Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Study Says Tidal Energy Can Meet 20% of UK Electricity Needs

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 05:48 PM PST

Tidal power is always pretty impressive to understand, given the sheer scale on which the power is generated. Imagine a wind turbine turned upside down and dunked in some of the roughest seas and you begin to imagine just how tricky but beneficial tidal power can be.

And according to new research UK officials are severely underestimating the wealth of electricity that could be generated from tidal sources.

The analysis, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, reports that estuary barges and tidal streams could provide more than 20% of the UK’s demand for electricity.

Tidal Power Could Power 20% of UK Electricity Needs

Image Source: Verdant Power, Inc.

“From tidal barrages you can reasonably expect you can get 15% of UK electricity needs, that’s a very solid number,” co-author Dr Nicholas Yates from the National Oceanography Centre told BBC News. “On top of that there is a 5% tidal stream figure, and with future technological development that is likely to be an underestimate in my view.”

One such project that has been floated (get it? “floated”?) is the idea of building an estuary barge across the Severn. So far the idea has been rejected by the coalition government due to the impact it would have on the environment, however ministers have recently indicated they are wiling to review the idea.

However Dr Yates, one of the researchers behind the new report, has good reason to dislike starting out with building on the Severn.

“I think it’s unfortunate that attention for tidal range has tended to focus on the Severn, it’s the wrong place to start, it’s too big,” he said. “Start small, it’s what the Danes did with wind – start small, learn quick and build up.”

Tidal power has the opportunity now to become a real player in the world of renewable energy. Already a company — MeyGen, a company who are “dedicated to the production of predictable, clean and renewable electricity from tidal flows” — is planning on developing a tidal stream technology in the Pentland Firth that, initially, will provide enough power to service 38,000 homes.

“This is a crucial milestone for us, it will be the first array of tidal stream turbines,” observed report co-author Professor AbuBakr Bahaj from the University of Southampton. “It will be a viable proposition for us in energetic areas of the sea – it will be give us another element in the energy mix that’s more reliable than wind.”

All in all, with slowdowns in the growth of solar and, to a lesser extent, wind power, and growing understanding in tidal power generation, 2013 could be the year that we see the industry leapfrog its way to the forefront of our minds.

Source: BBC News by way of Yale Environment 360

Study Says Tidal Energy Can Meet 20% of UK Electricity Needs was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Pennsylvania Mehoopany Wind Farm Completed

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 05:28 PM PST

BP Wind Energy and Sempra US Gas and Power completed their wind project called the Mehoopany wind farm, which we previously wrote about while it was still under construction.

This wind farm has an electricity generation capacity of 141 MW (141,000 kW) and it spans 9,000 acres (36 square km), and is located 20 miles northwest of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

This wind farm is powered by 88 General Electric (GE) xle wind turbines which each have an electricity generation capacity of 1.6 MW (1,600 kW).

It wasn’t clear how much of this project was built locally, however, domestic electricity generation is a good thing as opposed to importing it.

The larger the fraction of the project that was done in Pennsylvania, the greater the number of people that would be employed in Pennsylvania; unless the workers were imported from another state.

The total investment in this wind farm was $250 million.

This is supposed to be the largest wind farm in the state of Pennsylvania and created 400 temporary construction jobs during its peak construction period. Since construction was completed 10-15 people are permanently hired to maintain the facility.

BP and Sempra already had the entire power output of the wind farm purchased by Old Dominion Electric Cooperative and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Inc.

Although the project is a 50:50 joint venture between BP and Sempra it is operated by a wholly owned affiliate of BP Wind Energy.

BP has infused about $8 billion for alternative energy development recently. The US BP Wind Energy is the usual owner and operator of BP wind farms in the United States, with an investment of over $4 billion. The US BP Wind Energy invested in 16 wind farms across the United States with a gross generation capacity of 2.6 GW (2,600 MW).

Source: Zacks
Video Credit: BPplc on Youtube.

Pennsylvania Mehoopany Wind Farm Completed was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

CleanTechnica Exclusive: Inside The World’s Largest Single-Unit Solar Power Plant

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 04:58 PM PST

I’m in Abu Dhabi this week for the 1st ever Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, including the 6th annual World Future Energy Summit. Alongside of that, Masdar Corporation provided me (and a few others) with a tour of Shams 1, and it will also provide use with a tour of Masdar City. This post is part of a series on these events and on Masdar Corporation itself that Marika and I will be writing throughout this week and probably next.

