Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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Solar Crowdfunding Is Here — Solar Mosaic Launches New Solar Crowdfunding Site

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 03:27 PM PST

 
Crowdfunding is all the rage. Clean energy, especially solar, is about as popular as anything. Naturally, clean energy + crowdfunding = a win. We’ve written about a few clean energy crowdfunding opportunities and organizations over the past year or so (see the last section of this article), but the announcement today that Solar Mosaic is unleashing a solar crowdfunding site for the US is probably the biggest such news to date.

Of course, Solar Mosaic isn’t new to solar crowdfunding — it’s been playing this game for awhile. But it’s new platform and behind-the-scenes relationships unlock a whole new can of crowdfunding opportunity.

As Solar Mosaic ambitiously and excitedly wrote in an email to CleanTechnica earlier today: “Today marks the beginning of a new, transparent and democratic way of financing clean energy through crowdfunding that could disrupt the two largest industries in the world: energy and finance. Mosaic, an online marketplace that connects investors to high-quality solar projects, has begun offering investments to residents of California and New York as well as accredited investors from around the country. For the first time ever, the American public will be able to invest directly into clean energy projects and receive a solid return.”

Of course, in recent years, residents have been able to invest in their own solar projects, and often land a handsome financial return. But that’s been about the extent of it. Now, starting in the exceptionally ripe California and New York markets, residents can choose to invest beyond their homes and businesses, putting their money into solar projects that are essentially guaranteed to give them a good return on their investments. Furthermore, they can know they’re doing a good deed in protecting human civilization from itself in the process — you can’t overlook that!



The Fun Isn’t Over

If saving the world and making money while doing so isn’t enough for you, add a bit of this salt and pepper: the first investment opportunities in New York and California are for “solar projects on affordable housing apartments for low-income residents in California.”

And here are more details on the cash money side of things: “4.5% annual return, net of servicing fees, with terms of approximately nine years. With 10 year Treasuries at near historic lows (1.90%), CDs at 0.5% APY, bonds averaging 5.20% from 2003-2012 and stocks in the S&P 500 averaging 4.95% annualized returns from 2003-2012, Mosaic's expected yields are competitive with the best investment products on the market.”

The Future Is Bright… For More Of Us

Solar Mosaic, I’m sure, will be getting something out of the huge growth potential here. But my impression of the team since Day 1 has been that it is mostly looking to help the world. The fact is, banks and big-time investors are already taking advantage of the growing solar market and the need for upfront financing. And, in the US at least, much of the public isn’t getting a share of the cake. Solar Mosaic opens up the party’s kitchen to all of us non-banks and non-rich investors (or would be investors).

"The transition to clean energy represents one of the greatest opportunities for wealth creation of our time. We created Mosaic to accelerate that transition by enabling more people to participate in it and to profit from it," said Mosaic's President Billy Parish.

"Energy investing has traditionally been a bank only game, but already, hundreds of people from across the United States have invested to finance solar projects through Mosaic. We expect millions more to follow," added Dan Rosen, Mosaic's CEO.

A quote from Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune on the Solar Mosaic website states: “Mosaic provides a solid, community based investment opportunity that’s also good for the planet — truly the best of both worlds.”

Yes, indeed.

Solar Mosaic was actually one of a handful of companies to receive a good bit of money from the US Department of Energy to bring down the soft costs of solar power in the US. It received $2 million back around June of 2012 to develop the platform just launched today.

Here’s one more quote from the Solar Mosaic team before strolling off on my own and rambling about some other clean energy crowdfunding platforms:

“To date, $1.1 million has been invested through Mosaic by more than 400 investors to finance twelve rooftop solar power plants in California, New Jersey, Arizona and the Navajo Nation. Though the SEC has not yet adopted rules implementing the crowdfunding provisions of the JOBS Act, Mosaic is pursuing other avenues for crowdfunding clean energy ahead of the adoption of final rules. As President Obama said after signing the JOBS Act in April 2012, ‘For the first time, ordinary Americans  will be able to go online and invest in entrepreneurs that they believe in.’”

The First?… Depends How You Phrase It

Anyone who has worked in the media business for long knows that superlatives get people’s attention. Good PR people go out of their way to proclaim ownership of a good superlative or two.

