Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Eye On China: China Now World's Largest Investor in Renewable Energy

According to a Xinhua News Agency article (reprinted here), China has become the world's largest invester in renewable energy. The news was announced by experts from the environmental watchdog, the WorldWatch Institute earlier this month at an ongoing forum for decentralized sustainable energy solutions in China.

Dr. Eric Martinot, a senior research fellow with the US-based Worldwatch Institute and senior visiting scholar of Tsinghua University, said that excluding large hydropower, China invested $6 billion (US) in renewable energy in 2005 out of a global total investment of $38 billion.

Soaring oil prices have made renewable energy a focus for world investors, Martinot told Xinhua.

Government support for renewable energy was reportedly $10 billion in 2004 for both the United States and Europe, including budget funding and policy support. The United States and Europe provide more than $700 million per year for research and development, said Martinot.

Moreover, large commercial banks are starting to notice renewable energy and several are adding renewable energy investments to their lending portfolios, he said.

And the renewable energy industry is booming. There are now more than 70 renewable energy companies worldwide with a market capitalization greater than $40 million each and their total market capitalization is over $30 billion, according to Xinhua.

Major investments and acquisitions have been made in recent years by leading global companies such as GE, Siemens, Shell, BP, Sanyo and Sharp and the industry could provide over 1.7 billion jobs worldwide, Martinot said. China's renewable energy market has huge potential and is a great market for world investors.

Among the US$6 billion investment in 2005, most was poured into small hydropower and solar hot water energy, with $600 million going towards wind power, Xinhua reports. China is already the world's leader in solar hot water use and, as reported previously, China has a huge untapped reserve of wind power potential they are just beginning to develop.

As we've discussed here before, the Chinese government has pledged strong policy support to the renewable energy industry in the past year. In January, China's new national renewable energy law came into effect [see previous post] which sets tariffs in place to foster renewable energy use. The announcement last November that I reported on here siad that China's goal is to double their current use of renewable energy to 15 percent of the rapidly developing nation's energy mix by the year 2020. Xinhua reports that China has announced plans to increase its installed electricity capacity for renewable energy to 10 percent of its total power capacity by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020.

Either way, China clearly has made renewable energy a strong priority for both policy and investment.

By 2010, Xinhua reports that renewable energy excluding large hydropower will account for five percent of China's total primary energy consumption and the percentage is planned to rise to 10 percent by 2020.

Speaking at a meeting on energy development on the last month, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for effective measures to ensure the implementation of the government's energy saving and renewable development policies and emphasized that renewable energy is an important strategic alternative to coal and oil.

Is this a continued sign that Red China may be going green?

If you'd like to read about five praiseworthy and inspirational individuals who have been striving to make a green China a reality, check out China.org's 2005 Green China Award winners...

[A hat tip to RenewableEnergyAccess]

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Plug-in Hybrids Ready for Mass Production in 18 months? 'Yes!' says Lead Transportation Researcher

In an article in today's Chicago Sun Times, Don Hillebrand, the director of Argonne National Laboratory's Center for Transportation Research said that with a concerted effort to solve the "battery problems" plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) could be ready for mass production in 18 months.

Additionally, of all the alternative transportation fuels and vehicles Hillebrand and the CTL has explored, he says he's "most excited about its potential to play a lead role among the national labs in developing plug-in hybrids."

Argonne National Labs is located in the suburbs of Chicago (in Argonne, IL) and is home to the Center for Transportation Research, one of the nation's most productive national labs focusing on alternative transportation research. [The CTL developed the GREET model which I utilized for my thesis research and has published a number of excellent documents comparing the full fuel and vehicle cycles of dozens of alternative transportation fuels and vehicles).

The text of the article (by Tara Burghart of the Associated Press) is below:

It's like a giant rolling Erector Set -- for engineers who really like to play around with automotive components.

Formally called the Mobile Automotive Technology Testbed, the bare-bones chassis plays a vital role in Argonne National Laboratory's research into new ways to power vehicles.

