Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Solar-Powered Tortillas In Mexico

Posted: 10 Dec 2012 05:45 PM PST

 
Central Mexico has copious amounts of sun and tortillas, so perhaps it isn’t so surprising someone came up with the idea of using solar power to make them. In the town of El Sauz, north of Mexico City, German businessman Gregor Schrapers has created some solar-powered ovens to make tortillas in a carbon-free manner. (He is a self-taught solar engineer who moved to the region of Hidalgo.)

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Conventional ovens there typically use gas — up to 16 gallons a month. Some might expect a solar oven to be rather anemic in the temperature ranges. However, his solar cookers can reach beyond 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Schefler reflectors are used to heat up a griddle, oven, and cauldron. They are made in El Sauz by Triny Sol and can last thirty years.

“At first people here in the region were very skeptical about the usefulness of my project. Once they saw the facilities and what we can do with these reflectors, they realized that they work,” he explained. (Source: Softpedia) Here’s a short news video here about the solar cookers:

Solar-powered cooking isn’t for everyone, though. It isn’t new, and in some cases is inappropriate. For example, some people need to cook before sunrise or after sunset. Also, people generally need to cook on cloudy days, as well. It may turn out that affordable energy storage systems are the solution to such conditions. However, they currently don’t exist, especially in such regions of the world.

Image Credit: Public Domain, Wiki Commons

Solar-Powered Tortillas In Mexico was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Get Ready, Utilities: Solar Is Coming

Posted: 10 Dec 2012 05:39 PM PST

 
Quick question. Your state has good sunshine, lots of open rooftops, and the cost of solar energy has been falling by 10% per year. Do you think it will take 13 years to double the 10 megawatts (MW) of installed solar power?

Yes, if you're the largest corporate utility in my state, and willfully ignoring the economic trend. But 'no' if you make decisions based on data, because the price of unsubsidized solar electricity will undercut most utility retail electricity prices within a decade, enabling 200 times more solar (4,400 MW) than found in this utility's plans.

Solar rooftops via Shutterstock

That's just one utility's wake-up call in a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Commercial Rooftop Revolution, and it's far from the only one. By 2016, over 100,000 MW of unsubsidized rooftop solar will able to match grid electricity on price. Within 10 years, it will be 300,000 MW, enough to provide 10% of the nation's electricity. This affordable solar future presents a stark challenge to traditional utility planning and a clarion call for better electricity policy.

Some utilities have responded by clinging to the 20th century paradigm of centralized control. Virginia's Dominion Power, for example, expressed satisfaction at a recent conference at introducing standby charges on solar producers, ostensibly to help them recover the cost of "backing up" solar power.

On the other hand, many utilities and state regulatory commissions are finding the value in solar and realizing that perceived barriers aren't as large as they had feared. Austin Energy, a Texas municipal utility, now pays a non-subsidy premium for solar because it helps them offset expensive peak power purchases.  In Hawaii, utilities who two years ago argued that the distribution grid was at its limit have been managing to accommodate thousands more solar projects on their grid systems.

Regardless of their predisposition toward solar power, utilities, regulators, and policy makers need to recognize that there's a revolution in electricity systems coming soon. Solar will become so affordable in the next 5-10 years that as many as 38 million homes and businesses will elect to produce their own power more cheaply from unsubsidized solar rather than buy it from their utility. That means policies that limit distributed generation will have to change: net metering limits must rise, permitting must be simplified, archaic "15% rules" will have to be driven by data not speculation.

Ultimately, as one Hawaii public utility commissioner has said, the paradigm for the electricity system will flip. Utilities will need to transition from being inflexible to being flexible. They'll switch from primarily running slow-response coal and nuclear power plants to finding the right mix of flexible natural gas or energy storage systems that can partner with low-cost wind and solar and advanced demand response to supply reliable electricity.

The forthcoming revolution in solar power promises more change in the next 10 years than utilities have faced in the last 100. And they had best get ready.

Get Ready, Utilities: Solar Is Coming was originally published on: CleanTechnica

New Fuel Cell Power Plant For Apple

Posted: 10 Dec 2012 12:57 PM PST

 
Apple has decided to double the size of the fuel cell power plant at its North Carolina data center. The fuel cell industry is very small, so Apple’s 5 MW (5 million watt) project is relatively large to them.

This 5 MW installation is an addition to Apple’s existing 5 MW system, doubling the size of its fuel cell installation to 10 MW, which is more than Ebay’s 6 MW system.

This gives Apple the title of the largest fuel cell–powered data center.

These fuel cells are powered by biogas procured from landfills. Biogas is very similar to natural gas, as it consists of primarily methane. Actually, methane is the desired fuel that makes natural gas and biogas useful. That is where the energy comes from.

Biogas is a byproduct of the decay of organic matter such as dead plants, old food, animals, animal feces, and other things like that. The use of landfill-derived methane is more environmentally sound than natural gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (sometimes called “fracking“). Landfills will decay and release methane whether or not they are utilized as a source of biogas. They might as well be put to use, if economical.

