Monday, December 24, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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Do Not Buy From James McKirdy; 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid Review; South Africa Solar & Wind Project Orders; High-Speed Rail For Georgia… (Cleantech & Climate Change News Roundup)

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 05:17 AM PST

For some reason, there hasn’t been a lot of news in the past few days…? But there’s been a bit. Here’s a quick cleantech and climate change news roundup (head on over to our homepage for more news):

Solar Power

AE-AMD Renewable Energy And Tenesol/SunPower Begin Work On Two Solar Projects In South Africa: “AE-AMD Renewable Energy, a joint venture between the Spanish AMDA energia and the South African Alt-E Technologies, and Tenesol, a SunPower company (NASDAQ: SPWR), [last week] announced two South African ground-mounted solar power projects totaling 33 megawatts (MW).  Both projects, which Tenesol will construct, are located near Douglas, South Africa in the Northern Cape Province.”

Do Not Buy a Solar Panel (or Tesla Coil) From James McKirdy: “McKirdy now selling ‘Tesla Coils’ in addition to 50-percent-efficiency solar panels. Mug shot included.”

Wind Power

Vestas Receives 74 MW Order in South Africa: “Vestas has received a firm and unconditional order for 41 V100-1.8 MW turbines for South Africa.”

Energy Efficiency

On-Bill Repayment: A Way To Eliminate The Upfront Costs For Energy Efficiency Projects: “On-bill repayment (OBR) offers an opportunity for home and building owners to finance energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation projects through cost-saving loans from third-party investors. The loans are repaid through customer's utility bills.  The money comes from private sector lenders at no cost to ratepayers or taxpayers.  OBR also allows for longer term loans with lower interest rates.”

Clean Transportation

Atlanta Mayor Wants High Speed Rail Connection With Savannah: “High speed rail in America is a hot button issue and politicians seem to fall into either love it or hate it camps. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed recently has solidified his place in the love it camp by proposing connecting Atlanta and Savannah with a high-speed rail line.”

One Sentence Review: The 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid: “Ten years ago, if you had asked me what I thought of Hyundai or Kia, I probably would have shuddered, chortled, and gone off on a rant regarding the wretched cheapness of this Korean car brand. My oh my, how things have changed, and no car showcases that better than the 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid. Read on to find out why.”

Chevy Volt: Q&A #4: Here’s the latest YouTube Q&A from Mr. Energy Czar:

Climate Change

Climate Story Of The Year: Extreme Weather From Superstorms To Drought Emerges As Political, Scientific Gamechanger: “This year brought staggering weather extremes, record loss of Arctic ice and a growing body of scientific analysis linking the two. Those extremes, plus Superstorm Sandy, raised public concern about the immediate threat posed by climate change, providing a palpable debunking of the (mistaken) belief that climate change will impact only future generations or people in faraway lands.”

Obama Says Climate Change Will be One of His Three Top Priorities in Second Term: “The president is dropping hints that he’s going to get more serious about climate change in his second term.”

It's Been 27 Years: “It's been 27 years since we had a month that was at or below the average temperature of the 20th century. Does that mean anything?”

Expanding Dust Bowls Worsening Food Prospects in China and Africa: “When most people hear the term ‘dust bowl,’ they think of the American heartland in the 1930s, when a homesteading wheat bonanza led to the plowing up of the Great Plains' native grassland, culminating in the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

“Despite warnings from researchers and some farmers, history repeated itself in the Soviet Virgin Lands Project in the 1950s to early 1960s. Some 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of grassland were plowed under in Russia, Kazakhstan, and western Siberia during Premier Nikita Khrushchev's push to produce ever more food from the land. When drought hit, the topsoil started to blow away. By 1965, nearly half the newly planted area was degraded by wind erosion. Yields plummeted. Ultimately farmers staged a retreat, abandoning much of that land.”

Fossil Fuels

Ban Lifted On Fracking In The UK: “Fracking, the process of pumping water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas, is a very controversial topic here in America and it seems overseas as well.  United Kingdom (UK) news source The Independent wrote that more than 60% of the British countryside could be exploited for shale gas. Now, the Department of Energy and Climate Change in the UK say the 60% figure is nonsense.”


