Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Ford Engine Plant #1 Reopens to Build Fuel Efficient V6

Ford Engine Plant #1 reopened yesterday. The retooled factory is now building an advanced engine for use in the 2010 Lincoln MKS.

This is good news for the 250 or so Ford employees who were recalled. But this is at best a baby step in the right direction. According to news reports, the new 6-cylinder engine delivers performance typically seen from a V8. You could spin this as Ford being responsive to that segment of buyers that want full-size cars, but it’s not going to do much to curb dependence on foreign oil.

Why do I keep getting flashes of buggy whips going through my brain?

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Steinway & Sons Installs World’s Largest Industrial Solar Heating & Cooling System

This comes across my electronic desk courtesy of chloregy. I’m excited about this because I’m a fan of both Steinway pianos and renewable energy, and here’s a story that combines both.

ERS, Inc., a progressive energy engineering consulting firm based in Massachusetts, is currently working with Steinway & Sons to install the largest solar-sourced industrial heating/cooling system in the world at the renown piano maker’s 11-acre manufacturing complex in Long Island City, NY.

Solar power – in the form of photovoltaic (electrical) generation – will have to improve quite a bit in its efficiency before it is feasible for this climate (the Northeast US). But using concentrated solar power (CSP) for heating applications is another animal altogether. I remember reading an article some years ago about a demonstration project that successfully used solar-hot water for 100% of its water and living space heating. In Maine. (Memory is a funny thing, and not to be trusted altogether, but I want to say it was conducted by or with the University of Maine.)

Year-round, even on cloudy days, even in the depths of winter. In Maine. I believe they kept a natural gas option open as a backup plan, but it was never needed.

I took another look at solar hot water systems recently, as they are eligible for the new renewable energy home improvement tax credit. The solar water heating systems are fairly simple, really: A solar “collector” transfers heat energy to a heating coil containing water or a water-ethylene glycol mix (antifreeze). Tubing with that heated fluid is coiled inside a water storage tank, allowing the heat to transfer to the water. It’s very similar to a conventional hot water heater and tank setup, except the energy to heat the water is coming from the coil, instead of a natural gas burner or electric heating element. (Here’s a nice writeup from Popular Mechanics a few years ago, subtitled Help your country and your wallet – install a solar hot water heater.)

The environmental system installed at Steinway & Sons takes these principles a step farther, using CSP to heat the transfer fluid to over 300ºF. The system heats not only the hot water at the plant, but also the work space. In the summer months, the solar collector uses a separate mechanism to provide air conditioning. The system is expected to pay for itself in five years. (According the the article on PM, typical savings for home hot-water heating systems is 20-40%.)

Climate control in the Steinway plant is critical. The assembly of these instruments require high degree of precision with regard to temperature and humidity control. The company’s deployment of this system speaks volumes about the capacity and reliability of CSP heating and cooling.

As a Steinway fan, I am thrilled that the company has taken this step. As a renewable energy booster, I am through the roof.

Ford Truck Plant to Retool to Build Electric Cars

The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog is reporting that Ford will spend half a billion dollars to retool one of its factories to produce an all-electric verson of the Ford Focus:

Amidst one of the auto industry’s largest wholesale shifts in modern history, the Ford Motor Company is investing $550 million to turn a factory that was dedicated to making large and fuel-hungry sport utility vehicles into a modern and scalable small-car plant that will eventually produce an all-electric version of the Focus.

The Michigan Assembly Plant, known as one of the world’s most profitable manufacturing sites during the S.U.V. boom of the 1990s, was once the hub for the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. The plant is expected to begin building the new Ford Focus next year, followed by production of the all-electric Focus in 2011.

via Ford Truck Plant to Build Electric Cars – Green Inc. Blog – NYTimes.com.

This is great news, if a little late. I wonder how much of the impetus to produce an all-electric version of the Focus comes as one of the strings from the auto bailout, and how much comes from Ford execs noticing the popularity of the Prius and the incredible response to the mere announcement of the Chevy Volt.

Whatever the reason, it’s about time.

Vestas Creates 2,500 Green Jobs

Here’s some good news for the industry and the economy in general, from MyGreen Education and Career:

Vestas opened its first North American manufacturing plant in Windsor earlier this year. The 650-employee facility will produce 1,800 giant wind blades a year.

The new Brighton facilities, which should be operational by July 1, 2010, will include:

* A $180 million blade-manufacturing facility that will produce 1,800 blades a year and provide 650 new jobs.

* A $110 million nacelle assembly factory ( to be their largest in the world) that will produce 1,400 nacelles a year and provide 700 new jobs.

