How Japan's Crisis Could Affect Cleantech

Japan's massive earthquake, tsunami, and now nuclear disaster, is starting to shine a spotlight on just how important the country is in terms of clean energy technology, from solar to electric cars. In these early days, two initial assessments have emerged. The supply of materials and parts for solar and EVs could face serious interruptions in the short term. At the same time, the focus on Japan's partially melting nuclear reactors could also bolster solar and other renewable energy development as policymakers and investors reconsider their support of nuclear power. Japan is both a large producer and user of solar energy equipment. The country accounted for more than a fifth of the world's chip production in 2010, according to IHS iSuppli, and many of the same Japanese firms that make chips and electronic gadgets also make solar energy equipment. While factories for making the final products may not suffer serious long-term damage, they might find it difficult to get raw materials and parts in the near term, the market research firm said.

Will Japan's nuclear crisis affect U.S. energy debate?

Americans' concerns over nuclear power have spiked in the wake of Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis, but how the events will affect the long-term discussion over sources of energy is still unclear. In a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted with 1,004 adults last week, about 70 percent of American's said that they are now more concerned with a nuclear disaster occurring in the U.S. In that same poll, 47 percent of respondents said they oppose construction of nuclear power plants in the U.S, compared to 44 percent who favor it. A survey done before the Japanese earthquake and tsunami found that 57 percent either strongly or somewhat supported "the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity for the U.S.," with 38 percent strongly or somewhat opposed. Support for nuclear energy peaked last year, with 62 percent voicing support. Overall, support has been over 50 percent for most of the last decade and is higher now than it was a decade ago. In its analysis, Gallup said that short-term worries over nuclear disasters may not affect Americans' support for nuclear energy over the long term. Still, a look at the media coverage and discussion during the crisis shows that the incidents have served as an unhappy reminder of the risks of nuclear energy, which will likely cause regulatory reviews of nuclear safety at a number of U.S. plants. The nuclear crisis also appears to have rekindled people's awareness of radiation and the sources of the country's energy, all of which have trade-offs.

Rooftop Wind Turbine Idea

There’s a lot of reasons why most homes in America do not have their own wind turbines — high costs, permitting issues, and just plain aesthetics. But there’s a wave of entrepreneurs trying to change that, including James Post, who has developed the SmartWind RidgeBlaster and submitted the concept to GE’s Ecomagination challenge. Watch the video (complete with music that would make the Techno Viking proud) below for a comprehensive description of the idea. It’s a wind turbine that stretches horizontally across the ridge of a gable roof, and has a diameter of 22 inches. The wind is meant to sweep up the roof through the turbines and the design is supposed to be able to utilize wind at any angle. According to GE’s materials on the concept, the customer would pay around $4,000 for a 1.8 kW, plus the cost of a 3 kW grid-tied inverter.  

Report says Geothermal Energy to double by 2020

The world will see a significant increase in the use of geothermal as an energy source between now and 2020. That's according to a report released this week by Pike Research. The research analyst constructed several scenarios based on an estimated 10.7 gigawatts of geothermal capacity in existence throughout the world in 2010. That 10.7 gigawatts equates to about 67 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, with the U.S., which currently possesses 3.1 gigawatts of installed geothermal systems, as the world's leading user. In fact, 88 percent of the world's geothermal energy systems currently in operation are used in only eight countries, according to the report. Peter Asmus, the senior analyst on the report, emphasized that geothermal is currently one of the world's least-tapped opportunities for alternative energy. In the report's high-growth forecast, geothermal capacity increases 134 percent to 25.1 gigawatts. In the report's most conservative forecast, Pike estimated that world geothermal capacity will grow to 14.3 gigawatts by 2020.

Vestas Wind launches next generation of its wind-power "rocket"

Back in 2004, Danish wind turbine technologist, Vestas, launched its first Skyrocket sailing vessel, in an attempt to break the Outright World Speed Sailing Record. As part of this mission, the Sailrocket team has just launched its second-generation speed sailing boat from East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. According to the company, SailRocket 2 is designed to be "significantly faster than its predecessor". Over the last 15 months, Vest'as Sailrocket team has been focused on building a better, safer and - above all - faster boat at Vestas Technology R&D's facilities on the Isle of Wight. The culmination of this work was yesterday's launch of Sailrocket 2. "Since we started pursuing the Outright World Speed Sailing Record 9 years ago, the record has been raised by exactly 9 knots. The current record holders, the kite surfers, have taken it out of the reach of all the previous contenders and it is going to take a very special boat to get it back. Vestas Sailrocket 2 is a boat that aims high. The only satisfactory outcome for us is the outright record," Paul Larsen, pilot and project leader from the Sailrocket 2 team says. With the record raised to the current level, the ambitious team behind Sailrocket is even more eager to develop a boat to break the Outright World Speed Sailing Record (average speed of a craft between two points set 500 metres apart). In order to do that, conventional design has been left behind and everything is pushed to the limit.

