy Center, a solar water heater can cut a family’s water heating costs by up to 85 percent (mine cut my water heating costs by $100%, by the way).

For Businesses

Businesses can receive a maximum of $50,000 per site. Businesses with multiple branches can receive up to $150,000 combined.

Currently, $9 million of incentive funding is available for 2013.

These rebates are offered on a first come, first serve basis, so if you really need  or want a solar system, hurry over to the website, because many people are quick to take advantage of these opportunities. The $9 million will dry up quickly.

“We expect all funding for next year to be reserved quickly so interested customers should plan to apply as soon as the application period opens on October 16,” said Marlene Santos, FPL vice president of customer service.

This is the third year that FPL offered rebates for residents and businesses for the installation of solar systems.

Source: FPL
Photo Credit: solar panels on Florida home via Shutterstock

Italian Bicycle Sales Surpass Those of Cars

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 09:28 AM PDT


Here’s some awesome news — Italian bicycle sales passed up auto sales for the first time in a long time last year.

If more people would chose to ride bicycles to work, it would cut down on CO2 emissions dramatically and cut the demand for oil from countries not all that into us. I understand not everyone can ride bikes, but for the many who can, this is a clear green action you can take in your lives. Let’s follow Italy’s lead!

Here’s more on the news from the BBC:

“Italians bought more bicycles than cars in 2011 for the first time in decades, according to local media reports.

“Last year some 1.75 million bicycles were sold, about 2,000 more than the number of new cars registered, La Repubblica newspaper reported.

“It attributed the change to a slump in car sales during the economic crisis and the rising price of petrol, as well as bikes coming back into fashion.”

The story is a prime example of pedal power taking the lead.

Source: BBC
Image: bicyclists in Italy via Shutterstock 

1st Commercial Hydrokinetic Projects Approved in US

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 07:00 AM PDT

This article was originally published on the website of the US Energy Information Administration.

Sources: Reproduced with permission from Ocean Power Technologies (left) and Kris Unger/Verdant Power, Inc. (right)

New hydrokinetic energy technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the energy from ocean waves, tides, and river currents are advancing toward commercial development in the United States. They are not expected to add major power supplies anytime soon, but federal regulators this year approved licenses for two hydrokinetic energy projects to produce electricity from wave power buoys anchored off the Oregon coast and from underwater turbines driven by the current in New York City’s East River.

Hydrokinetic energy is still in its infancy in the United States. Current prices make hydrokinetic energy expensive compared to other fuels for power generation. However, backers of the technology claim river currents and ocean tides are more predictable, sometimes known months in advance, for generating electricity compared to intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. Various hydrokinetic technologies are available, including:

  • Wave power buoys capture the energy in the up-and-down movement of waves generating power that is transmitted by an underwater cable to the electric grid onshore. There are several types of buoys under development.
  • Underwater turbines use water currents to spin underwater blades and generate electricity. Unlike conventional hydroelectric turbines that rely on dams or diversions to direct water flow, these technologies rely on the unconstrained currents found in rivers, tidal areas, or the open ocean.
  • Tidal power harnesses water flowing between low and high tides, turning a turbine to generate power. There are only 40 sites known in the world that have the required difference in water levels between tides needed to produce electricity.

Verdant Power’s Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project, approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in January 2012, plans to install up to 30 three-blade hydrokinetic generators on the bottom of New York City’s East River to produce about 1 megawatt of electricity, enough to power around 800 homes. After initial problems resulting from strong river currents, the company has successfully tested new blades made of plastic and fiberglass.

Ocean Power Technologies’ Reedsport Wave Park power station, approved by FERC in August, will consist of up to ten large buoys that collectively could generate 1.5 megawatts (MW) of electricity from the movement of waves. The power wave station will be located 2.5 miles off the Oregon coast and will be connected to the electric grid by an underwater cable. Construction of the initial buoy is nearing completion and is expected to be ready for deployment later this year.

