Monday, February 11, 2013

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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£600 Million Approved For UK’s ‘Green Deal’ Energy Efficiency Program

Posted: 10 Feb 2013 04:56 PM PST

£600 million of public support for the UK’s ‘Green Deal’ energy efficiency program was recently approved by the European Union.


The Green Deal is a program designed to make investing in energy efficiency improvements, such as insulation, lighting, draught-proofing, hot water efficiency, modern boilers, etc, more affordable for homeowners. The loans are then repaid through energy bills, and transfer with the property, rather than the person who took out the loan.

“The UK Green Deal allows consumers and businesses to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings without making huge upfront investments,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement.

This type of policy is known as Property-Assed Clean Energy (PACE) financing in the US (despite the name, it has also been used for energy efficiency projects here).

The EU Commission works as a regulator for the members of the European Union, deciding matters to do with state aid and competition. According to the commission, the program is a well designed effort to improve efficiency in the UK.

Source: Reuters
Image Credits: Houses via Wikimedia Commons

£600 Million Approved For UK’s ‘Green Deal’ Energy Efficiency Program 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.

Texas Wind Power Transmission Set To Skyrocket As Energy Exec Hints At End Of Nukes

Posted: 10 Feb 2013 02:00 PM PST

A $7 billion project that will send wind power from remote areas in West Texas to Dallas, Houston and other big cities is on the verge of completion, and that could pound yet another nail into the coffin for U.S. nuclear power and, for that matter, coal. The new Texas wind power project was authorized by the state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 2008. When completed some time this year it will include 3,500 miles of new line carrying up to 18,456 megawatts, and according to a trade news report, PUC is already looking to order more wind power transmission lines, apparently with connections to out of state markets.

The question is, does this really mean that nuclear and coal power are on the way out?

new transmission lines for texas wind power

Texas Wind Power Up, Nukes Down

Well yes, eventually, according to Christopher Crane, the CEO of energy giant Exelon. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last week, Crane predicted that the influx of low cost wind power would lead the company to start shuttering its nuclear plants.

That’s no idle conjecture (or threat, as the case may be). Direct costs and risk management issues are already casting a shadow over the nuclear industry in Texas.

In 2011, rival utility giant NRG was set to build two new power plants in Texas but backed off as a wind power surplus combined with a stiffer regulatory environment for nuclear power, consequent on the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The U.S. market isn’t the only place where nuclear energy is getting a chilly reception due to cost and safety concerns. The U.K.’s ambitious plan to build 10 new nuclear power plants just lost the backing of British utility Centrica, which is apparently going to concentrate its resources on renewable energy as well as natural gas.

Texas Wind Power Up, Coal Down

Coal is on even more shaky ground, partly because new wind farms and other clean energy facilities are beginning to offer more competitive alternatives, and also because existing coal power plants are being converted to other fuels, namely biomass and natural gas.

As with nuclear power, the regulatory framework is also becoming more hostile to coal. Just yesterday the Washington Post editorial board urged President Obama to lay out a forceful climate change action plan in his upcoming State-of-the-Union address, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency is already poised to issue new rules that don’t require Congress to consent:

“The EPA has already established or is in the process of establishing a range of new air pollution rules. These rules will ensure than no new conventional coal plants are built in the United States, and they will force the closure of some particularly awful, ancient coal-fired facilities.”

The Global Energy Whack-a-Mole

Though the U.S. utility landscape is transitioning to safer, renewable forms of energy, that’s not going to have much of an effect on global greenhouse gas emissions.

The domestic market for coal is drying up, but U.S. coal companies have simply begun exporting more coal abroad. For that matter, pressure is mounting on Congress to allow more natural gas exports due to the domestic gas boom, and the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would make the U.S. an export enabler of notoriously “dirty” tar sands oil from Canada.

As for nuclear energy, the nation’s stock of aging nuclear facilities is creating one giant headache for local emergency planners to say nothing of ratepayers and taxpayers.

It’s also creating a conundrum for diversified energy companies like Exelon, which operates the nation’s largest fleet of nuclear facilities but is also rapidly embracing wind and other renewables in its portfolio.

Last year, Exelon’s nuclear interests put it in the awkward position of opposing extension of the wind power tax credit, for which offense the company was kicked out of the American Wind Energy Association.

However, Exelon is also starting to amass significant wind power interests. Though wind and other renewables only account for about three percent of the company’s capacity now, that could change pretty fast.

