Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Managing the Magnitude of the Smart Grid

The envisioned, next-generation smart grid is an evolution that builds on decades of accumulated engineering lessons learned to make the ways that we deliver and receive electricity more intelligent, robust and reliable. But utilities, industry, policymakers and even consumers must not underestimate what is being undertaken here. The smart grid is not just a next step; it’s an interrelated range of steps—and, sometimes, leaps—that are all pointed toward the same set of revolutionary goals

It’s that potentially overwhelming magnitude of the enterprise that makes the emerging smart grid so complex and daunting. Consider the layers of change that are being carried out.
Let’s start with the shift from one-way to two-way power flow within a region of the grid. Instead of unidirectional power flowing—usually from a central-station plant to some sort of business or residential consumer—the long-range vision for the smart grid is predicated on bidirectional power flow, anywhere across the network. In this model, augmented with significantly more robust technologies for distributed generation and secure, real-time information exchange, any power user could also be a power producer. This shift also demands substantial change in regulations and business processes, as there are brand-new questions to be worked out in terms of who shoulders the costs of interconnection and how players on both ends of connections are to be equitably compensated.

Now let’s look at the proposed transition to a truly interstate and even international grid, in which power and information could be exchanged from one region to another. This, too, constitutes dramatic and multidimensional change. For example, the United States is today served by, effectively, three grids that are comprised of mostly proprietary systems that are purchased, deployed and operated more than 3,000 independent utilities, each with their own processes and legacy infrastructures. The smart grid envisions power and information flowing flexibly across existing regional jurisdictions, and that demands interoperability across equipment interfaces, data formats, content definitions, measurement units, etc.

These are historic changes that, in the end, stand to add up to ground-breaking benefits in terms of reliably satisfying unprecedented demand for power, reducing carbon footprint, keeping energy costs in check, enabling new business models and empowering consumer choice in the way power is used. The world’s smart-grid stakeholders will not only have to keep their eye on those long-term goals; for the smart grid to come about efficiently, they also will need to institute technology, business-process or regulatory changes within context of a comprehensive, long-range plan.

IEEE 2030® “IEEE Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System (EPS), End-Use Applications, and Loads,” for example, was created with just such a system-of-systems orientation. The document provides a roadmap to interconnection and interoperability, interface by interface across the grid. Utilities can use IEEE 2030 to inform their smart-grid infrastructure plans, and vendors can use it to help craft product strategies for the smart-grid market opportunity.

The basic model of electricity production, distribution and consumption has not fundamentally changed since the power industry’s inception, but the smart grid is brining new engineering principles, technological capabilities and business relationships into play. This is a journey that will ultimately have to play out over decades.
It will take leadership, the will to invest and take risk and commitment to a long-range plan to make it happen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Memo to Federal and State Highway Agencies: Keep CMAQ Funds On Track to Cut Pollution

Congress included an innovative program in the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) that for over 20 years has helped clean up the environment by providing funds for transportation projects designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) funds are provided to states based on the population of local areas in “non-compliance” or those “seeking to maintain compliance” with strict national standards for ozone and carbon monoxide set up under the landmark Clean Air Act. In the first 10 years of the program the number of person days of unhealthy air quality declined by 38 percent nationally with California leading the pack for spending funds and accounting for 97 percent of that improvement.
But MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century), passed by Congress June 29th, included a number of provisions that put CMAQ funds in immediate jeopardy and could siphon as much as half of the program’s annual $3.3 billion funding away from regions facing public health threats due to air pollution by providing “flexibility” to states on how the money is spent.

Such implementation would eviscerate CMAQ as an important tool for preserving public health, diverting investments in projects that reduce pollution from tailpipes through technologies such as new rail cars and buses as well as diesel vehicle retrofit projects. CMAQ funds have gone towards improved public transit, traffic signalization and other traffic flow improvements, trip reduction and ride-sharing initiatives, and bicycle facilities.