China to Provide $1.4 Billion Subsidies to Renewable Energy Buyers: “China is all set to deliver 8.6 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) in subsidies for power generated from renewable sources this year, reveals the latest statement by the Ministry of Finance.

“The funds will be provided to the provincial power grid companies and independent local power grid enterprises which buy power generated from renewable sources at above-market tariffs.  Grid companies are entitled to pay a fixed amount, termed as subsidies, allocated above the benchmark tariffs for coal-fired power in each region.”

Germany releases monitoring report for Energiewende: Last week, “the German government released its own assessment of its success in the energy transition and announced a few policy changes along with a roadmap for future progress.”

“Power market design 2.0″: “In an interview conducted by our German colleagues at the Husum Wind Energy tradeshow in September, Hermann Albers and Thorsten Herdan – the heads of German wind power association BWE and VDME Power Systems, respectively – provide two different perspectives on how German energy policy needs to be revised going forward. Although the conversation is a few months old, it still reflects the discussion in Germany. We provide this text as background reading for the holidays.”

GM Bailout Will Cost Taxpayers as Much as $12 Billion: “‘Government Motors’ no more. The federal government is calling in its loans to General Motors, which received a taxpayer-funded injection of almost $50 billion at the height of the financial meltdown in 2008.

“Over the next 12 to 15 months, President Obama says the world's largest automaker, which has been turning a healthy profit since 2010, must buy back its remaining 500 million shares from the government. But, unlike the bank bailouts, the government rescue of GM won't result in a payout for its taxpaying saviors.”

WWF Awards for Innovative ’Climate Solver’ Award To China Firms: “The World Wide Fund for Nature announced the four winners of its first Climate Solver China Awards in Beijing last week, the first time it selected winners outside Sweden where the initiative began.”

Do Not Buy From James McKirdy; 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid Review; South Africa Solar & Wind Project Orders; High-Speed Rail For Georgia… (Cleantech & Climate Change News Roundup) was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Permitting — A Nightmare For The US Solar Industry

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 04:46 AM PST

Solar permitting is a b**** in the US. We’ve known that for awhile, but a new report on the matter from Clean Power Finance confirms that. The report (PDF), supported by the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, comes to the following key findings:

  • Permitting processes vary widely among locales and usually involve 2 distinct agencies (and up to 5 agencies), each with different processes.
  • More than 1 in 3 installers avoid selling an average of 3.5 jurisdictions because of associated permitting difficulties.
  • AHJs require, on average, nearly 8 work weeks to complete their tasks. The staff time of the installer, however, averages just 14.25 hours.
  • There are likely significant opportunities for installers to reduce costs by improving processes around customer acquisitions and operations.

The fact that a ton of installers simply avoid going into certain jurisdictions because of their horrible permitting processes is concerning.

We’ve discussed the huge difference between the cost of going solar in the US vs in Germany a number of times. Additionally, a number of studies have shown that the difference isn’t due to hardware costs but to “soft costs” such as permitting costs, customer acquisition costs, labor costs, and overhead. Here are a couple charts on the matter (also included in “Renewable Energy Big Pic: Part 2“):

Bottom line: we really need to get our permitting costs down, and simplify permitting processes across the nation, as well as addressing other solar power soft costs.

Permitting — A Nightmare For The US Solar Industry was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Energy Efficiency In The Office

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 04:00 AM PST

As the New Year approaches, everyone is making resolutions. Of course, we at CleanTechnica have got a few suggestions of our own, courtesy of Evans Easy Space. So, you almighty office managers out there, take heed of these tips for energy efficiency:

Notable, if you’re in the US rather than the UK, you’d look for appliances with a good Energy Star rather than a good Energy Saving Trust rating.

If you’re hungering for more office energy efficiency tips, check out Green Living Ideas‘ list or invest in an app that shuts down your computer screen as soon as you step away from it.

