Will Politics Slow the Wind?: Scientific American

A very thought-provoking article in Scientific American walks through some of the growing pains facing the wind industry (Will Politics Slow the Wind?).

Not many years ago, there wasn’t enough wind power coming from the Great Plains to worry about. Now there is, and lots of people are worrying.

A group of mostly East Coast utility companies calling itself the Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy fears that the prime conditions in the Great Plains will make the region’s wind power too cheap for its members to compete with, unless developers there are made to pay the costs of moving wind power eastward.

The article also touches on the backlash generated when a windfarm in Texas announced it would be using stimulus funding to buy turbines manufactured in China.

For years, the knock on wind energy was that it was too expensive, too unreliable, and too far away to be of any practical use. Two of those reasons are gone, and the grid upgrades needed to deliver wind energy will solve a problem that has needed attention for too long.

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Solar panel breakthrough would drive down costs

This sounds promising – a new method of manufacturing solar panels that runs faster, uses less material, and can set up continuous manufacturing process. Those three things combined should dramatically lower the cost of solar panels – one of the big stumbling blocks to greater adoption of solar energy.

The two wild-eyed visionaries behind this development are Robert Stemple, former chaiman of General Motors, and Stanford Avshinsky.

From the Oakland (MI) Press:

After nearly two years of work, they [Stempel and Ovshinsky] are finally ready to go public with a process that will make solar panels less expensive and easier to manufacture by using the thin, amorphous materials on which Ovshinsky has worked since the 1960s…

The key to the new process is that it uses less material. It’s also faster and can run 24/7, helping drive down the cost of the finished product.

via Executives team up, plan to build cheaper solar cells in Oakland County – The Oakland Press Business: The best place for news in and around Oakland County.

Stan Avshinsky is a certified genius. Chances are, you are reading this courtesy of one of his inventions, the LCD screen. He’s spent much of the last fifty years researching practical alternatives to fossil fuels. Among his more than 400 patents are discoveries which resulted in the development of nickel-metal hydride batteries (no longer used in laptop computers, but still important for hybrid cars), and thin-panel photovoltaics for use in solar panels. (Oh, and he’s self-taught. An amazing man, and a wonderful story. Someone should make a movie.)

Wouldn’t it be great if someone at First Solar, just down I-75, were to set up a prototype manufacturing facility under Mr. Avshinky’s direction?

Need referrals? Work in Cleveland?

I’ve been working on a new blog, Networking in Cleveland, with my friend Kelcey Lehrich. If you depend on professional networking and quality referrals for your business, and you happen to be in the Cleveland area, give it a look.

Dell steps up green wars with bamboo boxes | Electronista

Dell Minis to ship in bamboo packaging

updated 11:45 am EST, Tue November 17, 2009

Dell today boasted an industry first by becoming the first to ship its computers in bamboo packaging. The Mini 10 and 10v will have boxes made primarily of the more efficient material, which regrows much faster than the trees used for cardboard and is more easily renewable. As it takes as much stress as steel, it even provides more protection and replaces not just cardboard but also the foam normally used to cushion against an impact.

via Dell steps up green wars with bamboo boxes | Electronista.

Incorporating renewable materials that provide superior protection into packaging – and using it to win customers? Sounds like a no-brainer.

Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati, speaks with Michael Stelzner (SocialMediaExaminer.com)

Michael Stelzner, of www.writingwhitepapers.com interviews Technorati CEO Richard Jalichandra about trends in social media. The video is eight minutes, but is so interesting it seems much shorter.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati from Michael A. Stelzner

Here is the State of the Blogosphere report that Richard mentions in the interview.

A few highlights from the interview:

  • 40% of bloggers have a background in traditional media
  • 28% of bloggers are paid something for their efforts, although full-time bloggers are still rare
  • Rather than supplanting blogs, Twitter has been widely adopted by bloggers as their primary tool for promotion

All in all, an informative, lively interview, and well worth the time to watch.

Is Smart Grid Good News for Consumers?

Big announcement yesterday from the Department of Energy:

President Obama Announces $3.4 Billion Investment to Spur Transition to Smart Energy Grid

Applicants say investments will create tens of thousands of jobs, save energy and empower consumers to cut their electric bills

ARCADIA, FLORIDA – Speaking at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation’s transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system. The end result will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

The $3.4 billion in grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion. Applicants state that the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs, and consumers in 49 states will benefit from these investments in a stronger, more reliable grid. Full listings of the grant awards by category and state are available HERE and HERE. A map of the awards is available HERE.

