Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Community Solar Shouldn’t Be This Hard

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 12:00 PM PST

Sunlight falls almost anywhere, in every community. So it would make sense for any number of people in that community to team up to harness the sun and make clean, local power.

Sadly, it isn’t as easy as it should be, as illustrated by the Vashon Community Solar Project in Washington State.

The Vashon project is being organized by a local nonprofit called the Backbone Campaign, which has a history of tackling tough issues. But the unfortunate barriers to community-based solar are even challenging this dynamic nonprofit.

The proposed project is a small commercial-scale (50-66 kW) solar array located at a recycling transfer station, with electricity generation reducing bills for King County, and the state's production incentive accruing to local investors. The project wouldn't happen without Washington's community solar production incentive, worth $1.08 per kWh (for community-owned projects with Washington-made solar modules, located on public property).

Prospective investors are forecast to make about $135 per year off their $1000 invested, enough to come out ahead by about $75 by the time the state's incentive expires in 2020. At that point, the project may be sold to King County, or to a third party (that may lease the system to the county), or donated to the county or a nonprofit organization. Any of these options would result in some recompense for investors.

Some interesting twists for the project:

  • The nonprofit status of the project makes it ineligible for federal incentives, like the 30% tax credit. On the flip side, it also means the project does not need a tax equity partner, a middleman that would take a big cut of the tax credit.
  • The use of Washington-made solar modules doubles the effective incentive to $1.08 from $0.54, but at the expense of a very high installed cost (over $8 per Watt). This is likely due to the cost of the locally made modules, as a typical installed cost for a commercial solar array of this size is closer to $4 per Watt.
  • Prospective investors have to have a previous relationship to the Backbone campaign. This probably means it is considered a "private solicitation" and not subject to securities regulation (indeed, the Q&A declares [pdf] "The CSP is not registered as a security with the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions").
  • The state incentive is paid through June 2020, so every extra day it takes to complete the project is a lost opportunity.


Despite the challenges, community solar can solve a lot of problems if it succeeds.  It lets individuals without a suitable roofspace for solar (75% of Americans) participate in clean, local power. It lowers the cost by achieving economies of scale.  And it can support the local economy, by stopping up “equity leaks” as energy dollars flow out.

But the Vashon community solar project shows – like the other projects featured in our 2010 report – that too often community solar only succeeds against the odds.

Community Solar Shouldn’t Be This Hard was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Toyota Pursues Magnesium-Ion Batteries Due To Breakthrough

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 11:54 AM PST

Toyota is now pursuing magnesium-ion battery technology because a breakthrough means that it can now be cheaper and more energy-dense, translating to longer than average range for electric vehicles that use them.

Image Credit: Nissan

Safety was not mentioned, but if they are as safe as lithium-ion batteries, that is surely acceptable.

The anode of these magnesium-ion batteries is made of tin, and they use the same  electrolytes as lithium-ion batteries.

Magnesium-ion batteries are more energy dense because they have a positive charge of two, unlike one for lithium-ion batteries. Magnesium is an abundant material. This is also important to the sustainability and cost of the batteries. Lithium-ion car batteries usually cost $0.50 per Wh of energy storage capacity. It’s unclear yet what the cost of these magnesium-ion batteries is.

"The potential is definitely there," Singh says. "There are some improvements we need to make to its performance, which we've addressed in the paper as well. But overall, we're very excited."

Lithium-ion batteries are what many would probably consider lifesavers for the electric vehicle industry, because they make it possible for the vehicles to be fast and efficient, and they facilitate range exceeding 200 miles per charge, or even 300 miles in the case of the Tesla Model S.

Older lead-acid battery technology achieved extremely short range (short as in 30-40 miles), poor efficiency (as low as 50%, meaning that they wasted half the energy that passed through them), poor performance due to their sluggish rate of discharge, and a relatively short lifespan.

Despite all of this, the limitations of lithium-ion batteries are the official problem holding back the electric vehicle industry. A lack of good battery technology has been the limitation of electric vehicles from day one.

