Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Top Solar Power States vs Top Solar Power Countries (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 11:55 AM PST

I think you all are going to love this one. But before getting into the numbers and charts, here’s one quick caveat on the ranking below: my solar power installation data for the countries was for the end of 2011, whereas my solar power installation data for the states (courtesy of GTM Research, via Scott Burger) was for the end of Q3 2012. So, basically, the states had a 9-month advantage (which can be rather significant when it comes to solar — the fastest growing energy industry).

With that out of the way, let’s take a look out how the top solar power countries in the world (per capita) compare to the top solar power states (per capita):

Below’s a longer list. But it’s a bit more difficult to read in this post, so click here view the image in full size:

Here are the actual numbers:

There are many factors that go into making a state or country a solar power leader — policy, solar insolation, electricity rates, etc. — but I think the list above shows that the strongest factor today is policy. With strong feed-in tariff policies, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Belgium have a strong lead (even with a 9-month disadvantage compared to the American states). An EU-wide cap and trade system that puts a price on fossil fuel pollution is also a help.

In the US, Arizona and New Jersey have had strong net metering policies as well as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that have encouraged solar adoption. New Jersey’s RPS includes a specific requirement for solar, which it has aimed to achieve through the use of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). Arizona dropped its solar requirement in its RPS years ago, but it has a distributed generation requirement, which has led it to encourage home solar power through net metering (mentioned above), tax credits, and rebates. Meanwhile, Hawaii, with very high electricity prices (the highest in the US) and good solar insolation, has become the first state in the US to hit solar grid parity. Hawaii has also implemented solar tax credits, a feed-in tariff, and net metering. However, as SEIA notes, “interconnection continues to be an issue as Hawaiian utilities have imposed restrictions to avoid solar generators exceeding 15% of load on their systems.” So, you can see that, even in leading solar power states, there are big hurdles to overcome.

Of course, there are other ways to calculate relative leadership in solar power. Instead of comparing solar power capacity to population, we could compare it to GDP, electricity production, or other factors. If you want to help me create more solar power rankings, drop a comment below!

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Top Solar Power States vs Top Solar Power Countries (CleanTechnica Exclusive) 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.

Know Your MPG: Air Travel

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 07:30 AM PST

Cool new service. Read the post, use the service, share:

Fuel economy of flights on travel websites? While the idea may seem far-fetched at first, its equivalent on the ground has been around for many years: Governments require it, car manufacturers and dealerships advertise it, and you probably know yours: MPG.

Most travelers generally understand that flying is very energy-intensive, but there is little information as to which factors come into play: Is it the speed of travel? Or aircraft age? Airlines themselves have an economic interest in fuel economy and so it seems surprising that the public knows so little about it.

A young start-up company called Calasi has now built software that can displays fuel economy ratings on travel websites. “Efficient flying comes at no extra cost or burden. We just need to highlight responsible travel options to the user,” explains Dirk Aguilar, Calasi President & Co-Founder. In addition to building awareness per se, the company attempts to actually shift demand towards more fuel efficient routes using a proprietory recommendation engine. Mr. Aguilar says: “Calasi suggests efficient flights that work for our users. Sometimes a more responsible option may actually save you money and time.”

Here’s a video of an early version of the service (the functionality has improved a bit since this video was created):


The founders point out that a single economy passenger from Los Angeles to New York can easily produce as many carbon emissions as two months worth of US per capita home electricity usage. Satish Viswanatham, Calasi CTO & Co-Counder, continues: “Fuel economy can easily vary threefold from one flight to another, so here is a wonderful opportunity to make a large positive impact. Many consumers already demonstrate a responsible lifestyle by riding a bike or driving a hybrid. Applying this thought process to the way they fly is a natural extention of what they are already doing.”

Calasi's public beta is available on the company's website and it already works on Expedia.

Know Your MPG: Air Travel 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.

Sahara Forest Project Grows Green Jobs From Sand, Saltwater, & CO2

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 05:32 AM PST

It’s been a while since we checked in on the Sahara Forest Project, but its first pilot facility just online went a few weeks ago so now is a good time to do some catching up. As for the goal of re-vegetating the Sahara desert, why stop there? With large chunks of the U.S. facing historic droughts, the project’s creative use of open space, saltwater and carbon dioxide to create new green jobs and re-vegetate desert lands sure sounds like a concept that could be useful over here, too.