Thankfully, federal and state highway administrations can stay the course towards cleaner air, and guidance from the U.S. Transportation Department can make sure we the public know what is happening with our tax dollars. In this spirit earlier this week the NRDC, along with seven other organizations, sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging him to implement the law to maximize CMAQ’s effectiveness and to direct his staff to ensure states continue to use CMAQ for projects that actually clean the air and improve public health for the sake of our communities and environment. We recommended that:
State highway agencies be required to hold a 30-day comment period before diverting funding from regions with significant air pollution since accountability and transparency is the least taxpayers deserve in exchange for the additional latitude the new law provides; andFHWA issue a special rule allowing substantial flexibility in determining what sources localities and states can use to provide the newly required local match. Under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, CMAQ funds did not need to be matched.
When the EPA established new ground-level ozone standards in 2008 they mapped areas that have met or not met (attainment vs. nonattainment) the standards. The map is splattered with nonattainment areas from coast-to-coast, putting millions of Americans, especially those in major metropolitan areas, at risk from breathing air that contains ozone, a component of smog pollution that can trigger a variety of respiratory-related health problems, and is especially dangerous to people with lung disease, asthmatics, children, older adults and people who are active outdoors.

Ground-level ozone also damages vegetation and ecosystems, leads to reduced agricultural crop and commercial forest yields, reduced growth and survivability of tree seedlings, and increased susceptibility to diseases, pests and other stresses such as harsh weather. The science is also clear that particulate matter or soot, especially fine particles, can cause severe health damage as well which explains a laudable change to CMAQ -- 25 percent of the money must be used to reduce such pollution in states challenged by it.
EPA’s Final Nonattainment Areas for the 2008 Ozone Standards

I urge lawmakers to continue putting every penny of available CMAQ funds into improving our air quality, the original intent of the program. Those of us who breathe air can't afford the environmental or health-related consequences of not doing so.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tidal Power Capacity Potential in the UK Estimated at 153 GW

There are 153 GW of potential tidal and wave power capacity in the UK, according to a new report from the Crown Estate. The new report was commissioned to help predict the future of the technology.

The report from the Crown Estate underlines the enormous energy potential in the UK’s marine environment. To harness this enormous 153 GW of tidal power capacity, there are three primary types of technology that will be needed — tidal stream devices, tidal range barrage schemes, and tidal range lagoon schemes.

“The report predicts tidal stream devices could produce 95 terawatt hours (TWh) a year from 32GW of installed capacity, tidal range barrage schemes could supply 96 TWh/year from 45GW of capacity, and tidal range lagoon schemes could produce 25TWh/year, drawing on 14GW of capacity.”

And there is also the potential for “27GW of wave energy capacity, which could produce 69TWh of electricity a year.”

The authors of the report say that the figures for the different technologies should be interpreted separately, and that all of the results remain theoretical for now.

According to Rob Hastings, the director of the Crown Estate energy and infrastructure portfolio, the report is intended to be a reference to help in the development of the industry and associated policies.
“While the science of wave and tidal resource assessment is still emerging, and future work will clarify the resources that are practically available, it is clear that wave and tidal energy could contribute substantially to the UK’s electricity needs,” he said.

“Improving understanding about the extent and locations of resources will help to accelerate development in a sustainable way.”

The UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, recently visited the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney and had this to say:
“[EMEC is a huge asset to the development of wave and tidal energy in the UK and has helped secure UK leadership in the global market.
“The UK has the largest wave and tidal resource in Europe, which could produce 20 per cent of current UK electricity demand and cut carbon emissions.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

US 'Solar Zones' in Place, Ready for Big Projects

The Obama administration on Friday gave final approval to a plan that opens up 285,000 acres in 17 zones in six Western states for streamlined utility-scale solar power development. The Department of the Interior said the fast-track sites are “characterized by excellent solar resources, good energy transmission potential, and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources.”