Source: Technology Review

Toyota Pursues Magnesium-Ion Batteries Due To Breakthrough was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Say Goodbye To The Fluorescent Buzz

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 09:41 AM PST

Scientists at Wake Forest University have developed a flicker-free, shatterproof alternative for large-scale lighting that they claim is at least twice as efficient as CFL technology and less expensive than LEDs. The lighting is based on field-induced polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) technology, which uses a nano-engineered polymer matrix to convert the charge into light.

FIPEL Lighting

"People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes, and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them…The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more." – David Carroll, Director, Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, Wake Forest.

The device is made of three layers of moldable white-emitting polymer blended with a small amount of nanomaterials that glow when stimulated to create a bright white light similar to that of sunlight. The lighting can be made in any color and shape, and it is nearly indestructible and long-lasting (David Carroll has one that has worked for about a decade).

Carroll's team is the first to make a large-scale FIPEL that can replace current office lighting and is based on natural white light. Beyond office and home lighting, Carroll sees potential uses for large display lighting, from store marquees to signs on buses and subway cars.

Wake Forest FIPEL Lighting

The research supporting the technology can be found in the peer-reviewed journal, Organic Electronics. Wake Forest is currently working with a company to manufacture the lighting technology and plans to have it in market as early as next year.

Source: Wake Forest University

Say Goodbye To The Fluorescent Buzz was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Marines & Army Duke It Out Over Portable Solar Power

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 09:36 AM PST

In the legendary competition between various branches of the Armed Services, the one being played out right now is probably a first. The Marines and the Army have each embarked on ambitious portable solar power programs that demonstrate just how far solar energy has come since the flower power era. As for getting any of this new technology into civilian hands, it stands to reason that if solar power can hold its own in a combat zone, where life literally depends on it, then it can turn the trick just about anywhere.

marines and army develop portable solar power

Marines and Portable Solar Power

A couple of years ago we noticed that the Marines were experimenting with portable solar panels that were designed to fold out of oversized metal suitcases for easy set-up in the field. That initiative was called the Ground Renewable Expeditionary ENergy System (GREENS).

Now it looks like the Marines, through the Office of Naval Research (ONR), have stepped things up a notch. The Marine Corps’ Renewable Sustainable Expeditionary Power program has just announced an initiative to develop a portable alternative energy system that can ensure a 15-day supply of electricity in the field without the need for any fuel convoys or air drops.

The ultimate goal, according to ONR, is to ensure that the Marine Corps can use renewable resources for all of its electrical needs in the field (fuel for vehicles is another matter) by 2025.

To that end, ONR has enlisted Raytheon, Battelle (the research organization that manages several Department of Energy laboratories) and the solar company Emcore to develop easily transportable hybrid electricity systems that can switch seamlessly between solar power and other fuels.

Army and Portable Solar Power

Meanwhile, the Army has been tracking solar along similar lines. A couple of years ago we noticed that the Army was distributing portable solar power-in-a-backpack kits to Soldiers in Afghanistan.

Ramping it up to the next level, this past summer the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team was trained to use a flexible fuel, smart microgrid field energy system under the Energy to the Edge program. Supplied by the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, the system is designed to reduce dependence on energy and water transportation for remote bases.

Energy to the Edge also improves overall operational efficiency by cutting down down on noise and maintenance issues, compared to petroleum-fueled generators.

Another new Army portable solar initiative that could have a far-ranging impact on civilian energy is the Smart and Green Energy at Base Camps program (SAGE), which launched last summer.

SAGE consists of a 150-person, 10-acre model base camp that can be packed up and shipped in a single cargo aircraft, and set up in four hours.

For that, you get high-efficiency shelters, solar hot water heating, a graywater reycling system, a smart microgrid and other conservation measures. Of particular interest is the fact that all of the equipment is current, off-the-shelf technology.


Energy to the Public

Among the many overlapping angles in the Marine Corps and Army portable/transportable solar initiatives, the one factor that stands out is training and education.

GREENS, Renewable Sustainable Expeditionary Power, Energy to the Edge, and SAGE all rely on a heightened sense of energy awareness in order to get the most out of the new equipment.

One of the clearest expressions of that concept comes from Col. Peter A. Newell, director of the Rapid Equipping Force, who described the awareness of energy management on a Soldier-by-Soldier basis as a “cultural change” for the Army.