One day, the engineers can test how an electric motor performs with a gasoline-powered engine and a manual transmission. The next day they can substitute an engine fueled by hydrogen. Soon, they intend to place giant batteries on the testbed's rear platform to research a plug-in hybrid vehicle that could increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

Argonne -- located in the far west suburbs and one of the U.S. Energy Department's largest research centers -- is just one of the dozens of national labs, private companies, universities and automaker research facilities around the country working on such projects.


Previous home to nuke research

The building where the testbed is housed illustrates the nation's changing priorities. The structure previously was used for research into magnets necessary for use in nuclear reactors. When that work ended in the 1970s, the building sat empty for years.

Now, it's devoted to the lab's Center for Transportation Research, where -- among other projects -- the staff is working to develop, test or perfect vehicles that can run on everything from ethanol to hydrogen, methanol to wood chips.

"You can almost see the transition in the country's needs," said Don Hillebrand, the center's director.


'A lot of alternatives' to oil

Hillebrand says he's confident the nation can move away from its dependence on foreign oil, but thinks the solution lies in a combination of new options, not one single answer.

"We are the Saudi Arabia of coal, because we've got all the coal we want. We're the Saudi Arabia of shale oil, tar sands, biofuels . . . solar, wind," Hillebrand said. "The U.S. has got substantial carriers of fuel and energy supplies. The problem the U.S. has is they're not oil; they're in different forms.

"So what our research is really focusing on is giving the U.S. alternatives to just using oil, and there are a lot of alternatives."

Hydrogen fuel cells are often mentioned as one of the most promising. The fuel cell would use hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, with water as the byproduct.

Although Argonne has done work on fuel cells and similar futuristic technologies, Hillebrand says he is most excited about its potential to play a lead role among the national labs in developing plug-in hybrids.

A standard hybrid such as the Toyota Prius uses an electric motor, a small battery and a gasoline motor. With a plug-in hybrid, the small battery is replaced by much bigger battery packs that can be recharged through a standard 120-volt outlet.

With such a car, a driver could travel the first 10, 20 or even 40 miles of a trip on battery power before the vehicle would switch to the gasoline engine, Hillebrand says.

"You've now just, for most people, eliminated . . . half of all the oil they use," he said.


Mass production in 18 months?

Drawbacks remain. Owning a plug-in hybrid would be a challenge for anyone who does not live in a single-family home with a garage or carport and a readily available outlet.

Before the plug-in hybrid could hit the road in mass numbers, the batteries would likely have to become lighter, less expensive and longer lasting. And there is concern about the capability of the electrical grid to support a nationwide fleet of such vehicles -- although supporters say most would be charged overnight, during off-peak hours for utilities.

With a concerted effort to solve the battery problems, Hillebrand says, plug-in hybrids could be feasible for mass production in 18 months.


Hillebrad and the CTL are about as much of an expert on alternative transportation options as you can get. If they say PHEVs could be ready to go in 18 months, then I'm pretty inclined to believe them ... so when are automakers going to figure it out?

If our president was serious about ending America's 'addiction to oil' than he'd be in serious negotiations with the American auto industry to provide adequate incentives and private-public partnerships to help Ford and GM get the first plug-ins to market by the end of this decade if not sooner (plug-ins in 2009 model year anyone?!).

Helping Detroit leapfrog the competition and bring PHEVs to market could help breath new life back into the dying U.S. auto industry. Additionally, with gas prices above $3.00 a gallon coupled with what could easily be a strong marketing campaing to cast purchasing and driving a PHEV as part of our patriotic duty to strengthen the U.S., build our economy and end our reliance on foreign oil, I think adequate consumer demand would be ready to support a growing and sustained market for PHEVs.

PHEVs are by far our best hope in the near-term (and 18 months is certainly near-term) to dramatically reduce our oil consumption. PHEVs fueled with cellulosic ethanol could provide the mid-term (~15-35 years away) solution, while development and commercialization of PHEVs would help spur the development of and build the production system for all-electric vehicles at around that point as well. The electric-biofuels path could look something like this then:

  • Before 2010: Several PHEV models hit the market and begin to increase market share with strong support from the government (as they represent a way to shift our transport energy demand to domestically available sources of electricity).

