Archive for the ‘financing’ Category

Bring more jobs to Ohio the goal of solar energy tour

More news on renewable energy from Ohio:

DAYTON — The hope that new manufacturing jobs follow a broadening base of renewable energy sources is the message of this weekend’s Ohio Solar Tour throughout 91 communities, including Dayton.

via Bring more jobs to Ohio the goal of solar energy tour | Dayton Daily News.

The Ohio Solar Tour is being organized by the good folks at Green Energy Ohio – the same outfit that got the Lake Erie Wind project rolling. More on that in a bit.

For me, the really exciting news comes at the end of the piece, detailing some of the larger wind, solar, and biomass projects underway:

Biomass:

On Friday, Oct. 2, Cherokee Run Landfill in Logan County will host a community open house for its new 4.8 megawatt landfill gas project. The landfill consists in part of trash from the Dayton area.

The new facility will generate enough power for 2,800 homes, according to developers DTE Biomass Energy and Shaw Environmental Inc.

Solar:

What will be one of the larger solar energy fields in the eastern United States will be built on 83 acres outside Upper Sandusky in Wyandot County.

Construction begins in November on the project that will use more than 165,000 panels built by First Solar Inc., which has a manufacturing plant in Perrysburg. It should be completed in summer 2010 and be able to power about 1,500 homes.

Wind:

A major project that could dot Champaign County’s landscape with wind turbines is moving forward, with public hearings on the proposed sites set for late October. It would include building more than 70 wind turbines across six townships in Champaign County where Ohio’s highest elevations are located.

Advertisements

Exxon Invests in Biofuel from Algae Production

Whether its “conventional” sources or renewable, energy is energy, and there is money to be made.

What does Exxon investment mean for algae biofuels?

By Callum James

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) have recently announced that ExxonMobil are set to invest as much as $600 million in biofuel production technology, specifically biofuel produced from algae. Exxon seem to be following the lead of many other much smaller energy companies who have been researching algae as a source of biofuel for some time.

However Exxon are not doing this on their own, they will work alongside Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI). Together they have formed a research and development partnership focused on exploring the production of biofuels from photosynthetic algae. EERE plan on using photosynthetic algae, such as single-celled “microalgae” and blue-green algae, harnessing their ability to use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into cellular oils along with some long-chain hydrocarbons that can be processed into fuels and chemicals.

via Biofuel from algae (via ngoilgas.com).

The are two main advantages of algae-based biofuel.

  • Algae-based biofuel could be converted into a renewable replacement for gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel, without requiring major vehicle retrofitting. The flexibility to refine multiple fuels from a single source is also attractive.
  • Yield from algae production dwarfs that of even the most robust crop-based biofuels on a per-acre basis – more than three times as great as current crops can produce.

I applaud this move. The current actors in the energy markets are extremely well-positioned for this new development. The trading, distribution, and regulatory systems are already in place, no “perfect storm” of events has to fall into place (as was true of the Pickens Plan). No disruption of consumers’ patterns of consumption or lifestyles is required to transition to these new fuels.

Better living through chemistry – the 21st century version.

World’s first full-scale floating wind turbine inaugurated in Norway

Here’s an interesting news item (via ecoseed.org): The first floating, commercial-scale wind turbine has been deployed for testing in the North Sea:

The world’s first full-scale floating wind turbine, which has a capacity of 2.3 megawatts, was recently inaugurated in Norway.

The launch was celebrated by Technip, a Paris-based project management, engineering and construction company for the oil and gas industry, and StatoilHydro, a Norwegian energy company focused on upstream oil and gas operations.

Hywind floating wind turbine

Hywind floating wind turbine

Called the Hywind demonstration unit, the world’s first full-scale floating wind turbine will operate for a minimum of two years with the purpose of knowing more about the maintenance of floating offshore windmills and the practical aspects of the operation.

The unit’s base was designed and constructed by Paris-based Technip. The turbine itself is a Siemens Wind Power model. The tower was assembled remotely, and towed approximately 10 km (6 mi.) off the southwest shore of Norway to begin the demonstration phase.

This is interesting on several counts. Although wind turbines can be constructed just about anywhere, the best wind for commercial-scale generation blows over open water – coastlines and the Great Lakes. If this test is successful, it will dramatically impact the calculus for profitability for wind power. While offshore wind towers are already being constructed (a very large part of Britain’s goal of 15% renewable energy by 2020, for example), siting them on the ocean floor is a difficult undertaking that adds both time and expense to each project. If this demonstration project is successful, future turbines could be deployed much more quickly and easily – and with much lower cost.

The second thing that interests me is that this test is being underwritten by an oil and gas company. If the transition to sustainable energy – with minimal disruption – is going to happen, more involvement by the companies already involved in energy production and distribution has to happen. New technologies being tested by traditional energy suppliers is a good sign.

Wind Power, Growing Pains, and the Economy

I came across a few interesting factoids recently.

  1. In 2007, wind energy not only led renewables in terms of installed capacity in the US, but actually led all forms of generation added that year – including coal.
  2. 2008 was a record-setting year for wind generation, with 8,500 MW coming online – adding almost 50% to the domestic wind generation capacity.

If that’s all you knew about wind power in the US, you might think that the future for wind power looks pretty good. But here’s the catch: the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind and other renewables expired last year. In every previous instance that the PTC has lapsed, new wind installations plummeted the following year.

