Archive for the ‘green energy’ Tag

Ethanol In Your Gasoline Tank: The Pros And Cons

Ford Model T - the first commercially available flex fuel vehicle

Flex fuel vehicles have been around a while (Source: Wikipedia)

A really nice summary of ethanol as a replacement fuel for automobiles and light trucks over at Green Car Reports:

Conclusion If you want to use ethanol as a vehicle fuel today, you’re already getting up to 10 percent of the alcohol fuel in your “gasoline” every time you fill it. That percentage may slowly rise to 15 percent, but it’s far from settled as to whether occasional–or regular–use of use E15 may damage cars built since 2001. You can buy a flex-fuel vehicle, especially among full-size sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks, and larger sedans offered by U.S. carmakers. Your challenge will be finding E85 to put in it, since only about 2 percent of all gas stations offer it, and those stations are not geographically dispersed. While ethanol offers numerous benefits as vehicle fuel, it comes with quite a number of drawbacks as well–and increasing its use to the levels mandated by law for the next decade may prove challenging, even impossible.

Meanwhile, you’re likely buying at least a little ethanol every time you fill up with regular gasoline–making it the future fuel you’re already using today.

via Ethanol In Your Gasoline Tank: The Pros And Cons.

Fortunately, I do live in the Midwest, and there are E85 stations reasonably close; unfortunately, I don’t own a flex-fuel vehicle (FFV). In fact, there are only about 10 million on the road in the US – out of over 247 million registered passenger vehicles.

And of course, situations like the one current drought affecting more than half the country will impact availability of corn for conversion to ethanol and exacerbate the “Food or Fuel” conundrum.

Hey, I didn’t say I had all the answers.

Renewable jobs growth faster than any other energy sector

More good news from the renewable energy front:

Clean energy is now creating more jobs for the energy produced than coal or natural gas, and solar energy is the fastest growing industry in the United States, according to industry and academic sources.

Solar energy is on track to add another 25,000 – 50,000 jobs this year, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industry Association. Even in this sluggish economy, fully 50 percent of the association’s members plan to add new hires.

And then there’s this story from the Des Moines Register:

Iowa’s wind generation reached 20 percent of the state’s total electricity network during the second quarter, the American Wind Energy Association reports.

Over 7,000 megawatts of new capacity was under construction nationally by July 1, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That’s the busiest the wind generation industry has been since the third quarter of 2008.

So to all the skeptics that keep saying that renewables only supply a small part of America’s energy, I say: take another look. The times, they are a-changing.

New 200MW wind farm will double wind energy in Michigan

How crazy is this? With Michigan’s long history of manufacturing, a single 200MW wind farm will more than double the amount of wind generation capacity in that state.

Big expansion soon for Michigan’s wind power grid
Associated Press
11:30 a.m. CDT, July 10, 2011

BETHANY TOWNSHIP, Mich.— An array of 133 wind turbines that will tower 46 stories over farmers’ fields and rural homes will begin taking shape in a few weeks in central Michigan’s Gratiot County.

The Invenergy LLC project is designed to produce 200 megawatts of electricity, starting in 2012. That’s more than the 164 megawatts made by all of Michigan’s wind turbines now in operation, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In all, 103 turbines now operate statewide.

How much crazier is it that Ohio has no utility-scale wind farms yet, and Iowa leads the country?

US renewable energy generation exceeds nuclear

Here’s another story you won’t hear about in the news. The U.S. Energy Information Administration Monthly Energy Review for June 2011 shows that for the first time, domestic renewable energy (.pdf) production surpassed nuclear (.pdf) in the first three months of this year.

To make the head to head comparison requires converting nuclear generation in kilowatt-hours (KWH) to British Thermal Units (BTU). EIA uses a conversion factor of 10460 BTU per KWH, so nuclear generation of 203,194 million KWH equates to 2.125 quadrillion BTU (2.125 x 1015). Renewable energy (hydroelectric, geothermal, solar thermal, solar PV, wind, ethanol, biodiesel, and biomass) was 2.245 quadrillion BTU.

