Solar Surges Past Wind, Hydropower as State's No. 1 Renewable Energy Source

By Pete Danko for KQED News:  In just a few short years, solar power has gotten big in California, and now it’s at the top of the renewable energy heap. Data compiled from daily reports by the state’s major grid manager indicate that in 2015, solar became the No. 1 source of renewable energy in California. Not only did solar beat wind power for the first time, but it also topped drought-depleted hydropower, the long-standing leader in California electricity generation outside fossil fuels and nuclear. The California Independent System Operator doesn’t cover the entire state, but it does manage about 80 percent of the California grid, including those portions served by PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, the state’s three big investor-owned utilities. Every day, CAISO reports on the hourly electrical output from a long list of sources for the electricity used by 30 million Californians, ranging from biogas at the low end of generation to thermal — natural gas, essentially — at the high end.   Cont'd...

French Biofuel Maker Is Tested by $35 Oil Despite Tax Breaks

Francois De Beaupuy  for Bloomberg:  Global Bioenergies SA, an unprofitable French maker of sugar-based gasoline, said oil’s recent slump to $35 a barrel is testing the financial viability of its technology even as it plans expansion in the U.S. “The economic case doesn’t stand with oil at $35, except when there’s a tax incentive” as in various European countries and the U.S., Chief Executive Officer Marc Delcourt said in an interview. Without tax breaks, the company would need Brent crude well above $100 a barrel, he said. Shares of Global Bioenergies, listed in Paris since 2011, have dropped more than 50 percent from their peak in May as oil’s collapse raised investor concern that biofuel makers couldn’t compete. Delcourt is counting on the end of European sugar production quotas in 2017 and changes in U.S. eating habits to keep the sweetener’s price low as it eyes additional capacity. Raw-sugar futures are trading at half their price five years ago.   Cont'd...

Could this be the future of biofuels?

Anmar Frangoul for CNBC:  A common sight in the British countryside, bracken -- a type of fern -- is now being hailed as the next big source of biofuel.  Based in the south west of England, Brackenburn produces "brackettes" – biomass pellets made from bracken that they shred and compress into briquettes which produce much more heat when burnt than oak. "In our estimation there's 2.5 million acres of bracken in the UK… it's a huge area," Barry Smith, Brackenburn's marketing and sales director, told CNBC in a phone interview. "Left unchecked, bracken encroaches by three percent a year… at the end of the day there's no use for it whatsoever," Smith added. "It's a nuisance and to call it a crop is kind of giving it a status it doesn't deserve."   Cont'd...

36 countries launch world alliance for geothermal energy

Thirty-six countries gave the official start Monday to an initiative to promote geothermal energy in developing economies as a cleaner alternative to oil, gas and coal. The Global Geothermal Alliance, launched on the sidelines of the UN climate talks in Le Bourget, aims at a sixfold increase in geothermal electricity production and a tripling of geothermal-derived heating by 2030. At present, geothermal is growing modestly, at three to four percent per year, providing 12 gigawatts of electricity annually. But this is just a fraction of its overall potential of 100 gigawatts, according to the industry. Only 24 out of 90 countries with geothermal potential actually use the resource. The alliance said its members will seek to overcome "political uncertainty" about geothermal and strengthen the industry's skills base. The Global Geothermal Alliance initiative was sketched out in September 2014 at a summit organised by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Members include countries on thermal "hotspots" in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, ranging from Kenya and Tanzania to Malaysia, the Philippines and Guatemala.   Cont'd...

Research Report - Better Biofuels Ahead - The Road to Low-Carbon Fuels

By Emily Cassidy, Research Analyst for EWG.org:  Biofuels produced from switchgrass and post-harvest corn waste could significantly reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change, according to an analysis by EWG and University of California biofuels experts. EWG’s analysis found that the life cycle carbon intensity of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass was 47 percent lower than that of gasoline. Ethanol made from corn stover – the leaves and stalks that remain in the field after the grain is harvested – has a life-cycle carbon intensity 96 percent lower than gasoline’s.[1] By contrast, studies have found that the life cycle carbon intensity of corn ethanol is greater than that of gasoline (Mullins et al. 2010, EPA, 2010a). Yet current federal policies strongly favor the production of conventional biofuels such as corn ethanol at the expense of lower-carbon alternatives.    View full article...