This first post goes into more depth than our November piece on Shams 1, but that initial piece is also worth reading for some added context and info, so check it out: Largest Solar Power Plant In World Nears Completion In Abu Dhabi.

CleanTechnica Director Zachary Shahan (me) at the Shams 1 CSP power plant in Abu Dhabi. Photo Credit: Marika Krakowiak / CleanTechnica

Most notably, as indicated in the title, Shams 1 is the largest single-unit solar power plant in the world — in total, it has 100 MW of capacity. It is a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, but it is a bit unique. Very simply, here’s how the power plant works: 768 parabolic trough collectors track the sun from sunrise to sunset and use parabolic mirrors to focus the energy of the sun on a central tube containing oil. The concentrated heat is then passed through the system until it is used to boil water and produce steam, which drives a conventional turbine that generates electricity. Additionally, a middle step is the use of natural gas to “superheat” the water. Project managers informed us that this accounts for about 20% of the heat.

Theoretically, natural gas could be used to produce all of the electricity if desired or if power was needed while the sun wasn’t shining. However, barring unforeseen needs, that is not how the power plant is intended to run. The total natural gas power capacity of the plant, if it were to run in this way, is 50 MW.

Electricity from the power plant is competitively sold at market price to the grid. It is projected to reduce CO2 emissions 175,000 tons/year, which would be equal to planting 1.5 million trees or taking 15,000 Abu Dhabi cars off the street, according to Yousif Al Ali, the General Manager of Shams Power Company.

Shams Power Company Process Engineer Abdulaziz Al Obaidli, Masdar Clean Energy Director Bader Saeed Al Lamki, and Shams Power Company General Manager Yousif Al Ali at Shams 1 CSP power plant in Abu Dhabi. Photo Credit: Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica

The power plant includes 258,048 parabolic trough mirrors on 628,000 square meters, or about the same area as 285 football fields. Another interesting side note is that the water used for the system is reused (i.e. it is a closed loop system).

Why CSP?

There are a few key reasons why Masdar Clean Energy went with CSP for this project. For one, the system is much more similar to conventional power plants than solar PV. As Yousif Al Ali (who worked in conventional energy industries for years) stated, it’s “based on an established system, that everyone trusts.” Everyone, in that sentence, means people within the utility and electricity generation industry. In Abu Dhabi, as everywhere, such people are more interested in keeping their professional paradigm the same, keeping things essentially the way they are, so a system quite similar to a conventional power plant was easier to “sell” to other relevant players. This is not the first time I’ve run across such statements, and it is one clear reason why many utilities are more opposed to decentralized solar power on rooftops than large CSP power plants like Shams 1.

Shams Power Company Process Engineer & Masdar Institute Phd student Abdulaziz Al Obaidli at Shams 1 CSP power plant in Abu Dhabi. Photo Credit: Zachary Shahan  / CleanTechnica

Another key reason why this power plant was CSP rather than PV was cost. A couple of years ago, CSP was more cost competitive than PV (“slightly cheaper,” as Shams Power Company Process Engineer Abdulaziz Al Obaidli told me in an interview). That was before the price of solar dropped a tremendous amount. Since then, the solar market has turned 180 degrees. Now, Yousif Al Ali and Abulaziz Obaidli, forced (by me) to provide their best guess as to what Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy split will be in 2020 (when it is supposed to have 7% of its energy coming from renewable sources) both projected that most of Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy will be from solar PV. However, answering my questions in separate interviews, they also both indicated that they thought CSP would provide a good portion of the renewable energy mix. And Abulaziz Obaidli, working on his Phd at the moment, is actually focusing on some ways to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of CSP power plants like Shams 1.

Why the Location?

Shams 1 is located about two hours from the city of Abu Dhabi*, quite far. It is “almost in the middle of the desert,” as Yousif Al Ali or Masdar Clean Energy Director Bader Saeed Al Lamki** noted. So, many of us on the trip were wondering, “why this location?”

The location of Shams 1 was picked due to several factors. For one, there was less of a problem with dust and aerosols accumulating on the mirrors than closer to the city (which is located on the coast). Humidity, wind, and, of course, automobile traffic play into that.

Additionally, there was already a gas line nearby — making the cost of bringing in the natural gas much lower — and the location was close to the grid. Solar irradiance is also very good there, naturally.

