Thursday, December 27, 2007

Solar Surges Ahead

This blog entry on Grist Environmental News and Commentary points out that Nanosolar has shipped its first panels, and that the company means business. Its new factory in San Jose will be producing more panels than all other companies in the US combined. These panels are printed thin-film cells. Significantly, the commentator points out that the price of these panels will undercut the price of new coal production. Read about it here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Transportation Developments

Here's a fun article about a guy who's a motorhead with a talent for hotrodding big vehicles to be both more powerful and more efficient--often with the ability to run on a variety of fuels. For example, he's modified a Hummer to get twice the mileage with twice the power using a diesel motor which can run on grease as well. He's cut CO2 emissions, too, by as much as 80% in some of the cars he's messed with. In many cases he uses 90% factory parts, and he wonders why the big boys can't do this stuff themselves. The article suggests they're starting to take notice. Read all about the Motorhead Messiah here.

Then, this story reports on a company that's promoting the use of giant parachute kites for reducing energy needs in ocean shipping. Computer chips are used to measure winds and maximize efficiency of these systems. The company aims to equip 1500 ships by 2015. Read about the Football field-sized kites for ships here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Being Green Can Produce Jobs

With the US economy on the rocks or near to it, some look to the green business sector for hope. In the book Natural Capitalism (which I couldn't recommend more highly) Hunter and Amory Lovins and Paul Hawken argue--for one thing--that there's huge money to be made and limitless work available in the field of fixing the planet.

Here's a story from Time Magazine which makes the same point. Van Jones (pictured above) is promoting programs that "Give the work that most needs to be done to the people who most need the work." The article says his message is to "solve two pressing problems--pollution and poverty--at once."

Other pertinent ideas:
"For the environmental movement, embracing Jones' message means recasting global warming not just as an existential threat but as an enormous economic opportunity."
"A study by the Cleantech Network, which tracks green investment, found that for every $100 million in green venture capital, 250,000 new jobs could be created."
By my math, that's just $400 per job. Hmmm...

It's a short article. Go read it all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wind Energy Plus (in Minnesota)

While this article is specific to Minnesota, where it is believed that wind in particular holds some of the best promise for meeting renewable energy mandates, it also covers a range of other technologies that are being tried, and it highlights some of the challenges of introducing new methods of energy production, one of them being not enough transmission lines to carry electricity from wind turbines.

Some of the other alternative energy methods mentioned are converting coal to oil, burning turkey litter to generate electricity, converting grass seed waste into an energy source, and using electricity derived from wind to produce hydrogen.

Read the story here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Power to the People

Well, I don't think it is going to change the way big energy produces power. But on the other hand, it is an indication of what is possible, and it sounds like fun.

David Butcher's Pedal Powered Generator advertises $50 plans to build your own bike powered generator. If you buy the parts new, they cost about $230. If you recycle an old bike, you can do better.

There are videos and other information if you click the links on the left side tab. I was struck by this note under one of the videos:

At the Green House event in San Francisco, the PPPM simultaneously powers: Cell Phone charger, Desktop Fan, DVD Player, 2 LED and 2 Compact Fluorescent Lights and a Laptop (battery charging). Burners were interested to hear that a single 60 Watt incandescent light required more power than everything listed above combined.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Waste Heat to Energy

Here's a fascinating story about how waste heat going up the smokestack can be turned into a profitable commodity with waste heat electrical generators. According the article there's a huge potential for overall energy savings. I wonder if it's something utilities might offer as a service to customers.

There's an interesting twist in the article. It cites a recent situation in Massachusetts where this type of energy production was not included in a clean energy bill because solar and wind advocates feared losing government money. The article cites people saying that one energy conserving initiative should not preclude another -- we need to do all these things. Still, that the issue came up at all is an indication that even among those advocating alternative energy production there will be political differences.

Read the story here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cobb House and Lifestyle Change

Here's an interesting example of a woman who left a high paying career to live more simply. She built her own small "cob" cottage. Since her cob house -- made of mud, essentially -- is placed in a residential community outside Seattle, it is interesting to see how she worked to make her house acceptable to the neighbors and building inspector, alike. It is also indicative and reflective of a new way of thinking about how a growing number of people want to relate to the world.