This project is not important just because it reduces fossil-fuel usage at the data center, but because the existence of such a project is necessary to prove that it is possible.

Whether or not it is economical is a different story.

Everything is to be tested before it can be deployed all over the world, because many people will not trust it until they see it work, and it is also necessary to detect and iron out faults before the whole world adopts it.

Source: Technology Review

New Fuel Cell Power Plant For Apple was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Army Shuffles Fleet But Will Congress Stack the Deck?

Posted: 10 Dec 2012 07:02 AM PST

 
The rise of fuel efficient cars has been getting a lot of press lately, and the U.S. Army is not getting left behind in the dust. The Army is on track to decrease fossil fuel consumption in its non-tactical vehicles by 17 percent by the year 2020, which beats the original goal of 14 percent. That trend runs parallel to a skyrocketing use of alternative fuels by the Army. However, given the pushback that certain federal legislators have given to the Navy’s alternative fuel initiatives, it won’t be a surprise if the next Congress tries to run the Army’s fuel efficiency and alternative fuels programs off the rails, too.

army goes for fuel efficiency and alternative fuels

Army Vehicles by the Numbers

One way to cut fuel is to cut vehicles, and with the nation’s second-largest vehicle fleet, the Army has some room to cut (the U.S. Postal Service comes in first). A recent article by the Army News Service provides what seems to be a pretty definitive rundown of the numbers.

According to ARNews, the number of non-tactical vehicles kept climbing from the baseline year of 2005 until to 2009, when it reached a peak of 82,860 (non-tactical vehicles includes just about anything not used in combat, from cars and trucks to specialty vehicles like tractors and ambulances). The total projected for 2012 has dropped to about 74,000.

It’s important to keep in mind that, in the baseline year of 2005, the U.S. was already embroiled in two wars. However, some of the most recent drop in numbers is also credited to a 2011 memo signed by President Obama, which established non-tactical fleet performance reviews with the aim of cutting underused, unneeded and underperforming vehicles out of the fleet.

Alternate Routes Alternate Fuels and Fuel Efficiency

Aside from simply using fewer non-tactical vehicles, the Army has made some impressive strides in transitioning to a more fuel efficient fleet.

One key strategy has been to lease more vehicles through the General Services Administration rather than using the Army’s purchasing power. That enables the Army to replace gas-guzzlers with the latest fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel models more quickly. The GSA replacement cycle is only about 3-5 years, compared to the 13-15 year lifespan of a typical Army-owned vehicle.

One future strategy of particular interest is to lease more electric vehicles. They cost more up front, but the Army could offset those costs by integrating EV batteries with microgrids at its facilities. The stored energy in EV batteries could be sold to the grid provider or used on site.

Another angle of attack has been to tighten up the requirements for replacing Army-owned vehicles, under a policy implemented in the last year of the Bush Administration.

A third strategy is to match the vehicle types more closely to their real-world use. ARNews cites the example of using more hybrid-electric vehicles in areas where speeds are low in order to maximize the use of electric power, rather than using them for highway driving.

The Next Step for Army Fuel Efficiency

What this all amounts to is a wide-ranging suite of initiatives to cut fossil fuel consumption that seems fairly immune to interference by Congress, compared to the rather violent opposition encountered by the Navy’s alternative fuel program.

Some of the Army’s other programs, though, might end up raising some red flags in certain quarters.

Last Spring, the Army revved up a roving Green Warrior Convey to promote fuel efficiency and alternative fuels, following up on Navy’s much maligned Green Fleet program.

The Army has also been focusing significant resources on cutting fossil fuels in tanks and other tactical vehicles. In 2009, the Army broke ground on the new Ground System Power and Energy Laboratory at TARDEC, its advanced vehicle research center in Michigan.

TARDEC is home to the Army’s first solar powered microgrid incorporating electric vehicles, so there’s a good chance that the Army could hook up with the Department of Energy’s new $120 million Joint Center for Energy Storage Research initiative.

Other TARDEC projects include a truck that incorporates an alternative fuel microgrid, a diesel-electric surveillance vehicle, and an Abrams tank that gets auxiliary power from fuel cells and advanced thermoelectric systems.

Image (cropped): Army vehicle by Richard Elzey

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Army Shuffles Fleet But Will Congress Stack the Deck? was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Indian State Tamil Nadu Opens Bids for 1GW of Solar Power

Posted: 10 Dec 2012 06:37 AM PST

 
The southern Indian state Tamil Nadu has put out calls on 1 gigawatt (GW) of new solar capacity in 2013, as part of the state's goal of reaching 3 GW by 2015. The local government plans to reach its goal from Renewable Energy Certificates (REC), rooftop installations, and utility style projects.

However, there is some concern about REC's ability to help the state reach its solar energy goals:

"The REC mechanism is now officially a failure,” Ritesh Pothan from Natural Group, a renewable energy advisory organisation, told PV-Tech.

In a report last year, Pothan noted that because RECs are only valid for one year, they are not bankable and therefore investors remain wary and are less inclined to invest.

Successful bids will have 10 months to put the new solar energy on-line, along with providing proof of purchase of the land to complete the projects.