While U.S. hydrokinetic projects are small — dwarfed by the 77,000 MW of existing conventional hydroelectric generating capacity — the sector is developing. So far, FERC has issued 93 preliminary hydrokinetic energy project permits. In July 2012, FERC and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management updated their agreement to streamline the process for licensing and regulating wave and ocean current energy projects.

Other countries have tapped hydrokinetic energy for years, although some of the technology used is not as advanced as what is being tried in the United States. The 240 MW La Rance barrage dam in France was the world’s first tidal power station. Opened in 1966, the plant has 24 turbines that generate electricity when the tide goes in or out. The Sihwa Lake Power Station in South Korea began operating last year and is the world’s largest tidal power station, with a generating capacity of 254 MW. There is also the Annapolis power plant at the Bay of Fundy in Canada that was built in 1984 and generates 20 MW of electricity from the Bay’s record 43-foot tides.

Source: Reproduced with permission from Pelamis Wave Power.

More advanced technology used internationally includes the Pelamis “sea snake,” an offshore machine consisting of five tube sections that float on the ocean surface and use the motion of waves to generate electricity (see images above). When the tube sections flex, hydraulic arms move in opposite directions and turn a generator that produces power. Sea snakes are being tested in Scotland and Portugal.

The U.S. Department of Energy has a database that tracks hydrokinetic energy projects in various stages of development around the world.

Matt Damon Takes Fracking from Gasland to the Promised Land

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 05:12 AM PDT

Aside from the fact that only one of them gets to have Matt Damon in the credits, there are a couple of key similarities between Gus Van Sant’s new feature film Promised Land and Josh Fox’s budget documentary Gasland. Both are set in Pennsylvania, and both make a connection between fracking and pollution that has eluded investigators for decades. Public awareness about the risks of fracking has also proved elusive, but with Promised Land due for wide release on December 28, that may all be about to change.

promised land movies explores fracking pollution

Fracking and Pollution

Fracking is a natural gas drilling method that involves pumping a chemical brine underground to loosen gas deposits from shale formations.

In the past, evidence of water contamination and other hazards from fracking was anecdotal at best. There were no direct chemical fingerprints for investigators to compare because drillers were exempted from federal disclosure regulations, and they were entitled to keep the ingredients of their fracking brine a secret.

That’s been changing under the Obama Administration, and hard evidence is slowly (very slowly) beginning to mount. Last year, the EPA found fracking chemicals in a Wyoming water supply, and its results were recently confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that EPA has linked fracking to water contamination in Pennsylvania, where Promised Land is set.


Fracking and the Marcellus Shale

The Pennsylvania connection is no accident, and that brings up another change affecting the gas drilling industry. Fracking flew under the public radar for many years partly because it was concentrated in thinly populated areas far from media centers.

More recently, drillers have been focusing on the Marcellus shale formation that runs under high-population states and major media markets including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Promised Land and Pennsylvania Fracking

Our friends over at Grist have a lively plot synopsis of Promised Land, which also stars John Krasinski of the hit TV show The Office and Frances McDormand of the movie Fargo. A complete Promised Land cast and other production details are available at, where you can also watch the Promised Land trailer.

Back in real life, Pennsylvania has become ground zero for public activism against fracking. Many Pennsylvania natives could also tell you (disclosure: I’m one) that there really is a Promised Land in Pennsylvania, Promised Land State Park (yep, been there), though the film was shot in another part of the state in the town of Worthington.

Promised Land (the movie) makes its points about the devastating effect that fracking could have on fragile rural economies that depend on agriculture. The risk of harm to sensitive environments also leaves tourism-based economies exposed, and somewhat ironically Promised Land (the park) was the scene of a visit just last summer from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who stopped off there on the second leg of a kayak trip promoting tourism in the state.

In real life, Governor Corbett is unpopular in some circles due to his support of the fracking industry. That includes weakening the home rule principle that forms a key plot point of the Promised Land movie, in which local citizens would have a say over whether or not to allow drilling in their town.