Read the article here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Unusual Transport

Some day, no doubt, the likes of ocean cruise liners, tankers and large cargo ships, and flying machines like jet air planes and helicopters, will seem dated and dinosaur like in their ability to convert energy to motion. Here are two examples of the new wave of machines which may some day alter the way we move around.

First, this strange boat which can cross the Atlantic on a tank of diesel.

Then there's this plan for a luxury air cruise liner which is to be a kind of blimp/jet hybrid, which could take off and land just about anywhere without the need for long runways. It's not clear to me from the article if it saves energy in any way, but perhaps it indicates a new direction of possibility.
"Unlike its dirigible ancestors, the Aeroscraft is not lighter than air. Its 14 million cubic feet of helium hoist only two thirds of the craft's weight. The rigid and surprisingly aerodynamic body—driven by huge rearward propellers—generates enough additional lift to keep the behemoth and its 400-ton payload aloft while cruising. During takeoff and landing, six turbofan jet engines push the ship up or ease its descent."

Full story here.

Seeing Things in the Round

I've read more than my fair share of bad news this week. Here's one more story, this one delivering the cheery news on the diminishing number our closest primate relatives around the world. The relevance here is this section:

Another problem is habitat destruction to make space for biofuel plantations such as oil palm. Developed economies such as the US and Europe are pledging to use more sustainable energy sources to combat climate change, but this is having a knock-on effect on tropical wildlife. "It is creating a huge market and now in several countries politicians are thinking of converting tropical forest areas to palm plantations," he said.

It seems to me that any thinking that fails to see -- or attempt to see and account for -- the full implications of various human actions simply prolongs the cycle of bad news.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Peak Oil

A German based group released a report in London today stating that world oil production peaked in 2006. The group based its conclusions on actual production rather than estimates of reserves. While reserve estimates suggest 42 years more oil supply at current consumption rates, the group believes there is only two thirds that amount and that production will be halved by 2030, declining at a rate of 7% a year. The report also warns of social and political unrest and wars as a result of oil shortages.

Read the full report here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Increase Your Need

Here's a brilliant idea, which may provide low amounts of energy to the developing world. A California-based inventor has developed a wind belt (as opposed to wind mill) for creating small amounts of electricity in a low tech form for powering LEDs and radios in developing countries. Read the article and watch a video about it here.

Emphasis on the low tech nature of this invention: Said Peter Haas, founder of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, “If Shawn’s innovation breaks, locals can fix it. If a solar panel breaks, the family is out a panel.”

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Old and New

A growing awareness has been forming in my mind that the phase of technology we are entering is going to rely on a subtle blend of ancient and pre-industrial technology harnessed with modern materials, engineering and know-how. This fascinating story called The Mechanical Battery posted at Damn Interesting by Christopher S. Putnam is a prime example of how that type of thinking is struggling to crack itself out of the egg in which it is incubating.

The "flywheel", as ancient as pottery, but also key to the industrial revolution and still in use everywhere, could serve as a powerful, compact battery. NASA and automakers alike are beginning to take the idea seriously. Using magnetic bearings which allow the flywheel to take a charge fast, spin at phenomenal speeds, and discharge the energy incrementally but powerfully, modern flywheels await the work of engineers to flesh out the details.

Incidentally, these types of flywheels are already being used by energy industries to store energy and help regulate the grid to prevent brown-outs.

Read the full story here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Algae Studied to Restore Environment and Advance Development of Bioenergy

University of Minnesota researches, working in conjunction with the DOE Joint Genome Institute, today published the results of a genetic study of an ancient algae that may produce new biological strategies for capturing developing biofuels, assimilating carbon from the atmosphere and removing toxins from soil. The organism, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (called "Chlamy" by researchers), is a one-celled ancestor of plants and animals that retains characteristics of both. The study, which is a part of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, is also expected to advance research in understanding a variety of human diseases, including dyskinesia, a neurological movement disorder, and polycystic kidney disease.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Texas Wind Power Development May Spur Competitive Transmission Development

This article from the Dallas News reports that legislation requiring 10,000 MW of renewable energy resources in Texas by 2025 may have the effect of creating competition among transmission companies for the right to develop the transmission facilities to bring wind power from West Texas to densely populated North Texas. The Texas Public Utilites Commission is designating Competitive Renewable Energy Zones - regions in West Texas with enough wind power potential to warrant special transmission lines - and will then solicit competitive bids to build the lines from transmission companies that want to compete for the privilege; the PUC has not yet determined whether it will take bids from out-of-state transmission companies.