In the winter sun of the UAE, CleanTechnica director Zachary Shahan listening attentively to Shams Power Company Process Engineer & Masdar Institute Phd student Abdulaziz Al Obaidli at Shams 1. Photo Credit: Marika Krakowiak / CleanTechnica

Energy Subsisides & Distortion

One last issue, which I intend to delve into in more detail in a future post, is subsidies. Every energy source is subsidized. A huge variety of factors change “true market prices,” and to create such a price (one without any distortion) is practically impossible… and hardly ever attempted. In other words, our general way of discussing price per kWh is a very simplified way of discussing price that always makes assumptions about which subsidies or distortions we include and which we don’t. And this is not just coming from me, a cleantech enthusiast trying to help protect humanity from itself — this was discussed a bit by Yousif Al Ali, a former oil industry employee who didn’t seem to hold any grudge against the industry. The point of all this? What competes best on the market will win, but we choose if we want to distort the market for technologies that ruin our water, air, and climate; or if we want to do so for cleaner technologies.


 
*Note that Abu Dhabi is both a city and one of the 7 emirates of the UAE. The emirate Abu Dhabi has the 7% renewable energy by 2020 target.

**I can’t recall which of these two men said this, both of whom I talked to throughout the day while strolling around large mirrors in the desert. :D

CleanTechnica Exclusive: Inside The World’s Largest Single-Unit Solar Power Plant was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Iron Superconductor Could Solve Key Offshore Wind Power Puzzle

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 09:00 AM PST

The U.S. wind power industry has a lot to celebrate these days. Last year it accounted for 32 percent of all new installed capacity in the U.S., more than any other single fuel. The wind industry also won a hard-fought battle to extend the critical wind power tax credit for another year, and now it looks like scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory are on the way to solving one obstacle to even more efficient and powerful wind turbines, especially for the offshore wind power sector: development of a low cost superconducting wire based on iron. The new superconductor is more durable and less costly to manufacture than another emerging superconductor based on ceramic materials.

Brookhaven Lab develops low cost method for making superconductor wiresA Low Cost Superconducting Wire for the Wind Industry

Superconductors do just what the name suggests, delivering far greater potential for high efficiency energy generation, transportation and storage, but they are notoriously fickle.

Generally, superconductors are extremely expensive to manufacture, they require forceful temperature control, and they don’t perform efficiently under the magnetic fields created by wind turbines.

The Brookhaven breakthrough, published last week in Nature Communications, involves fabricating a semiconductor with thin films of iron, the crystalline material selenium and the semi-metal tellurium, three relatively cheap materials (especially the iron).

The low-cost manufacturing process uses laser pulses to vaporize the materials, and the vapor is then collected in precise layers on a substrate. The secret ingredient is a layer of cerium-oxide (a yellowy rare earth powder) in between the substrate and the other three layers. According to Brookhaven physicist Qiang Li:

“…adding layers of cerium-oxide in between the films and substrates dramatically increased the superconductor’s critical current density, or maximum electricity load, as well as the critical temperature at which the material becomes superconducting. That critical temperature threshold rose 30 percent over the same compound made without this layering process—still a very cold -253 degrees Celsius, but it promises significant application potential.”

Er, About that Cerium Oxide

Rare earths like cerium oxide are critical to the future development of the alternative energy industry, including wind power as well as electric vehicles and high-efficiency lighting.

The sticky wicket is that dependency on overseas rare earth sources has proven to be a shaky foundation for long term growth in these industries, as well as in more traditional sectors. Just a couple of years ago, a shortage of cerium dioxide rattled the U.S. glass industry.

Not to worry (at least, not yet). The Obama Administration has several initiatives under way to develop more reliable rare earth sourcing, including the recent establishment of the Critical Materials Institute. The new institute, part of the Administration’s Energy Innovation Hub program, will also be exploring the development of substitute materials as well as new manufacturing and resource recovery strategies.

Magnetic Fields and Wind Turbines

The new superconductor proved to be capable of carrying 200,000 amperes per square centimeter even under an intense magnetic field. In comparison, a typical household circuit breaker will trip at 20 amps.

If the magnetic field issue is starting to ring a bell, you might be thinking of another superconducting wire under development at the University of Houston through a $4 million Department of Energy grant administered by ARPA-E, the agency’s cutting-edge technology division.

Like the Brookhaven project, the Houston research has significant implications for the wind industry in terms of creating a low cost superconductor that performs efficiently even when exposed to a high magnetic field.