The Programmatic Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development doesn’t limit such power plants to the solar energy zones, but the benefits to siting projects in them will be substantial. The government’s major land caretaker, the Bureau of Land Manaagment, has committed to “facilitating faster and easier permitting in the SEZs, improving and facilitating mitigation, facilitating permitting of needed transmission to the SEZs, encouraging solar development on suitable adjacent nonfederal lands, and providing economic incentives for development in SEZs.”

image via BrightSource Energy

The Department of the Interior said that if fully built out, solar projects in the zones could produce some 23,700 megawatts of electricity, enough to power around 7 million American homes.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed the Record of Decision codifying the plan in Las Vegas on Friday, joined there by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), proving that even in the face of a recalcitrant Congress, the executive branch has tools to make things happen.

“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” Salazar said in a statement. “This historic initiative provides a roadmap for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American made energy and create jobs.”

image via the White House
There are zones in six states, but that’s a little bit misleading: Of the 285,000 acres, more than half – 147,910 – are in California’s Riverside County, which borders Orange County on its western flank and then stretches all the way east across the Mojave and Colorado deserts to Arizona.

Pre-Obama, no big solar energy projects had been permitted on public lands. But according to the Interior Department, under Obama 33 renewable energy projects have been approved for construction on or involving public lands, including 18 solar plants, seven wind farms and eight geothermal plants. In May, the first of those big projects –  Enbridge Silver State North, a 50-megawatt solar PV array 40 miles south of Las Vegas – went online.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Windstrument Wind Turbine Provides Renewable Energy With its Orchid-like Design

Asahi Kasei Plastics N.A. is working with Unified Energies International to develop the Windstrument, a wind turbine that aims to bring affordable renewable energy to the world.

The Windstrument is developed for both residential use and utility-scale projects, including entire communities, industrial centers, and agricultural groups. The rooftop or pole-mounted system is affordable, quiet, powerful, bird-safe, and scalable. The device was extensively tested in Jacobs/Ford Detroit wind tunnel and field tested for over 3 years in one of the harshest climates on earth. Thanks to its beautiful orchid-like design (which can be adapted to local environments), the Windstrument is anything but an eyesore.

View the original article here

Friday, October 5, 2012

Vibrant Protection for Cyclists, Runners, Pedestrians at Night — Visibelt!

I love the way this attention-getting, eye-catching, visibelt for cyclists, runners, pedestrians, and any night-time traveler is made of energy-efficient LED lights; spinning out from one’s body like an aura. I want one. It would go great with an actual “Aura” system on my wheels when biking at night. This visibelt will bring bright notice of me or you as the “other” (less armored) traveler sharing the road.

What exactly is visibelt? Visibelt is a light with huge surface area that wraps around your body or backpack to make sure you get seen. Using just two LED lights combined with the innovative plastic light-carrying tube means battery life is still competitive with smaller, less eye-catching alternatives — like under-seat, rear LED bike lights. Vizibelt has three light modes — fast flash, normal flash, and constant light.

Visbelts will be bringing light into any driver’s view. Too many accidents are occurring in an age when the number of cyclists are increasing and cyclists need to be seen. As one roams around the night-time wilderness or urban spaces, or travels home from school or work, this is a must-have for being seen. As a biker or runner goes flying across an intersection (all the while using good safety measures such as lights, stop signs, etc.), one will have another measure of protection — light, light, light.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Online Service Gives Us New Ways to Access Key U.S. Electric Power Data

Originally published on the U.S. Energy Information Administration website.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) today makes key electricity data more accessible than ever before with the release of a new online service. The agency’s first-ever Application Programming Interface (API) allows developers to design web and mobile apps that harness a wealth of information about the U.S. electricity sector.

The free API will give developers access to data on electricity generation, retail sales, and average prices, and the types of fuel that are used to generate electricity at the state and national levels. Electricity generation and fuel consumption data for individual power plants with more than 1 megawatt of capacity also are available. These data are structured into a hierarchical set of 39,000 categories, grouping related series and assisting in the exploration of EIA’s data.