Exelon’s first commercial wind farm only started operating in January 2012, and the company already has 44 wind projects operating in 10 different states.

Image: Texas wind farm by katsrcool (Bob)

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Texas Wind Power Transmission Set To Skyrocket As Energy Exec Hints At End Of Nukes 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.

Heat Pumps — Introduction (VIDEO)

Posted: 10 Feb 2013 09:09 AM PST

The renewable energy graduate student who got me to go give a guest lecture on renewable energy to his class just recently passed along some useful videos on different types of clean technology. These are introductory videos, but they’re not as introductory as our typical blog posts about such topics — they’re each about 30 minutes to 1 hour in length. Here’s the first one, on the topic of heat pumps:

Heat Pumps — Introduction (VIDEO) 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 Turbines Included In Video Of Beautiful Things (VIDEO)

Posted: 10 Feb 2013 08:00 AM PST

Below is a beautiful video by an “Astronomy Photographer of the Year.” While there is one clip that I find very much not beautiful, the rest of the video is of several beautiful things. Wind turbines, incidentally, are featured in a few parts of the video. And, let’s be honest, those are beautiful machines, aren’t they?

Here’s the video:

Wind Turbines Included In Video Of Beautiful Things (VIDEO) 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.

Germans Love Their Solar Power & Wind Power — No Solar Subsidy Or Wind Subsidy ‘Backlash’!

Posted: 10 Feb 2013 07:03 AM PST

Imagine this: your national and local economies are benefiting from a shift to renewable energy, your air and water are getting cleaner, your electric grid is becoming more democratized, you and your neighbors are benefiting financially from becoming solar power producers, you get to cast of the shackles of guilt that come from burning fossil fuels, and the whole world is looking up to you as the leader you are in stimulating a solar power market and bringing down solar power prices.

Surely, this all makes you want to change course 180° and badmouth the solar policy that got you there, right?

Of course not, but that’s what much of the US believes. That’s what fossil fuel and utility leaders in Germany and elsewhere are saying. That’s what conservative German politicians are saying. That’s what misinformed reporters are saying. But, quite frankly, that isn’t the case.

When you see talk of a “backlash to solar subsidies” in American media (all too common), you never actually see any polls or studies cited, do you? No, you simply receive quotes from conservative politicians, certain heads of the energy industry, sometimes anonymous sources in the energy industry, and professional disinformers.

Whenever I see a comment from an actual citizen, she or he is in full support of the policy that has made Germany a global leader in this arena. But, luckily, I don’t just have random comments to rely on for this article. I’ve got the results of a poll conducted by a major energy association representing 1,800 companies (companies in natural gas, electricity, heating, etc). The poll was focused on Germany’s “Energy Transition” or “Energy Revolution” (Energiewende). About 1,000 citizens were questioned in telephone surveys conducted in January 2011, January 2012, and June 2012. Let’s have a look.

90% of Respondents Said that Energiewende Is “Very Important” or “Important”

Germans think Energiewende is important / good

The Majority (51–61%) of Respondents Said that Renewable Energy Growth Was “Too Slow,” while Another 30-33% Said It Was “Just Right”

Only 6–10% said it was too fast:

german poll energiewende renewable energy growth too slow

Of Those Who Said It Was Too Slow,…

  • 41% said that was due to “Delays Caused by Policy”
  • 30% said that was due to “Blockade by Power Companies”
  • 20% said that was due to “High Financial Outlay”
  • 12% said that was due to “Too Little Funding”

renewable energy growth in Germany poll

59% of Respondents Said that Energiewende Has More Advantages for Industry in Germany than Disadvantages (Only 15% Said It Had More Disadvantages)

renewable energy more advantages for industry in germany

And, from One of German Our Writers, Why Energy Prices Have Risen:

Respondents answered according to the following split:

  • 33.6% – corperate greed, monopolies, market failure
  • 22.9% — fundamental changes in energy markets (e.g. rising costs for fossil energy sources)
  • 7.9% — renewable energy subsidies

So, the next time someone talks to you about the “solar subsidy backlash” in Germany, I think you know how to respond, or where to send them (i.e. to this post).

Thoughts? Feel free to chime in below or connect with me via your favorite social media networks.


Germans Love Their Solar Power & Wind Power — No Solar Subsidy Or Wind Subsidy ‘Backlash’! 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.