Offshore wind power installations would be particular beneficiaries of the new technology, given the massive turbines and long transmission distances involved.


Although the U.S. has been lagging far behind other countries when it comes to offshore wind development, with new superconducting wires in hand it could leapfrog ahead.

That would be especially welcome news for the energy-hungry northeastern states. According to the Department of Energy, practically the entire northeast Atlantic coast is rated as “outstanding” for potential wind power generation.

Image: Courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Iron Superconductor Could Solve Key Offshore Wind Power Puzzle was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

“Less Carbon, More Jobs” — Clean Energy Economic Development In 3 States

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 07:23 AM PST

Colorado, Iowa, Ohio – all three states have leveraged their human and other resources and capitalized on clean energy to boost socioeconomic development. EDF (the Environmental Defense Fund) on January 10 released studies that chart the course of  clean energy economic development in all three, part of an ongoing project to provide clean energy development road maps nationwide.

Produced in collaboration with Collaborative Economics, the first three "state road maps" in EDF’s Clean Energy Economic Development Series identify "a formula for success,” EDF writes, ”where policy and economic development actions work together across three fronts:

  1. stimulating demand for clean energy products and services;
  2. seeding innovation in clean energy solutions; and
  3. recruiting and supporting new firms, jobs and workforce skills in clean energy."

Clean Energy In Colorado, Iowa, & Ohio: Roadmaps For Success

Among the reports’ highlights:

  • Ohio experienced record investment and merger and acquisition deals in clean energy in 2010 and 2011. Ohio also significantly increased patents in batteries, fuel cells, and wind technologies, moving up in national rankings in all three areas.
  • The Metro Denver region alone had about 1,500 companies and 18,000 workers in the cleantech sector in 2011, and achieved a 35% increase in direct employment growth since 2006.
  • Iowa leads with the second-highest installed wind capacity in the nation and is one of only two states that receive over 20% of electricity from wind power. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa has attracted more major wind industry manufacturers than any other state.

Marshaling state resources and collaboration among the diversity of stakeholders spanning the public and private sectors has been one key element EDF and Collaborative Economics identify as being common to all three states success with regard to clean energy economic development.

In Colorado, for example, renewable energy incentives enacted by state legislators have spurred a near doubling of solar and wind energy installations between 2007 and 2011. Green job creation has been growing at a rapid rate, as EDF notes in its report highlights, and the Metro Denver region has become a hub for cleantech startups and established companies alike.

"Colorado’s leadership in cleantech has been achieved through collaboration," the Colorado clean energy economic development report authors highlight. "Colorado stakeholders have worked across party lines and with public and private organizations to advance Colorado’s cleantech economy. This supportive environment has been reinforced by the attitudes and behaviors of the people in Colorado."

Clean Energy & The Fiscal Cliff

EDF and Collaborative Economics also zoom in on and highlight the clean energy policy contained in the American Taxpayers Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), which Congress recently passed and the President signed into law in order to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff."

ATRA effectively extends the wind energy production tax credit for two years by expanding qualifying wind energy PTC criteria from projects that become operational to those that begin construction prior to 2014. Though it came at the last minute, after wind energy industry participants had already shelved project development plans, scaled back manufacturing output, and idled or laid off workers, the PTC tax credit extension will revive activity in the fast-growing clean energy sector, EDF states.

As EDF notes, "According to the National Renewable Energy Labs, the percentage of domestically-sourced equipment used in wind power projects has grown from 35% in 2005-06 to 67% in 2011. Exports of wind power-generating sets have also increased from $15 M in 2007 to $149M in 2011. The ATRA also extends a series of tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades and energy efficient homes.

"The American Wind Energy Association counts 75,000 workers in America's wind energy sector, with the new tax law expected to save up to 37,000 jobs and create far more over time, as well as reviving business at nearly 500 manufacturing facilities across the country. Ohio, Colorado and Iowa are far enough down the path to start benefiting immediately."

Image Credit: Vestas Wind Systems

"Less Carbon, More Jobs" — Clean Energy Economic Development In 3 States was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

New Nanoparticle Alloys Allow Heat To Be Manipulated As If It Were Light, Applications In Thermoelectrics And Energy Efficiency

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 07:15 AM PST

A new technique has been developed that now makes it possible to manipulate heat as if it were light, controlling it in the same ways that you can control light waves. This technique could have a lot of very interesting uses in thermoelectric devices and for developing energy efficiency systems in buildings.