  • By 2025: PHEVs have gained a large market share (>80%?) as between 2010 and 2025, the composition of the light duty transport fleet will have almost entirely rolled over. Many of these PHEVs are flex-fuel capable and are fueled with E85 from cellulosic biomass. The remainder all use an E10 blend that is standard for all gasoline. All-electric vehicles with ranges over 100 miles are also on the market and have a small (~10%) market share. Imported oil demand has been slashed and total oil consumption has fallen below peak levels. If we were smart, the increased electricity demand has been met largely with renewables (with some clean coal and perhaps nuclear plants making up the rest). Even if the electricity mix simply grows with the same composition it has now, PHEVs will reduce petroleum and fossil energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases and nearly all criteria pollutants (exceptions being SOx and PM10).

  • After 2025: PHEVs with larger and larger electric ranges are being built as battery technology advances and gets cheaper and lighter. More EVs are sold and their ranges increase as well. Carbon-based nanoengineered ultracapacitors begin to replace lithium-ion batteries as the standard PHEV and EV energy storage system as they offer enormous power densities and now have energy densities equivalent to Li ion. Using carbon-based ultracaps eliminates the last concern about material availability for batteries (i.e. Li for Li ion batteries). Eventually, EVs have suitable range and quick enough charge times that you can 'top off' the charge on the road if you need to and the need for liquid fuels can nearly dissapear.


  • Of course, this is all pretty vague and hypothetical, but I don't think its too unlikely. Compare this to the comperable hydrogen fuel cell vehicle timeline:

  • By 2010: Honda has one very high priced FCV on the market (the FCX). Sales are in the double digits per month and make no noticable impact on national oil consumption

  • By 2025: A few automakers offer FCVs but sales are slow because the infrastructure to fuel them still needs to be developed. Fuel better not come from electrolysis of water using the US electricity mix because that ends up being far worse in terms of fossil energy use and GHGs (and several criteria pollutants) than using gasoline or diesel. Hybrids continue to have stronger sales than FCVs and hybrids and diesels make a larger impact on oil consumption than FCVs.

  • After 2025: Time's up ... we're out of oil and screwed ...


  • OK, that's of course a bit pessimistic, but I also don't think its too unlikely. The main point of the comparison is that PHEVs are ready now (or in 18 months which is basically now) while FCVs won't be ready for at least another decade and then will suffer 'chicken-and-the-egg' issues regarding infrastructure that PHEVs won't have to worry about (at least on the same magnitude - at some point the grid will need to be reinforced, but this is nowhere near as large an undertaking as building an entirely new transmission infrastructure for hydrogen).

    Its time to start the chant: "I want my ... I want my ... I want my PHEV" (Think Dire Straits, "Money for Nothing")

    [A hat tip to After Gutenberg for the article]

    Read more!

    Thursday, May 25, 2006

    House Overwhelmingly Passes H-Prize Legislation

    By an overwhelming vote of 416 to 6, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5143, the H-Prize Act of 2006 (see previous post) on May 10th. The legislation, introduced by Research Subcommittee Chairman Bob Inglis (R-SC) and modified after its passage out of Committee, would establish a national prize competition to encourage the development of breakthrough technologies that would enable a hydrogen economy.

    The H-Prize is modeled after the successful $10M Ansari X Prize - which spurred the first privately funded suborbital human spaceflight last year - and seeks to help overcome technical challenges related to hydrogen by offering prizes in three categories:

  • Technological Advancements. Four prizes of up to $1 million awarded biennially in the categories of hydrogen Production, Storage, Distribution and Utilization;

  • Prototypes. One prize of up to $4 million awarded biennially that forces working hydrogen vehicle prototypes to meet ambitious performance goals; and

  • Transformational Technologies. One grand prize consisting of a $10 million cash award, funded in whole or in part by federal contribution. Additional matching funds could be awarded for development of well-to-wheels breakthrough technologies.