“For the first time ever, the American public will be able to invest directly into clean energy projects and receive a solid return,” Solar Mosaic noted above. I think that is true (and they probably know better than me), but as Solar Mosaic (and I) also pointed out above, is that it’s been organizing the crowdfunding of solar projects for awhile… just not as broadly.

But Solar Mosaic isn’t the only corporation looking to open up the floodgates of solar or, more broadly, clean energy crowdfunding. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the folks and big news in this arena that we’ve featured on CleanTechnica (and we’ve probably missed a few companies, organizations, and communities):

 
A reader also recently tipped me off to SunFunder, which looks like it is the first global solar crowdfunding project. Like Solar Mosaic, it is open to the masses — you can invest as little as $25. Anyway, we’ll write a full post focused on that company soon.

Beyond these specific groups, we’ve posted a handful of articles on the clean energy crowdfunding floodgates that are waiting to open. We’ve reposted an article from CEO of Return on Change on this potential; as well as one from Jason Best and Sherwood Neiss, two champions who led the US fight to legalize debt- and equity-based crowdfunding, co-authored Crowdfund Investing for Dummies and founded Crowdfund Capital Advisors (notably, they mentioned Solar Mosaic in that article). And, following Obama’s signing of the JOBS Act, which included this critical opportunity, John Farrell wrote a great post on the potential for community power crowdfunding. Lastly, for now at least, our network (which has weekly Google+ Hangouts “On Air” led by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, founder of sustainablog) recently had an On Air Hangout on the broader topic of crowdfunding “green” projects.

The point of it all is: this is just the beginning, and with it being the beginning, we should have many more “first crowdfunding….” stories to share with you in the coming year or few. Since the news of the day is about Solar Mosaic, I’ll encourage you to head on over there to read more and perhaps even join the fun!

All images courtesy Solar Mosaic

Solar Crowdfunding Is Here — Solar Mosaic Launches New Solar Crowdfunding Site 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.

Solar Electricity Now Under Half The Cost Of Grid Power For Australian Households

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 01:34 PM PST

 
Over the holiday season, I asked one of our dedicated readers, a solar energy expert from Australia, a few questions about the solar situation in Australia. What I got in return was a full post! Check it out:

The cost of rooftop solar continues to fall and in Australia it has dropped by about a third since September 2011. According to Solar Choice, the average installed cost of rooftop solar for households last month was $2.19 US per watt. As most Australians who own a roof can currently borrow money at around 7% or less, this means the cost of electricity from rooftop solar for the typical Australian is now about 12 cents a kilowatt-hour, which is less than half the average cost of grid electricity in Australia.

Thanks to Renewable Energy Certificates, Australian households don’t pay the full cost of their solar systems. How much they save depends on location, but from the first of this month most people will save about 68 cents a watt. So if the cost of solar power remains the same as last month, this means the full cost of new solar in Australia, including our 10% Goods and Services tax, now averages about $2.87 a watt. This makes the full cost of electricity produced about 15 cents a kilowatt-hour, which is still close to half what Australians pay for grid electricity.

Rooftop solar used to receive extra Renewable Energy Certificates, but in a surprise move this was ended six months early, beginning from the first of this month, and solar now receives the same amount as any other renewable energy project. As a result, solar system prices may go up this month, but there is a good chance the solar industry will absorb most of the increase. If it doesn’t, we can expect a bump in solar system prices before their downward trend continues.

As solar electricity is now about half the cost of power from the grid and is by far the cheapest source of electricity available to households, unless there is a very large drop in the cost of daytime grid electricity, we can expect rooftop solar’s rapid expansion to continue and result in a large decrease in Australia’s CO2 emissions.  Personally, I am hoping solar will expand extremely rapidly, as I have had about all the global warming I can handle. The temperature for tomorrow here in Adelaide is forecast to be 44 degrees Celsius. That’s seven degrees above body temperature. If my air conditioner dies, I may die. So please, I beg you, consider installing a rooftop solar system no matter where you are. If not for my sake, then for all the people in India and Africa and other places who don’t have air conditioning.
 