Energy Efficiency In The Office was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Solar Gangnam Style + Happy Holidays (VIDEO)

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 03:31 AM PST

Ready for one more Gangnam Style parody to wrap up the year? Of course you are. In all seriousness, I think this is my favorite of the many Gangnam Style parodies. Great stuff. Great messaging. Great video. Have a quick view:

Solar Gangnam Style + Happy Holidays (VIDEO) was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Feed-In Tariffs 101

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 03:09 AM PST

One of our readers, a top clean energy analyst/expert, dropped an excellent little document about feed-in tariffs into the comments of one of our posts the other day — Feed-in Tariffs: The Proven Road Not Taken… Why Not?. For anyone not that familiar with feed-in tariffs, this is the document to get caught up on them. It also includes some useful nuggets of information (and a good example of how to talk about feed-in tariffs) to those more familiar with the world-leading clean energy policy.

I highly encourage checking out the doc, but two charts or salient pieces of information not included in it that I think are worth a view are these from John Farrell:

While checking it out, I decided to just pull out a few of the key points for those who won’t take the time to read the full doc (it’s really not very long, but I know how tight time is). Here are those points:

What Are Feed-In Tariffs?

First of all, a quick summary of what these awkwardly named babies are:

“Feed-in tariffs (FIT) are a policy mechanism  designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies. Producers of renewable energy are paid a set rate for the electricity they produce, usually differentiated according to the technology used (wind, solar, biomass, and the size of the installation. FITs guarantee that anyone who generates electricity from a renewable energy source—whether they are a homeowner, small business, or large electric utility—is able to sell that electricity into the grid and receive long-term payments for each kilowatt-hour produced.”

Germany: 24x More Solar PV

Germany is the clear global leader for installed solar PV, and FITs have been key to its success. “To illustrate the effectiveness of the FIT in Germany, the installed capacity of solar PV in Germany has increased from approximately 1 GW in 2004 (1 billion watts—the rough equivalent to the output of one nuclear power plant) to over 24 GW at the end of 2011. While at the same time the price of the FIT has decreased from over .50 to .60 euro's cents per kWh to less than .20 eurocents per kWh, which incidentally, is actually cheaper than the average retail electricity rate in Germany….

“Germany, a country that receives half the average insolation that the US receives, set a 2010 target of 12.5 percent share of renewable energy in electric generation in 2000. In 2007, they surpassed that goal with 15.1 percent, 20 percent better and two years ahead of schedule. Since Germany has launched their FIT program, approximately 35 to 40 countries have followed suit and implemented their own FIT program.”

They Ain’t Just In Germany

“More than 80 jurisdictions around the world now use or have used FITs to pay for new renewable generation. In fact, FITs now dominate policy for renewable energy worldwide, with 60 percent more jurisdictions—states, provinces and entire countries—using FITs than are now using quota systems such as Renewable Portfolio Standards or Renewable Energy Standards.”

“It is an interesting note that in 2006 China avoided implementing a FIT, taking the view that FITs triggered too rapid market growth…. In 2011, however, the Chinese implemented a FIT program, and their domestic market is now booming, with Chinese solar manufacturing having scaled up to the point where it can address this huge new market without reliance on imports.”

FITs Save Money

“In 2008, Germany's additional cost for their national FIT was $3.2 billion euros. The return for the cost of the FIT calculated by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment was:
» $7.8 billion euros from reduced amounts of fossil and nuclear fuels purchased
» $9.2 billion euros saved from the avoidance of external costs”

So, Who’s Opposed To FITs?

“The number one opponent to FITs is the local electric utility. These utilities argue that FITs work contrary to the market, but most utilities are not driven by the ‘market’—they are monopolies, and monopolies, by definition, do not respond to market forces. Positive results in a developed country like Germany show that FITs are far more market-oriented than monopolies.

“Furthermore, powerful contributors, such as utilities and fossil fuel companies, do not want infringement on their businesses, and will oppose efforts to kick-start an industry that will compete against them. But, there is no economically valid opposition to FIT's if the primary consideration is the welfare of the country and the long-term health of the planet.”

