BOSTON--An everyday office building doesn't quite work when you need to hammer out a prototype of a solar-powered chiller or an inflatable wind turbine. So a group of entrepreneurs here have created a hands-on workshop to bring their clean-energy ideas to life. Greentown Labs held its official opening last week, bringing fellow entrepreneurs, city officials including Boston Mayor Tom Menino, and investors looking to plug into the active clean-energy technology scene. About 40 people from 10 fledgling companies have moved into this former baker and confectioner's supply warehouse in South Boston with the hopes of finding more like-minded green-tech start-ups. Among the offerings was beer chilled by solar panels. Their work environment is definitely not class A office space. A disorderly room houses work areas shared among four or five companies. There is separate space for small offices and another with a lab table set aside for electronics testing. In the basement is a large machine shop where inventors can bang out their first prototypes.
KUKA Systems North America has made a successful entry into the burgeoning Canadian solar panel manufacturing sector, demonstrating in the process how it can adapt its extensive suite of automated production solutions to a panel maker’s unique requirements. KUKA Systems provides photovoltaic panel manufacturers around the world with fully automated production lines or any level of automation short of that, from cell layout through all stages of module assembly and quality control, regardless of type or dimensions. For its first Canadian customer, KUKA Systems is installing three partially automated, post-lamination framing lines for trimming, framing, testing and packout of photovoltaic panels, a $12 million contract. Each line consists of five robots, as well as applicators, conveyors and other handling and testing equipment. Installation began in the first quarter of 2011.
Will flow batteries — large tanks of liquid batteries — be a key technology to help deliver more clean power for the grid? Flow battery startup EnerVault is getting closer to commercializing that vision; it has completed the design of its prototype battery and is counting on a demonstration project next year to help the company launch its technology into the market in 2013, EnerVault CEO Craig Horne told us. The Silicon Valley startup is developing rechargeable flow batteries that, unlike a lithium-ion battery, separate the energy storage materials and electrolyte from the cells in which the electrochemical reaction occurs. The design involves two tanks, each of which contains a different mix of energy storage material and electrolyte. EnerVault's design fills one tank of electrolyte with iron (the energy storing material) and another electrolyte tank with chromium. Pumps send the solutions from the tanks into separate chambers of a cell to generate electricity. Flow batteries can be scaled up and down easily because of the use of external storage tanks. Flow batteries are also rechargeable, the electrolytes can last a really long time, and typically use abundant materials, so can be a more affordable option.
The EDV-01 is the first of its kind. A stainless-steel container about 6 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2 meters high, is equipped with cutting-edge systems to provide water and electricity. A rooftop solar system and fuel cell generates power that is stored in lithium-ion batteries (developed by Elly Power Co), whereas another system collects up to 20 liters of potable water a day from the air, which enough for two adults to live on for about month. The container¹s main attraction is that it does not require any construction. With the flip of a switch, a hydraulic pump raises the walls in four and a half minutes to form a second floor. The first floor contains a kitchen that utilizes induction heating for cooking, a shower and a bio-toilet. The second floor has fold-away beds and an office space with a separate desk. Four hydraulic ³feet² automatically stabilize the containers on rough terrain. The unit is ecologically sound as the container itself does not generate any waste during the installation or dismantling process. Research and development for the EDV-01 took two and a half years. The developers were particularly concerned about design details. For example, the exterior can be used as a billboard and the punched-metal exterior walls are visible from great distances due to the inclusion of light-emitting diodes.
Super-fast speed — think Tokyo to L.A. in 2 1/2 hours — isn't the only cool feature of the Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport proposed by EADS. At the Paris Air Show this week, the aircraft manufacturer and Airbus parent revealed its proposed passenger aircraft, which would be run on, among other sources, liquid hydrogen and biofuel. The aircraft, which EADS said could be standard by 2050, would cruise at Mach 4 speeds nearly 20 miles high — inside the Earth's atmosphere. Demonstration technologies could be ready by the end of this decade. Companies at the Paris show were buzzing about clean-fuel options. Airbus and Parker Aerospace said they would look into fuel-cell technology that converts hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and creates water as exhaust. The pair said that flight tests could happen by mid-decade. The Air Transport Assn. of America, the industry trade group, said a slew of member airlines signed letters of intent to partner with Solena Group. The company produces its GreenSky California fuel from biomass at a Santa Clara County facility.
It sounds a little counterintuitive, but the wasted heat from automobile tailpipe emissions could one day be used to cool and power your car. Researchers from Oregon State University developed a thermally activated cooling system that harnesses the energy in waste heat produced by cars, factories, and power plants, and converts it to cooling. The system works by combining a vapor compression cooling cycle with an "organic Rankine cycle," an existing energy conversion technology, to convert waste heat from a thermal source to generate power and cooling. By turning 80 percent of every kilowatt of waste heat into a kilowatt of cooling capability, the system recycles exhaust heat that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. The cooling system could be used to ventilate electronics systems that also require energy-intensive air conditioning to keep cool. The energy-recycling technology could also be used in vehicles to help power hybrid cars. Although less efficient than converting exhaust to cooling, the prototype can also be used to produce electricity to propel a vehicle. Only 15 to 20 percent of the waste heat can be converted to produce electricity, but it's better than letting the energy go to waste.