My first reaction: while the improvements in monitoring capability, transmission efficiency, carrying capacity, and reliability are all welcome, one other aspect of the plan leaves me divided.

Currently, the vast majority of consumers and businesses in the U.S. are monitored with technology that is approaching its centennial. Most people would recognize an electric meter if they saw one. They record total energy usage consumed by one residential or commercial customer – but not the time of day it was used. The meters cannot transmit data and must be read manually. They do not provide price information to the customer, nor do they need to – rates are fixed.

Smart meters, on the other hand, will allow limited two-way communication between the utility and the consumer. In theory, this capability will permit utilities to discourage consumption by charging higher rates during periods of increased demand. The smart meter will notify the consumer in real time of current demand conditions and the rate being charged by the utility. Conceivably, that feedback could be configured into a power profile, allowing consumers to program air conditioners and other appliances to automatically go into power saving mode when rates go up, and activate again when overall usage drops and rates are acceptably low. This would have the effect of shifting some usage to later in the day and distributing consumption more evenly.

Of course, making this cost differential work will require some dramatic changes to the way electricity is currently priced. Most rate commissions have traditionally viewed their mission as consumer advocates, keeping rates as low as possible. That role will have to change, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu noted at a Smart Grid conference in September.

Electricity costs should move to reflect demand: Chu | Reuters

Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:35pm EDT

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the United States’ power grid becomes more sophisticated, electricity rates will need to rise to reflect periods of intense energy use and to encourage consumers to change their electricity habits, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Monday.

Chu said currently most local electricity rate commissions view themselves as consumer advocates and try to keep electricity prices as low as possible.

“Hopefully that will evolve somewhat, so that they begin to fold in some of the real costs of electricity generation and electricity use,” Chu said at conference focused on creating a “smart grid.”

For instance, on hot summer days when air conditioning use is high, utilities would charge customers more for electricity. Chu said those who set rates should be more lenient with electricity generated from cleaner sources such as wind or nuclear power.

Chu also pointed out that during periods of low energy consumption, electricity prices would be cheaper for consumers.

I must admit to some ambivalence on this development.

  • I wrote earlier about the need for a more robust transmission system, and my opinion hasn’t changed.
  • Naturally, I’m excited about the favored position renewables should have in the new regime. (In theory; if nuclear-generated power and power from renewables are put on the same footing, the utilities will likely favor nuclear – despite not having a long-term storage facility for waste, and the fact that there has never been a nuclear generator built on time and on budget in this country. But I digress.)
  • I’m all for encouraging consumers to make informed choices about their energy consumption.
  • Reducing the use of “peaking plants” –  among the costliest to run, and are only brought online to meet the periods of highest demand – is a good thing for consumers and producers.

However, I worry about the implementation, and the level of sophistication needed ot take advantage of the new system.

  • I am particularly concerned about the elderly. Will some choose to disable their air conditioning, in the interest of avoiding the highest tariffs during peak consumption periods, and put their health at risk?
  • I also wonder what the mechanism will be for deciding how much to charge, and when rates will be allowed to fluctuate.

Perhaps some protection is needed, similar to the Homestead Exemption, which would offset rates for qualifying individuals. Another option would be to give seniors credits that would be applied against their electricity bill, much as the HEAP program does for heating during the winter months.

So is the Smart Grid a good thing? Is it needed? Will it benefit consumers?

Train Prisoners for Green Careers?

Matt Kelley has an interesting and thought provoking post at Change.org on training prisoners in green jobs to help them re-enter society.

Corrections departments and facilities around the world offer many kinds of training for prisoners, including GEDs and college degrees, vocations like carpentry and plumbing and artistic talents like painting and video production. But prisons are too far behind the curve. Green jobs — including earth-friendly construction and solar panel manufacturing and installation among many, many other specialties — are certain to be booming in the years ahead, and prisons are a perfect place to teach these trades.

The comments are worth reading as well.

I wonder: how receptive is our society to training prisoners to take some of the best-paying jobs, especially given the current state of the economy? Ex-convicts should become productive members of society, but should that come at the expense displaced workers who haven’t committed a crime, or had to pay for their own training?