Sahara Forest project aims to restore desert landsThe Sahara Forest Pilot Plant

The Sahara Forest Pilot Plant teams the project with Norway’s Yara ASA and Qatar’s Qafco. Yara is a nitrogen chemistry specialist and the world’s largest fertilizer supplier, and Qafco is a leader in urea and ammonia production, so you can see where this is going in terms of waste recovery and re-use.

Aside from the technology itself, one thing that stands out about the project is the speed with which it happened. Once all the agreements were signed, construction began early last year and was completed within a year.

That speed underscores the developers’ insistence that the project is not “rocket science.” Some of the technology is innovative but none of it could be called experimental in a high-risk way. The real breakthrough is in engineering new combinations and systems.

Beyond Sustainability, to Restorative Technology

The key to the whole project is bringing saltwater inland, where it can be desalinated using renewable energy and then put to use locally.

The pilot project went with concentrating solar power (CSP), which normally would require copious amounts of fresh water for cooling. That problem was resolved with a saltwater cooling system that piggybacks on the project’s greenhouse roofs, using them to dissipate heat.

The solar installation itself serves multiple purposes: desalinating seawater, warming the greenhouses in winter, and regenerating dehumidifying materials.

As the first CSP unit to go online in Qatar, the facility is also doing double duty as a research station leading to the development of larger operations. One of the things they’ll be looking at is locating the CSP’s many mirror units in re-vegetated areas (plants can boost CSP performance by reducing dust in the area).

Aside from greenhouse operations, the pilot plant also features outdoor plantings for animal fodder and bioenergy feedstock using desalinated seawater.

Using saltwater to cultivate halophytes (salt-loving plants) is a tricky business because of the potential damage to soil and groundwater, so the pilot facility is also testing low-cost methods for getting around those obstacles.

A commercial scale algae test facility rounds out the pilot plant, with the aim of producing nutriceuticals, biofuels, and fodder for animals and fish.

The Circular Economy and the Sahara Forest Project

The charitable organization Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been articulating a vision for a “circular economy” that is perfectly reflected in the Sahara Forest project.

As with the circular economy concept, Sahara Forest aims to create economic growth by putting materials and products that were formerly wasted together in new configurations, with the help of renewable energy.

To that end, Sahara Forest envisions the growth of green jobs in the desert:

“In addition to mitigating effects of climate change and contributing to conflict reduction in resource-scarce areas, the SFP facilities will provide employment for both high- and low-skilled workers. Programs and facilities for knowledge transfer and training will be established to ensure that long-term social and economic development opportunities are created.”


Sustainability Twofers, and Threefers

We’ve been calling this sort of thing a sustainability twofer, or for that matter a threefer (and why stop at three?), but whether you call it a circular economy, synergy, restorative growth or whatever, the basic idea is that we already have enough resources to ensure a sustainable future, we just have to figure out better ways to put them to use.

h/t: Biofuels Digest.

Image: Sahara Desert by mtsrs

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Sahara Forest Project Grows Green Jobs From Sand, Saltwater, & CO2 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.

Current EV Information — Crowdsourced (Add Information If You’ve Got It!)

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 04:52 AM PST

ford focus electric options

Ford Focus Electric

During the electric vehicle (EV) hangout I was on last week, one of the participants asked about information on currently available EVs. Of course, I was happy to be able to send him over to our “EV Facts” page. However, that page isn’t jam-packed with info, and it was in  need of a little updating*. So, the participant, Jeffrey Rust, had an idea: why not create a spreadsheet of info on current EVs, and then open it up to public editing (i.e. continually crowdsource the latest info on production EVs).

Sounded like a great idea. Jeffrey got a spreadsheet started and input the info from our EV Facts page, along with a bit of extra info and topics. I then spent almost all of last night and much of this morning updating information that was a bit out of date and adding several cars (and the info related to them).

The “EVs & PHEVs” spreadsheet is now open for editing, and it still has a few gaps to fill, so Jeffrey and I would be more than happy if you had a look and added any (reliable!) info you have. Just click that link above.

*I just moments ago extensively updated the EV Facts page.

Current EV Information — Crowdsourced (Add Information If You’ve Got It!) 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 Boulder Has To Buy Out Its Electric Utility For A Clean Energy Future

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 04:32 AM PST

In late 2011, citizens of Boulder, CO, voted to boot their incumbent electric utility, Xcel Energy, and form a municipal electric utility. It was the culmination of a multi-year battle to get more clean, local energy from their corporate electric overlord.  In the end, city leaders and citizens agreed that the only credible option for significantly reducing their contribution to climate change was to go it alone. Now, the city is embarked on the long, complicated process of localizing their electricity system.