Following announcements for 2 loan guarantees in late 2010 to construct Ivanpah (a tower CSP plant by BrightSource Energy) and Solana (a parabolic trough with 7 hours storage by Abengoa), 2011 has come with an unprecedented levels of support by the DoE for the CSP industry. One of the companies who have recently secured DoE backing with a loan guarantee is celebrating their ground-breaking ceremony today. With over $2.1bl in founding, this plant will be the largest in the world at 1GW once it is complete. However, this journey to CSP market proliferation and support has been a turbulent one! 2011 has so far followed a positively similar trend, with $3.35bn having been announced by the DoE in loan guarantees for 4 different projects: Blythe (Solar Trust of America, 2x 240MW part of 1GW plant), Crescent Dunes (SolarReserve, 110MW tower project, The Mojave Solar Project (Abengoa, 280MW) and Genesis Solar Project (NextEra, 250MW trough project). The industry are waiting with baited breath to see whether 2011 will be the turning point in the US industry on its journey to market dominance.
Google Inc. (GOOG) agreed to put $280 million in a new project financing fund for SolarCity Inc., a financier, installer and owner of rooftop photovoltaic systems, in the Internet search engine's biggest clean-energy investment. The deal with San Mateo, California-based SolarCity is also Google's first investment related to distributed solar energy, Rick Needham, the search engine's director of green business operations, said by telephone yesterday. The investment is a "quadruple-win" because it will enable more homeowners to lower their energy bills while also shifting to renewable energy, allow SolarCity to expand its business and facilitate wider deployment of solar, Needham said. Mountain View, California-based Google will also make a return on capital upfront, he said, since its investment is supported by the Treasury Department's cash grants program. As an alternative to tax credits, the program reimburses investors for 30 percent of project expenditures for solar. The program was created after the 2008 financial crisis to revive spending on clean energy. Projects must begin construction by the end of 2011 to be eligible.
Solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) manufacturer, Bloom Energy, has announced a new deal to build a 200,000 square-foot manufacturing plant on a portion of an old Delaware Chrysler plant. This new manufacturing plant is expected to bring 1,500 new jobs to the Delaware area and boost the University of Delaware’s vision of a thriving high-tech center. This news comes after two months ago Bloom Energy quadrupled their manufacturing size with the expansion of their Californian based manufacturing facility. That facility was expanded to over 210,000 square feet and is expected to provide California with over 1,000 new jobs. They also announced a major increase in manufacturing of their Energy Server, a 100 kW SOFC unit, from just one unit produced every month in their early days of operation, to now producing one Energy Server every day. Over the next five years, Bloom expects to hire about 900 workers for the Delaware manufacturing facility and predicts a minimum of 600 more jobs to follow as suppliers open Delaware bases of operations. A number of these expected suppliers are expected to also set-up shop on the Chrysler property, which qualifies as a "brownfield" given its 60-year history of auto-making. "Brownfields" are abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for re-use and redevelopment.
The renewable energy space is expected to see a high level of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in the next 12 months, with Europe predicted to be the most active, according to a new report published by mergermarket, in association with Rödl & Partner. In a survey conducted in Q2 2011 of 100 senior M&A practitioners involved in the renewable energy sector, 72% expect an increase in renewable energy M&A activity. This bullish sentiment could be attributed to a number of factors, including the devastating effects of the Fukushima disaster. "Investors of all shapes and sizes are competing against one another in this flourishing sector, therefore sustainable future growth can only be assured in two ways - by beating out the competitors or by acquiring them," explains Michael Wiehl, Rödl & Partner Nuremberg. 67% of respondents expect Europe to be at the forefront of this increase, forecasting the region will see significant activity. This is attributed by some respondents to Europe's variety of resources, with one respondent noting that: "Europe has a great diversity: The Nordics are great for wind power; Italy, Spain and Greece for solar; and continental Europe for geothermal and biomass." The long-term feed-in tariffs introduced by Germany are also highlighted as an important aid in bolstering renewable energy investment. The renewable sector globally has seen 51 deals at a total value of €10.6 billionthis year-to-date. Iberdrola's pending 20% stake bid for Iberdrola Renovables SA is the biggest deal of the year at €2.6 billion, followed by Electricite de France SA's €1.5bn bid for EDF Energies Nouvelles SA (50% stake).
