Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Show Me The (Fossil Fuel) Money

Posted: 29 Dec 2012 09:13 AM PST

Have you ever read news coverage of an energy or climate issue and thought to yourself, "Why is that spokesperson defending fossil fuels, slamming clean energy, and denying climate change?" As you may suspect, it's because they receive financial support from pro-fossil fuel interests – a fact rarely mentioned in media coverage.

"Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page," a new report from the Checks and Balances Project, reveals financial ties between pro–fossil fuel think tanks and the world's biggest fossil fuel interests, with a transactional relationship of funding for national media coverage.

According to the report, fossil fuel interests gave at least $16.3 million dollars in direct funding to the ten most-quoted pro–fossil fuel advocacy organizations from 2006-2010. Internal materials suggest a strategy of targeting funds from those with the most to lose by a shift toward the clean energy economy.

"Contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate (change) policies." -Heartland Institute fundraising document

Fossil Fuel Funds Buy Fossil-Friendly Quotes

So what does all that cash buy? Media coverage – and quite a lot of it.

From 2007-2011, Checks and Balances found these funded groups and their policy experts were mentioned at least 1,010 times in coverage of energy issues in America's 58 most-read newspapers, plus the Associated Press and Politico. That averages four mentions per week during on some of the most high-stakes clean energy and climate policy issues of our time.

These organizations also enjoyed heavier coverage in some of America's most influential newspapers. 31% of all coverage came in six outlets – the Associated Press, Politico, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Christian Science Monitor. (The Wall Street Journal was not included because its articles are not publicly searchable).

Unsurprisingly, a majority of their quotes supported fossil fuel sources while attacking clean energy or environmental support, often using similar messaging:

  • 43% attacked environmental or energy regulations
  • 18% attacked clean energy technologies
  • 17% promoted fossil fuels

Context is Key, Disclosure is Not

While this may not seem like an overwhelming amount of media mentions, a little context puts the situation into perspective. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a decades-old federally funded entity created to advance energy technology, was only mentioned 236 times in the same publications that mentioned the fossil-fuel interests 1,010 over the same period.

But the large amount of pro-fossil coverage wouldn't be unfair except for one major fact – the quoted spokespeople or media outlets only disclosed financial ties to fossil fuel interests 6% of the time. In more than half of all coverage (53%), media outlets only mentioned the organization by name, with another third of mentions only including vague ideology (conservative, 17%; free market, 8%; libertarian, 6%).

Difficult Problem, Simple Solution

Add it all up, and a sinister picture becomes clear: the fossil fuel industry provides direct funding to select policy analysts, who use similar messaging to promote fossil fuels while attacking clean energy, across the most influential newspapers in America, without disclosing funding sources that compel their positions.

And the worst part is, it's working. Credible estimates of federal fossil fuel subsidies approach $52 billion annually, while clean energy funding mechanisms like the Production Tax Credit are left to wither on the vine. Media coverage isn’t solely to blame — lobbying absolutely plays a role — but it’s a big aspect in how policymakers determine positions.

Fortunately, one simple solution to this problem exists – transparent disclosure of funding sources from spokespeople. Checks and Balances advocates media ask one question for quoted sources: "Do you get money, directly or indirectly, from interests that stand to benefit from what you are saying?"

That’s a question worth asking. But my money’s on these fossil-funded spokespeople avoiding the answer.

Show Me The (Fossil Fuel) Money was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Tesla Superchargers Set Up On East Coast

Posted: 29 Dec 2012 08:57 AM PST

Tesla has announced the locations of its first two supercharger electric vehicle charging stations on the US East Coast.

These charging stations allow Tesla Model S owners to charge for free, and in a relatively short 30-minute period.

The charging stations are located in Milford, Conneticut, and Wilmington, Delaware.

Tesla Motors eventually wants to set up a cross-country network of chargers that would enable Tesla Model S owners to drive from coast to coast, with some of them being solar-powered, too!