  • H.R. 5143 would authorize appropriations during fiscal years 2007 through 2016 totaling:

  • $20 million for the Technical Advancement prizes;

  • $20 million for the Prototypes prizes (awards in these two categories alternate each year);

  • $10 million for a single Transformational Technologies grand prize; and

  • $2 million annually for administrative and advertising costs.

  • The legislation would direct the Secretary of Energy to contract with a private foundation or other non-profit entity to establish criteria for the prizes and administer the prize contest.

    In passing the bill, the House amended the version of the bill that had passed in Committee by:

  • Allowing the Transformational Technologies grand prize to be offered only once in the 10-year period covered by the bill, reducing the authorization levels in the bill by $80 million;

  • Clarifying that the Technological Advancements prizes do not have to be awarded if there are no significant advances in the two-year period being covered by a prize competition; and

  • Requiring the entity that administers the prizes to protect any intellectual property, trade secrets or confidential business information provided by prize contestants.


  • "Hydrogen may be the Holy Grail of transportation fuels," said Sicence Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). "It is clean, it is abundant, and it can be produced here at home. If we are able to overcome the technical barriers that currently block its wide-spread, practical use, the potential payoff will be huge: cleaner air, less global warming, and most importantly, an economy that is not held hostage by foreign regimes or volatile oil markets. There’s no guarantee we’ll get there, but by summoning our nation’s best and brightest to the challenge, the H-Prize will greatly increase our chances of success."

    Apparently playing up the partisan nature of this bill's supporters, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) hailed today’s passage of the H-Prize, saying, “The H-Prize provides yet another example of Republicans taking action to help address high energy costs by looking at developing the next generation of American energy sources. This bill will help spur advances in hydrogen technology and provide another reliable source of American energy for families and consumers.”


    Green Car Congress had this to say about Contenders and the H-Prize:
    Compared to the Ansari X Prize competition, which required competitors to build and fly a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 km and then within two weeks repeat the flight, the goals and criteria for the H-Prize (assuming it is enacted into law) are much broader, and still need to be defined. Capital requirements for inventors pitching their notions into the contest ring are likely to be lower for some as well.

    While a number of contenders undoubtedly will come from the mainstream hydrogen and transportation sectors (research, academic and commercial)—just as Ansari X Prize winner Burt Rutan and his group came from the aerospace industry—the prize opens the door for the competitive evaluation of less orthodox approaches.

    Two examples of such are Hydrogen Technology Applications, with its claims for electrolyzing a “unique type of hydrogen/oxygen gas” - HHO - as a potential automotive fuel with 3.1 times the energy of hydrogen; and Energy Ventures Organization, which claims to use a modified resonance field to enhance the electrolytic production of hydrogen from water.

    Hydrogen Technology Applications in particular has recently generated an enormous amount of buzz subsequent to a segment on FOX News that featured its “water fuel” for cars.

    As questionable as the claims around some unorthodox approaches might be, one of the most efficient ways to sort it out is in a competition just of the sort the H-Prize anticipates.

    Nor is the government alone is eyeing a prize strategy to catalyze activity. The X Prize Foundation plans to roll out its own Automotive X Prize (not focused just on hydrogen) [as previously reported].

    The X Prize Foundation's "History of Prizes" page has this to say about competitive research and development prizes:

    "Between 1905 and 1935, hundreds of aviation prizes stimulated the advancement of aircraft technology. One of the best known prizes was The Orteig Prize, $25,000 offered by hotel magnate Raymond Orteig to the first person to fly non-stop between New York and Paris. In 1927, with the whole world watching, Charles Lindbergh won the prize, becoming the most famous person on Earth.

    Where no government filled the need and no immediate profit could pay the bill, the Orteig Prize stimulated not one, but nine different attempts to cross the Atlantic. These nine teams cumulatively spent $400,000 to win the $25,000 purse.

    Prior to his flight, the press of the day characterized him as a daredevil, an amateur, “the flying fool,” and a “lanky demon of the air,” he was actually a skilled professional and military aviator. Many of the other Orteig Prize attempts utilized heavy, multi-engine planes with large crews. Lindbergh’s meticulously planned single-engine/single-pilot strategy was a radical departure from the conventional thinking of the day, but his innovative thinking and careful preparation won the full support of the Spirit of St. Louis Organization."