About Ronald Brakels: I live in Adelaide, South Australia, and I’m really bad at writing short bios about myself. I’m interested in clean energy and protecting the environment, but you probably could have guessed that from the context. While I don’t claim to have any great mathematical skills I am proud to be able to say I have addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division down pat, which appears to be a superpower in some parts of the internet. And in a lot of politics as well. Also, I have vague memories of studying statistics at some point. I enjoy long walks on the beach and so would like them to remain above sea level. I have a blog under the name Ronald Brak, but it’s mostly one bad taste joke after another, so don’t go there.

Solar Electricity Now Under Half The Cost Of Grid Power For Australian Households 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.

US Suffers 362 All-Time Record Temperature Highs, No Lows

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 12:46 PM PST

 
The United States suffered through what is probably its warmest calendar year on record, but the really fascinating story of the year’s weather has been pulled out by Wunderground historian Christopher Burton, who analyzed data from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center and found that 2012 saw 362 all-time record temperature highs.

And no lows.

US Sees 362 All Time Record High

The chart above looks at a variety of statistics, all pulled from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center database of sites that measured daily and/or monthly record high and low temperatures. That’s a total of 5,500 sites.

The first two columns show daily record highs and lows – not all-time records broken.

This was one hell of a year. More Than 15,000 Warm Temperature Records Broken in Warm March. NOAA was predicting 2012 would be the hottest year on record back in June, and then again in September. While back in April, Death Valley saw the country’s hottest April temperature rocket to 113°F.

Source: Wunderground by way of ThinkProgress

US Suffers 362 All-Time Record Temperature Highs, No Lows 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.

France Aims To Save Solar Industry

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 12:37 PM PST

 
The new French government has announced plans to double its solar production capacity target, and will provide more financial support to small photovoltaic farms, all in a hope to save the country’s solar industry, which has suffered over recent years.

France Hopes to Revitalise Solar Industry

Image Credit: Allix Rogers

French Energy Minister Delphine Batho announced the measures which the country hopes will spur investments worth over 2 billion euros.

This is valuable news to an industry which has seen 15,000 jobs flushed down the drain over the last two years. In 2010, the French solar industry employed 32,500 people, but that number has dropped to only 18,000 by the end of 2012. In the meantime, solar power and the jobs that come with it have been booming in many neighboring European countries.

Hence the need for the government to step in and help.

The production capacity target will double to 1,000 megawatts (MW) per year, or the equivalent capacity of a small nuclear power reactor, Batho said during a visit to a solar panel factory in Western France this week.

Additionally, the French government will add a bonus of up to 10% on feed-in tariffs for smaller solar farms that are using photovoltaic panels made in Europe.

“Many jobs were lost because of the (former) government’s yoyo policies. But we will fight… to develop the ecological competitiveness of France,” Batho told reporters.

Speaking from the sidelines of the announcement, however, was Jean-Louis Bal, the head of France’s main renewable energy sector lobby SER, who said that the measures would help in the short term but failed to offer long-term stability for the solar industry.

“However it’s the first positive message from the government in over three years,” Bal told reporters.

And focusing on the “now” is a lot more important than hoping the French government will introduce some long-term plan. The simple fact of the matter is that the country needs to start somewhere and build from a solid foundation.

Source: Reuters

France Aims To Save Solar Industry 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.

Fuel Cells — Microgrid Backbone Generation Assets Part 2

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 12:30 PM PST

 
Here’s another great repost from the good folks at Riverview Consulting:

Microgrid Backbone Generation Assets, Part 2: Fuel Cells

Note: This is Part Two of a three-part series that will address several options for backbone generation in a microgrid. This post will focus on fuel cells, a technology that uses a fuel source and oxygen to create electricity through an electrochemical process. The previous post in this series focused on generator sets, a traditional form of auxiliary power, and the third part of this series will focus on microturbines, an up-and-coming alternative.

Introduction

In the first post in this series, I mentioned that my apartment building in Cambridge has two large diesel generator sets that provide electricity to the building during power outages. What I did not mention was that if the power outage had continued throughout the night, I, along with the rest of the tenants in the building (and the tenants in the neighboring buildings), would have had to try to sleep with the noise of two large diesel engines churning throughout the night.

