Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Solar Panels On Habitat For Humanity Homes In CA

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 08:03 PM PDT

It’s solar Friday around these parts (job growth! innovation! sabotage!), with the news getting more and more awesome. Solar isn’t just for the rich, and it doesn’t only belong on skyscrapers and McMansions, but also on homes for families who qualify for Habitat for Humanity.

PG&E has donated about $1.7 million in the form of solar panels for 64 Habitat homes in the Bay Area. The solar paneled homes generate about 300 kilowatt hours a month and cause a yearly reduction in utility bills of about $500.

Overall, Habitat for Humanity is no environmental slouch these days, recently registering its 100th LEED certified home in Michigan.

Source: Solar Power World

Toyota Takes The Fun Out Of Concept EV, Renames It iiMo

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 07:59 PM PDT

Technically, the fun was just taken out of the name of Toyota’s electric city-car concept. When the company unveiled it last year, it was the Fun-Vii. Now, Toyota is calling it the iiMo, and there are a few more details about what they hope it will become.

Most of what Toyota is showing us involves the auto-pilot function (very intriguing) and the instantly customizable exterior (not sure how to feel about this), but not range, charge time, potential sticker price, or anything else with an actual numerical value. On the up side, it is awfully pretty.

According to AutoblogGreen:

“Future mobility life in 20XX,” as Toyota puts it in the happy, nearly-five-minute video available below, means vehicle exterior and interior patterns that can be immediately customized as well as a virtual on-board “concierge,” lots of navigation goodies and the ability to put the three-seater into a so-called “auto-pilot” lane with other like-minded vehicles.

The video is admittedly pretty neat. (Although with a name like iiMo, I really expected the main actor in it to be wearing a lot more eyeliner and have much shaggier bangs. Don’t look at me like that. So did you.) Here’s the video:

Source: Toyota via Autoblog Green

Fighting Fires In Paris With The Renault Twizy

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 06:55 PM PDT

Renault’s super cute little city car, the Twizy, has a lot of different variations. Last week, the company rolled out a more altruistic version — the emergency support Twizy.

The prototype emergency support vehicle was given to the Paris firefighter brigade (dovetailing nicely with Renault’s previous installation of EV charging stations); with fire extinguishers, oxygen tanks, a fire suit, a helmet, and a first aid kit in place of a rear seat. The firefighter brigade gets to test and play around with it for eight months, while figuring out if EVs are a practical investment for their line of work.

According to Renault safety officer Claire Boulanger:

“This initial prototype is real-life proof of the research and development work carried out together with the emergency services, demonstrating Renault’s ability and determination to innovate to meet the needs of firefighters.”

Head on over to Autoblog Green via the links below for the press release and the full story!

Source: Autoblog Green
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

New Silicon Batteries Outperform Typical Li-ion Chemistries

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 06:47 PM PDT

Rice University researchers have developed yet another li-ion (lithium-ion) silicon battery anode, but this time it is a crushed, porous silicon anode.

The researchers “have refined silicon-based lithium-ion technology by literally crushing their previous work to make a high-capacity, long-lived and low-cost anode material with serious commercial potential for rechargeable lithium batteries,” a Rice University press release notes.

The research was led by Sibani Lisa Biswal and Madhuri Thakur.

Rice University researchers Madhuri Thakur, left, and Sibani Lisa Biswal are testing anodes made of treated porous silicon that can be spread on a current collector and holds up to 10 times the amount of lithium than graphite anodes in current lithium-ion batteries. The robust anodes have achieved more than 600 charge-discharge cycles. (Image Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

The new li-ion silicon battery anode lasts much longer than previous designs. It has sustained operation through 600 charge–discharge cycles at 1,000 milliamp hours per gram (this means it was charged 600 times). “This is a significant improvement over the 350 mAh/g capacity of current graphite anodes,” the press release notes, putting it “squarely in the realm of next-generation battery technology competing to lower the cost and extend the range of electric vehicles.”