20130114-014019.jpg

The technique is based on “engineered materials consisting of nanostructured semiconductor alloy crystals,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) writes. “Heat is a vibration of matter — technically, a vibration of the atomic lattice of a material — just as sound is. Such vibrations can also be thought of as a stream of phonons — a kind of ‘virtual particle’ that is analogous to the photons that carry light. The new approach is similar to the recently developed photonic crystals that can control the passage of light, and phononic crystals that can do the same for sound.”

By controlling the spacing of tiny gaps that are present in these materials, it’s possible to tune them to match up with the wavelength of the heat phonons.

“It’s a completely new way to manipulate heat,” Martin Maldovan, research scientist in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering says. “Heat differs from sound, he explains, in the frequency of its vibrations: Sound waves consist of lower frequencies (up to the kilohertz range, or thousands of vibrations per second), while heat arises from higher frequencies (in the terahertz range, or trillions of vibrations per second).”

The overall process (while more complex than this), is essentially to ‘reduce’ the heat phonons until they are more similar to sound waves, and then manipulate the narrowed beam of “hypersonic heat” that results, by using phononic crystals like the ones used to control sound phonons. These are being referred to as “thermocrystals” by the researchers.

The researchers think that these thermocrystals could be used very effectively for a wide variety of interesting purposes. Among these possibilities are: better thermoelectric devices, “one-way heat flows” that would be very useful for energy efficiency, and “thermal cloaking”, which has a wide-variety of potential uses.

The new findings were just published January 11th in the journal Physical Review Letters.

New Nanoparticle Alloys Allow Heat To Be Manipulated As If It Were Light, Applications In Thermoelectrics And Energy Efficiency was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Car Exhaust Pollution World’s Fastest Growing Cause Of Death

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 07:11 AM PST

A new study has found that, on top of all the other manner of ways our cars are trying to kill us, the pollution they emit is now one of the fastest growing causes of death in the world.

Vehicle Pollution Fastest Growing Cause of Deaths in World

China Pollution by sheilaz413 under a CC BY-NC-ND license.

The study was published in the weekly journal The Lancet and looked at a wide range of global diseases and their contributing factors. They found that the recent explosion of car use in fast-growing Asian cities has helped bring global air pollution level with obesity as the fastest growing cause of death in the world.

According to the report, a frightening 3.2 million people died from air pollution in 2010, up from 800,000 people ten years earlier. What’s worse is that 2.1 million of those were from Asia.

“That’s a terribly high number – and much more people than previously thought,” said David Pettit, director of the southern California air programme with the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), according to The Guardian. ”Earlier studies were limited to data that was available at the time on coarse particles in urban areas only.”

Anumita Roychowdhury, head of air pollution at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based environmental group, said: “There is hard evidence now to act urgently to reduce the public health risks to all, particularly children, elderly and the poor. No-one can escape toxic air.”

The full effects of air pollution on health in Asian cities may not be seen for years, she said. “Toxic effects like cancer surface after a long latency period. Therefore, exposure to air pollution will have to be reduced today to reduce the burden of disease,” she said.

Given the massive explosion of population and subsequent technological rise of countries in Asia — most notably China and India — this corresponding pollution increase is hardly surprising, yet utterly terrifying all the same. As Roychowdhury has said, this evidence simply must now be followed by action.

Car Exhaust Pollution World’s Fastest Growing Cause Of Death was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

2013 Solar Decathlon Arrives In Orange County

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 07:06 AM PST

Later this year, the U.S. Department of Energy will host its Solar Decathlon, but students representing the 20 collegiate teams competing in this year’s Decathlon have already visited the venue, the Orange County Great Park, in an effort to prepare for the competition which will take place October 3 to 13.

2013 Solar Decathlon Taking Place in Orange County

The 300 block of Decathlete Way illuminates with the houses from Canada, Team China and Illinois, from left to right, at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 in Washington, D.C.
Image Source: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

“The Solar Decathlon is the Great Park’s first-ever international event,” said Jeffrey Lalloway, Chair, Orange County Great Park Corporation. “We are excited to welcome the students representing the 20 competing teams and their creative energy, innovation and talent as they prepare to build solar houses that will allow the public to see the future of energy, today.”

For the uninitiated, the Solar Decathlon presents teams from various colleges across the U.S. with the challenge of designing, building, and operating solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, cost-efficient, as well as being attractive (because, let’s face it, who wants to live in an ugly house no matter how cost- and energy-efficient it may be?).