Obviously, it is better to have a little noise pollution than no heat and electricity, but aren't there any options that can provide electricity without all the noise of a generator set? The answer is yes; fuel cells not only produce power quietly, but as an added bonus they can also produce power cleanly. In addition, fuel cells also do not take up much more space than a comparably sized generator set. For example, Bloom Energy's 200 kW fuel cell system (pictured below) is approximately the size of a parking space.

A picture of a Bloom Energy Fuel Cell via Gigaom

Like generator sets, fuel cells are not only for emergency standby power. They can also be used as a form of backbone power generation for a microgrid (as a side note, much research and development effort is being dedicated to developing fuel cells for use in transportation applications). There are already numerous microgrids incorporating fuel cells. For example, University of California at San Diego's microgrid, one of the largest in the country at 42 MW, includes 2.8 MW of fuel cells (click here to read more about this microgrid).

Fuel cells are a bit more complicated than generator sets, so I will start by providing a general overview of how fuel cells work before discussing some of the many different types of fuel cells. I will then explore how fuel cells can be integrated with a microgrid and then briefly compare fuel cells to generator sets.

What is a Fuel Cell?

As explained by the US Department of Energy on its Fuel Cells website, a "fuel cell uses the chemical energy of hydrogen to cleanly and efficiently produce electricity with water and heat as byproducts." When pure hydrogen is used, the only outputs from a fuel cell are water, heat, and electricity. But, how does this actually work? To answer that question, I will turn to the excellent primer provided by the US Department of Energy (most of the information in this section comes from this DOE website).

A typical fuel cell consists of an electrolyte and two catalyst-coated electrodes. One of these electrodes is a cathode, which means the chemical process of reduction, or a gain of electrons, occurs at this electrode. The other electrode is an anode, which means the chemical process of oxidation, or a loss of electrons, occurs at this electrode. The fuel (typically hydrogen) is fed to the anode where a catalyst separates the hydrogen's negatively charged electrons from positively charged protons. At the cathode, oxygen combines with electrons and, in some cases, with species such as protons or water, resulting in water or hydroxide ions, respectively. The electrons from the anode cannot pass through the electrolyte to the positively charged cathode. Thus, they must travel via an electrical circuit to reach the other side of the cell, and it is this movement of electrons that produces electricity. The diagram below illustrates this in a simple manner.

A simple diagram of how a generic fuel cell works. Source: Department of Energy.

For a visual explanation of how a fuel cell works, check out this excellent animation from the US Department of Energy: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/fuelcell_animation.html

Although each fuel cell only produces a tiny amount of energy, numerous fuel cells can be "stacked" into fuel cell systems to produce significant amounts of energy. By grouping together many individual stacks of fuel cells, a wide range of electricity loads can be met with fuel cell technology. In addition, the heat produced from the reaction in the fuel cells can be harnessed for space heating purposes.

As an interesting note, fuel cells have actually been around since the German scientist Christian Friedrich Schonbein first discovered the electrochemical concept behind fuel cells in the early 1800s. However, it was not until the late 1950s that commercial fuel cells began to emerge in response to NASA's energy needs for early space flights. Thus, an understanding of the concept behind fuel cells has been around almost as long as the concept behind generator sets.

Different Types of Fuel Cells

Fuel cell classification is primarily based on the type of electrolyte used. According to the US Department of Energy's Fuel Cell website, "this classification determines the kind of chemical reactions that take place in the cell, the kind of catalysts required, the temperature range in which the cell operates, the fuel required, and other factors. These characteristics, in turn, affect the applications for which these cells are most suitable."

The Department of Energy identifies five main types of fuel cells that are relatively mature: Polymer Electrolyte Membrane, Alkaline, Phosphoric Acid, Molten Carbonate, and Solid Oxide. The chart below provides details on each of these types of fuel cells, including typical size, efficiency, advantages, and disadvantages. In addition to these five main types, there are numerous experimental fuel cells that are in early stages of development. As the chart illustrates, typical sizes range from 1 kW all the way up to 3+ MW (plenty of power to serve as the backbone generation asset in a microgrid). In addition, with efficiencies in the 35-60% range, fuel cells far surpass the efficiency of generator sets. Even higher efficiencies can be achieved by using the heat produced by fuel cells instead of just letting it go to waste.

