Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Get Ready to Vote (Google Can Help You)

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 10:00 PM PDT

 
Google’s always looking for ways to improve our world, it seems. I recently voted using an absentee ballot since I live overseas, and I sure was happy I did — there was a lot of stuff on my ballot that I was clueless about, but was luckily able to look up online. Going into a voting booth, you won’t have that convenience. But Google’s got your back.

“Even though it is 2012, important voting information is disorganized and hard to find on the Internet,” Google notes.

“To help voters research candidates and successfully cast their ballot on Election Day, we've launched our new Voter Information Tool.”

Unfortunately, Google doesn’t have complete information either — I just checked the “ballot summary” for my district and it was missing a lot.

But Google does provide you with the most important information, including who to contact to get more information. Towards the bottom of the voting tool page, you’ll find contact information for your local supervisor of elections (just above the black bar that notes “For the most complete and up to date information, consult your local election official.”).

I’d recommend that you contact that person to get a preview of your ballot. Seeing what’s on the ballot, you can search each particular item (using Google, of course) to find out more information and know who or what to vote for (ballot language and short summaries of items on the ballot are certainly not adequate enough to make a good, informed decision when voting).
 

 
You can also check out sample ballots from organizations or groups you trust who provide such a service (e.g. the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, your local Democratic or Green Party, etc.) — though, I also found those to be quite incomplete, so really do get a copy of your actual ballot from your local supervisor of elections.

Of course, other than the above, you can also find details on where you can vote, if you can vote early, and all kinds of other fun tools and interesting information. Go ahead and visit Google’s Voter Information Tool for more.


Isreali CSP Developer AORA Solar Re-Commissions Tulip Solar Power Station in Samar

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 05:11 PM PDT

 
AORA Solar, an innovative Israeli concentrating solar power (CSP) grid solutions developer, has undertaken the re-commissioning of its solar power station in Samar, Israel. Much of the re-commissioning work being undertaken is based on the company's demonstration project in Almeria, Spain that opened last February.

Appealing 100 kW Tulip system is capable of 24/7 power generation for off-grid solutions

The Samar plant, which opened in 2009 and does not require the use of water, has been retrofitted to reflect a new mirror configuration with lighter, easier-to-control mirrors. Specifically, 30 mirrors have been replaced with 50 mirrors. The Almeria site – located further north – features 52 mirrors.

"Tulip has unique capabilities that allow it to function in ways that are both effective and game-changing,” AORA’s CEO, Zev Rosenzweig, told CleanTechnica. “Our hybrid approach allows for continuous electricity generation and enables us to build out a customer solution in a modular fashion, providing energy within several months of groundbreaking with the ability to expand the generation capacity as demand grows over time."

The unusual hybrid Tulip system is capable of producing electricity 24/7 by utilizing a gas turbine that can burn a variety of fuels (including biogas, biodiesel, and natural gas) during non-solar hours. Beyond producing 100 kW of electricity, the station produces 170 kW of thermal energy that can power a range of secondary processes, such as desalination or large-scale air conditioning.

In an interview, Rosenzweig said: "The Samar plant is basically a take-off from Almeria."
 

 
The next challenge involves marketing and selling the modular low-cost technology. "I'd love to sell some," he added, saying that the company is putting a lot of effort into marketing, focusing on its niche – users without a well-developed grid.

AORA presently uses diesel fuel to power the Tulip during non-sun hours. Diesel, however, is "the least best fuel," observes Rosenzweig, who envisions biogas as the eventual sustainable fuel complement for the Tulip system. The company is presently developing a biogas demonstration in Italy over the next six to nine months, working with an outside biogas expert that can help develop on-site green fuel.

Rosenzweig plans a demonstration in the United States, especially in the Southwest, in partnership with a university perhaps deploying Tulip systems that can generate energy revenue for the participating school. Bottom line, he adds: "I need to become bankable in the U.S."