It is certainly cool that the nicest electric cars on the market come with this free service.

Source: Gas 2.0

Tesla Superchargers Set Up On East Coast was originally published on: CleanTechnica

MidAmerican Wind Completes 300 MW Of Wind Projects

Posted: 29 Dec 2012 08:21 AM PST

MidAmerican Wind has announced the completion of two large wind projects: Pinyon Pines Wind I, and Pinyon Pines Wind II.

This projects comprise 100 3MW Vestas wind turbines of the V90 model, and are located near Tehachapi, California.

"The completion of the Pinyon Pines Wind I and Pinyon Pines Wind II projects bring MidAmerican Wind's renewable energy portfolio to 381 megawatts," said Tom Budler, president of MidAmerican Wind. "We are pleased to have met our timeline for building the two projects and placing them in-service before year-end 2012."

Southern California Edison will purchase electricity from the two wind farms pursuant to the terms of the PPA (Power Purchase Agreement).

Source: Business Wire

MidAmerican Wind Completes 300 MW Of Wind Projects was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Measuring The Cost Of Energy, Drop By Drop

Posted: 29 Dec 2012 08:09 AM PST

As far as interrelated water and energy challenges go, the case of the natural gas drilling method known as fracking is a doozy. Natural gas has been touted as a relatively cheap, less-polluting replacement for coal and petroleum, and that's fine as far as global warming management goes. But on a local level, here in the U.S., evidence is steadily mounting that the vast quantities of chemical-laced water used in fracking can contaminate local water resources, put public health at risk, and disrupt communities that are already under economic distress.

Masdar Engage water and energy challenge

Fracking is about to get a public awareness boost from the new Matt Damon movie Promised Land, but that’s only part of the picture. Aside from the local impacts of both drilling and wastewater disposal, the fracking boom has already had a ripple effect on another water-energy nexus, involving coal.

Here in the U.S., coal mining has been a significant source of water contamination for generations. Researchers have also drawn a connection between long-term economic malaise and negative public health outcomes in coal mining regions.

One solution, of course, is to replace coal with less polluting forms of energy, and that is exactly what has been occurring in the U.S. as wind, solar, and other alternatives come on line. However, at least for the time being, natural gas has been chief among the alternative fuels replacing coal at U.S. power plants.

That has factored into an increase in pressure to export coal, with a consequent impact on local port communities and greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation.

The fracking boom in new areas like the Marcellus shale region has also set off an internal chain reaction, squeezing some older-gas producing states out of the domestic market. In consequence, legislators from those states have begun pressing for more natural gas exports.

Combine the coal, gas, and alternative energy trends together and ultimately you have a scenario under which the U.S. invests billions in developing safer, healthier domestic renewable energy resources, while fossil fuel production continues to put local communities and their water resources at increasing risk in order to supply overseas markets.

To add insult to injury, researchers are beginning to question whether or not natural gas really is a less-polluting fossil fuel than coal, due to methane leakage at drilling sites among other issues.

That brings us right up to the question for bloggers posed for the upcoming international conference, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2013: "What steps can individuals, businesses or world leaders take to address the most pressing and often interrelated water and energy challenges?"

The answer is obvious to anyone who has undergone a 12-step program: admit that water and energy are bound at the hip (not just “often interrelated”), learn from past mistakes, adopt new behaviors, and help others who are trying to do the same.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but a good place to start, here in the cradle of democracy, would be to ensure that local citizens have the regulatory framework, legislative support, and access to the information they need in order to make rational choices and reach collective decisions by vote and by compromise, working together to have a real say in determining their future.

Readers please note: this article has been entered in the “Masdar Engage” competition for Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2013. Follow the link and vote if you like.

