A blow to corn-based biofuels

Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and published Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7% more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.

Biofuels are better in the long run, but the study says they won't meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel.

The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue.

The biofuel industry and administration officials called the research flawed. They said that it was too simplistic in its analysis of carbon loss from soil, which can vary over a single field, and that it vastly overestimated how much residue farmers would remove once the market gets underway.

Obama to challenge private companies to boost solar power use

President Obama will challenge companies Thursday to expand their use of solar power, part of his ongoing effort to leverage the power of his office to achieve goals that have been stymied by Congress. The new initiative comes as the White House is hosting a Solar Summit aimed at highlighting successful efforts on the local level to speed the deployment of solar energy.
 
Although some large solar plants are coming online and it is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it accounts for roughly 1 percent of the nation’s electricity generation.
 
“Now is the time for solar,” said Anya Schoolman, executive director of the Community Power Network, a Washington-based nonprofit group that helps communities build renewable energy projects. She will be honored at the summit Thursday.
 
“The costs are affordable, in reach of middle America and above. We know how to do it now, we know how to scale it, and we kind of just need people to let it go and encourage it,” she said.
 
In an effort to make it easier for state, local and tribal governments to expand their solar portfolios, the Energy Department is launching a $15 million-dollar “Solar Market Pathways” program.

 

Global Wind Power Capacity Projected To Nearly Double In 5 Years

Asia is now leagues ahead of other regions within the global wind market. Furthermore, this market is expected to grow at an annual cumulative capacity rate of more than 10 percent over the coming five years. A recent Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) report shows other significant wind energy markets of the past few years have slowed in comparison. However, overall global growth of wind energy will remain firm with a hopeful measure of expanding growth again.

The wind market for 2013 was an “off” year. Less wind energy capacity was installed in 2013 than in 2012. This disappointment saw the biggest drop in the market’s relatively short life. From 1996 through 2013, annual installed capacity for wind grew at an average rate of more than 20 percent.

MIT, Harvard scientists study how to produce solar power without sunlight

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University are working on a technology that wouldn't require sunlight to produce solar power.

The team is developing a material that can absorb the sun's heat and store the energy in a chemical form, ready to be released "on-demand," according to a release.

The technology could be used for heating buildings, cooking or other uses where heat, rather than electricity, is the desired output.

In a release, researchers describe the technology behind the system:

"Some molecules, known as photoswitches, can assume either of two different shapes, as if they had a hinge in the middle. Exposing them to sunlight causes them to absorb energy and jump from one configuration to the other, which is then stable for long periods of time.

GTM Research - Chinese solar-panel prices rising 20% in the U.S.

The price of Chinese-made solar panels delivered to the U.S. could increase by up to 20% by the end of the year, GTM Research said Thursday.

The increase is due to supply constraints, rising input costs, and the ongoing trade dispute between the two countries, the Boston-based green-energy consultancy said in a report. 

Chinese-made modules are significantly cheaper than those made in other areas, and GTM Research estimated they were 55% of total modules shipped to the U.S. last year. 

Chinese firms are quoting modules at 80 cents to 85 cents per watt for delivery in the second half of the year, compared to 70 cents per watt at the end of 2013, the report said. 

The ongoing U.S.-China trade case is the "primary driver" behind the price increase, the report said. 

More duties on Chinese and Taiwanese solar modules would push up U.S. pricing beyond current levels, as the firms would pass on tariff-induced penalties onto customers or contract out cell and module production to vendors based in higher-cost countries such as India, South Korea, and Malaysia, GTM Research said. 

Celebrating The 60th Anniversary Of The First Practical Solar Cell

Sixty years ago on April 25, 1954, Bell Laboratories demonstrated to the world one of the most significant breakthroughs ever recorded in the history of solar energy and of electricity – the first solar cell capable of converting enough sunlight into electricity to generate useful amounts of power. The press watched in awe as light poured on the first watt of silicon to run a 21 inch Ferris wheel. The next day the New York Times stated on its front page that the Bell invention marked “the beginning of a new era, eventually leading to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams – the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”

At the time of the Bell announcement, all the solar cells in the world delivered about one watt. Today, more than 100 billion watts of generating capacity of photovoltaics have been installed worldwide. This year not only marks the 60th anniversary of the solar cell, but also the beginning of reaching the Holy Grail that had previously been only a dream of solar scientists – entering the Era of Grid Parity, when solar panels generate power at costs equal to or less than electricity produced by fossil and nuclear fuels. With the phenomenal growth of solar technology in the last several years and its future looking even brighter, the time is ripe to celebrate the founding of a technology that led Science magazine almost forty years ago to declare, “If there is a dream solar technology, it is photovoltaics ­­­solar cells … a space­age electronic marvel at once the most sophisticated solar technology and the simplest, most environmentally benign source of electricity yet conceived."