The overarching goal of all this is to cut down on the high cost of transporting fossil fuels into combat zones, not just in terms of money but also in human lives. In Newell’s world, each Soldier is highly attuned to the fact that all energy used in the field has a human face.

Military technology has a way of trickling into the civilian world, and if you translate that into civilian terms, you’ve got a culture in which households and communities have more control over the energy they use to get through the day, and more alternatives to using fossil fuels.

If a little friendly competition between the Army and Marine Corps can get us closer to that day, bring it on.

Image: Suitcase by Vintage19Something

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Marines & Army Duke It Out Over Portable Solar Power was originally published on: CleanTechnica

DOE Publishes New Study On Biological Impact Of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC)

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 04:40 AM PST

When it comes to potential new renewable energy sources, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) has a lot going for it. Greenhouse gas emissions and their climate change effects, ongoing ecosystem and biodiversity loss and degradation, and already high fossil fuel prices — with the likelihood of only going higher over time — have come together in alignment to spur serious, government-backed efforts at finding a cost-effective technology capable of generating clean, renewable electricity derived from the natural temperature gradient that exists deep throughout the world’s oceans.

Besides the technological and economic hurdles, the ecological impacts of OTEC systems remain uncertain. Described in a 2011 environmental report on OTEC as "an unprecedented environmental modification [that] must be rigorously evaluated,” the daily flow of a 5 MW pilot OTEC plant has been estimated at more than 2 million cubic meters of water.

A focal point in this regard is the biological and ecological effects of pumping and discharging massive volumes of nutrient-rich deep ocean water up to near surface depths. One cause for concern is the potential for this to result in phytoplankton blooms. Another is the potential entrapment and mortality of organisms in OTEC system intake pipes. A simulation and analysis performed by O’ahu’s Makai Ocean Engineering recently published by the Department of Energy (DOE) indicates that perturbations resulting from operation of a 100MW OTEC plant in the waters off O’ahu would not have significant impacts on phytoplankton reproduction.

The Making of Makai’s Bio-physical OTEC Model

Makai Ocean Engineering has been involved in OTEC research and development since way back in the late 1970s. In late September this year, the DOE published a technical report describing the modeling Makai has done in simulating the "biochemical effects of the nutrient-enhanced seawater plumes that are discharged by one or several 100 megawatt (MW) OTEC plants."

In order to simulate the biochemical response for three classes of phytoplankton, Makai’s biological and physical model entailed setting up grid cells with three-hour time steps for the waters surrounding O’ahu, in conformance with the Environmental Fluid Dynamics Code (EFDC) approved by the EPA.

Makai calibrated the dynamic biological phytoplankton model using data collected for the Hawaii Ocean Time Series (HOTS) project and then had it peer reviewed. The physical oceanography model component made use of "boundary conditions from a surrounding Hawai’i Regional Ocean Model (HROM) operated by the University of Hawai’i and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA)."

Makai ran its model for a "100 MW OTEC plant consisting of four separate ducts discharging a total combined flow rate of 420 cubic meters/second of warm water and 320 m3/s of cold water in a mixed discharge" at a depth of 70 meters. At this depth, the HOTS system observations indicate concentrations of phytoplankton at a density of 10-15 mg of carbon per cubic meter, according to the technical report.

The Results

After first running simulations without the OTEC system in order to calibrate its model with the HOTS system, Makai ran the simulation with the addition of the model for the 100MW OTEC plant.

The researchers, among other things, found that, "because this terminal near-field plume is well below the 1% light limited depths (~120m), no immediate biological utilization of the nutrients occurs.

They explain that, “As the nitrate is advected and dispersed downstream, a fraction of the deep ocean nutrients (< 0.5 umol/kg perturbation) mix upward where they are utilized by the ambient phytoplankton population." They found that this occurs around 25 kilometers downstream from the plant at 110–70 meters depth.

For pico-phytoplankton, the modeling results indicated that "this nutrient perturbation causes a phytoplankton perturbation of approximately 1 mgC/m3 (~10% of average ambient concentrations) that covers an area 10×5 km in size at the 70 to 90m depth. Thus, the perturbations are well within the natural variability of the system, generally corresponding to a 10 to 15% increase above the average pico-phytoplankton biomass."