Image (cropped): Water by mrsdkrebs

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Measuring The Cost Of Energy, Drop By Drop was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Negative European Power Prices Seen Sunday Through Thursday Due To Strong Wind Power Supply

Posted: 29 Dec 2012 03:02 AM PST

The European Energy Exchange has seen the price of electricity turn negative during certain hours of the day Sunday through Thursday of las week. This is largely due to a strong supply of wind power combined with relatively low electricity demand, which is partly triggered by warmer than average temperatures.

Negative prices are expected to return again Sunday through Tuesday.

We’ve reported on such occurrences before, but this is still something that I’m sure many people are unfamiliar with, so let’s run through a quick rehash:

On the wholesale electricity market, the lowest bidder looking to supply the grid with electricity wins. Since wind and solar power have fuel costs of $0, they can bid lower than coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc (which do have fuel costs) — naturally, this brings down the price of electricity on the wholesale market.

When the supply of solar and wind rises and electricity demand drops, the effect is strengthened.

Furthermore, with subsidies for wind and solar power production, wind and solar power producers can actually bid below $0 per unit of electricity and still make a profit. We’ve seen in happen in Germany due to high solar power production in the spring and summer, and we’ve seen it happen in Texas due to high wind power production, and it has happened many other places as well.

Wind, solar, and low demand aren’t the only causes of this phenomenon, however. Nuclear and hydro are also often implicated. Nuclear and hydro power plants can’t easily shut down or start up, so it may be more worth it to them to pay a little to put electricity on the grid for a short time than lose revenue from being shut down when it could be selling electricity for a profit.

Negative pricing isn’t that big of an issue, of course, but it’s an indicator of the rather noteworthy fact that wind and solar power drive down wholesale electricity prices. Unfortunately, that isn’t always passed on to retail electricity customers.

Negative European Power Prices Seen Sunday Through Thursday Due To Strong Wind Power Supply was originally published on: CleanTechnica

EPA Head Lisa Jackson To Leave Post In 2013

Posted: 29 Dec 2012 02:12 AM PST

Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa P. Jackson has announced that she will step down after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January.

Jackson, 50, has faced strong opposition from the GOP while heading the EPA, with continual threats of EPA defunding. She also had to accept Obama’s order to delay smog regulations prior to the 2012 election.

Some of the wins the EPA has had under Jackson include the push for higher fuel efficiency in vehicles, the launch of the Environmental Technologies Export initiative, and new CO2 emissions standards for new power plants.

During Jackson’s tenure, she made the rounds of TV, appearing on Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, the Rachel Maddow Show, and plenty of other shows.

Jackson, a New Jersey native and trained chemist, said in her press release that she is ready for new challenges and time with her family.

There’s no word on who will be Obama’s next pick for EPA chief.

Source: The Guardian
Image: Lisa Jackson via Shutterstock 

EPA Head Lisa Jackson To Leave Post In 2013 was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Using Thermodynamics & 100-Year-Old Technology To Break The $20 Per MWh Barrier

Posted: 29 Dec 2012 02:05 AM PST

This is a guest post by one of our regular, cleantech-obsessed readers, David Fuchs. Clearly, David thinks he’s on to something big. Enjoy the article!

For years, the production of energy has fascinated me. Over the past 20 years, I have experimented with solar cells made via inkjet printer, a hydraulically coupled compressor and turbine based on Tesla's turbine, vertical wind turbines, high-temperature cracking of water, high COP heat pumps, all the different varieties of Stirling engines, and many other energy projects. Continuously going back to old projects to incrementally improve them and make them perfect has been fun, except perfect is the enemy of finished.

The week long power outage here in New Jersey, after hurricane Sandy, made me realize that we need simple, scalable, cheap, and locally produced power. Removing all distractions and giving an engineer of German lineage a week to think on a problem often gets the problem solved. After pulling out the 7-pocket expanding file with all my past Stirling designs, a couple notepads, my favorite gel pens, a dry erase board, and some reference books, I began designing. As with any engineering project, you need to describe what you want to accomplish, and your limiting factors. Due to cost constraints, engineering is always compromise.