With this recent announcement, India continues to make its move towards cleaner energy methods. Solar energy costs in the country continue to fall, while surpassing 1,000 MW earlier this year.

Source: PV-Tech

Indian State Tamil Nadu Opens Bids for 1GW of Solar Power was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Organic Solar Cell Efficiency Tripled Thanks To Nanostructure Sandwich

Posted: 10 Dec 2012 02:27 AM PST

 
Organic solar cells have received a big boost to their efficiency thanks to a new device designed by Princeton University. The newly designed, cheap, flexible plastic device more than triples the efficiency of organic solar cells.

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The new device is essentially a ‘sandwich’ of nanostructured metal and plastic that is able to trap light, increasing solar cell efficiency by 175 percent. According to the researchers, the device will also work to increase the efficiency of inorganic solar cells, but that side of things hasn’t been tested yet.

The device works by addressing two of the main causes of inefficiency in solar cells, light being reflected by the cell surface, and the lack of an ability to fully capture the light that does enter the cell.

Princeton University writes: “With their new metallic sandwich, the researchers were able to address both problems. The sandwich — called a subwavelength plasmonic cavity — has an extraordinary ability to dampen reflection and trap light. The new technique allowed the research team to create a solar cell that only reflects about 4 percent of light and absorbs as much as 96 percent. It demonstrates 52 percent higher efficiency in converting light to electrical energy than a conventional solar cell.”

Those numbers are for direct sunlight — the device works even better for indirect light, as occurs on cloudy days. By “capturing these angled rays, the new structure boosts efficiency by an additional 81 percent, leading to the 175 percent total increase.”

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The specifics of the device are rather complex, but it essentially works like a ‘black hole’ for light, completely trapping it.

While the system is essentially ready for commercial use, the researchers think that it may take some time before they are mass produced and used on a wide scale.

The research was just published online November 2, 2012, in the journal Optics Express.

Source: Princeton University Engineering School
Image Credits: Princeton University, Engineering School

Organic Solar Cell Efficiency Tripled Thanks To Nanostructure Sandwich was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Offshore Wind Benefits Sea Life

Posted: 10 Dec 2012 02:21 AM PST

 
Sometimes there’s mention in the press that wind farms harm wildlife. Typically, though these articles reference the damage done to bird and bats on land. What seems to get less mention in mass media is the potential benefit for sea creatures provided by offshore wind farms.

DanishWindTurbines.jpg
A research study conducted by the Marine Institute at Plymouth University found that offshore wind farms can provide benefits to fish, namely because they can function as shelters (since sea bottom trawling is not allowed inside wind farms). It seems a little ironic that one human-made technology can protect fish from the very invasive and destructive practice of using technology for sea-bottom trawling.

The study’s lead author wrote, “It is necessary to rapidly deploy large quantities of marine renewable energy to reduce the carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning which are leading to ocean acidification, global warming and climatic changes. Done well and sensitively its deployment could be beneficial to marine wildlife compared to the alternative scenario of greater levels of climate change.” (Source: Friends of the Earth)

Another potential benefit for offshore wind farms is they can provide structures for blue mussels and some crab species.

Objections have been made over the ‘spoiling’ of coastal views by offshore wind. However, such farms can be located very far from coastlines and in areas where there are not dense concentrations of people. Furthermore, it clearly is better to reduce climate change emissions than to preserve something as subjective as a pleasing view. Additionally, marine life and the oceans are suffering due to ocean acidification, which is tied directly to human-made carbon emissions.

Image Credit:Soumanrudra

Offshore Wind Benefits Sea Life was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Solar-Powered Pedal Car Project On Kickstarter

Posted: 10 Dec 2012 02:18 AM PST

 
There’s another intriguing project on Kickstarter — this time, for a tiny solar- and pedal-powered vehicle. So far, the creators have over 75% of their fundraising goal achieved, and it looks like they will get all the way to the finish line.

elf.jpgThe ELF is a three-wheeler for short trips designed to carry a rider and some cargo. It has a shell to protect against the elements and lights, turn signals, and mirrors. The electric motor can be used for cruising or just for an occasional assist to the occupant’s pedal power when going up hills.

The specs call for a 480w lithium battery, which can be charged by a 60-watt solar panel. The body is made of 85% recycled material with an aluminum frame for support. The vehicle’s range is estimated to about 30 miles per charge. Legally, ELFs will be classified as bicycles. Each ELF can carry up to 350 pounds of cargo. 750-watt permanent neodymium magnet motors will be used to power the vehicles.
 

 
The production goal is 1,000 velomobiles per month, with distribution in all states. The production facility design is intended to be something that can be copied and implemented in many locations, so there can be local production, as well. If their design could go into production in places like India or China where there is tremendous air pollution and congestion, the public health improvements could be very significant.

Electric bikes and velomobiles that also can be pedaled could reduce short trips in cars greatly, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions because many trips in gas-powered cars and SUVs are for short distances.

Image Credit: ELF

Solar-Powered Pedal Car Project On Kickstarter was originally published on: CleanTechnica

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