- Renewable Energy Big Pic: Part 2 (Including 19 Charts & Graphs)
- Tesla Motors Made Its First Profit Last Month
- Softbank Plans To Obtain Solar Energy From Residential Rooftops
- $4 Million “Superwire” Could Blow The Offshore Wind Power Market Wide Open
- UK Survey – More Would Invest In Solar If They Knew The Financial Benefits
- Clean Tech Of Another Sort: More Than 2.6 Million Acres Restored Via USDA Wetlands Reserve Program
- Yingli Green Energy To Provide 288 MW Of Panels For China’s Golden Sun Program
- Garlic Filters Out Heavy Metals (and Vampires, Too!)
- Ancient Red Plant Dye Powers New Green Batteries
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 07:26 PM PST
German Solar vs US Solar
As noted yesterday, German solar and US solar have both been growing at a fast pace for several years now, and the price of solar in both countries has been dropping steadily. However, looking at the solar power capacity of each country in a relative manner, Germany has over 21 times more solar installed per capita than the US (301.47 MW per million people compared to 13.973 MW per million people).
That’s not the only big difference between US and German solar, though. The price of solar power in the US is also a lot different than the price of solar power in Germany. We had an article back in June noting that installed solar power in Germany was at about $2.44/watt, while it was $4.44/watt in the US. The price of solar in both countries has dropped a bit since then, but the general difference remains.
And the difference exists across all solar power project sizes, as this Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) chart from November’s Tracking the Sun report shows:
So, why is solar so much cheaper in Germany?
A number of people have looked into the matter in a bit of depth. For example, CleanTechnica contributor John Farrell has produced a chart showing by how much the various costs of solar vary in the two countries, as part of his report on the matter, "Cut The Price Of Solar In Half By Cutting Red Tape." Here’s that chart:
Here’s another chart on the split, this one from Berkeley Lab:
Some comments from Berkeley Lab: “ German installers reported average soft costs of $0.62/W in 2011, which is roughly $2.70/W lower than the average soft costs reported by U.S. installers…  Customer acquisition costs averaged just $0.07/W in Germany, or roughly $0.60/W lower than in the U.S.”
Soft costs, red tape, acquisition costs — this is where the party’s happening (or not). But now that we’ve nailed down where the price difference is occurring, how about a bit of reflection on why it’s occurring?
One noticeable cause, I think, is simply that Germany has a much more mature market. (Again, it has over 20 times more solar power installed per capita than the US.) As a market matures, competition increases, there are more economies of scale, and costs come down.
And… if we’re going to talk about creating greater market penetration, we have to look at what policies actually do so. For solar (and other clean energy technologies), nothing has worked better than the rather simple feed-in tariff. As John noted about a year ago, the large majority of the world’s solar power and wind power has come through feed-in tariffs:
Another very interesting factor worth noting is the negative effect subsidies can have on mature or maturing technologies. This is something one of the premier solar policy and finance experts in the world, Jigar Shah, focused on in an exclusive guest article for CleanTechnica a couple months ago. His article, “Are Subsidies Holding Back U.S. Solar Deployment?,” noted that solar subsidies in the US are manipulated by investors in order to get a higher return on investment. In other words, by claiming that solar systems cost more than they do, investors are able to gain more in tax credits.
Jigar noted that “solar is now cost-effective without subsidies for ideal customers in 300 utilities in 30 US states.” Thus, he advises that we cut the subsidies and watch the price of solar fall.
Another thing worth noting is that many people (including schools, government buildings, and nonprofit organizations) can’t take advantage of solar power subsidies in the US. So, it’s imperative that we not inflate the cost of solar for those potential customers with unnecessary subsidies.
I’m sure this is a controversial topic, and there’s a lot more detail to get into on that matter, but we’ll leave this summary at that for now.
Wind power may be in a different boat, since it doesn’t lend itself to decentralized deployment as well as solar. While it is the cheapest option for new electricity in many places, pulling its subsidies or threatening to pull them has resulted in big “bust” years for US wind (and “boom” years right before those bust years). Here’s an Energy Information Administration chart on the matter:
However, I wonder what wind energy developers and investors would do if there was one day no hope of subsidies ever coming back. By bet it that they’d develop and invest a lot more than they do in non-subsidy years. If you’re missing a big tax credit one year but are hopeful it will be back the next year, why not wait it out and invest your capital in more supportive regions or countries in the meantime? (That’s probably what I’d do.)