Furthermore, this perturbation "exhibits a meandering horizontal plume trajectory and spatial extent, but remains similar in magnitude (generally 1-2 mgC/m3)."

Diatom perturbations become more noticeable after three weeks of running the simulation, "when the nearshore diatom population trends towards a greater concentration of 1 to 3 mgC/m3. They note that this increase is a fraction of ambient, background concentrations, "with perturbations remaining within fluctuations of the existing system."

Makai’s researchers conclude by explaining that, "The perturbations were quantified by post-processing each time-step of model simulations without OTEC plants, with identical simulations that included OTEC plumes. Without this post processing, the 10-25% perturbations were obscured by the larger dynamic variations naturally caused by ocean circulation."

DOE Publishes New Study On Biological Impact Of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) was originally published on: CleanTechnica

US Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Bidding Proposal Announced By Obama Administration

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 04:22 AM PST

Despite criticism about the lack of action on climate change policy, the Obama Administration is moving forward with further expanding renewable energy policy. Case in point, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) is opening up bids for offshore wind farming off the Atlantic Coast.

US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Tom Beaudreau, and Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes announced on Friday a proposal to open bids for 278,000 acres of offshore wind energy in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia, the release said.

"Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation's competitiveness in this new energy frontier," said Salazar in the statement.

"We are implementing the President's all-of-the-above strategy by focusing on developing areas with the lowest potential conflicts and the greatest expected gains. As we experience record domestic oil and gas development, we are moving forward at the same time with efforts to ensure that America continues to lead the world at developing the energy of the future," he said.

Set for 2013, these will be the first-ever competitive lease sales for Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) wind energy.

The proposed offshore competitive wind sales is just another attempt to cut oil dependency and US foreign oil use, which is at 50%, the lowest since 1995, according to US government data.

BOEM plans the sales of a total of 277,550 acres in Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, powering up to 1.4 million homes with clean energy.

Meanwhile, the announcement may just be a first step in boosting the overall offshore picture. The Guardian also noted potential projects down the road:

“Other blocks identified include areas of North Carolina and New Jersey. There are also plans to eventually site wind farms on the Pacific Coast, in Oregon and Hawaii.”

Despite the announcement, the impending end of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy projects at the end of this year could put the industry in a stalemate and set back future wind projects.

Nonetheless, the proposed bidding for offshore wind projects will continue to move renewable energy policy forward and put the fossil fuel industry on further notice.

Source: US Department of the Interior

US Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Bidding Proposal Announced By Obama Administration was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Light Therapy Lamps Being Installed At Bus Stops In Swedish Town, Powered By Renewables

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 04:10 AM PST

Swedish energy company Umea Energi has begun to install phototherapy lamps at 30 bus stops throughout the city of Umea, as part of a new pilot program. The program is designed to give people “a little energy kick” while waiting for the bus.


Over 400 miles north of the already northern capital city, Stockholm, the winter days in Umea are very short and without much sunlight. So to address this, Umea Energi decided to install the phototherapy lamps as a way to give people a sense of summer and sunlight during the winter.

According to the company, the light is harmless, and has all of the ultraviolet radiation filtered out. “The American Cancer Society states that while there is no scientific evidence for the use of ultraviolet therapy in treating cancer or other illnesses beyond psoriasis and the suppression of a certain type of skin cancer, light box therapy without the ultraviolet radiation is a ‘proven medical treatment for seasonal affective disorder,’ and that it is currently being explored to treat other types of depression.”

Readers here will be happy to know that the electricity that powers these bus shelter lamps is coming from renewable sources. Umea Energi’s long-term goal is to be carbon neutral by 2018.

Source: CNET
Image Credit: Umea Energi

Light Therapy Lamps Being Installed At Bus Stops In Swedish Town, Powered By Renewables was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Qatar Aiming For 16% Electricity From Solar By 2018

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 04:05 AM PST

Qatar is aiming to generate 16% of its electricity from solar power by 2018, according to Fahad Bin Mohammed al-Attiya, chairman of the organizers of the climate change conference in Doha.