    For legitimate startups, out-of-left-field inventors and those otherwise without exposure to and connections in the mainstream but with real solutions, contests and trials such as these could prove invaluable. For a world requiring real solutions to pressing energy and transportation problems, the prizes could be equally valuable.


    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress is in order, as usual]

    Read more!

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    New Electrodes for Lithium-ion Batteries Clear Safety Tests

    Altair Nanotechnologies announced today that has completed an internal safety-testing cycle for its new nano-structured negative electrode material - nano Lithium Titanium Oxide (nLTO) - that can replace the graphite used in conventional lithium-ion batteries [see this post at Green Car Congress for more].

    Via a course of safety tests conducted over the past few months, Altairnano’s nLTO demonstrated safety under conditions where standard graphite-based cells typically smoke, vent and explode, according to the company. This could help smooth the road ahead for the introduction of Li ion batteries for use in hybrids, plug-ins and electric vehicles. Li ion batteries have both higher energy densities and much better efficiencies than the currently utilized Nickel Metal Hydide (NiMH) batteries currently used in hybirds. Concerns about safety as well as higher initial production costs have slowed Li ion batteries entry into the automotive market [at high production volumes, Li ion batteries actually have production costs equal to or lower than NiMH].

    Alan Gotcher, Altair Nanotechnologies' President and CEO had this to say:

    "The safety testing cycle that Altairnano has just completed on nano Lithium Titanium Oxide (nLTO)-enabled batteries is a significant milestone in the continued development of HEVs and EVs [hybrid-electric vehicles and electric vehicles] for mass usage, as well as for a diverse range of other applications. We put nLTO to a rigorous and uncompromising set of tests and the results were extremely compelling, in terms of safety, performance and lifespan."


    Altairnano performed 'hot-box' exercises on its batteries at temperatures up to 240° C - more than 100° C above the temperature at which graphite-based batteries can explode - with zero explosions or safety concerns.

    In addition, Altairnano performed high-rate overcharge, puncture, crush, drop and other comparative tests alongside a wide range of graphite-based battery cells with, again, no malfunctions, explosions or safety concerns exhibited by the nano-structured Altairnano nLTO cells. In comparison, the graphite cells, put to the same tests, routinely smoked, caught fire and exploded.

    In addition to the safety enhancements achieved via nLTO, Altairnano’s nLTO battery technology offers improvements, as compared to graphite-based lithium ion cells, to certain measures of cell performance important in the EV and EV market. For example, battery cells using nLTO can be charged in as little as one minute, according to the company, while graphite-containing cells take between one and two hours to charge.

    Altairnano has performed tests demonstrating an unprecedented >9,000 use cycles at charge/discharge rates at which other battery types simply cannot function, let alone charge, according to the company. [Note: 9,000 cycles is very good; as of 2004, the best NiMH batteries from Saft got just under 3,000 cycles (discharged between 80% and 20% state of charge). Even at that level though, that's enough to allow a battery pack for an EV or PHEV to last 130,000 driving miles or more. 9,000 cycles could clearly outlast the typical useful life of a vehicle - i.e., 10-15 years and 150,000 miles].

    Additionally, Altairnano nLTO-based batteries can reportedly operate at temperatures as low as -50o C and as high as 75o C - again, with no unsafe characteristics.

    In March, Altair Nanotechnologies and Electro Energy entered into a four-year Joint Development Agreement for the design, manufacture and marketing of high-power lithium-ion batteries and battery systems.

    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

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    Australian Report Concludes Climate Change Could Be More Rapid Than We Thought

    Green Car Congress relays news of a new report released today by the Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, that concludes that climate change may be occurring at a faster than most scientists had previously thought.

    The report, Stronger Evidence but New Challenges: Climate Change Science 2001- 2005, confirms the patterns of climate change described in the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Third Assessment Report (TAR), released in 2001. However, based on new evidence released between 2001 and 200, the Australian report concludes that there is now a much greater risk of reaching or even exceeding the TAR's upper estimate - an increase in global average temperatures of 5.8° C - by the end of 2100.