Department of Energy chart comparing different types of fuel cells. Source: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/fuelcells/pdfs/fc_comparison_chart.pdf

Integrating Fuel Cells with Microgrids

Unlike generator sets, fuel cells have minimal moving parts and require little in the way of maintenance. Thus, they can deliver highly reliable power as long as they have a source of fuel. Although most fuel cells use natural gas delivered by the highly reliable national natural gas transmission and distribution system, even higher levels of reliability can be achieved by using closed-loop systems where hydrogen is produced on-site via electrolysis by other renewable energy assets such as wind or solar. These closed-loop systems have the added benefit of producing absolutely zero greenhouse gas emissions.

On the note of emissions, even systems that do not use renewable energy to produce hydrogen have significantly lower emissions than coal or natural gas power plants. For example, Bloom Energy's 200 kW fuel cell system produces ~0.39 tons of CO2/MWh when using natural gas. In comparison, the US coal power plant fleet produces ~1.40 tons of CO2/MWh and the US natural gas power plant fleet produces ~0.48 tons of CO2/MWh (see this page for more information).

While you would not want to constantly cycle a generator set on and off, certain types of fuel cells can be switched on and off relatively quickly and frequently without concern about damaging the equipment. This characteristic makes fuel cells an attractive choice for use in a microgrid that might be called upon on short notice to provide power to alleviate stress on the main grid. Although most fuel cells currently installed are only for backup power during an outage, they could relatively easily be incorporated into a microgrid as the backbone generation asset.

Cost of Fuel Cells

With regard to cost, fuel cells are certainly more expensive per kilowatt of installed capacity than a generator set, but fuel cells are rapidly falling in price. The below chart from the National Energy Technology Laboratory illustrates the rapid reduction in price per kilowatt of the fuel cell stack. Including the rest of the costs associated with a fuel cell system (design, installation, balance of system, etc.), the fully loaded cost is ~$700/kW. As a reminder, generator sets tend to be in the $300-$600/kW range, but generator sets are a relatively mature technology and the installed cost will likely not decrease significantly faster than the cost of fuel cells.

Decreasing cost of fuel cells over time. Source: National Energy Technology Laboratory.

In terms of fuel costs, a natural gas generator set will cost more per kWh of energy produced because it operates at a lower efficiency (~25%) than a similarly sized natural gas powered fuel cell system (35-60%). In addition, the maintenance costs of a fuel cell system will typically be lower than that of a generator set.

Although I did not find a reliable estimate of Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) for generator sets, I did find Bloom Energy's LCOE estimate of $0.09 to $0.11/kWh after incentives for its natural gas powered fuel cell systems. Considering that the fuel cost alone for a natural gas generator set at commercial natural gas prices is ~$0.11/kWh, the LCOE of fuel cell systems is almost certainly lower than that of generator sets (and diesel generator sets had fuel costs in the ~$0.28/kWh range).

Conclusion

Given the reliability, the relatively low LCOE compared to other distributed energy resources, the low greenhouse gas emissions, small footprint, and wide range of power capacities, a fuel cell system is an excellent choice for the backbone generation asset in a microgrid. As the fuel cell market continues to mature, I expect that more and more organizations will use fuel cells instead of generator sets for backup power. Similarly, as the microgrid market grows, I expect we will see fuel cells playing a large part in future microgrids.

If further commercialization efforts and economies of scale continue to cut the price of fuel cell systems in the coming years, fuel cell systems could potentially completely replace generator sets in locations with reliable access to natural gas.

Greater reliability, cleaner electricity, and lower costs. Sounds like a win-win-win. Now how can I get a fuel cell system for my apartment building so I don't have to listen to diesel generators the next time the power goes out?

If you have any questions about the topics discussed in this blog post or how Riverview can help your organization explore microgrid options, please send us an email: info@riverviewconsultinginc.com

-JJ Augenbraun and the Riverview Consulting Team

Fuel Cells — Microgrid Backbone Generation Assets Part 2 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.

Is Your Utility Ready For A Solar Rooftop Revolution?

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 09:28 AM PST

 
Within a decade, more than 35 million buildings may be generating their own solar electricity (without subsidies) at prices lower than their utility offers, sufficient to power almost 10% of the country.

That's the powerful headline from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's latest report, Commercial Rooftop Revolution. Despite the opportunity, utilities, regulators, and policymakers are largely unprepared for the surge of local solar power.