A power plant planned for Turkey will use a combination of energy sources--wind, solar, and natural gas--to deliver round-the-clock electricity service. General Electric today said that it will supply the equipment for a 508-megawatt plant to developer MetCap Energy, which expects to complete the project by 2015. The plant in Karaman, Turkey, is projected to power more than 600,000 homes. The project is unusual in that a single facility will draw on three sources to deliver "baseload" power, or the power needed to meet the continuous energy demand for the area. GE said that the plant's overall efficiency will be 66 percent, higher than a modern natural gas plant. GE is touting the project as a showcase for its FlexEfficiency power plant system anchored around a natural gas turbine designed specifically to ramp power production up and down to accommodate variable wind and solar power. The other main power-generating components are GE wind turbines capable of producing 22 megawatts and a 50-megawatt eSolar concentrating solar thermal plant. GE yesterday announced that it invested in California-based eSolar and has a license to use eSolar's solar technology for hybrid power plants. eSolar plants generate heat with thousands of sun-tracking mirrors to produce steam, which is driven through a turbine to make electricity.
130 exajoules (EJ) per annum for solar photovoltaic and solar thermal electric energy, 110 EJ for wind energy, 40 for hydro, 55 for geothermal and 300 for bioenergy. A closer look at the IPCC summary report on the potential of renewable energy shows that this latter source will remain the leader in primary renewable energy production in 2050. It is two weeks since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented its special report on renewable energy and climate change mitigation in Abu Dhabi. One of the first points to come out of reading this report is that bioenergy accounted for almost 80% of the contribution of renewables to primary energy supply in 2008. The next point is that the majority of this contribution, approximately 60%, was from traditional biomass used for cooking and heating in developing countries, although a greater increase in the use of modern biomass was also highlighted. 10% of the 492 EJ of annual primary energy produced in the whole world is generated using biomass, biogas and biofuels. The report warns that this contribution is likely to diminish in the coming decades, although this will not stop bioenergy from continuing as the renewable energy leader, with an average of 150 EJ/year in 2050. Indeed, the IPCC reports even proposes a range of between 100 and 300 EJ, a ceiling that clearly exceeds that of the other five technologies discussed in the IPCC's work: solar photovoltaic and solar thermal electric, hydro, geothermal, wind and marine (tides, waves, currents).
The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST) is aimed at reducing CO2 emissions by 70 percent compared with 1990 levels. The completely networked town will be a 19-hectacre subdivision built on a former Panasonic plant site some 30 miles southwest of Tokyo. It will house about 3,000 people whose lives will revolve around being energy conscious: the 1,000 homes and other buildings will have solar panels to generate electricity and smart appliances, as well as home fuel cells. The batteries might include the fridge-sized Ene-Farm developed by Panasonic and Tokyo Gas. They say the Ene-Farm can reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions by 35 and 48 percent, respectively, from typical Japanese household usage and can help lower home utility costs by up to $740 annually. Plans for the SST call for features such as EV recharging stations, LED lighting, surveillance cameras, and "wind paths" to accommodate wind patterns in Fujisawa, a city of 400,000 on Sagami Bay. There will be plenty of trees, too. The project will cost some $739 million, and all homes are expected to be occupied by 2018. I wouldn't be surprised if SST gets way too many applicants. Fujisawa has beaches, a surfing culture, and plenty of sunshine, so it's an ideal location for this experiment. If it's successful, it could become a model for future green communities.
The U.S. wind industry is growing again after taking a big step backward last year. Yet turbine makers and wind farm developers are finding few reasons to celebrate as the clean energy source struggles to secure long-term government support while facing stiff competition from cheap natural gas. Once the world's top wind market, the United States ceded that mantle to China last year as a weak economy halted its growth and cut new installations to half of the 10,000 megawatts of capacity built in 2009. Since then, business has picked up, but not for the reasons the industry would like. Energy demand is still tepid due to a gurgling economic recovery, and the low cost of natural gas is keeping power prices low. Pricing in long-term power sales contracts signed by wind developers has fallen 30 percent in the last two years and will fall further this year, according to IHS Emerging Energy Research. Currently, the market is being shepherded by developers who are scrambling to put turbines in the ground ahead of a 2013 expiration of lucrative federal tax credits for wind. Beyond that date, the industry's fortunes are hazy.
Boston, Massachusetts (USA) saw the opening of the world's largest large-scale wind turbine blade testing facility this week. The Wind Technology Testing Center—in partnership with the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory—can test blades up to 90 meters long, which is expected to be the industry's largest blade size in coming years. Prior to the facility's opening, domestically produced large-scale wind turbine blades had to be shipped outside of the U.S., usually to Europe, to be tested. The largest predecessors in the U.S. to the Wind Technology Testing Center could only support turbine blades no longer than 50 meters. The facility has the capacity to test up to three blades simultaneously. Standard tests measure fatigue through a four-month endurance process. Two-week-long static strength and resonance testing are also commonplace. The Wind Technology Testing Center itself took roughly two years to build at a cost of just under $40 million. $25 million was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. $13.2 million in additional funds was provided through loans and grants furnished by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.
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