This year is no exception. According to a story in Forbes magazine this week Wind Sector Looks To Congress For Lift – Forbes.com:

Following a half-decade-long boom, the wind energy sector went bust in the second quarter of 2009. Some 1,200 megawatts of new wind projects were completed during the quarter, the American Wind Energy Association said Wednesday, half the average for the previous four quarters, when wind developers installed nearly 10 GW of generating capacity, making the U.S. the world’s largest wind market.

This is particularly critical for wind installations because the major cost associated with wind is the upfront cost of development. (Ironically, this is also its major advantage over supposedly “cheaper” coal-fired plants, which require additional outlays for fuel) The PTC has been used as an investment vehicle and sold to the larger investment houses and commercial banks. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, you probably know that the financial sector has taken a beating and just recently shown signs of recovery. As a result, they have clamped down on lending in general, much less for multibillion-dollar projects whose viability depends on a patchwork of state incentives and regulation and a Federal tax credit that is only intermittently available. Although the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act renewed the PTC for three years, and added a more streamlined investment vehicle (Investment Tax Credits, or ITC), the hiatus slowed what had been record growth in the industry.

To be sure, there are other problems facing the renewable energy sector. From the Associated Press: Pickens calls off massive wind farm in Texas

HOUSTON (AP) — Plans for the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle have been scrapped, energy baron T. Boone Pickens said Tuesday, and he’s looking for a home for 687 giant wind turbines.

The article indicates that the lack of a robust transmission system to feed the Pickens wind farm energy to where it could be used is part of the reason Mr. Pickens has altered his original plan. While the current (relatively) low price of natural gas makes the original Pickens Plan less economical, surely the expiration of the PTC, and inaction by Congress for a national renewable energy standard also factor into the decision.

Echoing Pickens’ concerns, the American Wind Energy Association has been pushing for additional funding for improved transmission lines. From the Associated Press coverage of the AWEA annual conference:

The U.S. has become the world’s biggest wind-power generator and of the electricity production added in the country last year, 42 percent came from wind turbines. But as more megawatts come on line, the problem of getting power from wind-swept plains to places where people actually live becomes more urgent.

“In some ways we’re reaching the glass ceiling,” said Rob Gramlich, vice president of policy at the American Wind Energy Association. It was the organization’s biggest annual conference to date, drawing 1,200 exhibitors and more than 20,000 people.

The country’s grid is aging, often overloaded and, in the case of wide-open states like Wyoming and North Dakota — some of the best places to erect wind turbines — not nearly extensive enough to move electricity to major markets where customers wait.

The wind industry group says it needs 19,000 miles of new high-voltage lines — at a cost of about $100 billion — for wind-farm developers to keep building.

There is really nothing standing in the way of the continued growth of renewable energy in this country – except a lack of political will. And that’s a real shame, because these kinds of projects are what our country and our economy could use right now. According to AWEA, the 8,500 MW added last year pumped approximately $17 billion into the economy, and created 35,000 new, good paying jobs at a time when the overall economy was shedding jobs at the worst rate since the Great Depression.

Sounds like the change we need, all right.

California city provides financing for homeowners to encourage more energy-efficient homes

A story in Environment magazine details a financing program being offered in Berkley, Calif., that helps homeowners pay for improvements that increase energy efficiency:

Many barriers exist to reducing energy consumption and increasing the use of renewable energy. One is high first cost (“up-front cost”), which is both a psychological and financial barrier for many people. Our research group from the University of California, Berkeley, has worked with a number of cities, initially Berkeley to address this barrier by making financing for solar power installations and energy-efficiency retrofits more appealing and accessible to property owners. Urgency around the need to cut emissions has inspired cities to apply old tools, such as municipal financing, to the new problem of reducing the amount of carbon in the energy supply.

Here is the gist of it: the city issues special purpose bonds to create a finance pool for energy efficiency retrofits. When a homeowners’ application is approved, the work is done. The city issues a check to pay for it and puts a lien on the home. A special tax is then added to repay the city with interest over a 20-year period, and these payments are tax-deductible, similar to a home equity loan. The program is self-supporting, so there is no exposure for the city in terms of expenditures from the general fund, and only homeowners that are approved by the program are subjected to the special tax.

To say that there has been a great deal of interest in the Berkley program would be a massive understatement. The vote to authorize the program passed with 81 percent of the vote, and enough applications for the entire initial program allotment of $1.5 million were submitted within the first ten minutes. As of summer 2008, the city had recieved over 1,300 inquiries from around the world about the program.

The authors are concerned about not just reducing energy usage, but especially in the need to retrofit existing housing stock in order to meet the state’s ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets – hence the mention of solar installations. However, as they themselves point out, retrofitting solar photovoltaic (PV) or solar thermal heating upgrades only makes financial sense in areas that have moderate-to-high energy costs and where rebates or subsidies are available to homeowners, and only if compared with future energy costs that include an as-yet-unimplemented carbon tax. On the other hand, increasing the energy efficiency of homes pays of in all cases. One advantage of subsidizing such “efficiency-only” efforts would be the increased number of homeowners that could participate in such programs, since the average cost of upgrading to highly efficient furnaces, sealing against air infiltration/loss, and adding ductwork etc. to improve efficiency are much less expensive than a solar PV retrofit. These measures also have the benefit of making the houses more comfortable to live in.

Saving money and having a more comfortable home? As I sit here feeling the cold air drafting through my own 30-year-old house, I can’t help thinking that if such a program were available that I would sign up in a heartbeat.