Li-ion and Lead-acid Battery Life

Notably, while typical lithium-ion batteries can be cycled 1,200 times, people don’t actually get that many cycles out of them. Due to normal usage of most devices, people do not usually get to cycle them that many times, only a few hundred times. This is due to the fact that lithium-ion batteries self-degrade and die before people can get the 1,200 cycles out of them. Therefore, 600 cycles is not as bad as it sounds. (For comparison, lead-acid batteries can usually be cycled 500-800 times.)

Additionally, another one of the researchers’ anodes “continues to cycle at a C/5 rate (five-hour charge and five-hour discharge) and is expected to remain at 1,000 mAh/g for more than 700 cycles.”

Another important point to note is that the application of batteries greatly affects their lifespan. Very heavy usage of lithium-ion batteries can shorten their lifespan to even less than the time it takes them to self-degrade.

This is why some lead-acid batteries can last 5 years (when used for battery backup applications such as UPSes), while some lithium-ion batteries last only 3 years, despite the fact that lithium-ion batteries have a longer cycle life.

Silicon Anode–based Batteries

Of the last two silicon anode-based batteries I’ve seen: the earliest one used a solid, rigid silicon anode which cracked promptly; and the other a silicon nanowire anode which lasted longer but was still unreliable.

One reason scientists keep pursuing (and successfully improving) silicon-based li-ion batteries is because they have tremendous potential. They can achieve an energy density of 1,000 Wh per kg, as opposed to the 95-180 Wh per kg that typical batteries achieve. Lithium polymer batteries are on the high (and expensive) end of the battery market and they are the ones that achieve 180 Wh/kg.

This means that these batteries are extremely lightweight, 10 times lighter than mainstream lithium-ion batteries. Specifically, these Rice batteries don’t store that much, but still much more than average (1,000 mAh per gram as opposed to 350 mAh per gram).

This enables electric vehicles to travel at least several hundred miles (close to 1,000 miles) per charge, putting the even Tesla Roadster and Model S range and performance to shame.


Why the Delay in Using Silicon Anode–based Batteries

So, if silicon-anode batteries are so great, why the delay in using them? Of course, “there’s a problem,” the Rice release notes. “Silicon more than triples its volume when completely lithiated. When repeated, this swelling and shrinking causes silicon to quickly break down.”

So, here’s more from Rice University on how researchers have tried to address this so far, and how Thakur and Biswal are doing things differently:

Many researchers have been working on strategies to make silicon more suitable for battery use. Scientists at Rice and elsewhere have created nanostructured silicon with a high surface-to-volume ratio, which allows the silicon to accommodate a larger volume expansion. Biswal, lead author Thakur and co-author Michael Wong, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry, tried the opposite approach; they etched pores into silicon wafers to give the material room to expand. By earlier this year, they had advanced to making sponge-like silicon films that showed even more promise.

But even those films presented a problem for manufacturers, Thakur said. “They’re not easy to handle and would be difficult to scale up.” But by crushing the sponges into porous grains, the material gains far more surface area to soak up lithium ions.

Biswal held up two vials, one holding 50 milligrams of crushed silicon, the other 50 milligrams of porous silicon powder. The difference between them was obvious. “The surface area of our material is 46 square meters per gram,” she said. “Crushed silicon is 0.71 square meters per gram. So our particles have more than 50 times the surface area, which gives us a larger surface area for lithiation, with plenty of void space to accommodate expansion.” The porous silicon powder is mixed with a binder, pyrolyzed polyacrylonitrile (PAN), which offers conductive and structural support.

“As a powder, they can be used in large-scale roll-to-roll processing by industry,” Thakur said. “The material is very simple to synthesize, cost-effective and gives high energy capacity over a large number of cycles.”

“This work shows just how important and useful it is to be able to control the internal pores and the external size of the silicon particles,” Wong said.

“The next step will be to test this porous silicon powder as an anode in a full battery,” Biswal said. “Our preliminary results with cobalt oxide as the cathode appear very promising, and there are new cathode materials that we’d like to investigate.”

Sounds exciting. We’ll keep you updated.