Qatar, an OPEC nation, currently has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and is the world’s current top exporter of liquefied natural gas. Until now, it hasn’t shown any shift towards renewable energy, like the majority of OPEC nations haven’t. Presumably, these countries worry that it may damage the fossil fuel market.

“We are working on a project to develop 1,800 megawatts of solar power,” said Fahad Bin Mohammed al-Attiya. “That will be 16 percent of our total electrical output.” The project is projected to be ready by 2018. Currently, the country receives a negligible amount of their electrify from solar power.

“It makes sense for us,” he said. “We will also have a feed-in tariff system so that people can put solar systems on their roof and contribute to the grid.”

“All these measures have been applied now because solar prices are becoming reasonable and competitive. With the amount of solar hours we have it is economically feasible,” Fahad Bin Mohammed al-Attiya noted.

Qatar has been criticized by environmentalists for its failure to set clear goals for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year, in a report provided to the United Nations, the country wrote:

“Qatar is pursuing voluntarily a national initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as long as they are in line with sustainable development.

“To Qatar, climate change represents a double jeopardy.”

That last line is in reference to the fact that climate change is a threat to the country’s fragile desert living environment, but also that effective action to address it would undermine international demand for fossil fuels, and potentially their economy.

Source: Reuters
Image Credits: Constructionweekonline.com

Qatar Aiming For 16% Electricity From Solar By 2018 was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Renewable Energy Most Cost-Effective Electricity Option For Millions, IRENA Reports

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 03:47 AM PST

The International Renewable Energy Agency has revealed a new policy brief which shows that renewable energy has become the most cost-effective way to generate electricity for hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are not on the grid.

Renewable energy is also the least-cost option for extending grid supply in areas with the necessary resources such as wind, sun, and appropriate tidal options.

Renewable Energy Becomes More Cost Effective

"A renewable revolution is underway," says Dolf Gielen, IRENA's Innovation Director. "Recent years have seen consistent, sometimes dramatic, falls in the cost of electricity from renewables – making it the cheapest option off-grid, and even on-grid in places with plentiful resources."

"The message is clear: renewable energy today is often the cheapest option to meet rising demand for electricity – even without subsidies. It is also healthier, and better for the environment. A renewable energy future is now bankable, and there are further cost reductions to come."

Highlights of the IRENA publication, "Renewable Power Generation Costs" (pdf), include:

  • Biomass power generation has become competitive wherever low-cost agricultural or forestry waste is available, with the most competitive projects producing electricity for as little as USD $0.06/kWh.
  • Concentrating solar power, in which mirrors focus light over a large area into a central generator, has seen costs drop to as little as USD $0.14/kWh.
  • Hydropower, currently the world's largest source of renewable energy, today often provides the lowest cost electricity of any generation source.
  • Solar photovoltaics (PV), which has seen rapid development over the past two years, is set to achieve grid parity with residential electricity tariffs in many locations around the world. PV costs typically range from USD $0.16 to $0.36/kWh.
  • The most competitive onshore wind power sites can deliver electricity costs at as little as USD $0.04/kWh, making wind power the cheapest electricity option in many places.

Source: IRENA
Image Source: Kim Hansen

Renewable Energy Most Cost-Effective Electricity Option For Millions, IRENA Reports was originally published on: CleanTechnica

FirstEnergy Solutions & PECO Offering 100% Renewable Electricity

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 03:40 AM PST

American residential customers served by energy company PECO will now have the opportunity to purchase 100% renewable electricity thanks to FirstEnergy Solutions.

The independent program offers certification and verification of renewable energy and will allow residents to enroll in a one-year offer at 9.35 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) through December 2013, or a two-year offer at 9.90 cents per kWh through to December 2014.

100 Percent Renewable Electricity

This marks a wonderful opportunity for customers served by PECO who want to ensure their carbon footprint is as low as possible. The opportunity to select 100% renewable electricity and be sure of its ‘cleanliness’ is a major step forward towards a wider understanding of what steps consumers can take for themselves without huge outlays of money.

To sign up for more informtion, residents should visit www.fes.com/PaGreen or call 1-877-203-6240.

Source: FirstEnergy Solutions
Image Source: Sam Churchill

FirstEnergy Solutions & PECO Offering 100% Renewable Electricity was originally published on: CleanTechnica

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