At PolyPlus, batteries made of lithium and seawater

Batteries made of lithium metal are preferred over lithium ion technology, but because lithium metal reacts with water. But it hasn't really made any sense to try to use it until now. One California-based company called PolyPlus created a lithium-water battery that is making quite a splash. The underlying technology is a bit counter-intuitive, considering lithium reacts violently with water. To get around this though, PolyPlus found a way to protect the lithium metal with a membrane, so the ions could slip through and maintain a charge. ARPA-E director Arun Mjumdar describes the new water battery technology as.. a fish in a glass tank. For demonstration purposes at the ARPA-E conference, PolyPlus put the membrane-covered lithium pack into a glass of water and showed that it could produce enough energy to make an LED light glow. The technology works like this: The battery reacts with the oxygen that is dissolved in water. And you know what? The water battery can produce 1,300 watt-hours per kilogram of electricity, according to Scientific American.

Better Place opened its first European retail station in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Better Place, which offers battery service for electric vehicles, opened today its first European retail station in Copenhagen, Denmark. Better Place stations offer battery swaps for electric vehicles as an alternative to waiting to recharge the batteries. Commercial stations are already running in Israel and Japan. Until now, though, Better Place had only been testing pilot stations in the U.S. and Europe. Most of the stations offer fast-charging plug-in spots for EVs, as well as battery swaps for subscribing members. The battery swap is a convenience for drivers because it takes only a minute to make the switch, according to Better Place. The swapped batteries are then recharged and used in other cars. It takes 15 to 30 minutes to recharge an EV battery pack to 80 percent capacity from a rapid-charging station depending on the vehicle.

OCEAN POWER TECHNOLOGIES COMPLETES FIRST OF NEW GENERATION UTILITY-SCALE WAVE POWER DEVICE

Ocean Power Technologies, Inc. a leading wave energy technology company,announced the completion of the first of its new generation utility-scale PowerBuoy® device, the PB150. The PB150 PowerBuoy is the largest and most powerful wave power device designed by OPT to date, and builds on the Company's 15 years' innovation and in-ocean development experience of producing such systems. With a peak-rated power output of 150 kilowatts - equivalent to the energy consumption of approximately 150 homes - the PB150 is designed for use in arrays for grid-connected power generation projects worldwide. The development of the device, built and assembled at Invergordon, Scotland, has utilized the skills of local firms and represents a multi-million pound sterling investment in the region. It is currently being prepared for ocean trials at a site approximately 33 nautical miles from Invergordon, off Scotland's northeast coast. The sea trials are expected to commence as soon as weather conditions permit. The Company is seeking additional financing for the commercial utilization of the buoy after the trial phase is completed including its possible deployment at various potential sites. A second PB150 is already under construction in the US for a proposed utility-scale project in Oregon, and the Company is involved in other planned projects in Australia, Japan and Europe that may utilize the PB150.

Growing Contribution of Wind Energy Fuels Economic Growth in Canada

The growth of Canada's wind energy industry is contributing to the increase in high quality jobs for Ontarians and injecting millions of dollars into communities hosting wind energy developments, Canadian Wind Energy Association president Robert Hornung said in a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade. Mr. Hornung outlined the environmental, economic, industrial development, and employment benefits wind energy developments bring to Ontario - and urged all levels of government and political parties to learn the facts about the opportunity that wind energy represents. "Wind energy is well established in many European countries and has a long history in the United States, but it's still a relatively new contributor to Canada's electricity supply," said Mr. Hornung. "Wind energy's contribution in Canada is steadily increasing - and with this growth we see the evolution of a new and vibrant industry that is delivering manufacturing jobs, revitalizing rural economies, and generating emissions-free power." Ontario is the largest market for wind energy in Canada, with 1,598 MW of installed capacity today and more than 1,500 additional MW already contracted to be built in the next few years. Last year alone, 9 new wind farms came on line in Ontario, representing about 300 MW of new installed capacity. The Ontario government announced February 24 contracts for four new wind farm projects, totaling 615 MW of coming on line around 2014.

Solar Power collector doubles as greenhouse shade

Solyndra has found a second use for its solar collector as a shade for greenhouses. The company on Monday said that that its solar collectors, which are an array of solar cell-covered glass tubes, are being tested at agriculture research centers in Italy and the University of California, Davis. A conventional flat solar panel would block essentially all light, but Solyndra's collectors allow for light to pass through the glass tubes, which are coated with thin-film solar cells. That provides a diffused light conducive to greenhouse plant growth and allows growers to use their available space for power production, the company said. "We are pioneering this new agricultural solar solution in Italy, where extensive shaded agriculture operations combined with strong insolation and a favorable feed-in tariff are driving strong interest and demand," Clemens Jargon, the president of Solyndra in Europe, Middle East, and Africa, said in a statement.