Dirty Energy Subsidies
I don’t want to focus on this too much, since this is a post on renewable energy, not non-renewable energy (that’s catchy, isn’t it?). But the fact of the matter is, dirty energy sources have a huge bias fiscally because of the decades of massive subsidies they have been granted. This is a matter that I’ve tackled at length on a number of occasions. One key thing to note is that societal externalities (such as $500 billion a year in health costs from coal… in the US alone) are massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industries. But even beyond that, here are a couple charts from one of our Wind Power resource pages that indicate the completely imbalanced government subsidies for various energy sources:
And our German writer Thomas Gerke passed this riddle on to me just before my presentation:
“What energy related number has a similar proportion:”
“Government support for conventional and renewable energy between 1970-2012 in Germany in billion Euros:”
I’m sure the same is more or less true across the world. In my opinion, the key at this point with regards to subsides is that dirty energy subsidies need to finally be cut, for once and for all. And as part of that, pollution and other externalities need to be adequately priced. Of course, if this were done, fossil fuels would be considerably more expensive. But the fossil fuel industry is fighting such a change tooth and nail… and (so far) winning, for the most part.
Merit Order Effect
Another very interesting topic to cover when looking at the “renewable energy big picture” is the merit order effect.
For a more detailed look at this matter, check out the posts in the link above, but here’s a quick summary:
When utilities need more electricity, they buy it from competing electricity producers. Those producers make bids to offer up their electricity for purchase. To produce extra electricity, of course, coal power plants need to input more coal and natural gas power plants need to input more natural gas, which costs money. Wind and solar power producers, however, have the sun shining and the wind blowing for free. Nothing really needs to be done to take advantage of that, so the extra cost to send more electricity to the grid is essentially nil. That means that solar and wind project owners can bid down to $0 (or even lower in some instances, due to subsidies).
That has one rather huge effect: it drives down the price of electricity on the wholesale electricity market.
We’ve seen this happen in Germany:
And plenty of other places.
I think something especially worth noting here is that solar power is often most abundant during peak power demand. Providing electricity during peak demand is typically more expensive. That’s been the case for so long that it almost seems engraved in stone. However, due to this symbiosis above (and the merit order effect) solar power is chopping off high peak power prices. Here are two graphs from Germany showing this happening:
Notably, in that second graph, you can see that the price of electricity is so low in the middle of the day that it’s practically as low as electricity in the middle of the night. Typically, middle of the day electricity should be very high. But, get enough solar on the grid, and the world turns upside down.
Unfortunately, as we’ve pointed out on a couple occasions, the wholesale electricity price reductions from the merit order effect (i.e. renewable energy) aren’t always passed on to consumers via reductions in the retail price of electricity.
One would hope that’s the exception rather than the norm.
While market penetration, economies of scale, and good policies are key components of a bright, clean energy future (as well as making the price of coal and natural gas more accurately line of with the true cost of coal and natural gas), technology advancements and breakthroughs aren’t bad, either. The good news is that we’ve got news on such advancements and breakthroughs pretty much every day. Here are some recent ones regarding wind turbines:
One area where we really could use some breakthroughs is energy storage. Solar and wind’s biggest downsides are that they are not controllable… and sometimes not available.
It’s true (and quite underacknowledged) that the two energy sources is that they are very complementary:
Also, the sun is always shining somewhere and the wind is always blowing somewhere. With a well-connected and large grid, the issue of running out of electricity is minimized or even moot.
Nonetheless, based on what we have today, cheaper energy storage could be a huge boost. It is probably the topic I’m most keen to see big news on every day. And a lot of top scientists and engineers are aware of that (not the bit about me, of course, but the bit about cheap energy storage’s huge potential). Here are a handful of companies working on what might be breakthrough energy storage technologies:
Additionally, there are already some companies looking to bring home energy storage systems to mass market. For example, Panasonic. As stated yesterday, mass market production and market penetration themselves help tremendously to bring technology costs down. If Panasonic or others start producing mass market energy storage solutions, watch out.
Another potential energy storage solution is simply using the batteries in electric vehicles to help balance energy supply and demand.