During the competition, the public are welcome and encouraged to visit the houses in an effort to provide the consumers with ideas that they can use in their own homes, and to learn how energy-saving features can save them money.

“This is the first time the Solar Decathlon will be held outside of Washington, D.C.,” said Richard King, Director of Solar Decathlon for the U.S. Department of Energy. “We are so excited to be in California! The Solar Decathlon 2013 teams are some of the most impressive we have seen to date. We look forward to introducing the students to the Great Park this weekend and to watching their innovations come to life in Irvine this fall.”

The current visit to the Great Park allows the students opportunity to participate in a weekend full of workshops and briefings about the competition provided by officials from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Source: US Department of Energy by way of PR Newswire

2013 Solar Decathlon Arrives In Orange County was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

EV Sales In France Exceed 5,500 In 2012

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 06:59 AM PST

Electric vehicle sales are coming on strong in Europe. In 2012, 5,663 completely electric vehicles were sold in France — double the figure in 2011.

You may be thinking that 5,663 is chump change. That’s where a registered vehicle comparison puts things into perspective. Here’s the math: There are about 35 million registered cars cruising the streets of France, which makes about one in 6,200 cars a newly purchased EV. Compare that to the 240 million cars motoring around America, with about 12,000 new EVs purchased in 2011, that puts the US at one newly purchased EV per 20,000 cars. Purchasing new EVs at three times the rate of American buyers isn’t chump change after all, is it?

With recent news that gasoline lead may be responsible for big city violence, stats that EV sales are up (no matter the country – Norway, China, the UK, et al.) is awesome.

Source: Green Autoblog

EV Sales In France Exceed 5,500 In 2012 was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Why Frack When You Can Grow Biofuel? USDA Has $25 Million In Answers

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 05:00 AM PST

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has just embarked on a new round of $25 million in funding for four new biofuel research and development projects, offering farmers and other rural property owners the potential for new alternatives to selling or leasing their land for natural gas fracking. The new projects all involve next-generation, non-food biomass, including waste products that would normally represent a costly burden to agricultural operations.

While hardly bringing the gas fracking industry to a screeching halt, federal investments in biofuel research projects like these could help take some of the bloom off the fracking rose by providing rural communities with more sustainable, less risky and less disruptive paths to long term economic revitalization.

new USDA grants for next generation biofuel researchAdding Value to Biofuel

When you talk about next-generation biofuel, you’re talking about more than cultivating inedible feedstocks that don’t compete with food or animal feed crops for land. You’re also talking about a whole lifecycle approach to making biofuel cultivation both a commercially viable and an environmentally sustainable prospect.

One of USDA’s new projects addresses this approach through a new cropping system, in which the weedy biofuel plant camelina will be rotated with wheat-based plants. The $5 million project, through Kansas State University, will study the commercial feasibility of converting camelina to biobased adhesives and coatings as well as biofuel.

Another $6.5 million will go to Ohio State University to demonstrate an innovative anaerobic digestion system (anaerobic refers to bacteria that thrive without oxygen) that can handle multiple feedstocks. The new system will use natural decomposition to break down manure, agricultural waste, woody biomass and biofuel crops.

In Utah, a company called Ceramatec, Inc. is getting $6.6 million for a project to develop new hybrids of sorghum for use in a fermentation-based process that yields petroleum-identical hydrocarbon molecules, which can then be used as drop-in replacements for petroleum feedstocks at existing refineries.

The fourth grant of $6.9 million will go to USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Pennsylvania (a state that also happens to be ground zero for the fracking debate, as depicted in the documentary Gasland and the new movie Promised Land). The project involves a scaled down catalytic cracking process mimicking the systems used by the petroleum industry.

This one is particularly interesting because it involves distributed energy technology that is designed to be installed at individual farms, rather than at a large central location. Ideally, the catalytic units could be installed by individual farmers to convert either biomass (in this case, forest waste and perennial grasses like switchgrass) or horse manure into biofuel and high value biochemicals.

The distributed model also represents a technological giant step forward from the Obama Administration’s longer-running AgStar biogas program, which is designed to encourage livestock farmers to install biogas digesters on site.

The Tip of the Biofuel Iceberg

These four projects represent just the latest in a string of biofuel projects that also support rural economic development, which USDA now numbers at about 130.