Carbon Capture Test Called a Success by We Energies

A test of carbon capture technology in Wisconsin shows that – in the perfect world – technology might lessen the impact of coal-burning power plants on climate change. From Journal-Sentinel writer Thomas Content (via the good people at Energy News Network):

We Energies says carbon-capture project works

An $8 million pilot project in Wisconsin successfully showed that carbon dioxide can be captured and kept from being released from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, We Energies and two partners said Thursday.

The project was the first real-life demonstration of technology that uses chilled ammonia to act as a magnet to capture the greenhouse gas and purify it for possible shipment into underground geological formations instead of into the air.

The Wisconsin project, at the Pleasant Prairie Power Plant, was able to grab at least 90% of the greenhouse gas, officials said, and the French company Alstom that developed the technology is optimistic its next test will capture even more carbon dioxide.

(via Energy News Network)

Since this was just a test, the captured carbon dioxide was released rather than sequestered underground. A similar test at AEP’s Mountaineer power plant in West Virginia will be the first full-scale implementation of the technology. Alstom plans to begin selling the technology in 2015.

A few potential problems are already apparent:

  • Ammonia is synthesized from natural gas. This process of ammonia synthesis generates CO2, so using synthesized ammonia to capture CO2 may not result in a net decrease. At the very least, the ammonia synthesis stage needs to calculated into the final reduction of this process for a true measure of the CO2 reduction accomplished through this process.
  • Ammonia happens to be one of the major inputs for commercial agriculture. It is used in creating fertilizer. Reducing the ammonia available for farming will have much the same impact that diverting corn into ethanol production did: reduced availability resulting in higher prices for ammonia and ultimately higher food prices.
  • The process of ammonia capture consumes between 20-25 percent of the energy produced from the coal-burning plant. This, too, has the effect of making electricity more expensive. As David Biello wrote in the Scientific American blog when the company announced the preliminary results of the test earlier this year:

    In other words, capturing that CO2 will cost between $50 and $90 per metric ton, though (Robert) Hilton [Vice President of Power Technologies and Government Affairs at Alstom] believes that scaling up the process and refining it will reduce that cost…

    The problem with the “efficiency of scale” argument made by Mr. Hilton is that he assumes a large-scale deployment of the technology. This is a circular argument, since widespread deployment of carbon-capture technology is dependent on making the technology affordable.

  • It is also important to note that there has to be someplace to but the carbon dioxide after it is removed from the plant exhaust. In this “small” test, over 58,000 tons of CO2 was captured from a small fraction of the total emissions of one power plant. Nowhere in Wisconsin is there anyplace to sequester the captured CO2 from this and other coal-burning power plants in the state. Wisconsin lacks the proper geological formations to use the same underground deep-well injection technique planned for the Mountaineer plant. Sending the gas by pipeline to a neighboring state has been proposed, but there are no plans and no funding to construct such a pipeline.

Even if all those obstacles can be overcome, it still leaves a power generation system in place that is dependent on cheap coal.
For the billions (or trillions) of dollars it will take to test, develop, and implement carbon capture, isn’t it worth at least considering something truly groundbreaking and sustainable, like improved firming capability for wind and solar energy instead?

Where The Green Jobs Are – How to Find Them, How to Get Them

Want to find a job in green energy? Here you go. You’re welcome.

This map of renewable energy and energy efficiency companies from the Environmental Defense Fund is just plain cool:

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recently published an online map that identifies and profiles more than 1,200 companies in key manufacturing states that they see as poised create new jobs when Congress passes a cap on global warming pollution. The interactive map spotlights companies located in manufacturing regions, including those in communities in the rust belt and coal country.

via Where The Jobs Are – Interactive Tools Tells You Where to Look | The Green Economy Post: Green Careers, Green Jobs, Sustainable Jobs.

Now you know where to look. All you need are the skills. If you’ve wanted to make a career change, but weren’t sure if you had the right background and training, this free seminar from Green Career Central can help.

“NOW is the Time to Prepare for Your Green Career”
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
6 – 7 pm Pacific Time

Green Career Expert and author of the upcoming “Green Careers for Dummies,” Carol McClelland, will reveal five actions you can take right NOW to move toward your green career – even in an economy that is shifting and growing.

Click here to find out more and to sign up for the teleclass.

As I have mentioned before, the renewable energy sector has been adding jobs – even during the recession. If you’ve been thinking about making a change, this is a good opportunity to see what steps you need to take to start your career in the green economy.

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.