Susan Osborne was the mayor of Boulder at the time of the climatic vote, and she came to Minneapolis (with a similar campaign for local energy) in September 2012 to share their story. This 4-minute video gives the synopsis:

You can learn more about Boulder’s efforts for clean, local energy here.

This post originally appeared on ILSR's Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

Why Boulder Has To Buy Out Its Electric Utility For A Clean Energy Future 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.

How To Write A Hit Piece On The Solar Industry In 6 Steps

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 04:00 AM PST

This is a fun and interesting guest post that I think many of you will love. Check it out:

By Carter Lavin (@CarterLavin)

Hey reporters, having trouble coming up with an idea for a new article? Why don't you write an attack on the solar industry — media outlets love these! If you want to read that solar is going to destroy the environment or the gridfail miserablybankrupt your town or the country, just pick up the morning paper. While well-informed solar pros regularly and meticulously refute these articles, publications keep running them and rarely even change the arguments.

But seriously, the solar industry is convoluted and relatively esoteric, so when good business reporters write about the business, it's not a surprise that they don't get everything correct, but it is a shame. These articles all tend to point out and ignore the same facts — which is why they have all been wrong about the future of solar power. These articles are rarely factually inaccurate, but they often lack context, mislead with incorrect data usage, or do not account for many of the more powerful factors at play.

In fact, these articles are so formulaic, common, and wrong that I decided to save everyone a lot of time and teach you how to make one. So here is how to write a hit piece on the solar industry.

  1. Start off with pointing out some of the industry’s successMaybe you point to the rapidly growing employment in solar, the plummeting costs of systems, or solar's widening geographic appeal.
     
  2. Transition (often with a weather pun) about dark days ahead, clouds on the horizon, or a storm's a brewing.
  1. Politics!

DO: Say that the industry is reliant of government support and point out some federal government support the industry receives, like the solar investment tax credit. Then say that it looks like they will not get extended because of whatever the political issue de jure is. Past examples have been the recession, the debt ceiling, the election, and the fiscal "cliff." 

DO: Ignore that clean energy incentives have been extended on multiple occasions, sometimes before the deadline and sometimes after it has lapsed.

DO: Ignore the huge bipartisan support for clean energy, the solar workers across red and blue districts, and that many Republican Congresspeople (and citizens) who have been vocally supportive of extending clean energy tax credits.

DON'T: Mention that, as the technology continues to improve, the level of support it needs has decreased over time.

DON'T: Mention that these programs are designed to sunset while subsidies for fossil fuel companies are much larger, are literally decades old, and have no sunset provisions. This is particularly important if you are saying the clean energy incentives will not be extended because of some budgetary consideration.

  1. Bankruptcies

DO: Have a Solyndra section! What's an anti-solar piece without a Solyndra section?

DO: Mention the loan guarantee program, the Congressional investigation, and the bankruptcy.

DON'T: Mention that the loan guarantee program has otherwise been a massive success with much better record than private investors, that there was never any wrongdoing on behalf of the company and that all those investigations were nothing but noise without substance.

DO: Mention that other solar panel manufacturers are going bankrupt.

DO: Ignore that that's a natural part of how industries grow. Like the car and computer chip industries, solar panel manufacturing started out with hundreds and hundreds of different companies making the products, and is now in a period of consolidation that will just leave a dozen or so really big and really profitable companies standing. While it is messy, it is good for long-term R&D and for consumers.

DON'T: Mention the flip side of the coin — that these companies are going broke because solar panels are so cheap now — which has caused a massive explosion in the solar installation sector. So please ignore SolarCitySungevitySunRun, and the hundreds of small, local installers across the country that are helping people in your neighborhood save money by going solar.

  1. Try to Establish Neutrality

DO: Throw the industry a bone and mention the multi-year trend of improving solar technology and affordability. 

DON'T: Mention that this trend is expected to continue, since that will undermine your article.