“EIA’s API will enable independent developers to create innovative information technology applications that can be used to improve energy decision-making. The value of EIA’s data will be enhanced even further when it is combined with data beyond what the agency collects, such as market or environmental data,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski.

Of particular interest to developers will be the geographical metadata provided with each series (for example, the longitude and latitude information of individual electricity plants). Standards-based country and state codes are provided, where applicable. These metadata will permit advanced mapping applications.
Planned additions to EIA’s API include petroleum and natural gas data, along with state energy estimates. As these data sets are added over the coming months, the total number of data series available through EIA’s API will grow.

APIs are an important element of a government-wide Digital Strategy to make information more transparent and customer-centered.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Oxymoron of the Day: Nocturnal Photosynthesis

Here’s one that almost slipped by us: last month, the US Department of Energy granted $14 million to an international biofuel research team headed by the University of Nevada, with the goal of developing a new strain of poplar tree that can perform nocturnal photosynthesis. That sure sounds like a honey trap for certain pundits and federal legislators who don’t like government spending on biofuel research, especially when it scans like an oxymoron and involves spending millions on a common tree that your local nursery probably sells for less than fifty bucks. However, that relatively small investment of $14 million could make all the difference in the ability of the domestic biofuel industry to help power the US through a hotter, dryer future.

The technical name for nocturnal photosynthesis is crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). The phenomenon was discovered back in the 1950's, when researchers at Newcastle University in the UK noted that prickly pear, agave, and some other desert plants open up their pores to absorb carbon dioxide at night, rather than during the day as in normal photosynthesis.

With a store of carbon dioxide at hand, these plants have a power source for photosynthesis during the day while keeping their pores shut tight against water loss.
According to researchers at the University of Nevada, CAM plants can thrive on 8 to 16 inches of precipitation annually, compared to typical non-CAM biofuel crops that requires 20 to 40 inches.

Why poplar? Well, as the US recovers from its corn ethanol hangover, the search is on for woody, drought-tolerant biofuel crops that don’t compete with crops for food and animal feed. That makes the ideal biofuel crop a non-food plant that can be grown on marginal land that is not suitable for cultivating food crops.
That’s where poplar comes in. Biofuel from poplars is already a hot topic in biofuel research circles because the tree grows quickly in poor soil and it tolerates dry conditions.

As a perennial biofuel crop, poplar has a potential advantage over annual crops in terms of soil conservation and energy required for cultivation.

A poplar biofuel farm could do double duty as a managed forest for wildlife habitat and recreation. Poplar is also being tested as a form of soil remediation called phytoremediation, in which plants remove contaminants from soil as they grow.

That’s all well and good, but one thing that poplar lacks is the genetic mechanism for CAM, and that is exactly what the new DOE grant is designed to give it.

Helping to nudge things along, researchers at Oregon State University have been working on a genetic modification to create semi-dwarf trees, including dwarf poplar. The idea is to keep forest US forest industries viable in a hotter, dryer world by introducing trees that are more drought-tolerant due to a larger proportion of root mass.

The increased root mass would also enhance ability of semi-dwarf trees to perform soil conservation and phytoremediation tasks.

No surprise that the Oregon State research is partly funded by the Department of Energy as well as the Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and forest industry partners.

The University of Nevada project, by the way, is titled “Engineering CAM Photosynthetic Machinery into Bioenergy Crops for Biofuels Production in Marginal Environments. The research team also includes the University of Liverpool, Newcastle University, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Image: Poplar tree at night. Some rights reserved by Horia Varlan.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

SoloPower Offers Relatively Expensive Panels with a Potentially Huge Cost Benefit

Editor’s Update October 2, 2012: Someone has notified me that SoloPower has not actually posted anything on the cost of SoloPower’s solar modules, and that the numbers below (which we retrieved from Greentech Media) are extrapolated from another technology. I am contacting SoloPower to try to get confirmation of that.