Christmas Wish/Dream

One of my top Christmas wishes (or dreams) is that FITs will get a lot more attention and implementation in the US in the coming year. One can dream…

Again, check out the full feed-in tariff 101 here.

Feed-In Tariffs 101 was originally published on: CleanTechnica

10 Big Energy Statistics From 2012

Posted: 23 Dec 2012 02:29 AM PST

The good folks at Opower recently put together an interesting post on some top energy statistics from the year. Reposted from its blog, here’s the full article:


Sometimes energy makes headlines, sometimes it doesn't.  But it almost always has important implications for the global economy, the environment, and our day-to-day lives.

Here are 10 energy statistics from 2012 that capture some of the most noteworthy trends of the year, and that will shape the energy world in the years to come.

Natural gas, one of the three key fossil fuels in our energy economy (along with coal and petroleum), continues to ascend as a major force.

One prominent example: during the month of April, for the first time ever documented in the US, the amount of electrical generation from natural gas was equal to the amount generated from coal, which has historically been the country's predominant fuel for power plants. This moment has been on its way for a few years now, as natural gas' share of electricity generation has been steadily increasing, while coal's share has been steadily declining (now around 42% on average, down from 52% in 2000).

The fuel's growing role in the US is tied to the recent boom in gas production from previously untapped shale formations (e.g. in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas), which as of September 2012 account for 35% of the country's dry natural gas production (compared to just 2% ten years ago). The plentiful supply of natural gas helped cause the fuel's price to dip to a ten-year low earlier this year ($2.75 per thousand cubic feet), making it more competitive relative to other energy supply sources, including renewable energy (which now accounts for 13% of US electricity generation, mostly in the form of hydropower). [Editor's note: In the US, we still don't price carbon dioxide and methane pollution. Additionally, water and health externalities of natural gas are not taken into account in the price, partly because of fracking's exemption from the Clean Water Act, something slipped into place while Bush and Cheney were in office. In other words, the price of natural gas is artificially low.]

Smartphone sales volumes in 2012 were huge  – estimated at 717 million retail shipments worldwide (a 45% lift over last year).

But their energy consumption is minuscule.

study by Opower in September revealed that charging the iPhone 5 costs just $0.41 per year, and charging the Droid Galaxy SIII costs just $0.53.

The collective energy demand of all those phones is nothing to sneeze at, but in the bigger picture, a global increase in smartphone usage is likely to cause lower overall energy consumption…

How so? Many consumers now use their smartphones to do things (e.g. internet, media, games) that they used to do on bigger, energy-hogging devices (e.g. computers, televisions, and game consoles).

Source: Opower (September 2012)

According to a report published in November by the International Energy Agency, the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's leading oil producer by 2017, and will become a net oil exporter by 2030. The US will see a significant increase in its onshore crude oil production over the next decade, while improved fuel efficiency in transportation will also lead to a gradual decrease in oil imports.

These two trends indicate that the country will become less reliant on energy imports. The US today imports about one-fifth of its total energy needs, but is projected to be more than 90% self-sufficient in how it consumes energy by 2040.

2012 was a sizzling year. Through the end of November, the year's national average temperature was 3.3°F above the 20th-century average, and 1.0°F warmer than the previous record-setting January-November period (in 1934).

Across the country, blistering temperatures triggered new records for hourly electricity demand in multiple states, from Idaho to the Carolinas. Outlier's analysis shows that when temperatures soar, home energy consumption can spike even higher, as Americans crank up their air-conditioners: compared with an average summer day, homes use up to 40% more electricity when the mercury surges past 100°F.

Nor is it cheap to address this dynamic. To ensure smooth and cost-effective management of the electric grid on extreme-heat days, US-based utility companies are budgeting around $1.3 billion per year on programs that are specifically designed to address peak energy demand.

Consumers now rank efficiency as their highest priority when shopping for a vehicle, helping to drive the record-breaking gas mileage of new cars sold in America (up about 23% since 2004).