Source: Rice University

Bouncing Back From Sandy: Why We Must Double Down On Advanced Energy

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 04:42 PM PDT


By Hemant Taneja (@htaneja)

Sandy has moved on and many people are coping with its effects, but the debate over what it should mean has just begun. Recently my Advanced Energy Economy co-founder Tom Steyer found himself in a dust-up on CNBC's "Squawk Box" over whether Sandy proves that extreme weather – brought on by human actions – is now part of our reality. That conversation will no doubt continue, particularly following Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of President Obama for his climate change policies.

Whether this sparks a productive conversation about climate is yet to be seen. If not, inconclusive posturing, a hallmark of the debate thus far, does us no good. We need to look at it instead from a contingency planning perspective. If severe storms like Sandy are becoming a part of life, it just makes business sense to be better safe than sorry. These precautions can in turn grow our economy and make us more competitive on a global stage.

Hurricane Sandy by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Sandy has shown how far we've come and how far we can still go. Thanks to technology and better modeling, we had warning about the severity of the storm. And thanks to social media and advanced communications, we could alert people and find out where help was needed. But we can do a lot more. We need to invest in advanced energy – the technologies, systems and energy sources that are developing – to be more capable of mitigating and recovering from severe weather damage. There's absolutely no reason we need to suffer a $50 billion plus recovery each time, and we certainly don’t need businesses hamstrung for days afterwards because of fragile power grids.

First off, we can limit the damage by investing in distributed and modular advanced energy systems such as microgrids. The failure of our regional grids is still affecting a huge swath of people – millions are still without power in the Northeast. Sophisticated advanced energy systems will let us greatly reduce the duration and scope of down time, enabling our businesses, homes and critical infrastructure like hospitals to bounce back much faster. This is not some far-off fantasy. There are already 11,000 companies in America offering advanced energy solutions that employ roughly 700,000 Americans. Electric and plug-in hybrid cars, natural gas-fueled trucks, high-performance buildings, energy-saving industrial processes, high-capacity wind turbines, on-site solar power, and advanced nuclear power plants are all examples of advanced energy.

It is not hard to envision that in 20 years our ability to track, prepare and bounce back from a storm as powerful as Sandy will be much more effective, thanks to advances in technology and our ability to provide energy sources and systems more effectively.

If we accomplish that, it has a huge impact on America. First off, it makes our economy stronger and more self-sufficient. How many foreign policy decisions over the last five decades were made with foreign oil as a factor? Two, it addresses the ongoing issue of whether we can make our world healthier – not only the earth, but improving prospects for humans with a cleaner economy. And, finally, it improves America's prospects. With energy demand worldwide expected to grow 40 percent or more the next two decades, it's America's business opportunity to seize – or watch as China takes it from us.

Most importantly, let's not get stuck in the old debate over whether we need to save the earth at the expense of our economy. That debate was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. Sandy is merely a reminder that advanced energy is a way to keep our economy roaring and minimize disruptions in Americans' daily lives come what may.

Author Bio: Hemant leads General Catalyst's global energy practice and invests in early stage technology companies. In addition, Hemant co-founded Advanced Energy Economy, a business organization focused on catalyzing regional energy innovation clusters across America. The creation of AEE is modeled after the work he did in founding the New England Clean Energy Council, which received an award from the Department of Energy. He is also an entrepreneur in his own right; before joining General Catalyst in 2002, Hemant was founder and CEO of a mobile software company that was acquired. He is a graduate of MIT. 

Yet Another Underhanded Attempt To Fight Solar

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 07:10 AM PDT


Via Renew Economy, republished with full permission.

In the decade between 2010 and 2020, Australian homeowners are expected to invest more than $20 billion in rooftop solar installations. Some private forecasts suggest it could be as much as double that. But should these homeowners be limited to a rate of return that is substantially less than that of big utilities investing in fossil fuels or new transmission lines?

The question is being raised by the solar industry after the Climate Change Authority's controversial suggestions last week that incentives for rooftop solar PV should be indexed to what appear to be arbitrary benchmarks – to ensure that homeowners and commercial businesses do not enjoy a payback of less than 10 years, and a cost impact on other users of more than 1.5 per cent of electricity bills.