Shale Gas Boom Leaves Wind Power Developers Seeking More Subsidy

The $14 billion industry, the world’s second-largest buyer of wind turbines, is reeling from a double blow -- cheap natural gas unleashed by the hydraulic fracturing revolution and the death last year of federal subsidies that made wind the most competitive of all renewable energy sources in the U.S.
 
Without restoration of subsidies, worth $23 per megawatt hour to turbine owners, the industry may not recover, and the U.S. may lose ground in its race to reduce dependence on the fossil fuels driving global warming, say wind-power advocates.
 
They place the subsidy argument in the context of fairness, pointing out that wind’s chief fossil-fuel rival, the gas industry, is aided by the ability to form master limited partnerships that allow pipeline operators to avoid paying income tax. This helps drive down the cost of natural gas.
 
“If gas prices weren’t so cheap, then wind might be able to compete on its own,” said South Dakota’s Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard.
 
Consider that gas averaged $8.90 a million British thermal units in 2008 and plunged to $3.73 last year, making the fuel a cheaper source of electricity for utilities. Congress allowed the wind Production Tax Credit to expire last year, and wind farm construction plunged 92 percent.

 

Record-Breaking Demand For Global Solar PV Industry in Q1 2014, According to NPD Solarbuzz

New solar photovoltaic (PV) demand added during the first quarter of 2014 exceeded 9 gigawatts (GW), which was 35 percent more than the previous first-quarter record, set last year. In fact, every quarter in 2014 is forecast to reach new highs, with trailing 12-month demand at the end of Q1 2015 forecast to exceed 50 GW for the first time, according to findings in the latest NPD Solarbuzz Quarterly report. 

The record level of demand achieved in the first quarter was driven by strong growth in Japan and the United Kingdom. These two countries combined accounted for more than one-third of global solar PV demand in Q1 2014 and set new quarterly records for PV deployed. 

How They Clean Those Gigantic Solar Energy Plants Clean?

The world's largest solar plants sure look amazing, but for those with inquisitive minds they raise one big question: how the hell do they keep all those panels clean? Nowadays, using robots like this!
 
This video shows the newly installed robotic cleaning system at Ketura Sun Solar Park. Until now, the panels covering the 20-acre site were only cleaned about nine times a year—a laborious task, performed infrequently due to expense—which in turn led to sub-optimal plant efficiency.
 
Now, though, a robotic army—designed and made by Israel-based Ecoppia—swarm over the panels to keep them clean. The 100 centrally controlled automatons set to work at nighttime, using microfiber pads and controlled air flows to push dirt from the surface of the solar panels. The robots move up and down their own aluminum frames to avoid loading the panels, and during the day they sit at the bottom and charge using electricity generated by the plant. So, now you know. 

One-Third of Texas Was Running on Wind Power This Week

On Wednesday, March 27th, the largest state in the contiguous United States got almost one-third of its electricity by harnessing the wind. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the bulk of the Lone Star State's power grid, a record-breaking 10,296 MW of electricity was whipped up by wind turbines. That's enough to provide 29 percent of the state's power, and to keep the lights on in over 5 million homes.
 
ERCOT notes in a statement issued today that "The new record beats the previous record set earlier this month by more than 600 MW, and the American Wind Energy Association reports it was a record for any US power system."

Clean Edge Finds Global Solar Deployment Exceeds Wind for First Time

The global clean-energy picture for 2013 was a classic good news-bad news story, according to the Clean Energy Trends 2014 report issued today by clean-tech research and advisory firm Clean Edge, Inc. The industry saw dazzling growth, success, and rising stock prices in some sectors – most notably solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment – but downward trends and policy and finance hurdles in others. 

Last year also marked a significant transition in the history of clean energy: for the first time since Clean Edge began tracking global markets in 2000, the world installed more new solar PV generating capacity, 36.5 gigawatts, than wind power (35.5 GW). Record levels of new solar deployment in China, Japan, and the U.S. combined with a down year in the wind industry to create this unprecedented crossover. 

The global solar market's continued double-digit growth of 15 percent, plus a modest uptick in biofuels' market size, was not enough to overcome the wind industry's lackluster performance. As a result, combined global revenue for solar PV, wind power, and biofuels held nearly steady at $247.6 billion, down just slightly from $248.7 billion in 2012. 