Researchers want oil and gas drillers to adopt geothermal technology

By Brooks Hays for UPI:  Researchers at the University of North Dakota believe geothermal energy production should be a significant part of America's future energy portfolio. But to get the industry off the ground, proponents are looking to an industry not normally associated with renewable energy -- gas and oil drillers. "Oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and North Dakota contain formation waters of a temperature that is adequate for geothermal power production," researchers wrote in their new study on the subject, published this week in the journal Geosphere. Geothermal energy requires heat, and natural sources of heat lie deep within the ground. Gas and oil drillers have already built the infrastructure to access deep-lying natural resources. Of course, gas and oil drillers want gas and oil, not heat. But in their quest for gas and oil, they get heat nonetheless.  Cont'd...

Duke scientists making algae biofuel more viable

By Teresa Meng for The Chronicle:  A Duke University professor has been awarded a $5.2 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to explore ways of making algae a cost efficient fuel source. The Duke-led Marine Algae Industrialization Consortium, comprised of both universities and energy companies, aims to lower the cost of algae oil, which can be used in place of fossil fuels. The team is working to identify algae proteins that can be used in protein-based nutritional products in order to make the entire algae farming process more cost-efficient. Zackary Johnson, Arthur P. Kaupe assistant professor of molecular biology in marine science, is the principal investigator of MAGIC and has been researching algae biofuels for eight years. “The goal of the research is to drive down the cost of algae biofuel by increasing the value of proteins within algae,” Johnson explained. Johnson and his team at MAGIC are trying to use multiple ways so that algae grown for biofuel extraction can also be sold after oil is extracted from the algae. Proteins in algae could be used for nutritional products such as poultry feed, fish feed or even food for humans. Extracting and selling these proteins would lower the overall production cost of extracting oil from the algae. In the future, algae proteins as food sources might even be a sustainable approach to feed the world. Algae biofuel has the potential to become a major source of sustainable energy because it can be produced quickly, easily and in high quality, Johnson said.   Cont'd...

Balls of DNA Could Fix Geothermal Energy's Biggest Problem

Shara Tonn for Wired.com:  Geothermal Power has the potential to be cheap, reliable, and abundant—running off the heat of the Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s especially true thanks to a new generation of home-grown geothermal plants, which don’t run off the steam of natural hot springs and geysers. No need to find those hydrothermal gems; today, geothermal engineers are making their own reservoirs by drilling down into hot rock and pumping in water. The catch? Engineers can’t see what’s happening underground. Drilling wells in just the right spot can be like playing golf blindfolded: Even if someone faces you in the right direction, you could still hit the ball way off the green. But tiny fragments of DNA dropped into the wells could soon help engineers follow the path of water underground, helping them sink their putts every time. In a basic geothermal plant set-up, engineers actually have to drill two types of wells. The first kind, which goes down two or three miles, carries cold water down deep, where it fractures the hot rock and creates new paths for water to move. It’s kind of like fracking, but without the chemicals.  Cont'd...

Balls of DNA Could Fix Geothermal Energy's Biggest Problem

Shara Tonn for Wired.com:  Geothermal Power has the potential to be cheap, reliable, and abundant—running off the heat of the Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s especially true thanks to a new generation of home-grown geothermal plants, which don’t run off the steam of natural hot springs and geysers. No need to find those hydrothermal gems; today, geothermal engineers are making their own reservoirs by drilling down into hot rock and pumping in water. The catch? Engineers can’t see what’s happening underground. Drilling wells in just the right spot can be like playing golf blindfolded: Even if someone faces you in the right direction, you could still hit the ball way off the green. But tiny fragments of DNA dropped into the wells could soon help engineers follow the path of water underground, helping them sink their putts every time. In a basic geothermal plant set-up, engineers actually have to drill two types of wells. The first kind, which goes down two or three miles, carries cold water down deep, where it fractures the hot rock and creates new paths for water to move. It’s kind of like fracking, but without the chemicals.  Cont'd...

Iran is building the Middle East's first geothermal power plant

Iran is building the Middle East’s first geothermal power plant at the foot of an inactive volcanic peak as the country is racing to meet a runaway demand for electricity by its growing population.  The pilot station in northwestern Meshguin Shahr in the Ardabil province is projected to come on stream in the next two years, putting Iran in the club of two dozen nations with the geothermal power generation capacity. The 50-megawatt project is in line with Iran’s bid to expand its clean energy mix which is dominated by fossil fuels. Geothermal power is cheaper and more reliable than other renewable energy sources, such as thermal or hydro power.   Cont'd...

Hillary Clinton is calling for a 700% increase in solar power. Is that realistic?