  1. Natural Gas

DO: Talk about how "cheap" fossil fuels are. Bring up the recent expansion in natural gas production in the US. This is a good part to throw in some numbers, and maybe go on a tangent about how natural gas is cleaner than coal and how this could split environmentalists. Definitely mention the low price natural gas is selling at because of the increased use of nearly unregulated hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

DO: Talk about how utilities are switching away from coal to natural gas because of low natural gas costs and how that could kill solar. 

DON'T: Suggest that massively increasing the demand for natural gas will raise its price.

DON'T: Mention the unpopularity of fracking among people who live around drilling sites, the fracking bans that exist across the country (and the world), the potential regulation that might limit fracking, the fact that the Federal Government supported the R&D that invented fracking, fracking’s cost on human and environmental health, or that fossil fuels are finite.

Basically, point out all the things that are working against the clean energy and for fossil fuels — and none of the things that are going for clean energy and against fossil fuels. Above all else, never mention that the clean energy industry has thrived in spite of all odds. Even with loud and powerful detractors and the deck fully stacked against them, it has and will keep growing.

Hopefully, knowing this formula will help keep business journalists from writing mediocre pieces about a widely successful industry.

Image Credit: Hand to Forehead via Shutterstock

How To Write A Hit Piece On The Solar Industry In 6 Steps 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.

Wind Enegy Surpasses Nuclear As China’s 3rd Largest Source Of Electrical Power

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 03:00 AM PST

Wind energy is now China’s third largest source of electricity, according to a report from People’s Daily Online. Wind power generation in China totalled 100.4 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2012, a 0.5% year-on-year increase and surpassing nuclear power generation, according to data presented over the weekend by the China Wind Energy Association (CWEA).

Ambitious state renewable power targets and government support for wind energy manufacturers have fueled rapid development and growth of wind power capacity in China. China had 60.83 GW of installed wind power capacity online as of year-end 2012, according to CWEA. A national target calls for 100 GW of installed capacity by the end of 2015.

The 2% total for 2012 indicates just how fast and far China has progressed in realizing the strategic renewable power goals set out in its latest Five-Year Plan, and just how much it continues to rely on thermal coal and large-scale hydro power to meet its fast-growing demand for electrical power.

Image Source: Barton Merle-Smith, Wind Currents

China Wind Power: Rapid Growth Amid Grid, Market Challenges

In its 12th and latest five-year plan (for 2011–2015), China's leadership again singled out renewable energy as a key, strategic economic sector targeted to receive even greater attention and support. Aiming to provide "a snapshot of China's renewable energy market," consulting firm Solidiance January 8 released a white paper that "demonstrates the challenges and opportunities faced by this important industry."
The presentation by CWEA also reveals hurdles to bringing wind and other renewable power generation online and on the grid. Though reaching a cumulative record-high in 2012, growth in wind power capacity additions actually slowed to 14 gigawatts (GW) in 2012 from 20.66 GW in 2011, according to data presented by CWEA chairman He Dexin.

He identified wind turbine overcapacity, growing international trade protectionism, grid interconnection challenges, and wind power generation wastage as bottlenecks for bringing additional wind power capacity online.

Nonetheless, CWEA forecasts wind power capacity in China will grow to 18 GW in 2013, as local governments have accelerated approval of wind power generation projects since the beginning of the year. The Development and Reform Commission of Hunan Province on January 9 approved three wind power projects, a total investment of 1.35 billion yuan ($217 million) alone.

Government-led market-oriented reform is needed to address the problem of curtailment, whereby grid-connected wind-generated electricity is held back by grid operators, according to He. Some 20 billion kWh of wind-generated electricity was lost to curtailment in 2012, according to CWEA data.

“Grid companies lack economic incentives to take in more wind power, as government-dictated on-grid wholesale prices of wind power are higher than those of thermal power,” Meng Xian’gan, secretary-general of the China Renewable Energy Society, was quoted as saying.

Wind Enegy Surpasses Nuclear As China’s 3rd Largest Source Of Electrical Power 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.

Minnesota Wind Farm Battery To Be Restarted

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 02:00 AM PST

Image Source:: Star Tribune

Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis based utility company, plans to restart a battery bank used for wind energy storage after a potential fire risk prompted its shutdown.

This $4.7 million sodium-sulfur battery bank was operational for two years without a problem, however, a similar battery caught fire in Japan.

It was capable of powering 500 homes for 7.2 hours and was manufactured by NGK Insulators of Nagoya.