Solar Power Comes to Saudi Arabia in a Big Way as Peak Oil Looms

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest exporter of oil. But as experts and WikiLeaks previously detailed--the country's oil supply may be fast dwindling and that has made renewable energy options, such as solar, that much more appealing. Just this week the country announced that construction of its largest solar power plant will be completed by September--and this just days after WikiLeaks reports about exaggerated oil quantities from the country hit the news. "The solar market in the Gulf region is still in its infancy," said Klaus Friedl, general manager of Phoenix Solar, the firm contracted to build the new solar plant. "There is, however, a huge potential for solar power plants in Saudi Arabia." The concern over oil shortages is no longer limited to supplying foreign countries--the rate of domestic consumption in Saudi Arabia is set to triple in the next 20 years to 120 gigawatts, which means that Saudis could foreseeably consume all of their oil just for themselves. "It's really a preservation decision using solar for domestic consumption and keeping your oil for more lucrative export markets," said Vahid Fotuhi, Middle East director of BP Solar. "Right now, out of the 8 million barrels per day they produce, over 3 million barrels per day are consumed domestically, mainly for power generation. That figure is growing 8 percent per annum," said Fotuhi.

Dow Chemical Co. plans to start commercial production of its Powerhouse solar power roof shingles this year

Dow Chemical Co. plans to start commercial production of its Powerhouse solar roof shingles this year, even before it starts operating its new plant in Midland, Mich. And it has high hopes that the shingles will not just succeed, but that they will become a mass-market product. Dow's thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide solar cells currently are manufactured on a flexible substrate by Global Solar Energy Inc. in Tucson. The cell is then integrated by Dow into a proprietary polymeric-based shingle using injection molding. Right now, Dow is making the shingles in limited quantities at its solar market development plant, in Midland, which is being retooled to support commercialization. "Dow has completed six pilot projects in various U.S. markets with new-construction builders and residential re-roofing contractors, said Pezolt. "A number of additional projects will be completed in the coming weeks," he said.

Machine turns plastic bags into Biofuel

A Japanese inventor has created a machine suitable for home use that can turn plastic waste into fuel, a technological feat that could give us something to do with all the grocery sacks piling up under our kitchen sinks. The plastic in bags, bottles, caps and other packaging products is made from oil. Akinori Ito's machine turns it back to its original form via a carbon-negative process. It heats up the plastic, traps the vapors in a system of pipes and water chambers that cool the vapors and condense them back into crude oil, explains the website Clean Technica. The crude biofuel is suitable for use in generators and some types of stoves. It can be further refined into gasoline. The machine is sold by Ito's Blest Corporation and is praised for its efficiency: It can convert a kilogram of plastic waste into a liter of oil using a kilowatt-hour of energy. The current system costs $10,000, but Ito hopes the price will fall as demand and production rise. Ito's machine isn't the first to convert waste plastic into biofuel, but is gaining kudos for its size: It's built for home use. Other solutions are larger, such as the Envion Oil Generator, which is capable of processing 10,000 tons of plastic waste annually. Each ton of waste translates to three to five barrels of crude oil that can be further refined to commercial fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. A demonstration plant opened in Washington in 2009.

Obama's budget to call for slashing oil tax breaks, boosting alternative energy

President Obama is expected to call on Congress Monday to eliminate billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks, while setting aside money for his top clean-energy policy priorities. Obama will send his fiscal year 2012 budget request to Congress on Monday. The budget comes as Republicans are calling for massive cuts in spending, unveiling a proposal this week to fund the government through the end of this fiscal year that would cut $100 billion in spending when compared to Obama's 2011 budget request. Obama's 2012 budget request will also make major budget cuts. It will freeze domestic spending for he next five years and cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion over the next decade. Obama's budget request will call for eliminating a series of oil industry tax breaks. The Department of Energy estimates that such a repeal will save $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2012 and a total of $46.2 billion during the next decade.

Renault and Nissan partner up on sustainability strategy

Announcing a six year sustainability strategy today, French automaker Renault said it hopes to sell 1.5 million electric vehicles (EVs) by 2016. Drive the Change, which is the tagline for Renault's sustainability strategy, intends to concentrate on EVs and a new generation of low emissions engines. It aims to achieve sales of over 3m vehicles in 2013 and at least 2bn in aggregate free cash flow. Renault's operating margin target is to surpass 5pc of revenues in 2013. Renault revealed that as part of a new alliance with Nissan, it will be introducing three electric models - Fluence Z.E., Kangoo Z.E., and Twiz. The vehicles are part of an overall strategy to reduce emissions. In 2012 the group will also introduce the Zoe supermini. It is hoped that by 2015 the alliance will have achieved a production capacity of 500,000 vehicles and, by 2016, it wants to have 1.5m EVs on the road. Renault also announced that its portfolio of combustion engines will include its new 1.6 engine "Energy dCi 130", which will cut CO2 emissions by 20pc compared with the previous generation. The car manufacturer's new Energy TCe gasoline engines will reduce CO2 emissions among vehicles in the A, B and C segments by an estimated 30pc. These innovations will assist in the reduction of CO2 emissions in Europe, emitting - on average - less than 120g by 2013, and less than 100g by 2016.

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