Brad Plumer for VOX:  In the coming months, Hillary Clinton's campaign is planning to release a series of proposals for dealing with global warming. Her first installment is out Sunday evening, and it calls for a large increase in renewable power. Specifically, she's proposing to boost the amount of wind, solar, and other renewables so that they provide 33 percent of America's electricity by 2027 — enough to power every home in the country. Part of her plan would involve accelerating the recent rapid growth of solar installations nationwide. In her proposal, Clinton calls for US solar power to grow 700 percent from current levels. That sounds like an impossibly large number, but it's not implausible on its face. US solar capacity grew 418 percent between 2010 and 2014 (because it was starting from a small base). So 700 percent growth by 2027 is at least within the realm of possibility. But it would require additional policy changes — and clean energy prices would have to keep dropping.   Cont'd...

Is India Ready to Be a Solar Power Leader?

By RUPA SUBRAMANYA for ForeignPolicy.com:  Is India ripe for a renewable energy revolution? Foreign investors certainly seem to think so, and renewables have been a signature issue for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But if revolution is indeed underway, it isn’t a spontaneous one. And taxpayer money — not just from India — is fueling the surge. New Delhi’s renewable energy aspirations recently received a major boost when Japan’s SoftBank announced a joint venture with Indian conglomerate Bharti Enterprises and Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group to create a new, Japanese-owned company that will bid on power contracts in India’s growing solar sector. Renewable energy, including solar, is a priority for Modi and has been since before he became the country’s leader last year. “The time has arrived for a saffron revolution, and the color of energy is saffron,” he saidon the campaign trail in 2014, attempting to symbolically link the sacred color of Hindus and his Bharatiya Janata Party with his energy dream. This joint venture is the first major announcement by a foreign investor that could help make that dream a reality.   Cont'd...

Study: U.S. could run entirely on renewable energy by 2050

A new study has mapped out a potential plan for the United States to completely transition to clean, renewable energy by 2050. According to the research study leader Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, the process would demand significant upfront costs, but over time would be roughly equal to the costs of maintaining the fossil fuel infrastructure currently in place. “When you account for the health and climate costs – as well as the rising price of fossil fuels – wind, water and solar are half the cost of conventional systems,” Jacobson said. “A conversion of this scale would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions from the United States. There is very little downside to a conversion, at least based on this science.” Among the positives of switching to clean energy: reducing air pollution in the U.S. that is responsible for approximately 63,000 Americans each year, and eliminating greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuel that would cost the world approximately $3.3 trillion per year by 2050, per a phys.org report.

Hawaii Lawmakers Pass Nation's First 100% Renewable Energy Requirement

Hawaii lawmakers voted 74-2 this week to pass the nation's first 100% renewable energy requirement. The measure, House Bill 623, makes Hawaii a global leader in renewable energy policy by requiring that 100% of the islands' electricity must be generated from renewable energy resources--such as wind, solar, and geothermal-no later than 2045.  "Hawaii lawmakers made history passing this legislation--not only for the islands, but for the planet," said Jeff Mikulina, Executive Director of the Blue Planet Foundation.  The measure, if enacted by Governor David Ige, would make Hawaii the first state in the nation with such a 100% renewable energy standard. Blue Planet Foundation, whose mission is to clear the path for 100% renewable energy, praised the move.  "Passage of this measure is a historic step towards a fossil fuel free Hawaii," said Mikulina. "This visionary policy is a promise to future generations that their lives will be powered not by climate-changing fossil fuel, but by clean, local, and sustainable sources of energy." 

In The Midst Of Toxic Oil Spill, Vancouver Announces It Will Go 100 Percent Renewable

There’s some mixed news coming out of Vancouver, Canada this week. On the one hand, the city announced at an international sustainability summit that it would commit to using 100 percent renewable energy to power its electricity, transportation, heating and air conditioning within 20 years. On the other hand, Vancouver is also dealing with a fuel spill in the waters of English Bay that is washing up on beaches and threatening wildlife. On March 26, Vancouver’s city council voted unanimously to approve Mayor Gregor Robertson motion calling for a long-term commitment to deriving all of the city’s energy from renewable sources. At the ICLEI World Congress 2015 this week in Seoul, South Korea, the city went a step further, committing to reaching that goal of 100 percent renewable electricity, transportation, heating and air conditioning by 2030 or 2035. Right now, Vancouver gets 32 percent of its energy — that includes electricity, transportation, heating, and cooling — from renewable sources, so the goal is ambitious, but not impossible. According to the Guardian, Vancouver could get all of its electricity from renewables within a few years, but transportation, heating, and cooling may prove more difficult.

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