    The TAR report estimated that the degree of global warming by the end of this century would result in temperature increases between 1.4 and 5.8° C. In part, the range of estimates is due to uncertainty about the nature and strength of processes that could dampen or amplify the initial greenhouse gas (GHG) 'forcing' (i.e., the effect of GHGs on atmospheric temperatures).

    In addition to the focus on feedbacks associated with water vapour and clouds (a major uncertainty), research over the past few years has yielded a better understanding of three additional effects that were recognized as being important in the IPCC TAR but for which little quantitative information was available at the time:

  • The radiative properties of aerosols. Estimates are now moving towards a higher cooling effect for aerosols—small particles suspended in the atmosphere that generally scatter incoming solar radiation and thus cool the Earth’s surface—than previously thought. In other words, as greenhouse gas concentrations increase and aerosol loadings are reduced, warming increases.

  • A decrease in albedo. Albedo - the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface - is decreasing due to the melting of snow and ice, with the most extreme example being the Arctic Ocean. Retreating ice and snow expose darker underlying land and ocean surfaces, leading to enhanced absorption of sunlight and further warming.

  • Changes in the terrestrial carbon cycle. Several processes—the oxidation of soil organic matter, the number and areal extent of major disturbances such as fire, and the stability of carbon pools in wetlands and frozen soil—are all sensitive to climate. As temperature rises, these processes in general release further amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, forming a feedback loop that intensifies the warming.

  • The authors of the report write:
    Although much uncertainty still surrounds the timing, rate and magnitude of these effects, they all operate to amplify the initial greenhouse warming. Thus, there is now perceived to be a greater risk that the upper end of the well known IPCC TAR estimate of a 1.4 to 5.8°C temperature rise will be reached or exceeded by 2100.

    The observational evidence which supports the fundamental principles of climate change science has grown even stronger in the post-TAR years. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 continues to increase, and several lines of evidence, most notably isotopic analysis, attribute most of this increase to the combustion of fossil fuels.

    The instrumental record showing a warming Earth is supported by satellite measurements of tropospheric warming and by observations in the cryosphere and biosphere. The heat content of the upper layers of the ocean is increasing. A growing number of reconstructions of surface temperature over the past 1000 to 2000 years shows that the sharp temperature rise over the past century is now beyond the bounds of natural variability.

    The imprint of greenhouse gases as the primary cause of the observed warming has also become clearer. The pattern of heat uptake in the world’s ocean basins agrees well with that simulated by climate models for greenhouse gas forcing. The observed moistening of the upper troposphere accords with expectations for greenhouse gas-driven changes in atmospheric water vapour content.

    In summary, post IPCC TAR research has confirmed with stronger evidence the patterns of climate change described in the TAR.
    The lead author of the report is Will Steffen, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) from 1998 through mid-2004 and, since then, IGBP Chief Scientist and Director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University [where I studied for a semester in 2005, BTW].

    Steffen said:
    "I have drawn on the work of thousands of scientists around the world; however, the selection of the material to be incorporated in this synthesis, the emphases made and the inferences drawn are entirely my own. They do not necessarily represent the views of the IGBP, the Australian National University, the Australian Greenhouse Office or the Australian Government"
    Along with the United States, Australia was one of only two industrialized nations that opted out of the Kyoto Protocol agreement. However, unlike the United States, Australia is reportedly on track to meet what would have been its obligation under the Kyoto terms - an 8% increase in greenhouse gas emissions above 1990 levels.
    [Figure: Total 2004 GHG Emissions by State and Territory - million tons of CO2 equivalent]

    According to a press release also issued today by Senator Campbell, Australia is still on track to meet its internationally agreed target of 108 per cent of 1990 emissions despite strong growth in energy consumption. “The accounts show our emissions have increased by 2.3 per cent between 1990 and 2004, which is where we need to be to meet our target,” Senator Campbell said.

    Australia is also part of the US-led Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate [for whatever good that is...].