They also dovetail with other efforts, including a 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Agriculture, Energy and the Navy to support the biofuel industry in the context of rural economic development.

Biofuel and bioproducts are also just one part of a broader effort to help U.S. farmers stay competitive through new energy strategies. Over the past couple of years USDA has provided hundreds of separate grants and loans to individual farmers for energy efficiency upgrades (grain dryers are a particular target) and new alternative energy installations, especially solar energy.

Fracking Not Stacking Up

There is no such thing as impact-free energy production, but all of these biofuel projects are designed to fit sustainably into the core business of the farmer, which all boils down to long term land stewardship.

As for fracking, the land stewardship angle is on pretty shaky ground. Evidence is beginning to mount that both the drilling operation itself and the disposal of spent fracking brine are putting local water supplies at risk for contamination.

Aside from local impacts, concerns have also been raised that methane leakage from gas drilling sites overwhelms any greenhouse gas emissions benefits to be gained from greater reliance on natural gas.

Image (cropped): Camelina by Matt Lavin

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Why Frack When You Can Grow Biofuel? USDA Has $25 Million In Answers was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

5 Smart Home Technologies That Save You Money

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 12:30 AM PST

When looking for ways to save money, you might not think to look into home automation. In the past, the term "smart home" conjured up images of expensive home improvements and high-tech gadgets that were only found in celebrity mansions or grand estates. However, with the emergence of new wireless technology and more companies providing these products, these systems are now more affordable than ever. Additionally, they do not require any major renovations to your home and will actually start saving you money on your utilities costs. In fact, the savings you'll realize in just a few years can pay for your whole smart home system.

Green homes via Shutterstock

1. Programmable Thermostats

The largest portion of a home's energy bill generally comes from heating and cooling costs. Furthermore, most homes have inefficient systems that waste large amounts of energy in heating and cooling unoccupied rooms or even the entire home. Smart home technology can solve this problem in two ways.

Image Credit: Nest

First, current home automation systems with programmable thermostats allow you to set the temperature of your home remotely from your smartphone, tablet, or other internet-enabled device, so you don't have to heat or cool your home while you are away. Before returning home, you can reset the thermostat so that a comfortable temperature is waiting for you.

For other DIY energy saving tips, you can visit Energy.gov.

2. Zone-Based Thermostats

With zone-based thermostats, your house can be divided into zones so that unoccupied rooms and areas are not being cooled or heated unecessarily. Motion sensors in the room can start up and stop your heating and cooling system to decrease the amount of wasted energy.

It's been estimated that homeowners can saved on average $180 per year simply by using programmable or zone-based thermostats.

3. Occupation Detectors and Motion Sensors

Motion sensors can control the lights and appliances in your home. This will help lower utility costs by ensuring that lights, televisions, sound systems, and even small appliances like candle warmers or curling irons are turned off when no one is in the room to use them. With some systems, you can also control lights and appliances remotely from your personal digital devices. This way you aren't paying for the energy that is normally consumed when lights and appliances are mistakenly left on while you are not home.

4. Power Timers and Monitors

Being aware of the optimal times to run your electrical appliances can save you a bundle. There are several monitoring devices that can give you real-time feedback on how much energy your home is using, as well as the times when your energy costs are lowest. Based on this feedback, you can set power timers to run large appliances like hot tubs, spas, and attic and exhaust fans at optimal times, and have them automatically turned off at set times to avoid wasted energy.

5. Solar-Powered Products

UK Home Solar Panels

Solar panels on UK home via Shutterstock

You don't have to invest in large solar panel technology to start harvesting energy from the sun. Start with some well-designed solar lights for patios, porches, and other outdoor lighting needs.

But if you’re ready to invest in something bigger, the good news is that doing so will likely save you a lot of money over the medium to long term. Overall, solar power costs can be 20-30% lower than your standard utilities. Although solar energy has saved homeowners money over the long-term, upfront equipment and installation costs have typically taken them several years to recuperate. However, there are now companies that provide very affordable solar panel technology for your entire home, helping you avoid expensive upfront costs and allowing you to start saving money almost immediately.

With these home automation products, you can make your home work smarter without a lot of upfront investment. An energy-efficient smart home can save you money while you save the planet. You can start with these five products or call a home automation company that can help you design a system that best meets your needs.

Author Bio: Rick Delgado is a passionate freelance writer in the tech and eco-friendly space.

5 Smart Home Technologies That Save You Money was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

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