Source: AORA Solar


How Archaic Utility Rules Stall Local Solar (Infographic)

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 04:43 PM PDT

 
solar barriers

Many people expect that solar power will dramatically expand once it bursts through the cost barrier and becomes less expensive than grid electricity. But archaic utility rules can effectively cap local solar development at just 15% of peak demand. Fortunately, pioneering states like Hawaii and California are exploring ways to lift the cap and bring utility rules into the 21st century.

This post originally appeared on ILSR's Energy Self-Reliant States blog.


Hurricane Sandy Reminds America Climate Change Is No Joke

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 04:29 PM PDT

 
The past 48 hours have undoubtedly reminded America that climate change and rising sea levels are not a joke.

Initial estimates have placed a price tag of around $50 billion dollars on Hurricane Sandy, parts of the country’s largest city and financial center could be shut down for weeks, and politicians from both sides of the partisan divide are united in their somber response to the recovery challenge.

Hurricane Sandy satellite image

But the past 48 hours have also reminded America about one of the biggest laugh lines from Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:

 

 

Forecast the Facts, a group working to publicize the facts about climate change, produced the video to remind voters about the serious challenges our next president will face and remind the candidates that maintaining climate silence through three debates won’t address these issues:

Millions of Americans are still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, a horrific, fossil-fueled storm. Climate scientists agree that global warming pollution was a key factor in its destructive power, so Mitt Romney must hope we forgot that he mocked climate change at the Republican National Convention, to the raucous cheers and applause of the GOP delegates. We didn't forget.

We’re putting out this video to remind every voter struck by Sandy that Mitt Romney thinks the poisoning of our weather is a joke. Climate Silence members have been leading the charge against climate silence for months. But in the final week of this election, the most powerful climate messenger turned out to be the harrowing reality of a freakish Frankenstorm.

Sandy is without question the October Surprise of 2012, and it has pushed climate change to the forefront of a campaign where it was previously almost entirely absent.

As families recover and voters head to the polls, we want the American public to remember this cold fact: less than two months before sea level rise devastated New York City with more powerful storm surges, Governor Romney laughed at the very notion of rising seas.

Our next President must be someone who is prepared to forthrightly address climate change disasters like Sandy. The tragedy of Hurricane Sandy has made it crystal clear: it's time to end the climate silence.

Brad Johnson, Campaign Manager, Forecast the Facts

Image: Hurricane Sandy via NOAA/NASA GOES Project


Onshore Wind Farms: A Theoretical, Middle Class, Left Wing Article Of Faith

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 04:27 PM PDT

 
Controversy has erupted in the UK after one the Government’s energy secretaries slammed onshore wind farms as “a bourgeois Left article of faith based on some academic perspective.” He went on to say the countryside was “peppered” with wind farms and that “enough is enough.”

John Hayes made the comments to two conservative newspapers moments after addressing the Renewables UK 2013 Conference, during which he praised the country’s mix of renewable energy and said it was vital to secure long-term investment and job creation in the sector.

However, Hayes is not responsible for wind policy and the energy secretary who is has slapped him down and said there is no change in government policy. Renewables UK has expressed its disappointment at what appears to be blatent two-facedness from a Government minister and sought a clarification.
 

 
John Hayes is a long-standing critic of onshore wind farms because of the impact they have on local communities.  What appears to have happened is that an anti-wind speech he was due to give at the conference was deemed to be against government policy, so he wrote another but went on to share the speech with the newspapers anyway.

However, he is not alone in his opinions, as 100 Government MPs wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year to voice their opposition to onshore wind farms. This is enough to bring down the government should they decide to rebel.

The Government is on target to generate 13 gigawatts of power from onshore wind power by 2020. This is about 20% of the country’s capacity, and contributes to a further target of having 30% of the country’s electricity produced from renewables in the same time frame.

Onshore wind farms are seen as the cheapest way of meeting the government’s renewable energy target and it has made it clear there is no question of current plans being axed. However, what will happen once the target has been met has now been left deliberately open to question, raising fears that the UK may start to slip back into fossil fuel dependence.

Notably, over half of the population think that the country needs more wind power, but it doesn’t have nearly the support that solar power has.