What is the goal? An always-on (24 x 7 x 365) power supply that is inexpensive to produce, can be bulk produced with readily available materials, can be manufactured in any nation using 1950′s or earlier technology, and has a working lifespan greater than 20 years. (That sounds really simple, doesn't it?)

What are the design criteria?

  • Low Temperature Differential (LTD) Stirling based design.
  • All parts must be designed for high-speed manufacture and assembly.
  • All materials used must be inexpensive and readily available.
  • The Stirling design must have the least number of wear points possible.
  • It must use inexpensive solar thermal panels for gathering energy.
  • The solar panels must be easily produced in an automated fashion.
  • It must have inexpensive (dirt cheap) energy storage.
  • It must produce at least 3 kW of power continuously (24 x 7 x 365 x 20).
  • On a daily basis, it must be capable of gathering two to three times the energy required for a 24-hour period, on the least sunny day of the year. (NREL solar radiation manual)
  • It must be capable of storing the energy required for 3 to 5 days of continuous usage with no energy input.
  • Any person with basic mechanical skills should be able to install the system.
  • The total Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) must be under $20 per MWh.

The basic system layout.

Semi-Steampunk Energy Flow Diagram

This system layout image represents the individual pieces and the energy flows between the individual components. The flow controller controls the heat distribution between components.

The system consists of six main components:

  1. Solar thermal cells for gathering energy.
  2. An insulated thermal mass for storing the energy (dirt or water).
  3. A heat radiator for disposing of waste heat.
  4. An LTD Stirling engine for generating energy.
  5. A flow controller for for fluid flow, preventing energy loss from the system, and increasing efficiency.
  6. An inverter to connect to the grid and convert DC power from the generator to AC usable in your house and power grid.

Each component is designed to be as inexpensive, modular, easily replaceable, and mass producible  as possible.

Solar Thermal Panels absorb the sun’s energy in the form of heat. The price for solar thermal panels averages $150 per square meterExtrude plastic cased panels can reduce the cost to $33-$47 USD per square meter, with slightly lower efficiency.

Thermal Mass is a fancy engineering way of saying “insulated pile of dirt or bucket of water.” This is used to store the heat absorbed through the solar panels. The cost of this varies greatly. It can be dirt insulated all around with hay bales and covered with plastic (~$600 USD), four 2,500 gallon water tanks filled with water or sand (~$4,700 USD), a 9 x 20 shipping container insulated and filled with dirt or sand (~$1,100 USD), or an insulated hole in the ground (~$800 USD). This includes the cost of the aluminum tubing which runs from $1.50 to $2.00 per pound. There should be multiple thermal masses, or zones within a single thermal mass, each filled to thermal saturation in sequence.

Flow Controller is used to transfer liquid to and from each of the components. It is designed to keep as much heat in the system, and reuse the remaining heat as often as possible. When the system is energy saturated, or when there is no alternative, it will dump the energy out via the radiator. The multiple thermal masses or zones, at different temperatures, and external temperatures at different times of day, make waste heat reuse an efficient way to extract as much energy from the system as possible. This will run $150 to $300 USD.

Heat Radiator is used to radiate waste heat from the system, or as a heat sink when the system is saturated. This can be a standard aluminum fin radiator and fan, a cold body of water, a hole or trench in the ground with a pipe running into or through it, or any thing else at a lower temperature. The cost varies with type of radiator.

LTD Stirling is the key to this system. The design uses two separate heating and cooling chambers (upper and lower) with a shared piston. The volume is 9 cubic feet (68 gallons). It has 500 sq ft of radiator surface area (floor area of a large two car garage). It is 6.5 feet tall, 3.5 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. It can be vertically or rack mounted. And it is designed to produce up to 6 kW of power, but will be run at 3-4 kW for greater efficiency. The larger these units are, the greater the radiant surface area. The slower they run, the closer they can get to Carnot efficiencies. The full design specs are available here. These units can be daisy-chained together, one to the next. The cost of this device is between $180 and $350 USD.