No surprise that on an earlier step of Corbett’s tourist trek, real-life fracking protesters where there to greet him as he drifted down the Delaware River.

Image: Natural gas. Some rights reserved by Derrick Coetzee.

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Cleantech Stocks in Australia Up with Introduction of Carbon Price

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 04:52 AM PDT

This article was originally published on Renew Economy. It has been reposted with full permission.

Call it coincidence, but the listed Australian clean-tech sector is having one of its rare good runs, and it's come just as the country introduced its carbon price.

No one expected a carbon price to have much impact on clean-tech stocks, mostly because they thought the effect would be gradual and long term – although it might add to sentiment.

But the carbon price has also coincided with a reversal in fortunes for the fossil fuel sector – the coal miners in particular as the heat comes out of the China market in particular.

So much so that the ACT Australian Cleantech Index has outperformed the general market for both the month of September and the first quarter of 2012/13.

"With the faltering of confidence in resource stocks, maybe this is starting to signal increasing confidence in more sustainable companies that rely on longer term benefits for their shareholders and the wider community,' says managing director John O'Brien. "Or is that just the optimist in me speaking!"

O'Brien said that the Australian CleanTech 20 – representing the biggest of the 70 stocks in the $7 billion index – has had even better performances than the wider index over the last quarter.

Among the best performers in the last month were Intec, Eco Quest, lithium miners Galaxy Resources and Orocobre, Energy Developments, and electric bike company Vmoto.

The worst performers included solar companies Solco and CBD Energy (since suspended), Genisis R&D, Island Sky, Papyrus Australia, Electrometals, Cardia BioPlastics, Hot Rock and BioProspect. Two companies, Green Rock and BioProspect, are at risk of being kicked out of the index because they have invested in oil and gas prospects. The index is looking to include energy efficiency company Energy Action, which has been one of the strongest stocks on the ASX in the last year.

Of course, the last quarter should be put in perspective. Over any other time-frame – six months, yearly, or three yearly, cleantech stocks trail the performance of the broader market by a considerable margin, and all still less than half of their peak $16.3 billion value at their height in mid 2007.

Zero Motorcycles Reveal New Highly Efficient 2013 Line

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 04:38 AM PDT

Zero Motorcycles has announced its 2013 model line of bikes, which features an average power increase of 99% and the introduction of the world’s longest-range production electric motorcycle, the Zero S, capable of a whopping 137 miles in the city.

(Note: We also recently saw that a Zero S helped set a new electric motorcycle world record.)

“With up to 137 miles range in the city, a top speed of 95 mph and a CHAdeMO accessory that allows recharging in around an hour, the 2013 model line is truly exceptional," said Richard Walker, CEO of Zero Motorcycles.

"This year’s lineup offers breathtaking acceleration, new eye-catching designs and the innovative ability to customize the riding experience to each individual’s preferences via a mobile application. We invite consumers to discover the experience of riding a 2013 model by contacting an authorized dealer to sign up for a test ride or to place an order. The new lineup arrives in January.”

Zero Motorcycles Get Even More Efficient

The increase in efficiency is thanks to the new Z-Force motor which has been integrated into every 2013 motorcycle. Completely air-cooled, instant torque, a nearly silent belt-driven system, and no shifting; riders are going to enjoy their spin atop the 2013 line of bikes.

Riders will also have the ability to charge faster than ever, with each Zero now capable of charging to 95% of capacity in an hour or less thanks to the CHAdeMO charge stations, by way of an optional accessory.

It seems that Zero Motorcycles just continues to make its bikes more efficient, as just last year we were heralding them for their increased speed and mileage.

Zero plans to begin initial deliveries of its complete 2013 model line to North America by January 2013. On top of that, with each motorcycle being 100% electric, consumers may be eligible for government rebates or credits.