Picture Credit: Scout Moor Lancashire Wind Turbine by Gidzy, tweaked by Chris Milton (some rights reserved)


Heated Bike Lanes To Be Tested In The Netherlands

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 04:16 PM PDT

 
Many people are, unfortunately, reluctant to bike for transportation purposes. And, during the winter, this is even worse. While winter cyclists have to encounter snow and frozen roads (black ice, for example, which is difficult to see and very dangerous), heated bike lanes are one potential solution.

The Dutch province of Utrecht and the town of Zutphen are actually considering heated bike lanes, which utilize heat passively absorbed during the summer (sorry, hardly any technical details were found at the news source).

According to a report from the Netherlands’ De Telegraaf website, heating bike lanes could save money by reducing the need for traditional de-icing methods such as salting roads; it could keep more cars off the bike lanes; and it could also save money on accidents by reducing their occurrence.
 

 
The Dutch Cyclists Union hopes that the new “heated bike lane” concept would encourage more people to ride bicycles… for the obvious reasons noted above.

The cost to implement these passive bike heating systems ranges from $25,000 to $50,000 per km of heated road, and, according to Marcel Boerefijn from Tauw, the heating pipes would have to be up to 50 metres underground.

Source: TreeHugger
Photo Credit: studiozelden.nl


E.ON Climate & Renewables Raises Needed Financing For 203MW Texas Wind Farm

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 10:53 AM PDT

 
E.ON Climate & Renewables (EC&R) North America announced yesterday that it had secured institutional equity financing of around $167.7 million dollars and a commitment to fund the expected capital contributions of nearly $55.9 million dollars for its 203MW wind farm project in Texas.

20121031-020312.jpg

The financing was raised of from their investors in exchange for a partial interest in EC&R’s recently completed Magic Valley Wind Farm. These investors include JPM Capital Corporation (J.P. Morgan) and Wells Fargo Wind Holdings LLC (Wells Fargo). With J.P. Morgan acting as lead investor in the financing.

“We’re delighted to demonstrate continued success in the tax equity market and we’re pleased to show the attractiveness of our wind energy portfolio,” said Dr. Verena Volpert, Senior Vice President Finance, E.ON AG. “Working with an investor team that includes J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo proves our ability to raise capital in a tax-efficient manner.”


 
The project is the first wind farm located in Willacy County, Texas. It began operating in September at its location about 5 miles east of Raymondville. The 203MW wind farm is composed of 112 Vestas 1.8 megawatt turbines and provides enough electricity to power more than 60,000 homes.

“This project is expected to generate more than $53 million in local taxes, pay $12 million in local salaries, and earn landowners more than $87 million. At the height of construction, the Magic Valley Wind Farm project brought more than 200 jobs to the area.”

Texas is a clear leader in wind power, with more wind power installed than all but a few countries. Though, less than about 10 other states as a percentage of their total electricity generation capacity.

Source: PR Newswire
Image Credits: Green Mountain Wind Farm Fluvanna via Wikimedia Commons


New Solar Module Efficiency Record Set, 33.5% Efficiency

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 07:47 AM PDT

 
A new solar photovoltaic efficiency record has been set. The new module achieved a solar efficiency rating of 33.5%.

20121031-024146.jpg

One of the leading concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) solar power systems companies, Amonix Inc., just announced that it has broken the efficiency record for photovoltaics operating in real-world conditions. Setting a new high with a 33.5% efficiency rating, peaking at 34.2%. That means that the solar module successfully converted more than a third of the energy of direct sunlight into electricity.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) tested the module back in May, confirming “an outdoor operating efficiency rating of 33.5% for an Amonix module, breaking the previous 30.3% record also held by Amonix. Over several days of on-sun testing conducted by NREL, the module efficiency peaked at 34.2%. This is the highest efficiency ever reported under real-world, operating conditions for a solar PV module,” a news release has just stated.