Grid Synchronized Inverter allows you to attach to the power grid. These are now commodity items and the price for a UL Listed 5 kW unit is from $1,000 to $2,500 depending on manufacturer.

System Cost is based on the location and available kWh/m^2/day (kilowatt hours per meter squared per day) on the least sunny month of the year — for me, that is December. According to the NREL solar radiation manual for where I am, 50 miles south of New York City, that is 1.9 kWh/m^2/day. Over the period of a year, the power varies greatly from 1.9 – 6.2  kWh/m^2/day.

3 kW continuous output, over a 24-hour period, with 30% efficiency, requires we gather 240 kWh to produce the 72 kWh this system will produce over the period of a day. One of our design criteria is, we gather 2 – 3 times the power required for a given day. For safety, the further north you go, the higher the multiple should be. For where I am, it is ~2.5, for Texas 1.9 – 2, for Maine 3.0.

Panel Cost
600 kWh = 2.5 x 240 kWh
315.78 square meter = 600 kWh / 1.9 kWh/m^2/day
$10,428 = 315.78 sq meter * $33 per square meters

Other Costs
$1,100 – Thermal Mass (Shipping container or insulated hole in the ground)
$250 – Flow Controller
$200 – Heat Radiator
$250 – LTD Stirling
$1,500 – Grid Synchronized Inverter

$13,728 — Total Parts Cost

NOTE: None of these calculations take into account the reuse and recycling of the energy gathered, by cycling the energy into other zones or thermal masses at lower temperatures. (IE 90 C –> 60 C –> 30 C –> radiator, where "–>" is the LTD Stirling, and the temperatures are of different zones or thermal masses). Above are worst-case calculations.  

Designing the system based on the day-to-day data for Newark, New Jersey over the same time period, taking into account energy reuse and smart energy management, we can reduce our multiple to 2 and only require 288 kWh worth of panels, reducing the panel cost to $5002.10 USD and the system cost to $8302 USD. With economies of scale and alternate production techniques, increasing the thermal efficiency of the panels (1), further cost reductions are possible, reducing the system cost another ~$3,000 USD, making the system cost approximately $5500 USD. The cost would be lower in southern states like FL, TX, AZ, southern CA. 

Total Energy Output over the period of a day is 72 kWh of energy. With a lifespan a 25 years, the total power output is…

657,000 kWh = 25 year * 365 days * 24 hours * 3 kWh

657 MWh total energy produced over the lifespan of the Stirling.

Levelized Cost of Energy or LCOE is basically the the cost of the generating plant, fuel, and maintenance over its life span — minus subsidies — divided by the total energy generated over the period of a generators life span.

The LCOE for the first non-optimized design is $13,728 / 657 MWh or $20.89 USD per MWh. Optimizing just a little brings the LCOE to $8,302 / 657 MWh or $12.66 USD per MWh. Allowing for economies of scale, automation, home building techniques, reduced energy costs in manufacture, and other things this article didn't have room for, gets the LCOE to $5,500 / 657 MWh or $8.37 USD per MWh.


Comparing the current cost of energy at ~$100 USD per MWh to a system based on a redesign of a 100 – 200 year old technology shows that sub $20 USD per MWh energy is possible with technology available today. It also shows that renewable energy can be far cheaper than fossil fuels with a little creativity.

David Fuchs is a classically trained engineer and programmer. He is involved in open sourcing, software, and hardware. Current interests: 3d printing and nanotechnology, predicting the future of technology, and low-cost power production in developing nations using material at hand. You can check out his website for more of his writing, and you can contact David on Google +

Using Thermodynamics & 100-Year-Old Technology To Break The $20 Per MWh Barrier was originally published on: CleanTechnica

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