Here’s Some Pricing Information:

Zero S

  • MSRP: (ZF8.5) $13,995* | €13,995** | £11,695**
  • MSRP: (ZF11.4) $15,995* | €15,995** | £13,495**

Zero DS

  • MSRP: (ZF8.5) $13,995* | €13,995** | £11,695**
  • MSRP: (ZF11.4) $15,995* | €15,995** | £13,495**

Zero FX

  • MSRP: (ZF2.8) $9,495* | €9,495** | £7,995**
  • MSRP: (ZF5.7) $11,990* | €11,995** | £9,995**

Zero XU

  • MSRP: (ZF2.8) $7,995* | €7,995** | £6,995**
  • MSRP: (ZF5.7) $10,490* | €10,495** | £8,995**

Zero MX

  • MSRP: (ZF2.8) $9,495* | €9,495** | £7,995**
  • MSRP: (ZF5.7) $11,990* | €11,995** | £9,995**

Source: Zero Motorcycles

Retrofitting Older Windows Shows Better Returns on Investment & Similar Energy Savings

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 04:24 AM PDT

Residential buildings account for approximately 20% of the total US energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, and one of the major inefficiencies in the average house is the commonplace window. Poor seals, inferior curtains, and a host of other factors can turn an older window into a critical problem for the energy- and budget-concious home-owner.

However, a new study released Tuesday has shown that retrofitting older windows yields similar efficiency results as replacing them, but is also much cheaper than the alternative.

Retrofitting Windows Saves Money and Energy

The report, "Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement," was commissioned by the Preservation Green Lab and funded by The National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

Analyzing decades worth of research on the performance of double hung windows, the report compares the relative energy, carbon, and cost savings of retrofitting versus replacing in multiple cities across the United States.

The conclusion? Upgrading windows (specifically older, single-pane windows) with exterior storm windows and insulating shades can result in substantial energy savings across a variety of climate zones.

"A number of existing window retrofit strategies come very close to delivering the energy benefits of high-performance replacement windows – at a fraction of the cost," said Mark Huppert, technical director of the Preservation Green Lab. "From weather stripping and sealing, to installing exterior storm windows or interior cellular shades, almost every retrofit option offers a better return on investment than outright replacement."

"Homeowners and designers who want to upgrade existing windows have many choices: from simple low cost, do-it-yourself solutions to complete replacement, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars," said David J. Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "This report provides the context and data to help budget conscious consumers make sound decisions."

“Whether you live in Boston, Chicago or Phoenix, the conclusions are nearly identical," said Kirk Cordell, the executive director of the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology. "With careful planning, it's possible to affordably increase the energy efficiency of a home or residential building without compromising its design quality or historic character."

The full report is at

Source: Preservation Nation
Image Source: Patrick Feller

Global Cleantech 100 List Unveiled

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 04:11 AM PDT

The Cleantech Group revealed its fourth annual Global Cleantech 100 list and report on Monday, and awarded winners in several categories at at the Global Cleantech 100 Gala at the Italian Embassy in Washington on Monday night.

The list of 100 recognises “the one hundred most promising and innovative companies in areas such as energy efficiency, biofuels & biochemicals, smart grid, renewable energy, water and waste, and transportation,” as well as those the expert panel believe are “most likely to make a significant market impact over the next five to ten years.”

Cleantech Group Reveals the 2012 Global Cleantech 100 List

"The Global Cleantech 100 is a natural extension of our companywide mission to help corporations, investors and financiers, professional service firms and governmental agencies connect with global cleantech innovation" said Sheeraz Haji, Cleantech Group CEO. "This report celebrates the best in innovation and is the industry standard for gauging where cleantech innovation is headed next."

"The 2012 Global Cleantech 100 is markedly different in its composition to that of 2009, our first edition," said Richard Youngman, Managing Director, Europe & Asia for Cleantech Group. "As such, it is a strong statement of how the collective market opinion has shifted as to what type of companies are the most likely to have significant market impact in a 5-10 year timeframe."