In addition, stricter fuel economy standards, adopted by Congress in a bipartisan bill in 2007, have now taken effect and will rise to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. The European Union's average auto fuel efficiency is already around that level, and is headed toward 48.6 mpg by 2015.

Hybrid and electric vehicles are on the rise too. November was the biggest ever month for electric-vehicle sales in the US, pushing the year-to-date sales figure to 47,500. Though that's only around 0.4% of US automotive sales this year, utilities have indicated that the national electricity grid is prepared for those numbers to grow significantly.

Utilities around the world continue to undergo an infrastructural transformation that is changing the way customers and energy companies interact with energy data.

The number of smart meters in the US has grown more than fivefold during the last 5 years. There are now more than 36 million US homes with smart meters, which enable real-time communication of electricity usage data (and in some cases natural gas data, too). Real-time energy information can offer benefits to utility companies (e.g. pinpointing outages and monitoring power quality) as well as customers (e.g. understanding one's usage patterns can empower customers to shift energy usage to times of day when energy prices may be lower).

It's projected that more than half of US households will have a smart meter by mid-decade. And market researchers envision that the worldwide market for smart grid data analytics will grow steadily through 2020, with cumulative worldwide spending from 2012-2020 totaling more than $34 billion.

Two new nuclear reactors are expected to go online in Georgia by 2017, after they received federal regulatory approval this February – marking the first time since 1978 that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has granted a license to build a new reactor.

The project cost for getting these reactors built and online is estimated at $14 billion; the reactors will be able to produce 2,200 megawatts of power.

Nuclear power provides the US with about 18% of its electricity. Of the 104 operating nuclear reactors at 64 plants across the US, about half are over 30 years old. The reactors now under construction in Georgia are the first among many that are being contemplated: 16 other plants across the country have applications with the the NRC to build 25 new reactors. [Editor's note: ratepayers, not shareholders, are overwhelmingly the ones who will have to cover any cost overruns... which are pretty much guaranteed with nuclear power projects.]

Elsewhere in the world, Japan has responded to its March 2011 Fukushima incident by shifting away from nuclear energy. Just two years ago, around 50 nuclear reactors generated around 30% of the country's electricity. As of this week, only 2 of them are in operation, while the others are undergoing safety review. The Japanese government announced in September that it plans to phase out its reliance on nuclear power by around 2040. Germany, Switzerland, and France have also signaled an intention to shift away from nuclear generation in the coming decades.

In the latest update to its analysis on US energy flows, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory released a report in October showing that despite improvements in technology and efficiency, the US still wastes more energy than it uses. The country is just 43.8% energy efficient.

Take a look at the energy flow diagram below. Of the 97.3 quadrillion British Thermal Units (known as "quads") of raw energy inputs that flowed into the US economy in 2011, only 41.7 quads were constructively used at the end of the day (as "energy services"). The other 55.6 quads were, in essence, wasted. This waste, summarized in the top right of the flow diagram below, is euphemistically classified as "rejected energy."

Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (October 2012)

Most of the economy's energy waste stems from the electricity production sector (because most power plants are relatively inefficient) and the transportation sector (internal-combustion vehicles are relatively inefficient, but as indicated above, they are getting better).

A reduction in consumption by 1.7 terawatt hours (i.e. 1.7 billion kilowatt hours) translates into reducing household electric and gas bills by nearly $200 million, and cutting greenhouse gas pollution by an amount equivalent to taking 250,000 passenger vehicles off the road for a year.

In early 2013, Opower will hit a cumulative energy savings milestone of 2 terawatt hours. From there, we'll keep up the momentum throughout the year, doing our part to empower customers in the US and around the globe to become more energy efficient.

We're confident that our efforts will, at the very least, help move our economy toward a future in which it uses more energy than it wastes (see 56.2% statistic above).

Special thanks to Katie DeWitt, David Moore, Efrat Levush, Ashley Sudney, and Peter Kjeldgaard.

Follow @OpowerOutlier on Twitter

Author's note: The analysis and commentary presented above solely reflect the views of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of Opower's utility partners.

10 Big Energy Statistics From 2012 was originally published on: CleanTechnica

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