* A Technology and Production Engineering Office.

All told, Vestas’ entire commitment to Colorado represents a nearly $700 million capital investment and 2,450 new jobs

The 178-acre site is located in unincorporated Weld County and will be annexed into Brighton. Vestas is purchasing 112 acres from Brighton and 66 acres from RTD, which obtained the land from the Union Pacific Railroad.

In addition, Vestas intends to build the world’s largest tower-manufacturing facility elsewhere in Colorado; the exact location has not yet been announced.

All told, Vestas’entire commitment to Colorado represents a nearly $700 million capital investment and 2,450 new jobs.

via Vestas Creates 2500 Green Jobs in the North American Wind Industry | MyGreen Education and Career.

That’s 2,400 direct jobs. Many more will be supported and created in direct and indirect suppliers and related businesses: steel producers, trucking, energy, telecommunications, entertainment…

NPR: Power Hungry: Visualizing The U.S. Electric Grid

File under tres cool: Interactive map of the current US electrial grid.

Interactive power grid map from NPR

Is anyone else surprised by the relative lack of high-voltage lines in the Northeast and Great Lakes states? Is that because there is enough local generation capacity to meet local needs? Or is it an artifact of the way the power “system” was built?

I am not an electrical engineer, but it seems to me that a few more high-voltage lines to somewhere outside the region would be prudent. Profitable, even – selling surplus power becomes more economical when delivered over higher-voltage (less lossy) transmission lines. And building in some redundancy would also be a good thing, in case of an attack on the transmission grid. I am not a mad bomber, either, yet it seems to me that those transmission towers are pretty vulnerable structures.

A cure for colony collapse disorder? – Ars Technica

Spanish researchers believe they have found the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, a worldwide problem which resulted in huge numbers of previously healthy bee colonies to suddenly sicken and die.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Microbiology Reports may clarify things, as a team of Spanish researchers report the cause of the colony collapse disorder, and also suggest a cure. The researchers isolated the parasitic fungi Nosema ceranae from a pair of Spanish apiaries, while finding none of the other proposed causes—Varroa destructor, IAPV, or pesticides. With the identification of the invading pathogen, the team treated other diseased colonies with fumagillin—an antibiotic—and observed a complete recovery of the colony.

via A cure for colony collapse – Ars Technica.

With this vector identified, the apiarists (bee scientists – new word for me too!) can take steps to manage the causes – including better hygiene to prevent infection and obviate the need for antibiotics.

Interior Dept. to use economic stimulus funds to promote renewable energy

Well, this is pretty cool:

Red Rock National Conservation Area, Nevada –Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced $305 million will fund more than 650 Bureau of Land Management projects across the country under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The investments will restore landscapes and habitat, spur renewable energy development on public lands, and create jobs.

A skosh over thirteen percent will be used for commercial-scale renewable energy projects on land under the BLM portfolio. Over 100 projects – wind, solar, biomass, geothermal – are in various stages of the permitting process. Some of the funds will also be used to create or improve power transmission over publicly-managed land. While it’s not as sexy as the generation side of the equation, improving the capability and reliability of the transmission grid is hugely important. Having commercial scale renewable generation taking place on remote areas is useless if that power can’t make it to where it is needed.

It is true that most of the money will be used on more traditional public works-type projects, but there is a very strong component dedicated to increasing energy efficiency (yay!) and employing renewable energy, where practical. For instance, of the stimulus plan-funded projects in Nevada,

BLM stimulus funding in Nevada will provide $26.4 million for more than 40 projects, including investments in renewable energy, habitat restoration, roads, bridges and trails, abandoned mines and capital improvements. About $1.2 million of that total will be used to install solar power systems at 16 BLM fire stations in the State, including one next to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The photovoltaic systems will be wired into the electric services at the stations, providing power with a savings in utility payments and reducing their carbon footprint.

Again, while not as sexy as renewable generation, spending money to improve energy efficiency in public buildings offers immediate impact and ongoing savings for taxpayers.

Let me reiterate: yay!

And the cherry on top: Anyone can check on the progress of these projects to see how the stimulus funds are actually being used:

The public will be able to follow the progress of each project on http://www.recovery.gov and on http://www.interior.gov/recovery. Secretary Salazar has appointed a Senior Advisor for Economic Recovery, Chris Henderson, and an Interior Economic Recovery Task Force. Henderson and the Task Force will work closely with the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General to ensure that the recovery program is meeting the high standards for accountability, responsibility, and transparency that President Obama has set.