Mass market electric cars are growing fast and seem to be the future. Cars sit parked, out of use, approximately 95% of the time. Their batteries could be of some use while parked. I’ve heard utility company CEOs talking enthusiastically about this. Though, I’ve also seen some convincing arguments against this idea taking off. We’ll see. I don’t think it will be a silver bullet, but it could be part of the solution. And, of course, if you’ve got solar power and a plug-in electric vehicle, you could already start using your battery a bit for non-vehicle purposes.
The Potential Is Huge (Renewable Energy Is Tremendously Abundant)
I often start with this image in such presentations, but I’ve decided to end with it this time. This chart above shows that solar energy potential each year is several times more than the potential from finite energy reserves of any type of fossil fuel or nuclear power (and wind energy also has tremendous potential). Yes, for renewable energy sources, annual potential is represented, while it is only potential from finite energy reserves for the other energy sources.
To close, here are a couple videos on some of the things mentioned in this post and in Renewable Energy Big Pic: Part 1, as well as some things not covered in these posts:
Renewable Energy Big Pic: Part 2 (Including 19 Charts & Graphs) was originally published on: CleanTechnica
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 11:34 AM PST
Projects and companies that require large investments for payback that will accumulate years down the road can certainly make us nervous, and there are always many who think that the investments will never be regained.
I think we all know that Tesla Motors is one such company and has faced a lot of skepticism throughout the years. But the electric car pioneer just last week reported positive cash flow (the week before) for the first time in its history, something worth celebrating, and a good sign that Tesla has a bright future.
Here’s Founder & CEO Elon Musk’s Tweet:
Source: Gas 2.0
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 11:17 AM PST
Softbank is using Sharp and Suntech solar panels for this project, and it will sell the electricity generated by them to utility companies.
On the 21st of December, Softbank will start taking applications from homeowners in 31 prefectures to join this project.
The acquisition of solar energy from residential rooftops has the important benefit of using space that would otherwise not be utilized, rather than occupying additional land which would probably be needed by others in the future.
Softbank Plans To Obtain Solar Energy From Residential Rooftops was originally published on: CleanTechnica
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 10:53 AM PST
Superconductors and Magnetic Fields
Wire made of superconducting material can transport an electrical current with virtually no resistance, so it is far more efficient than conventional copper wire.
That would seem to make superconducting wire an ideal material for wind turbine generators, but the problem is that wind turbines kick up a magnetic field.
The field creates “flux lines” in the superconducting wires, resulting in significantly lower performance.
The University of Houston team, led by mechanical engineering professor Venkat "Selva" Selvamanickam, has the goal of developing a high-temperature superconducting wire that can achieve significant gains in efficiency despite the magnetic field, and compete with copper wire on cost.
The result will be a powerful but lightweight, low-maintenance, high-efficiency generator with a power rating of 10 megawatts or more, which would be ideal for use in offshore wind turbines.
On Track for Low Cost Wind Power
So far, the three-year project has far outpaced expectations. The end goal is to achieve a 400% performance improvement in superconducting wire, with an interim goal of 50% by the end of 2012.
The team beat the interim goal by a wide margin, achieving a 65% gain by the end of September.
The pace of progress was apparently so promising that ARPA-E, the advanced energy research agency that administers the grant, accelerated the grant disbursement ahead of schedule.
That doesn’t exactly bode well for foes of wind power, who have been lobbying Congress to hold off on extending a key tax credit for wind power. Though the lack of an extension will put a severe crimp in local wind power projects, it might not have so great an effect on massively scaled, high-efficiency offshore projects developed with the help of advanced superconducting technology.
We Built This!
The University of Houston project is yet another example of public funding for beneficial technology that makes the leap from laboratory to general use through a collaboration with private sector partners.
For this project, UH has partnered with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the companies SuperPower Inc. (UH’s Selva is also Chief Technology Advisor for SuperPower), Tai-Yang Research, and TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company.
Aside from leading to high-volume, low-cost wind power, the new superconducting wire could also be used to develop or improve other electromagnetic devices, such as the superconducting magnet energy storage system project already under way through another Department of Energy grant.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey
$4 Million “Superwire” Could Blow The Offshore Wind Power Market Wide Open was originally published on: CleanTechnica
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 04:10 AM PST
As per one recent survey, out of the 2000 Britons that were asked, the inference was that only 1/3 could answer the question correctly, showing that much more publicity is needed to propagate true information regarding “Returns On Investment” (ROI) for solar power system installations.