We wrote about SoloPower in March when it broke the efficiency record for CIGS solar modules, and we’ve actually covered the company a few times over the past few years. SoloPower charges $2.20 per watt for their flexible solar panels, if purchasing a whopping 10 MW (10,000 kW) of panels, that is. On such a large-scale, typical hard solar panels made of metal and glass (or plastic) can cost $1 per watt.

SoloPower’s flexible CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenium) solar panels have some clear installation benefits. They can be pasted onto roofs without penetrating them. Penetration requires expensive contractors, and the construction of mounting equipment for solar panels does, too.

SoloPower’s flexible CIGS solar panels.
Flexible solar panels can also be installed onto uneven surfaces much more easily than typical rigid metal panels, and they can even be installed onto surfaces that it would be impossible to mount rigid metal panels onto.

As you can see in the picture above, installation can actually be very simple, and this opens up a window of opportunity to install solar panels yourself, which is far cheaper than having a contractor install them. This is because solar panel installation is so expensive that it costs more than the panels themselves.
There is a catch to flexible thin-film solar panels, though. They tend to be less efficient than rigid mono-crystalline panels, and they are more expensive.

The easy pasting installation concept also has a catch. Pasting panels on your roof may entail replacing your roof when the panels go bad, depending on the type of roof you have.

If you have an asphalt roof, then the panels could outlast the roof, but they normally have the same lifespan as the roof (20 years). So, ideally, the panels are likely to need replacement at the same time as the roof.
There are also adhesives which can easily be peeled back off — although I can’t verify how long such adhesives could last. And there’s one major catch to this idea — ease of theft. Solar panels that are permanently glued to roofs cannot be stolen, so their theft deterrence is superior.

For smaller scale projects that are up to 500 kW, SoloPower’s panels cost $2.95 per watt.
SoloPower is headquartered in San Jose, California.
Source: Green Tech Media

Photo Credit: SoloPower
Interested in free solar estimates for your home?

View the original article here

Monday, October 1, 2012

Silevo’s Triex Hybrid Solar Cell Has Reached 21% Conversion Efficiency at Production

The solar cell innovator and photovoltaic (PV) solar module manufacturer Silevo recently announced that its Triex™ solar cell technology won The Solar Industry Award 2012 for Excellence in Innovation. The Triex technology is a powerful hybrid solar module that is able to perform with very high efficiency and ‘low temperature coefficients’ while costing considerably less to produce than was previously possible.

The Solar Industry Awards were created to cast a spotlight on the people, products, and services that are continuing to develop innovative manufacturing practices and products that “demonstrate technological development towards grid parity while reducing overall cost.”

Silevo’s winning of the award follows closely on the heels of its announcement that it has reached a conversion efficiency greater than 21 percent “with its Triex solar cells at its high volume manufacturing facility—one of the highest across the solar industry.”

“Silevo is honored to be presented with The Solar Industry Award for our advancements with Triex technology,” said Zheng Xu, founder and CEO of Silevo. “Now that we’ve begun commercial production of Silevo cells with greater than 21 percent conversion efficiency, this award reflects our determination to develop and bring to market a technology that makes sustainable, widespread solar adoption viable for the energy market. Silevo’s Triex technology is the first offering that can bring significant balance of system (BOS) savings, as well as an increased energy yield.”

The Triex technology is the first hybrid solar solution that mixes “high-performance crystalline silicon N-type substrates, thin-film passivation layers and a unique tunneling oxide layer—all in a single solar module, that is powered by breakthrough ‘tunneling junction’ architecture.” When these three materials are combined they allow the Triex module to deliver very high conversion efficiency and very competitive costs.

“The Solar Industry Awards continue to reward and recognize the people, process and products that make up the global PV and solar industry,” said David Ridsdale, editor in chief of Solar International. “Now in their fourth year, the awards are voted for by the industry ensuring these awards are decided by the industry. Silevo’s Triex technology exhibits the complexity and comprehensiveness of the PV market and was selected as a winner due to the confidence of the awards selection panel in recognition of the perceived value Silevo’s technology can add to the industry.”