Friday, October 5, 2007

First Ski Resort Windfarm in North America

Jiminy Peak Ski Resort in Hancock MA works to counter the negative effects of global warming at ski resorts by generating 33% of its own electricity from this wind turbine.

Monday, September 24, 2007

New York Solar Energy Industries Association

Here's an interesting advocacy and eduacational organization, based in New York State, working to advance the uses of solar energy. Look at the New York Solar Energy Industries Association (NYSEIA) web site here and click here to join their group.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Industrial Consumers Change Their Position on Competitive Markets

This article from the Allentown, Pennsylvania Morning Call reports that some large industrial electricity consumers are now opposed to the same competitive wholesale electricity markets which they had strongly supported in the late 1990's. The article noted that company officials from Allegheny Technologies are considering whether to expand their current Pittsburgh operations, or move to another state where there are no competitive electricity markets; industrial energy customers such as Allegheny Technologies were among the first and most forceful advocates of ending the state's traditional regulatory control over the electric industry in favor of determining electricity prices by market forces. However, these same customers now believe that a basic element of the structure of the competitive markets - marginal pricing - is responsible for their increased energy costs.

Read the full article here

Friday, September 21, 2007

Question Mark Surrounding Biofuels

There's a great rush to develop biofuels as an alternative to burning fossil fuels, but the excitement may be tempered by reports like this one, which raises questions about the way biofuels affect the environment. A scientist, Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen, has recently shown that microbes responsible for the production of biofuels may create more nitrous oxide (N2O) from fertilizer than previously thought. Since N2O is greenhouse gas, the implication is that biofuels may actually contribute more to global warming. A scientist from Princeton disputes the findings.

Read the full story here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Revolutionary Heating Tube

How this 12-inch miracle tube could halve heating bills

This story from the English newspaper, The Daily Mail, describes a new invention (which scientists have yet to explain) which produces more heat than electricity put into it. The company that designed the heating tube hopes to have a product on the market in 18 months.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

FERC Staff Issues Assessment of Demand Response Programs

FERC Staff reported that the level of and interest in electric demand response and advanced metering increased significantly beyond the activities discussed in its 2006 Assessment of Demand Response and Advanced Metering. Demand response activities reduce electricity demand during periods of peak usage in response to price, monetary incentives, or utility directives; demand reductions from these activities helped to ensure reliable operation of electric markets during the record-setting peaks of July and August 2006. Advanced metering technologies can enhance an electric customer’s ability to reduce demand in response to a higher price and an electric utility’s ability to meter and monitor the customer’s electricity use.

2007 FERC Staff Assessment of Demand Response and Advanced Metering

Kansas Utility Adopts Climate Change Policy

Westar Energy, the largest electric utility in the state of Kansas, adopted a formal policy entitled the Westar Energy Climate Change Policy. This policy provides the company with a framework within which to make decisions that affect the environment, along with a set of principles that outline actions Westar Energy will take regarding climate change, including efforts reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, educating the public about climate change and energy efficiency and supporting constructive public policies and initiatives.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mobile Homes has an interesting site, with a forum page devoted to alternative energy. They also feature a 3-part article on building a solar air heater, as a heating supplement. Finally, they have a page title Renewable Energy Source where they offer $20 to tell them (and show them with photos) about how you made your mobile home a little bit greener.

Friday, September 7, 2007

After the Bust, What's the Next Boom?

This entry from Green Energy News is ostensibly about a new technique for growing algae as feedstock for biofuels.

But it opens with an interesting historical speculation: That the American economy goes through regular boom and bust cycles. The last boom/bust cycle was the dot com bubble. The current impending bust revolves around a housing bubble fueled by unwise lending practices.

The author here speculates the next boom (which must also bust) will revolve around clean, green and alternative energy.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Better Than a Battery?

This article reports a claim by a company that has filed a patent on a device it says will take a charge fast, distribute it fast or slow as needed, and will revolutionize transportation and who knows what else. Many are skeptical of the claim, and the company has yet to reveal its wonder, but the story may be worth keeping on the radar screen.