"While the mainstream PV industry has made critical reductions in large-scale production costs and incremental improvements in power-conversion efficiencies, much of the world is unaware of the dramatic progress that has been made by CPV companies toward achieving high power-conversion efficiencies"

"This is a huge milestone for Amonix and the CPV industry," said Vahan Garboushian, Amonix Founder and CTO. "We have been at the forefront of CPV technology breakthroughs and have consistently proven that CPV offers the highest efficiencies of all solar technologies in the right operating conditions with plenty of headroom. Amonix is focused on driving CPV costs down and breaking efficiency records in the near future."


 
Achieving an efficiency greater than 33.3% for a commercial module is a huge milestone. That efficiency, one-third, has been targeted by the Department of Energy as a major goal for some time.

Source: Business Wire
Image Credits: CPV


Great Transition Part I

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 07:00 AM PDT

 
Lester R. Brown and others over at the Earth Policy Institute are some of the most astute climate and energy folks I’m aware of, and I’m always grateful to see a new post up from them on suster site sustainablog. Here’s the latest:



The Great Transition, Part I: From Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy (via sustainablog)

By Lester R. Brown The great energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way. As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about pollution and climate instability cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new world energy economy is emerging.…




New Solar Power Monitoring Partnership

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 04:30 AM PDT

 
Solar panel monitoring is a key part of the solar game that probably doesn’t get enough attention… so here’s some extra attention for it:



PV Evolution Labs Partners with AlsoEnergy to Provide Data Monitoring for Solar Panel Testing at PVUSA (via Green Building Elements)

PVEL customers now have access to real time and historical field-test data over the web A North American PV module testing lab, PV Evolution Labs (PVEL), yesterday announced it had partnered with AlsoEnergy to provide PVEL customers with access to their systems' testing data over the web to track…




Renewable Power Generation In The UK Will Surpass Nuclear By 2018, Research Concludes

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 03:05 AM PDT

 
Renewable electricity capacity in the UK is projected to overtake nuclear power by 2018, if the present rates of growth continue, according to new research. And this clean power will generate enough electricity to power one in every 10 UK homes by 2015.

cows wind turbine

Currently, the total wind energy capacity is, by itself, up more than a quarter since 2010. 2012 has been a “surprisingly good” year for the renewables industry, in spite of “cooling” government enthusiasm, primarily because of vigorous private investment.

Recently, “more than 100 Tory MPs signed a statement this year opposing new windfarms, and the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, has queried the future of subsidies,” the UK’s Guardian notes. But the renewables industry has continued to vigorously grow, investment in offshore wind has soared by about 60% to £1.5 billion during the last year. Approvals for planned onshore wind farms have also risen considerably, by around 50%, now reaching a record level, according to the trade association Renewable UK.

And even though there has been considerable opposition against wind power from many top Tory MPs, the amount of new onshore wind capacity that was approved last year was the highest since 2008.

Maria McCaffery, chief executive of Renewable UK, said: “These strong figures underline the importance of a secure trading climate to attract investment, especially in difficult times. That’s why it’s so important that the framework provided by the energy bill, currently under parliamentary scrutiny, must be right. Although we still have a long way to go to meet our challenging targets, we are firmly on track and gathering momentum.”


 
The new energy minister, John Hayes, known as a conservative who has in the past been a critic of wind energy, recently told the Guardian that he was “proud” of the UK’s wind power industry. “Investing in cutting edge technology is very British,” he said.

And even though he has in the past opposed wind farms, as long as they are built in “suitable” areas, he now doesn’t object to new ones being built. “It’s about having the support of local people – that is the key thing,” he said. The new coalition government is expected to introduce measures that will allow local communities to benefit more from windfarms. As an example, by getting a financial stake in the revenues of the farms.

The Guardian goes on:

“The energy bill, originally expected to be debated next week, is likely to be delayed until later in November as ministers wrangle over the implications. There is a sharp split within the Tory party over how to treat renewable energy, as more than 100 of the Conservatives’ MPs earlier this year signed a letter opposing new windfarms. Peter Lilley, a vocal climate change sceptic, was appointed to the energy and climate change select committee last week in a move that some saw as an indication of a rightward shift in the government’s climate policy. But David Cameron has in the past said renewable energy would be crucial to the UK’s future prosperity.”