The full Clean Energy Trends 2014 report can be downloaded for free at www.cleanedge.com.

Siemens to construct factory for offshore wind power in Great Britain

Siemens is investing more than EUR190 million (GBP160 million) in new offshore production facilities in Great Britain. Production of rotor blades for offshore wind turbines of the 6-megawatt class is planned, with a new logistics- and service centre slated for Hull. The British Prime Minister David Cameron and Michael Suess, member of the managing board of Siemens AG and CEO of the Energy Sector will reaffirm their common dedication to these projects this afternoon in Hull. 

"Our decision to construct a production facility for offshore wind turbines in England is part of our global strategy: we invest in markets with reliable conditions that can ensure that factories can work to capacity. The British energy policy creates a favourable framework for the expansion of offshore wind energy. In particular, it recognizes the potential of offshore wind energy within the overall portfolio of energy production", stated Michael Suess, member of the managing board of Siemens AG and CEO of the Energy Sector. 

The offshore wind market in Great Britain has high growth rates, with an even greater potential for the future. Wind power capacity has doubled here within two years, to roughly 10 gigawatts. By 2020, a capacity of 14 gigawatts is to be installed at sea alone to combine the country's environmental objectives with secure power supply. Projects for just over 40 gigawatts are currently in the long-term planning. 

GE Taps Into The Coolest Energy Storage Technology Around

Batteries are far from being the only new energy storage technology out there and one of the more obscure and unlikely initiatives has just received a massive vote of confidence from GE.
 
A tiny UK company called Highview Power stores energy by using cheap, off-peak energy to cool air to -196°C using a conventional industrial refrigeration plant, turning 700 litres of ambient air into a litre of “liquid air” that can be stored in a simple insulated tank. When you need the energy, you simply open the tap, the liquid air turns back into a gas, expands in volume, drives a turbine and creates electricity. If you add heat when you release the gas, you make the process more efficient.
 
Highview says liquid air energy storage (LAES) has advantages over other emerging storage technologies in that it uses well-established technologies and doesn’t require any inputs such as the lithium that batteries need – the most exotic material involved in the process is stainless steel, the company says, while the extra heat can come from the process of cooling the air or from the waste heat of other industrial processes, including power stations. It is not geographically constrained like pumped hydro, it is long-lasting unlike many battery technologies and there is an existing global industrial gases infrastructure it can tap into. And unlike for a gas such as hydrogen, the storage tanks do not have to be specially reinforced or highly pressurised.

Fresh Breeze for Wind Power in China

Chinese wind-power stocks, once given up for dead in the investor doldrums, have roared back to life in recent weeks on expectations of government support for the renewable energy sector and overseas demand.

Investors are betting on future Chinese government policy directives and subsidies that boost profits for manufacturers of wind power turbines, gearboxes, blades, towers and transmission equipment.

They're also betting that multinational wind energy companies such as Vestas,  Siemens,General Electric and Senvion will step up orders for the Chinese-made equipment and parts that are used to build offshore and onshore wind energy farms worldwide.

Contractors building big wind farms, particularly those off the European coast, often buy lower-rung products such as steel towers from China. And tower fabricators such as China's Titan Wind (002531:Shenzhen) are making good money on that demand.

Shenzhen-listed Titan, which is only nine years old and listed in 2010, has seen its stock value climb 55% since the beginning of the year. The company has gotten major contracts from Vestas and GE. And it's currently planning to build a factory in India to complement existing plants in China and Denmark.

Pilots complain that glare from the world's biggest solar power plant is blinding them

Airplane pilots reported that they were blinded by the intense sunlight reflecting off some of the 340,000 mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on the California-Nevada border. Yet six months elapsed before their reports reached the regulator that oversees the plant, which is located near the Las Vegas airport.

The mirrors, called heliostats, focus the sun on 459-foot-high (140 meter) towers that contain water-filled boilers. The concentrated sunlight boils the water to create steam, driving turbines that generate 377 megawatts of carbon-free electricity. The heat is so blistering that it has melted the feathers of birds in mid-flight.
 

Planes fly far too high to be affected by the heat—but by not the light. “From the pilot’s seat of my aircraft the brightness was like looking into the sun,” reported one pilot as his small plane climbed from 6,000 to 12,000 feet after taking off from the Boulder City, Nevada, airport. In a report he filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), the pilot wrote that, “In my opinion the reflection from these mirrors was a hazard to flight because for a brief time I could not scan the sky in that direction to look for other aircraft.”

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