Green Infrastructure Turns Rain Into A Resource, Not A Pollution Source

Posted: 10 Feb 2013 07:00 AM PST

nrdc switchboardBy Peter Lehner, Executive Director of NRDC

New York City, like hundreds of older cities around the country, can’t stand the rain. With so much paved area, and so little ground to soak up the water, the city’s sewer system can get overwhelmed by less than an inch of rainfall, triggering the discharge of water mixed with sewage into the nearest water body. Anyone who's walked along the Hudson River the morning after a storm knows what this looks like.

For New York, excess stormwater is the biggest source of water pollution in the city. It’s a 30-billion-gallon-a-year problem.

The traditional approach to stormwater management is to treat it like garbage, as waste that needs to be disposed of. But a growing number of cities have recently embraced an innovative new approach to stormwater that transforms this "waste" into a resource that will improve neighborhoods. By building out a suite of solutions known as green infrastructure — including features like porous pavement, street plantings, and green roofs—city landscapes can absorb rainwater where it falls. Instead of washing straight into the sewer system and triggering sewage discharges, this water can be used as nature intended, to nurture trees and plants, keeping neighborhoods cooler, greener, and the air cleaner.

This street planting outside a Brooklyn playground is one of the city’s pilot projects. By expanding the planted area around a streetside tree, using native plants and specially engineered, absorbent soil, city engineers have created a system that can absorb nearly 1,000 gallons of stormwater runoff, which would have previously been mixed with sewage and ejected directly into Jamaica Bay. The tree box also has extra storage chambers underground, which can hang on to extra water and slowly release it for the trees to drink.

The city plans to eliminate 1.5 billion gallons of water waste each year through green infrastructure. City officials estimate that the plan will cost $2.4 billion less than building conventional “gray” infrastructure, such as pipes and large storage tanks.

“It's particularly important for the State and City to leverage innovative, cost-effective solutions like these when there are competing social needs and taxpayer dollars must deliver more services for less, said city councilman James F. Gennaro, who supported the plan. Business leaders are on board with the effort as well, praising its cost-effectiveness and the use of public and private properties for stormwater management.

Philadelphia has an even more ambitious green infrastructure plan, and other cities are exploring the idea as well. Using green infrastructure to stop water waste is a radical departure from the norm, and it’s incredibly encouraging to see the idea take root. Stopping waste, even though it makes perfect sense, sometimes requires a change in thinking — and when it happens, the ripple effects can spread far and wide.

(This post is part of our Stop Waste series, featuring people, towns, businesses and industries that are finding innovative ways to cut waste, boost efficiency and make the most out of our valuable, and increasingly limited, natural resources.)

Peter Lehner is the Executive Director of NRDC. The position is his second at NRDC. Beginning in 1994, he led the Clean Water Program for five years, before leaving in 1999 to serve as the head of the Environmental Protection Bureau for the Attorney General of the State of New York.

Green Infrastructure Turns Rain Into A Resource, Not A Pollution Source 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.

Value Of Solar Tariffs — The Way To Go?

Posted: 10 Feb 2013 06:05 AM PST

clean energy subsidiesThere’s a certain issue regarding solar policy that often gets to me. I’ve tackled it in several ways, but the policy idea below is one of the more intriguing of options, in my opinion. It stems from research done by academics from the University of Albany, George Washington University, and Clean Power Research; an article from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance; and a policy put in place by Austin Energy.

First of all, the issue that gets to me is that the value of solar power is consistently underestimated in our electricity markets, in politics, and in the media.

Beyond the electricity it provides, solar power provides many benefits. A unit of electricity from solar is worth more than a unit of electricity from natural gas or coal.

When this really becomes an issue for me is when discussing energy subsidies… or simply when discussing the price of electricity from solar versus the price of electricity from natural gas or coal.

At one point, I even wrote a post contending that solar (and wind) subsidies should continue forever, or at least until a proper price is put on pollution that equals the playing field for all forms of energy. I still like that idea (if the proper subsidies were used), but the problem with that argument is that subsidies are widely viewed as a way to artificially support one industry or portion of an industry over another (even if the subsidies are really just aimed at correcting market failures).

solar panels money investmentBut another way of dealing with this imbalance is to avoid a politically controversial subsidy altogether and simply implement a policy of paying solar power producers (including homeowners with solar roofs) for the full value of their power.

You may be saying to yourself, “isn’t that what we do already?” Not exactly. In most places, we do pay electricity producers for their electricity, of course, but we don’t pay solar power producers for the added value their power includes.