If there are any last-minute changes to the energy bill it could potentially drive away investors. Many major wind turbine manufacturers are waiting to find out more about the country’s future energy policies before constructing new manufacturing plants in the UK.

These are companies such as Siemens, GE, and Mitsubishi, which could inject large amounts of money into local economies, but that won’t risk investment without suitable government policies.

“The repeated insistence from Osborne that the UK’s energy future lies with the gas industry – a new ‘dash for gas’ is under way, with the government clearing the path for 20 new gas-fired power stations – has unsettled renewable energy investors.”

“The constant talk about gas is not reassuring for us,” one major wind investor was quoted as saying off the record.

Last year there were at least 137,000 people employed in the renewable energy sector, and another 654,500 in ancillary industries, according to Renewable UK.

Source: The Guardian
Image Credits: Kuhs by Dirk Ingo Franke (some rights reserved)


Use Your Smartphone To Pay At An EV Charging Station

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 02:54 AM PDT

 
OpConnect, an electric vehicle (EV) charging systems operator has launched its new payment method, which allows customers to use their smart phone — be it an iPhone or Android — to access free or paid charging stations.

OpConnect Allows Smart Phone Payment at EV Charging Stations

“A complaint we often hear in our industry is that drivers have to carry a RFID device, or a card to access certain stations,” said Dexter Turner, OpConnect CEO. ”OpConnect has always allowed any EV driver access to our stations without the need to pre-register or call a phone number.

“Now we’re making it even easier for drivers to use OpConnect network stations with their smartphones.  Our strength is our software and systems integration capability, including mobile technologies.  This is another example of how we’re listening to the market and continually innovating to give EV drivers what they want.”

In addition to being able to use a smartphone to use an OpConnect charging station, customers can also use an email address, a credit card, an OpConnect Network card or the Wright Express Fleet card.

For more information visit the OpConnect website.


Renewable Energy Investment Continues To Leave North America

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 02:51 AM PDT

 
Financial woes grip the world. The American economy continues to sag, Europe teeters on the brink of collapse, and even the Chinese economy is starting to worry.

In many countries, funds are being redirected towards shoring up existing industries and practices, threatening sustainable development in poor and rich countries alike.

Renewable energy investment is bucking the trend, according to global investment analysts Preqin, but funds are continuing to leave North America despite a report at the beginning of the year that the US had overtaken China.

The figures confirm Pew Environment’s Who’s Winning The Clean Energy Race 2011 report, which states:

The United States reclaimed the top spot in the worldwide clean energy race in 2011. Because of policy uncertainty, however, its leadership is likely to be short-lived after a variety of American clean energy programs expired at the end of 2011.

 

 
Preqin tracks over 200 North American and European infrastructure funds, of which nearly half are actively seeking renewable energy investment. This year, these funds are targeting over $16 billion at renewable energy investment, nearly 20% of all infrastructure capital they’re looking to raise.

However, these figures hide a drain on renewable energy investment away from North America, with only 29% of the clean energy funds headquartered here and only 19% of the funds invested here.

Conversely, nearly half the funds investing in renewable energy are headquartered in Europe and 50% are seeking opportunities in Asia and the rest of the world. In general, European infrastructure funds are 10% more likely to invest in renewable energy than North American ones.

One of the big winners from this has been the UK, which has seen capital investments there grow from $260 million for the whole of 2011 to $430 million in the first eight months of 2012, poaching investment from the rest of Europe and overtaking Germany as the largest home for infrastructure funds on the continent.

Commenting on the US clean energy investment dropping behind Germany and China in 2010, Phyllis Cuttino from the Pew Clean Energy Program said a major reason was “our clean energy policies are not as clear, consistent, or ambitious as those of other nations.”