A spokesperson for Eco Experts, a UK solar panel price comparison website, said:
“If there was more publicity surrounding the financial benefits of solar energy, more people may be willing to invest."
According to Eco Experts, a solar panel system offers a commendable 7% to 10% ROI, which is far more lucrative than High Street banks offer. Unfortunately, this figure falls third in the order of “acceptable rates,” according to the respondents. And of the respondents who thought 7% to 10% was an acceptable rate, about 50% thought solar offered far less than that.
Interestingly, it was seen that just a meagre 32% of respondents had come up with this correct response.
The chairman of the British Photovoltaic Association (BPVA), Mr. Reza Shaybani, said:
As per the survey, the denizens of Bristol, London, and Manchester were most up to date with information about the ROI that photovoltaics offer, out of which 11% of the lot supposed that PV offered 0% to 2% ROI; 26% of them assumed that it offered 3% to 6% returns; and 10% of the respondents were highly hopeful and believed that they offered up to 20% of returns.
“Here we have a potential sixth of the market who are interested in an ROI of 7-10 percent but have no idea solar PV can provide it,” added the spokesman for The Eco Experts. “We also saw that more than 50% of people wanted an ROI of 11% or more. This is something that may well happen in the future as the cost of photovoltaics comes down and conventional energy bills increase.
“Again, if there was more publicity about this, we could well see more interest in the renewables market,” and a lot more solar power systems installed.
UK Survey – More Would Invest In Solar If They Knew The Financial Benefits was originally published on: CleanTechnica
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 03:47 AM PST
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) this week announced a milestone in what can be considered clean tech of another sort. It’s a type of "clean tech" that produces all its own energy, recycles all of its own waste, and recycles externally input waste. And, in the process, it produces numerous and varied products and services. It comes as a package, one that’s evolved over the course of the Earth’s history. I’m talking about nature’s wetlands.
Created two decades ago, the USDA’s Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) "has restored more than 2.6 million acres of wetlands habitat across the U.S., creating prime wildlife habitat and helping the environment by holding and clean water," the USDA announced in a Dec. 11 press release.
Restoring U.S. Wetlands
A voluntary program administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), WRP entails NRCS working with "landowners to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on private and tribal lands, a mission that helps rural and urban communities throughout the country by reducing flood damage, contributing to groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration, and providing recreational opportunities."
The federal WRP initiative to support private landowners is well directed. 75% of US wetlands are on private lands, the USDA points out. The majority of WRP lands are located in five states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, and California.
Through WRP, private landowners receive technical and financial assistance to help them restore and protect these diverse, productive, and essential ecosystems. To opt in to the program, landowners can choose to set aside property permanently or on 30-year easements while retaining ownership once the easement is in place.
Along with providing critical habitat for a diversity of flora and fauna that provide essential ecosystem services such as water and waste filtration, soil nutrient cycling, pollination, and carbon sequestration; wetlands "slow and store water, lowering the risk of flooding for nearby communities during hurricances and other severe weather events."
US wetlands are threatened nonetheless. "Our nation has lost more than half of its historical 220 million acres of wetlands in the continental U.S.," NRCS Acting Chief Jason Weller pointed out. "I am encouraged by farmers, ranchers and other private landowners who are dedicated to reversing this trend through the restoration and care of the wetlands on their property."
WRP: A Social-Ecological Success Story
More than 11,000 landowners have participated in WRP since its inception 20 years ago. WRP "is best suited for frequently flooded agricultural lands, where restoration will maximize habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, and improve water quality," USDA explains.
Landowners qualifying for WRP are eligible for assistance in restoring wetlands "on the saturated and flooded portions of their property that are difficult to farm, focusing their agricultural effort on more productive soils."
Weller attributed the success of WRP to"strong partnerships and effective, science-based technical assistance," as well as interest on the part of landowners.
WRP, he noted, draws on the expertise of NRCS technical specialists, who "work cooperatively with landowners, federal and state wildlife agencies, researchers and universities, conservation districts and non-governmental organizations to develop and implement effective hydrologic and vegetative restoration and management techniques."