Renewable energy increased by 15 percent year-over-year, while nuclear generation has been fairly constant at 8.4 quadrillion KWH/year. The pace of additional renewable capacity should get another boost when utility-scale solar PV projects start coming online later this year, driven by a reduction of almost 60 percent in the cost per KW generated of solar PV panels. And as the market for solar energy heats up, (pardon the pun), a US company will continue to enjoy a major competive edge over its Chinese competitors, according to Standard & Poor’s Credit Analyst Swami Venkataraman:

First Solar Inc. (FSLR), based in Tempe, Arizona, is likely to remain the market leader because its cadmium telluride generators cost at least 30 percent less to produce than the polysilicon panels made in China, Venkataraman said. “Even if poly prices were to fall significantly below the current spot price of about $50 per kilogram ($22.70 a pound), First Solar would still have a significant edge over the lowest- cost Chinese players,” he said.

(h/t to Ars Technica)

(edited 7/14/11 to fix broken link to Bloomberg article)

Navistar to Launch Electric Truck for Medium Duty

This is interesting:

Navistar Launches Electric Truck in “Green” Portland WA

Navistar, Inc. announced that it will launch it’s new eStar™ truck, the first full-production, purpose-built all-electric truck, in the uber-green, environmentally sustainable city of Portland, Oregon. “Freight and service trucks present the biggest opportunity for real and significant reductions in carbon emissions and pollution, especially in the urban environment,” said Portland Mayor Sam Adams. “Because of all Portland is doing to be a more sustainable and prosperous city and encourage the electric vehicle industry, I’m proud that Navistar chose Portland as its initial launch city for the eStar purpose-built, all-electric truck.”

Navistar also announced its eStar dealer for the Pacific Northwest market will be Cascadia International Trucks of Tacoma, Wash.

via Green Car Magazine

I’m not sure what the market will have to say about a delivery truck with only 100 mile range. The article notes that the design allows for easy battery swapping, but I’m not sure that counts as “convenient” – the driver will have to return to the garage/warehouse, and be idle while the changeout takes place.

I’ll count that as a baby step in the right direction.

LEEDCo announces partnership with GE for offshore wind turbines

A big step forward in the pursuit for wind energy off the north shore was announced today at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual WINDPOWER Conference in Dallas. Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) announced that it will be partnering with GE for the Northeast Ohio offshore wind energy project.

This step has been in the planning for almost two years now. I’ve been to some of the public meetings for the Lake Erie wind development project, and recently I was struck by the sense of determination about the wind farm. I don’t think I can recall that sense of positive vision taking shape since maybe the Gateway development.

via Green City Blue Lake

Tesla, Toyota to build electric cars at Fremont, CA NUMMI plant

Tesla, Toyota to build electric cars at NUMMI plant

“Stunning” says it all.

In a stunning deal, Tesla Motors announced late Thursday that it is teaming up with Toyota to build its all-electric Model S sedan at the recently shuttered NUMMI plant in Fremont, creating more than 1,000 new jobs.

This is exactly the kind of partnership I was hoping one of the Big Three would do with Tesla.

Tesla will use the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant to begin production of the Model S, a sedan that can seat five adults and two children and has a range of 300 miles. Once it reaches full production at the NUMMI plant, Tesla expects to produce 20,000 electric vehicles each year, which will sell for $50,000.

But the Model S would occupy only a small part of the NUMMI plant, leaving room for Tesla and Toyota to manufacture other models of electric cars there.

“Long term, we think we could create 10,000 jobs, half from Tesla and half from our suppliers,” [Tesla CEO Elon] Musk said.

(via San Jose Mercury News)

Wind farm in Champaign County gets green light from Ohio Power Siting Board

More good news for renewable energy – and jobs – in Ohio:

COLUMBUS – The Ohio Power Siting Board approved a certificate Monday to allow construction of 53 of 70 wind turbines proposed for eastern Champaign County by New York-based developer, EverPower Renewables.

via Wind farm OK’d (Urbana Citizen)

Of the 17 turbines that were not approved, all but two were rejected due to safety concerns, as they interfered with the flight space requirements for a nearby airfield. Two others were denied because they did not meet the minimum property setback.

All in all, this is good news for the citizens of Champaign County and Ohio. The Buckeye Wind development will be the first commercial-scale wind farm in Ohio, and long overdue.

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?