After the September 2011 battery fire in Japan, NGK ceased production of the batteries and advised their customers, including Xcel Energy and 19 others in North America, to stop using them. NGK later determined that a faulty cell had leaked molten material, triggering a short-circuit and fire.

“It wasn’t like we had problems,” added Mark Willers, CEO of MinWind III, which owns the adjacent wind farm and substation and sells the output to Xcel. “It ran perfectly.”

The battery was rebuilt by NGK Insulators, and according to Xcel Energy, the battery bank is likely to go back online in February.

“It is a brand-new battery at this point,” Albert Choi, Xcel’s Denver-based manager of next-generation research, said during an interview.

Now that the problem has been identified, this battery bank can continue its important long-term trial which will give the world, and especially utility companies, an idea of one way in which wind energy storage can be done, and also the viability of this system set up by Xcel Energy and NGK Insulators.

Many are still uncertain about wind energy storage, and some flat out say that there is no way it can work, this is why someone has to prove them wrong (or right).

Cheap wind energy storage would solidify the advantages of wind power and make it available to everyone at all times, without wasting any of it. This has the potential to save money as the cost of wasted wind energy normally has to be passed on to consumers.

Xcel Energy has the most wind power generation capacity in the United States, and other utilities like them are considering energy storage to capture the extra electricity generated by wind turbines.

Source: StarTribune Business

Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa.

Minnesota Wind Farm Battery To Be Restarted 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.

EU Installed More Than One Offshore Wind Turbine Per Working Day In 2012

Posted: 29 Jan 2013 01:00 AM PST

More than one offshore wind turbine was installed per working day in European waters in 2012, bringing the total to 1,662 in 55 offshore wind farms spanning territorial waters of ten European countries, according to year-end data compiled and presented in a European Wind Energy Association report released January 28.

Installation of 293 offshore wind turbines with a total rated capacity of 1,165 megawatts (MW) represents a 33% increase from 2011, when offshore wind turbines with a total rated capacity of 874 MW were installed.

The rapid rate of installations still wasn’t fast enough to meet the European Union’s (EU) offshore wind power capacity target of 5,829 MW, however. Grid interconnection is holding back progress, with new additions in France and Germany lagging significantly behind target. Uncertainty in EU renewable energy policy, market reforms, and regulations are also hindering growth, according to the EWEA.

Graph credit: EWEA

Installed offshore wind power generation capacity totaled 4,995 MW as of year-end 2012, according to EWEA’s report. The 293 offshore wind turbines installed in EU waters in 2012 represent investments of some €4 billion (~$5.2 billion). That is fuelling much-needed growth in employment and government tax revenues, as well as spurring innovation, enhancing EU economic competitiveness and making substantial reductions in the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of electrical power.

Graph credit: EWEA

Policy and regulatory uncertainty, as well as the ability of grid operators and offshore wind power project developers to make grid interconnections, is constraining even faster rates of growth, however.

“Offshore wind power is growing solidly”, EWEA policy director Justin Wilkes stated in a press release. “But solid installation figures do not alter the fact that the wind industry is being hit by political and regulatory instability, the economic crisis, the higher cost of capital and austerity.”

"Europe is a world leader in offshore wind energy and could be creating even more jobs if governments gave greater policy certainty to investors, and resolved grid connection problems.”

The UK led all EU countries in offshore wind turbine installations in 2012, accounting for nearly 60% of the annual total. Denmark, Belgium and Germany followed, accounting for 18%, 8%, and 6%, respectively.

Graph credit: EWEA

Looking forward, EWEA forecasts further growth in EU offshore wind power generation capacity, with an additional 14 offshore wind power projects under construction for 2013 and 2014. Combined, that would add another 3,300 MW of clean, renewable offshore wind power generation capacity to EU grids, bringing total installed capacity to 8,300 MW.

Not one offshore wind farm has been built in the US to date, though the Obama Administration’s efforts to implement a public-private institutional framework for spurring development of offshore wind power is beginning to bear fruit.

The US’ extensive coasts and strong, steady offshore winds hold an abundance of clean, renewable power potential. “Harnessing a realistic fraction of offshore wind's potential — 52GW — could power 14 million homes with clean electrons while creating over 300,000 new jobs and $200 billion in new economic activity in some of our biggest cities,” according to a September 14, 2012 Clean Technica blog post based on the National Wildlife Foundation’s (NWF) "The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy," report.

EU Installed More Than One Offshore Wind Turbine Per Working Day 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.

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