This is echoed by Ian McCarlie, energy specialist at lawyers Pinsent Masons, who reacted to the Preqin figures by saying: “Increased regulatory uncertainty and market reform could easily deter investors who will deploy their capital to other markets…. We need to remember that this is a global competition… investors also have the option to look at projects with significant scale in Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East.”

Quite how clean energy investment will shake out in the US after the election is almost anyone’s guess. The total amounts invested are rising at a healthy rate worldwide but the more this country appears to rely on  fossil fuels, the more severe this drain of finance to more ambitious countries is likely to become.

Image Credit: Chonburi International Art Exhibition – Sal Randolph – Free Money by Marshall Astor – Food Fetishist, tweaked by Chris Milton (some rights reserved).


South Africa Approves $5.4 Billion In New Renewable Energy Projects

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 02:44 AM PDT

 
South Africa, one of the most coal-dependent countries in the world, has taken another major step toward a clean energy future.

The country's energy minister recently announced approval of $5.4 billion for 28 wind, solar, and geothermal projects that will add 1.4 gigawatts (GW) of new renewables capacity to the grid. These projects represent the first round of five auctions in the country's Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Program (REIPP), with contracts to be signed on November 5th and generation to become operational between 2014 and 2016.

Cape Town South Africa Electricity

Cape Town’s electricity will soon be much cleaner

All five rounds of REIPP auctions were originally expected to add 3.725 GW of new renewable energy projects by 2016. The second round of REIPP bidding, which is a step behind the 28 first-round projects, named 19 preferred projects with a 1.04 GW total capacity and $3.3 billion price tag earlier this year. South Africa hopes to finalize the second round of projects by March 2013.
 

 

Setting Sights Even Higher

Not content with the original 3.275 GW new capacity target, the country is now targeting an additional round of bidding, which aims to add an additional 3.2 GW of new renewable capacity to the initial REIPP by 2020.

So where will all the funding for this clean energy push come from? Ironically, a large chunk could come from South Africa's carbon tax, set to start charging the economy’s industrial sectors around $16 dollars per ton of emissions above the first 60 percent of benchmarked emissions. That fee, while small to start in 2013, would increase 10 percent every year until 2020.

Renewables Lead Overall Energy Increases

While roughly 5 GW of new renewables are a significant step forward, the initiative is somewhat diminished by the overall country context. Roughly 85 percent of the country's 41 GW annual electricity demand is currently met by coal, and South Africa is the largest polluter in Africa and one of the 20 biggest carbon emitters worldwide.

Overall, the country is in the middle of a large-scale energy sector expansion, which also includes non-renewable sources of power. South Africa also has plans to generate 2.5 GW of new capacity from coal, 2.6 GW from hydropower, 2.5 GW from natural gas, and 9.6 GW from nuclear.

Renewable energy may not be the sole focus of South Africa's energy outlook, but it's an increasingly large one that could soon meet 10 percent of the country's overall demand. Combined with an escalating carbon tax, South Africa seems to be slowly curving it's energy sector away from fossil fuels toward a sustainable future.

Image Credit: Cape Town via Shutterstock


Proposal 3 in Michigan (for Renewable Energy) Gets Bill Clinton Support

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 01:18 AM PDT

 
This article was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.

Michigan is playing host to a major battle over renewable energy this fall. On one side are clean energy proponents promoting a ballot initiative that would increase the state's renewable electricity targets to 25 percent by 2025. On the other side are large coal-dependent utilitiesfighting to prevent any new increases.

In the middle are Michigan voters who are getting bombarded with millions of dollars in advertisements from utilities opposed to new renewable energy standards. Even so, a majority of Michiganders say they support new targets that would diversify the state's electricity mix — stimulating billions of dollars in renewable energy investments whileonly adding about 50 cents per month to the average residential utility bill.

Backers of Proposal 3 might not have the spending power of the state's largest utilities. But they now have a major heavy hitter on their side: Bill Clinton.

Former President Clinton — a man well-versed in the benefits of clean energy — has officially put thrown his support behind the 25 percent renewable electricity target.
 