Image Credit: USDA Wetlands Reserve Program
Clean Tech Of Another Sort: More Than 2.6 Million Acres Restored Via USDA Wetlands Reserve Program was originally published on: CleanTechnica
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 03:30 AM PST
Meanwhile, China's Ministry of Finance, its Ministry of Science and Technology, and its National Energy Administration also announced, under the Golden Sun program, that a total of 2,835 MW worth of photovoltaic projects have been approved. It's anticipated that, with today's announcement, Yingli will provide around 10% of the panels for the new projects.
A Yingli official notes how important programs like Golden Sun have been on the Chinese solar market.
“As a world’s leading solar company with roots in China, we have been committed to developing our domestic market and have obtained a solid market position and a leading market share,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Yingli Green Energy Liansheng Miao.
“The acceleration of the Golden Sun Program and the announcements of other incentive policies have clearly demonstrated China’s strong determination of promoting solar applications. With these policies in place, we believe that the China PV market will achieve a faster and healthier growth. We’ll continue to enhance our business activities in China and power more families and businesses with our high quality products."
Source: PR Newswire
Yingli Green Energy To Provide 288 MW Of Panels For China's Golden Sun Program was originally published on: CleanTechnica
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 03:17 AM PST
A Heavy Metal Filter with a Sustainability Twofer
Researchers are already beginning to look into food-related substances like lactate, bananas and vitamin B12 as a sustainable means of neutralizing toxic substances in soil, also known as “green remediation.”
Green remediation presents a marked improvement over conventional “remediation,” which used to involve either capping a site and letting the contaminants fester under the cap, or digging out tons of contaminated soil and trucking it to a landfill where it would also fester.
The Delhi University process is of particular interest because it involves a double dose of re-use.
The filter itself consists of waste biomass — namely, the leftovers from processing garlic and onions at food canneries. The biomass absorbs as much contaminants as it can handle, and then nitric acid is applied to separate the metals into another vessel. The filter can then be reused all over again.
The process depends on achieving an efficient pH of 5, and so far the researchers have found that this can be achieved under a relatively low temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using food production waste to make a reusable filter is good enough. To ice the cake, once the filter has outlived its usefulness as a contaminant-trapper, it can be slipped into the food waste stream as feedstock for biofuel refineries.
Commercial scale food waste biofuel is still in the development phase, but a pilot food waste biorefinery in Germany looks promising. So, let’s call this a sustainability threefer.
More and Better Green Remediation
The Delhi team isn’t alone in its quest to turn a vampire remedy into a bioremediation tool. In Bulgaria, a team of researchers is experimenting with on-site plantings of garlic and grasses to absorb contaminants.
If garlic joins the green remediation/biofuel club, that gives you the fuel of the future: it’s sustainable, and it keeps vampires off your car, too.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey
Garlic Filters Out Heavy Metals (and Vampires, Too!) was originally published on: CleanTechnica
Posted: 12 Dec 2012 03:12 AM PST
Rose madder was once used to produce purpurin, a dye extracted from the herb to produce vibrant reds to dye materials. More than 3,500 years later, chemists from The City College of New York have teamed up with researchers from Rice University and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to create a non-toxic and sustainable lithium-ion battery.
“Big news!” you might sarcastically say, until you remember that lithium-ion batteries are used to power everything from your mobile phone to the electric vehicle you drive to work. And those batteries are not as ‘green’ as we might like.
Currently, lithium-ion batteries are generally made using mined metal ores, such as cobalt. "Thirty percent of globally produced cobalt is fed into battery technology," noted Dr. Leela Reddy, lead author and a research scientist in Professor Pulickel Ajayan's lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Rice University.
Mining cobalt metal and transforming it, however, is expensive, Dr. Reddy explained. To fabricate and then recycle lithium-ion batteries requires high temperatures which themselves require huge amounts of energy. "In 2010, almost 10 billion lithium-ion batteries had to be recycled," he said .
Furthemore, the production and recycling of lithium-ion batteries also pumps approximately 72 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of energy in a lithium-ion battery.
Given all of that, it’s pretty clear that any alternative to cobalt or a mined ore would be beneficial. It just happens that purpurin from the rose madder root is not only just a bit better, but suspiciously better!
Not only is purpurin and its relatives seemingly pre-adapted to work as a battery’s electrode, but growing madder to make batteries would soak up carbon dioxide and eliminate the disposal problem of used-batteries.
Source: The City College of New York
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