See a summary of the report in the slides below (or read on):

Is Your Utility Ready for a Solar Rooftop Revolution? from John Farrell

In Minnesota, for example, the state's largest utility expects just 20 megawatts of new solar power in the next 13 years, according to its draft filing with the Public Utility Commission. But within 10 years, according to the report, unsubsidized solar electricity will be so inexpensive that 200 times more solar (over 4,000 megawatts) could be installed on the rooftops of Minnesota homes and businesses, providing lower cost electricity than from the utility.

That's just one wake up call, among many, in Commercial Rooftop Revolution. A solar revolution that has been largely confined to states with generous sunshine (California) or high electricity prices (New Jersey) or both (Hawaii) will spread rapidly in the coming years. Utilities in unexpected states like Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Nebraska will face enormous competition from inexpensive rooftop solar power by 2022.

Many utilities and state regulatory commissions are finding the value in solar and realizing that perceived barriers aren't as large as they had feared. Austin Energy, a Texas municipal utility, now pays a non-subsidy premium for solar because it helps them offset expensive peak power purchases. In Hawaii, regulators have amended archaic limits to match renewable technology. California grid legislators increased the amount of solar allowed to use net metering to offset on-site electricity use. And Colorado and Vermont have capped costs and streamlined solar permitting.

With a solar market driven by cheaper-than-electricity prices, Hawaii's electricity system may hint at the forthcoming paradigm change. One of the state's public utility commissioners notes that utilities need to transition from being grid dominators to facilitators, from being inflexible to being flexible. They will need to switch from a reliance on utility-controlled, large, centralized coal and nuclear power plants to a nimble mix of flexible energy sources like energy storage, demand response, or natural gas. Already, the state is one of 14 states with local or state-based CLEAN Contract (a.k.a. feed-in tariff) policies that dramatically simplify the process of going solar for residential and other electric customers.

With the cost of solar falling rapidly and local solar challenging utility prices nationwide, ILSR's report suggests that utilities will need to accommodate a grassroots movement toward local, affordable energy generation.

There will be more change in the next 10 years than utilities have faced in the last 100. And they had best get ready.

Is Your Utility Ready For A Solar Rooftop Revolution? 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.

Cryogenic Wind Farms May Be On The Way

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 09:24 AM PST

 

London Array offshore wind farm. (Photo via Evwind.es)

A European Union cryogenic* wind project called SUPRAPOWER aims to facilitate the development of more compact, reliable, and powerful wind turbines by using smaller, and lighter generators that can generate just as much power as bigger, traditional generators.

This would be achieved by cooling the wind turbine’s generator coils to cryogenic temperatures until they reach a superconductive state.

At this state, the resistance of the coils to the flow of electric current is zero, so the coils don’t generate heat.

The reason this makes it possible to use smaller generators is because their power handling capacity is actually determined primarily by their temperature. More current translates into generation of more heat, and the generators can only handle so much heat.

Once they get too hot, you can’t let them generate any more current because they will overheat. This amazing phenomenon is called superconductivity, and the coil becomes a superconductor.

In the case of this project, a rotating “cryostat” is the device used to cool the generator down to -253.15°C by means of small Gifford-McMahon coolers provided by the project partner Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum.

A cryostat is a device into which you put objects to keep them refrigerated.

Reliability Benefits of Superconductors

Heat is what destroys generator coils, and nothing else. Keeping them cool enables them to last decades. All wind turbines could benefit from this, but offshore wind turbines could particularly benefit from reduced maintenance requirements.

Efficiency Benefits of Superconductors

In addition to the above, superconducting coils do not waste as much electricity as heat because they don’t resist the flow of electric current. This improves wind turbine efficiency in this case.

Performance Benefits of Superconductors

Superconducting wires are smaller because they can handle unusually large amounts of electricity. This is because they don’t get hot, due to a lack of electrical resistance.

Superconducting refrigerators do come at a cost. However, they are promising and this effort may succeed. And if it doesn’t, as usual, researchers will learn from it, which will help to advance the science of wind-related research.

*If a substance is cryogenic, that means its temperature is below -150°C.

Cryogenic Wind Farms May Be On The Way 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.