Company of the Year was awarded in each of three regions to the highest-ranked company with no negative votes from the expert panel:

  • Opower, developer of a software-as-a-service that utilizes customer engagement and billing analytics for utilities, won for the region of North America.
  • NovaLED, developer of energy-saving, long-life organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), won for the region of Europe & Israel.
  • Miartech, designer of integrated circuits for power line communication systems, utilizing power lines as a medium for transmitting information, won for the region of Asia Pacific.

Other categories:

  • Rising Star of the Year, given to the highest-ranked new entrant on this year's list, was awarded to Clean Power Finance, provider of power purchase (PPA) financing for solar PV installations, as well as customer acquisition software for installers.
  • The Continued Excellence award, given to the highest-ranked of companies that have made it onto the Global Cleantech 100 list for at least the last three consecutive years was awarded to Harvest Power, which maximizes the value of organic materials through the production of renewable energy and soils, mulches, and natural fertilizers.
  • Early Stage Company of the Year, given to the highest-ranked product development stage company was awarded to Siluria Technologies, developer of methane conversion technology for creating fuels and chemicals from natural gas.

Awards were also given in two investor categories:

  • Google Ventures won Corporate Investor of the Year, as the corporate investor with the largest percentage of its cleantech venture portfolio in the 2012 Global Cleantech 100.
  • An award was given to Bright Capital for Investor of the Year as the financial investor with the largest percentage of its cleantech venture portfolio in the 2012 Global Cleantech 100.

Qualification for the Global Cleantech 100 list required companies to be independent, for-profit, cleantech companies not listed on any major stock exchange.

The 2012 list saw 5,117 companies nominated from 85 different countries, who were then shortlisted down to 236, who were then submitted to the 75-member expert panel for input, including input from leading global investors and a wide range of corporate executives from multi-national enterprises, such as ABB, BP, Ecolab, GE, General Motors, IBM, Intel, Johnson Controls, Procter and Gamble, and Vestas.

"The Global Cleantech 100 list reveals an increasing maturity of the cleantech sector," said Colin le Duc, Partner, General Investment Management LLP and member of the 2012 expert panel.

"In contrast to what the press and stock markets may have you believe, many private cleantech companies are gaining real market traction, generating significant revenues and profits and contributing materially to the challenges of resource efficiency and the climate crisis. The best companies in this sector are demonstrating the value of focus and persistence and are emerging as stronger organizations for having thrived in a very challenging environment over recent years."

2012 Global Cleantech 100 Quick Facts:

  • 13 countries are represented in the 2012 list. The United States is the most highly represented country with 64 companies.
  • Energy efficiency remains the hottest growing sector within cleantech, with 22 companies on the list, up from 19 in 2011 and 15 in 2010.
  • Solar's representation in the 100 falls again, down 40% from what it was in 2009.
  • Corporations continue to be ever more active in global cleantech innovation – as investors, partners, licensees, customers, and acquirers of Global Cleantech 100 companies. GE is the most active overall partner with 2012 Global Cleantech 100 companies, followed by Siemens, Google, IBM, and Waste Management.
  • Over 400 investing entities, from 28 different countries, have a shareholding in the 100 companies. Kleiner Perkins is the most prolific shareholder of 2012 Global Cleantech 100 companies. It has invested in 19 companies in the list, representing 44% of its overall cleantech portfolio.

Source: Cleantech

Farming Wind (Video)

Posted: 03 Oct 2012 03:53 AM PDT


Embracing wind power is not just for city dwellers and young ‘uns. In this episode of Fully Charged, English farmer Chris Holmes (with a terrific British accent) speaks candidly about the wind turbine on his farm.

The farmer is located in Worcestershire, where the mighty wind blows his turbine to the tune of about 1,000 kilowatt-hours a week.

Holmes and host Robert Llewellyn address the noise the turbine makes (audible on very windy days), neighbors’ NIMBY stance to the turbine, the favorable feed-in tariff for wind power, and the initial cost of putting the turbine up on his property.

Holmes is introduced as a “farmer extraordinaire” in the video and I thought that might be going overboard… until I heard him outline how his turbine benefits him and how he envisions wind power in the rest of the UK. Extraordinaire, indeed.



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