The issue has now been taken up by both the Australian Solar Council and the REC Agents Association (RAA), which described the 10-year ROI (return on investment) as a "radical" change and accused the CCA of "overkill" and introducing an impractical and arbitrary rule. It said that if it was adopted, it  would require the minister to regulate financial returns to homeowners to ensure they did not exceed 5.5 per cent over a 15 year period (or 7.5 per cent over a 20 year period). This is considerably less than the returns that other technologies receive.

"The impact of this approach could be to dramatically shrink the size of the solar industry in Australia," the RAA wrote in response to the CCA discussion paper. "It is expected that very few systems could be sold at less than 10 years payback (or 5.5% return)." The impact on the emerging commercial solar PV sector could be even more dramatic. "Businesses typically do not undertake energy efficiency improvements where payback is more than 3 years, so it is not clear why they would invest on solar with a payback of more than 10 years."

The CCA's discussion paper on the renewable energy target has largely been applauded by the clean energy industry because it resisted the self-interested pleading by the coal and gas generators to wind back the deployment of wind and solar energy. The CCA said the 41,000GWh target for large-scale renewables should stay in place, even if it delivers more than the anticipated 20 per cent share of generation, because the benefits outweigh the costs.

The small-scale sector – essentially rooftop solar – was considered more vulnerable, and was the focus of intense pressure, including from bodies such as the Australian Industry Group and the aluminium industry. Utilities are also fearful about the impact of widespread deployment rooftop solar PV on their business models because it reduces demand from the grid, and revenues from their business.

Chief among the concerns is the danger of a blow-out in costs from solar PV incentives, particularly given recent experience in an industry which has achieved dramatic cost reductions in recent years. The industry itself accepts that a limit – such as the 1.5 per cent of electricity bills proposed by the CCA – is appropriate. Where it differs is how this should be implemented, and on the 10-year payback rule, which it argues is unnecessary and impossible to implement.

The RAA suggested a form of cap to protect the 1.5 per cent spending limit, but the CCA rejects this, saying it feared a boom/bust scenario. This is surprising, given that on its own analysis, and even with an anticipated trebling in the number of panels installed on Australian rooftops over the next 8 years, the cost of the SRES (small-scale renewable scheme) would fall below 1.5 per cent by 2014/15 and to 0.8 per cent of customer bills by 2019/20.

The RAA says it is fearful that the mechanism proposed by the CCA to enforce the 10-year payback rule (which is more likely to be broken, if it hasn't already) is cumbersome, and involves discounting the number of renewable energy certificates allocated to small-scale solar to below the 1:1 factor. It could be eliminated altogether, even as certificates for larger scale solar generation continues to be allocated. It is also fearful that a "downward ratchet" is proposed, meaning that the discount could never be revised upwards, and that the yearly review would make it extremely difficult for the solar industry to have any confidence in pricing systems to customers, or investing beyond the next discount setting cycle, particularly given the CCA's own recommendation that the overall review of the RET should now take place every four years.

"It is difficult to see financiers providing funding to support an industry, whose parameters are subject to change annually and with seven months' notice," the RAA says. "This fails to give the industry the sort of predictability that it needs."

The RAA also suggest that the approach proposed by the CCA would not be workable because of the different solar conditions from state to state and locality, and because of systems sizes, orientation, customer use and varying technologies. The CCA proposes to take an "average" of the most popular systems and locations. "It would be extraordinary difficult to predict and cumbersome to calculate," the RAA says. It also says it is wrong to apply the same rules to both solar PV and solar hot water.

Another issue, raised in our article last week, was about the proposal to reduce the size of the systems eligible for the small-scale scheme from 100kW to 10kW. The RAA said that this could have unintended consequences on both the small-scale scheme and the large-scale scheme.

It could also have an impact on the ability of local councils to install solar on their council buildings. Lake Macquarie, a council in NSW that boasts one of the highest levels of solar penetration with 7.3 per cent of households installing 11.9MW of rooftop solar, said its ability to install new capacity on council sites could be impeded by planning provision, particularly if those installations had to be classified as "power stations" rather than rooftop installations.