China’s Strong Renewable Energy Growth Continues

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 08:57 AM PST

 
In good news for planet Earth, and news that should conversely kick us Western nations up the proverbial, China has again stretched its renewable energy installed capacity, increasing its wind energy capacity up to 56 megawatts at the end of October 2012, and increasing its hydro power capacity to 206 megawatts.

China Continues to Increase Installed Renewable Capacity

Tangshanpeng Wind Farm (Image Source: Land Rover Our Planet on Flickr)

China’s renewable energy capacity installation growth has been impressive, and even more so when you consider that its growth has been higher than the global average.

The global average growth of wind energy capacity over the past decade was only 25% while China’s wind energy capacity rose at an annual average growth of 60%.

When it comes to solar, the average global growth was 44%, while China managed 50% over the same time period.

It’s good news to see China reaching and beating goals it has set for itself, especially in light of its recently introduced 12th Five-Year Plan, in which China has set a target of increasing its total renewable energy consumption to 478 million tonnes of coal equivalent. This would represent approximately 9.5% of the overall energy consumption in the country by 2015.

More Articles on China’s Renewables and its Five-Year Plan:

China’s Strong Renewable Energy Growth Continues 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.

Electric Train Batteries Can Now Last Much Longer, Thanks To New Research

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 03:32 AM PST

 

20130106-225447.jpg

Image Credit: Michael Bezilla

Norfolk Southern Railway No. 999, which opened a few years ago, is the nation’s first completely electric, battery-powered locomotive. While it certaily has significant upsides when compared to diesel trains, there are still some kinks to be worked out. The primary of which is the reliance on lead-acid batteries, and their limited battery life. But now, thanks to new research, new cost-effective methods to prolong the lifespan of these batteries have been developed.

The Penn State researchers had been looking for a sple and cheap way, not dependant on expensive hardware, to improve battery performance. What they came across was a way to reverse “sulfation,” which is a degradation that occurs from repeated charging and recharging, and results in an accumulation of lead sulfate.

The researchers “cycled a lead-acid battery for three months in the same way it would be used in a locomotive. They used a process called electroimpedance spectroscopy and full charge/discharge to identify the main aging mechanisms. Through this, the researchers identified sulfation in one of the six battery cells. They then designed a charging algorithm that could charge the battery and reduce sulfation, but was also able to stop charging before other forms of degradation occurred. The algorithm successfully revived the dead cell and increased the overall capacity.”


 
“We desulfated it, and we increased its capacity,” said Chistopher Rahn, a professor of mechanical engineering. “We didn’t increase it all the way to brand new. We weren’t able to do that, but we did get a big boost.”

The cell capacity was increased by 41% and the overall capacity of the battery by 30%. The researchers are now currently working on a method to stop the development of sulfation in the first place.

Norfolk Southern’s locomotive No.999 began development in 2008, and since then has been serving as a testing ground for the development of battery technologies that could potentially lead to “energy savings and emissions reduction” for the company.

The research was detailed in the newest issue of the Journal of Power Sources.

The wide-scale adoption of electric locomotives in the US, replacing primarily diesel-fueled locomotives, could go a long way towards reducing carbon emissions in the country. If any truly effective plan to significantly limit carbon emissions in this country is ever developed, technologies and improvements such as these will be necessary, and likely invaluable.

Electric Train Batteries Can Now Last Much Longer, Thanks To New Research 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.

170 MW Of Devices Supplied To California Solar Project By Bentek

Posted: 07 Jan 2013 03:21 AM PST

 
Bentek has reported that it will provide a large number of string combiners and cable harnesses for the Centinela Solar Energy facility in Calexico. It is a 200MW project which broke ground in December. 700 million dollars is the cost and it should employ a large number of workers — at least for the construction phase. The Imperial Valley has very high unemployment, so any infrastructure projects which employ local workers is very welcome.

Calexico_Library.jpg

Image Credit: Miguelmoneda, Public Domain

When local workers are utilized on such projects, they not only make money for themselves and their families, they also learn skills they can transfer to future solar installations, so they are more employable. Overall, such projects have a great benefit on their local economies.

The new solar plant should be up and running by the beginning of 2014. Power generated there will be sold to San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).

170 MW Of Devices Supplied To California Solar Project By Bentek 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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