Let me explain this with some more specifics. Electricity from a coal power plant is useful, but pollution from a coal power plant is not — it causes societal harm. However, instead of pricing that pollution (since that is a struggle politically), with a “value of solar tariff,” you pay solar power producers for both the value of the electricity they produce and the value of reducing air pollution, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

There are some other key things to value, as well. For example, solar provides more grid security, solar provides more price stability (due to its $0 fuel cost and a predictable supply of fuel), solar power boosts the economy to a greater degree, and rooftop solar power reduces the need for additional transmission infrastructure. Valuing all these things takes a bit of calculation, but it’s nothing too difficult or too complex to figure out.

As noted at the top of the page, people have done some research on the matter. Back in June 2011, I posted an article on a study they had conducted on the matter. It had come to the conclusion, using conservative assumptions, that the value of solar power in the state of New York was 15 to 41 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity:

costs vs value of solar power

For California, meanwhile, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found a value of 33¢/kWh:

solar power costs and value

Additionally, Austin Energy (AE) actually implemented a Value of Solar Tariff (VOST) as an alternative to net metering. “The VOST was derived from analyses by PG&E, Sandia Labs, Clean Power Research and others,” Greentech Media‘s Herman Trabish writes. Benefits that solar brought to the municipality included:

1. Energy value for predictably priced point-of-consumption electricity production;

2. Generation value for the avoided cost of building traditional generation;

3. Environmental value for reduced emissions and pollution;

4. Transmission and distribution system value for reduced burdens on existing wires and infrastructure and the eliminated need for new wires and infrastructure;

5. Disaster recovery value for serving when central stations go offline;

6. Reactive power value for stabilizing voltage drops that cause outages; and

7. Loss savings value for preventing all the above-named losses.

Here’s an initial breakdown of the value of different solar power installations from Clean Power Research:

Since the initial analysis, another value has been identified and added. “In the 12.8 cents per kilowatt-hour 2011 update of the annually revalued tariff, ‘the value for solar went up,’ [AE Solar Incentives Program Manager Leslie] Libby said, because the times ‘when solar is produced match [the times] when ERCOT needs power.’”

"What it is not," Libby noted, is a special incentive. “It is a credit applied to our customer's bill for bringing this valuable resource into our service territory. That resource has a value to Austin Energy and we are going to credit them for that value…. [A] residential solar system owner is billed like every other customer for their total consumption. The brilliance of it is this piece. Solar system owners are no longer a special class of customer."

The Keys to Success or Failure: Assumptions

All of the above sounds great, doesn’t it. But, as with just about everything, the effectiveness and validity of such a policy would depend on the assumptions. Assumptions would have to be made for each item, sometimes several assumptions for each item.

As just one example, a Harvard Medical School study found that the health and environmental costs of coal range from 9–27¢/kWh. If solar were solely replacing coal, the added value in this category would thus be 9–27¢/kWh. But which value in that continuum should it be? It depends on which assumptions from that study you decide to adopt. And what would be the value of replacing natural gas or nuclear power? Again, you’re going to have to make more assumptions.

If the assumptions you use are significantly different from the reality they are supposed to represent, you’re going to come up with a value of solar tariff that doesn’t accurately balance the market. Plus, you’re simply always going to end up missing things. However, even a move in the right direction helps to make the market more balanced and realistic than it is today.

Coming back to the first study above, here are some limitations its researchers noted:

  • No value was claimed beyond 30 year life cycle operation for solar systems, although the likelihood of much longer quasi‐free operation is high (Zweibel, 2010)
  • The positive impact on international tensions and the reduction of military expense to secure ever more limited sources of energy and increasing environmental disruptions was not quantified.
  • The fact dispersed solar generation creates the basis for a strategically more secure grid than the current "hub and spoke" power grid in an age of growing terrorism and global disruptions concerns was not quantified.
  • Economic growth impact was not quantified beyond tax revenue enhancement.
  • The question of government subsidies awarded to current finite energy sources (i.e.,displaceable taxpayers' expense) was not addressed.

This all makes the value of solar identified even less than its true value.

Overall, though, as long as a decently qualified and unbiased team is charged with agreeing on the assumptions and determining the tariff value, I think this could very well be the best system around for paying solar producers what they deserve. What do you think?

Images: moneypollutionsolar panels & money via Shutterstock; chart and tables via sources linked above.

Value Of Solar Tariffs — The Way To Go? 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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