Off-Peak Energy Program For Electric Cars Being Piloted By Dakota Electric

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 07:00 AM PDT

By Serenity Berntson

Dakota Electric, serving about 100,000 customers in the southeast suburbs of the Twin Cities metro area, is proposing a two-year electric car charging pilot program with rates at almost half the regular residential rate.

The program encourages electric vehicle owners to charge their cars during off-peak hours—between 11:00pm and 7:00am—when energy demand is low. The program allows Dakota Electric to charge 38 cents per kilowatt hour during on-peak hours, which is more than three times the regular rate.

One interesting environmental benefit offered by this program is the ability for electric car owners to harness wind power, which usually blows harder at night, when there is typically less demand.

The low number of electric vehicles on the road has prevented other Minnesota-based utility companies from instituting similar programs, however Xcel Energy has stated that they will be following the pilot program with interest. Dakota Electric will be joining 22 other U.S. utility companies that offer special rates for electric vehicle owners.

Learn more in recent articles from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.

This article was originally published on the website of the Clean Energy Resource Teams. It has been reposted with full permission.

Solar Jobs In US Increase 13.2% In 2012

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 05:30 AM PDT

Via Solar Love, reposted with full permission (one image added):

During the last few days of the election, when politicians scramble to make promises about jobs and the economy, only a fool would ignore this statistic: employment in the solar industry has grown 13.2 percent over the last year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy grew 2.3 percent during the same period.

us solar job growth

The results from the 2012 National Solar Job Census concludes that the solar industry employs 119,016 Americans across all 50 states. Solar jobs have been steadily multiplying, rising by more than 25,000 employees since 2010. This 13.2 percent growth in solar employment bolsters the fact that any job plan worth its salt continues to support and encourage growth in renewables.

The census, collected from more than 1,000 solar companies, highlights the critical role federal and state solar policy (like investment tax credits and federal funding for renewable energy commercialization) have in the continued success (read: job creation) of this hot sector.

Other clear factors in solar’s job growth are the decline in solar energy prices and third-party system ownership models.

The Solar Foundation’s Executive Director Andrea Luecke said the nearly 120,000 solar jobs include installation, sales, marketing and software development and are, “highly skilled in nature… cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country’s economic recovery.”

The National Solar Jobs survey was conducted by Washington D.C.–based nonprofit The Solar Foundation, BW Research, and Cornell University for technical assistance.

Currently, the U.S. has about 5,700 megawatts of installed solar energy capacity, which can power about 940,000 homes. It’s expected that another 3.2 gigawatts of solar power will be installed by the end of 2012, with another 3.9 gigawatts added in 2013.

Source: Solar Energy Industries Association
Images: solar installer via OregonDOT (some rights reserved); Mojave desert solar array via Shutterstock

Some Dealers Offering $199/Month Lease Price For Ford Focus Electric Deal Against Nissan Leaf

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 04:30 AM PDT

As electric vehicles (EVs) continue to grab consumer attention, some dealers are willing to go the extra mile just to stamp out the other EV competition.

In Sacramento, California, two Ford dealers, trying to boost sales of the Ford Focus EV and take a bite out of their competition from the Nissan Leaf’s offered lease pricing of $199/month, have offered the same starting lease price.

However, there are some caveats with the offer, as AutoblogGreen notes:

The fine print is important here, since the mileage limit was dropped by 1,500 miles from 12,000 to 10,500 per year. The dealers required at least $2,800 down; one was offering a 24-month lease, one was for a 36-month lease. When you do the math, as GCR did, you find that “in California particularly, the first year of driving comes close to being effectively free.” That’s one heck of a deal….


It remains to be seen if consumers will grab the carrot for an electric car. However, as EVs are still very young as an automotive choice, expect more dealers to offer similar options in the future, as more consumers become informed about the electric driving option and dealers try to woo them to their site.

Source: AutoblogGreen

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