 
"Proposal 3 is Michigan's best opportunity this year to jumpstart the state's economy by creating 94,000 jobs and increasing the use of renewable energy," Clinton said in a statement. "Proposal 3 invests in Michigan's future so that it won't get left behind by the 30 other states that are already creating new clean energy jobs and lowering consumers' electricity costs. That's why I'm so proud to endorse Proposal 3."

The high-profile endorsement from Clinton comes as a utility front group spends millions of dollars on advertisements to kill the proposal. According to clean energy proponents, the organization fighting Proposal 3 is set to spend $7 million on television and radio ads in the weeks before the November elections.

Michigan gets 59 percent of its electricity from coal. That's one of the major reasons why Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state's largest utilities, are opposed to new targets. According to a recent economic analysis, the cost of delivering coal to power plants in the state has jumped by 71 percent since 2006. Consumers Energy has projected fuel cost increases to total around $530 million over the next four years — resulting in a 3 percent rate increase each year.

That is also the reason why contracts for renewable electricity are coming in lower than the cost of new coal. In February, the Michigan Public Service Commission issued a progress report of the state's current renewable electricity standard requiring 10 percent penetration by 2015, finding that the cost of wind, solar, and hydro "is cheaper than a new coal-fired generation" in the state.

In fact, on multiple occasions over the last four years, Consumers Energy reported that the cost of meeting Michigan's current renewable electricity targets has been far lower than expected. In May, the company reduced its renewable electricity surcharge by 13 cents. It also reduced the surcharge in May of 2011, citing the lower-than-expected cost of meeting targets.


Japanese Ecovillage House Brings Nature Right Inside

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 12:42 AM PDT

 
Several years ago, the city of Omi Hachiman in Japan’s Shiga Prefecture started building thousand-resident ecovillages in the suburbs. The idea was to create a sustainable local model that harmonized the human impact with the natural surroundings. Apparently they’ve done something right, because they’re still there, and still improving.

Kofunaki House

This year, architects from ALTS Design Office were brought in to take the process a step further. Rather than maintain the traditional strict separation between inner and outer, the Kofunaki House brings nature (or the outer) right inside.

Bring On The Trees

The traditional entryway — or genkan — in a Japanese house usually offers a strict sense of separation between the inner home and the outside world. In the Kofunaki House, it’s the first place to indicate a different type of atmosphere — a gravel garden and wooden stepping stones are a far gentler transition and suggest much less separation.

Inside the home, natural wood surfaces and small plants abound. Rooms and interior areas are separated by clear curtains, giving the house an open feeling. It’s a very, very different sense than the standard Japanese home, which rigidly separates rooms and areas. In a way, it goes back to the even older feeling of medieval Japanese houses — the ones with sliding doors and windows that can be opened to catch an opportune breeze in summer and closed to keep in the heat in winter — and a hint that the people are once again living in harmony with the environment.
 

 
There’s no word on how else the Kofunaki House might be harmonizing with nature, but it certainly is pretty. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Source: ArchDaily via TreeHugger
Image Source: ALTS Design Office


Savings From Choosing Transit = $9,934 Per Year (Average American)

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 12:32 AM PDT

 
Having one’s own car is ridiculously expensive — and not just in terms of making payments on the car itself, or paying for insurance. Actually operating it, what with the cost of gas fluctuating all over and parking fees in major metropolitan areas (among other things), can be kind of a dealbreaker.

October Transit Savings Report

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has published the October transit savings report, in which you can see exactly how much cheaper public transportation is (not counting the potential peace of mind from not being stuck in endless traffic jams):

The national average for a monthly unreserved parking space in a downtown business district is $166.26, according to the 2012 Colliers International Parking Rate Study.  Over the course of a year, parking costs for a vehicle can amount to an average of $1,995. The cost of the daily downtown daily parking rates increased in 2012 by an average of 1.6 percent or an extra $132 per year compared to the rates in 2011.

And that’s just parking!
 