Texas Startup Says It Has Batteries Beat

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

New Efforts to Re-Regulate Power Markets

The New York Times reports, in "A New Push to Regulate Power Costs," that many states are rolling back their initiatives or returning money to individuals and businesses; the article reports on specific efforts in Illinois, Ohio and Virginia. The article states that Energy Department data shows that the cost of power in states that embraced competition has risen faster than in states that had retained traditional rate regulation. One advocate of publicly owned power systems has calculated that, in the 2006-2007 Power Year, customers in competitive states paid an extra $48 billion for their power than they would have paid under rates in regulated states; further, the total real cost to consumers in states with competition was $292 billion in higher electricity prices since 2000. The article notes that since the early 1990s, 25 states adopted laws to induce some form of competition, but that most of these laws only address wholesale markets, and thus artificially induced competition in only part of the industry.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

New Alternatives

In the Washington Post there's a story, Beyond Wind and Solar, A New Generation of Clean Energy, which discusses new projects in the US to harness energy creatively.

"Beyond solar power and wind, which is America's most developed renewable-energy sector, a host of companies are exploring a variety of more obscure technologies. Researchers are trying to come up with ways to turn algae into diesel fuel. In landfills, startups are attempting to wring energy out of waste such as leaves, tires and "car fluff" from junked automobiles.

"This push for lesser-known renewables [...] also includes geothermal, solar thermal and tidal energy..."

The story mentions that the House placed a requirement in its energy bill last month that by 2020 15% of the private energy supply come from alternative energy sources. The article also profiles efforts by a Canadian company with a factory in Oregon designing test buoys to harness the energy of ocean waves.

Read full story here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Future Energy Development

The Future Energy Development entry at Wikipedia provides some interesting perspective on the development of human energy use. For one thing, it puts energy development in a social/historical context. And it takes a look at all the known possible energy sources and discusses pros and cons. The article also speaks in terms of comparing the energy input and energy output of a system, and looking at the net efficiency of energy production options. Lots to think about.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pennsylvania Expands Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards

Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell signed House Bill 1203 on August 24, 2007. This bill: 1) requires installation of 850 MW of solar power by 2020; 2) adds solar thermal to the list of Tier I renewable resources; 3) ensures that generators will own Renewable Energy Credits unless they expressly sell these to third parties; and, 4) clarifies that Pennsylvania utilities must purchase renewable energy produced within Pennsylvania to satisfy their alternative energy purchasing requirements.

See also

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New York Planning Third RPS Solicitation

The New York Department of Public Service published a press release yesterday regarding its status report to the NY Public Service Commission on the success of its Renewable Portfolio Standard Program; this report also noted that the DPS plans to issue a third solicitation for renewable generation later in 2007. The two previous solicitations issued since the RPS was adopted by the Commission in 2004 have resulted in contracts for approximately 3 million MWh of renewable energy from 26 projects, with a total capacity of more than 800 MW. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which administers the RPS Program, estimates that the total new renewable capacity associated with the RPS program could exceed 1,213 MW by the fall of 2008. The 2004 RPS Order required that 25% New York's electricity come from renewable generation sources by 2013; in 2004, 19.3% of electricity generated in New York came from renewable energy generation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tidal Power in the UK

Construction of the world's first commercial tidal generator is expected to be completed before the end of 2007. Marine Current Turbines will be installing the 1.2 MW SeaGen turbine in Strangford Loughs, Northern Ireland. The SeaGen turbine relies upon large underwater turbines that are embedded in the ocean floor in locations with strong tidal flows or ocean currents; this technology is relatively quick to install and does not have the environmental drawbacks of tidal barrage generating systems, which are essentially hydroelectric dams that utilize the currents of tidal estuaries. The underwater turbines rotate relatively slowly, so they pose little threat to marine life, and they are feasible in any location that is 20-30 meters deep with an average current speed of 4.5-5 knots.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Renewable Energy Access

This web site is chock full of information and news on renewable energy.

Solar Tower

A company in Australia is planning a mammoth project to produce energy using what they call a solar tower (also known as a solar chimney). The idea is to enclose a great circle of desert with a covering of glass/plastic. When the air between the ground and the covering is heated by the sun, an airflow forms toward a central tower. As the air is drawn through the tower (which is planned to be 1000 meters, over 3000 feet, tall) it passes through turbines at ground level to produce electricity. Read more about it at the EnviroMission website.

There's a lot more general information (history, workings and comparisons to other technologies) at wikipedia.

Energy Evolution News Launch

This blog will provide links and original content related to the development of the energy industry.