 
All in all, the average American who chooses public transit instead of driving saves about $828 this month, and $9,934 annually. Here’s a list of the top US cities for average transit savings:

   City  Monthly  Annual
1 New York  $1,226 $14,714
2 San Francisco  $1,093 $13,120
3 Boston  $1,069 $12,834
4 Philadelphia  $984 $11,814
5 Seattle  $968 $11,622
6 Chicago  $966 $11,588
7 Honolulu  $953 $11,441
8 Los Angeles  $937 $11,238
9 San Diego  $888 $10,657
10 Portland  $870 $10,435
11 Minneapolis $851 $10,216
12 Denver $844 $10,125
13 Baltimore $839 $10,072
14 Washington, DC $821 $9,847
15 Pittsburgh $805  $9,654
16 Cleveland $789  $9,464
17 Miami $774  $9,283
18 Atlanta $766  $9,187
19 Las Vegas $755  $9,061
20 Dallas $754  $9,047

Head on over to the APTA website for the full story.

Source: APTA
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


Is New York State Building The Smartest Grid In America?

Posted: 31 Oct 2012 12:19 AM PDT

 
A series of coordinated efforts by the federal government, state officials, and regional grid operators may soon make New York State's electrical grid the smartest and cleanest in America.

New York word cloud map

Governor Andrew Cuomo's Energy Highway Blueprint is leading the charge. The comprehensive plan, announced in January, was officially delivered to Cuomo's office this week. It targets adding 3.2 gigawatts (GW) of new clean energy generation and transmission capacity to the state's grid via $5.7 billion in public-private investments.

This initiative comes fast on the heels of $2 million in NYSERDA energy storage technology funding, as well as a series of new tax credits for distributed solar photovoltaic installations across the state.
 

 

Blueprint for The Future

The Energy Highway Blueprint incorporates 130 responses from 85 entities comprising the state's energy ecosystem — investor-owned utilities, transmission developers, and private investors — and the action plan is aggressive, to say the least:

  • $1.5 billion to modernize existing inefficient, high-emission power plants and create 750 megawatts (MW) of clean power generation
  • $1.3 billion to improve existing transmission and distribution infrastructure
  • $1 billion to build 1 GW of new transmission capacity
  • $1 billion to generate 1.2 GW of additional capacity to meet reliability needs caused by planned retirements of aging power plants
  • $250 million in new smart grid technologies including an advanced energy management control center
  • $250 million for new renewable energy projects, leveraging $425 million to create 270 MW of new power capacity

Smarter, More Efficient Transmission

While impressive, Cuomo's initiative is not the only step being taken to upgrade the Empire State's grid. New York is also implementing $75 million in smart grid upgrades backed by a $37 million U.S. Department of Energy grant. More than 800 connected synchrophasors and more than 230 capacitor banks are being installed with state utilities and the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO).

Both projects will boost the grid's overall efficiency and provide an economic charge. "Electricity is the lifeblood of our state's economy and the transmission grid is its circulatory system," said Stephen Whitley, NYISO president and CEO.

Synchrophasors improve the ability of NYISO to monitor power flow and outages across the transmission system by sending signals to grid operators 60 times per second, as well as its ability to detect power outages before they cascade across the system. Capacitor banks are installed along the transmission system and boost the flow of electricity across power lines to reduce energy lost while traveling long distances – an estimated $7.6 million dollar cost per year.

NYISO-PJM Coordination

Taking a cue from elementary school, NYISO plans to share all this efficient clean power with its friends. NYISO and PJM Interconnection recently unveiled a long-term strategy to optimize the flow of electricity at seams, key connection points across their shared border – an important step, considering the two grids typically function as individual units.

NYISO and PJM will coordinate long-term transmission investments, smart grid improvements, data calculations and modeling to reduce congestion and costs, and regional natural gas generation and transmission investments.

Does Smarter Equal Stronger?

As communities build resiliency against climate change and extreme weather, self-healing and more efficient grids are only going to get more important to our economy and well-being. By investing in smart grid technology now, New York is putting itself on track to weather the storms of the future — all while boosting renewables and green jobs.

Image: New York State word cloud map image via Shutterstock


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