    Resources:

  • Stronger Evidence but New Challenges: Climate Change Science 2001- 2005

  • Greenhouse Accounts show Australia is still on target for 108 per cent

  • Read more!

    Monday, May 15, 2006

    Be Back Soon...

    Sorry for the lack of posting recently. I am trying to finish my undergraduate honors thesis by the end of this week. I promise to post soon after I complete my thesis draft. Cheers...

    Read more!

    Friday, May 05, 2006

    News From My Backyard: University of Oregon Student Group Completes Final Phase of $100,000 Solar Project

    The Ecological Design Center announced last week that the third and final phase of its $100,000 project to bring solar energy to the University of Oregon campus is complete. The new Solar Kiosk (powered by SunView interactive software) will provide every student who visits the UO's Student Recreation Center (SRC) with real-time information about exactly how much power the rooftop array is producing. The real-time information will also be available at the EDC's website.

    In the spring of 2001, the Ecological Design Center (EDC) was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Associated Studens of the University of Oregon (the student government) to install a grid-tied photovoltaic system on university rooftops. The grant’s goal was to fund enduring and environmentally responsible projects that benefit the entire student body.

    The Ecological Design Center was able to increase the size of the project by 25% by taking advantage of a tax credit given by the Oregon Department of Energy for renewable energy projects. With this money, the EDC successfully installed a 3-kilowatt (kW) solar array at the Erb Memorial Union, phase one of the project, as well as the 12-kW array at the SRC, the second phase of the project. The power produced by these two solar arrays also offsets a portion of the UO’s utility bill, and has done so since installation.


    The EDC’s original proposal to the ASUO outlined three main goals for the Solar project: to produce clean, renewable energy; to put the UO on the map as a "green" campus; and to generate energy that would save money for the student body.

    This project is a showcase for future energy-conscious development on campus and a multi-departmental cooperative effort made it possible. The 12-kW solar array is composed of 84 modules and sits on the roof above the SRC’s basketball courts. It was installed by Energy Design Co. and Solar Assist, subcontractors for L.R. Brabham. The 84 150-Watt modules were made in Spain by Isofoton. The four inverters used were 'StarInverters' produced in Bend, Oregon by PVPowered,, who also provided technical assistance for the Solar Kiosk project.

    Housed in a wooden cabinet and mounted on the wall opposite the SRC’s rental desk, the Solar Kiosk is designed to meet both observation and educational needs. It contains a computer and monitor that relays real-time data about how much energy the photovoltaic panels are producing, and how much energy they have produced since installation. The Solar Kiosk will also provide general information about the benefits of solar power, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the decentralization of power production, and the lack of dependence on foreign oil. This same information will also be available to anyone with Internet access through an interactive website at http://edc.uoregon.edu/solar.

    The EDC’s Campus Sustainability Coordinator, Jesse Jenkins, who is a computer science major, designed the software needed to translate the solar data into a readable display with a team of UO computer science undergraduates. Graduate architecture student Dustann Jones then built the wooden cabinet that holds the display. This final phase of the solar project received funding through EWEB’s Partners in Education program as well as a generous contribution from Architecture Professor Emeritus, John Reynolds.


    [Full disclosure: this is, of course, an article about the succesful efforts of a group I am heavily involved in. I just wanted to take this opportunity to highlight what the University of Oregon and the Ecological Design Center is up to and to spread the word on the SunView website. Check it out when you have the chance and let me know what you think...]

    Read more!

    Senate Bill Aims at Reducing Oil Consumption, Increasing Efficiency, and Enhancing Energy Security

    A bipartisan (although laregely Democrat-dominated) group of senators recently developed and introduced legislation aimed at reducing the United States' dependence on fossil fuels, particularly oil, according to a U.S. Senate Comittee on Energy and Natural Resources press release.

    The Enhanced Energy Security Act of 2006 (S. 2747) was introduced Thursday by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and was co-sponsored by nine other senators including Evan Bayh (D-IN), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Kerry (D-MA), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Ken Salazar (D-CO). [While touted as "a display of bipartisanship on a critical national issue" by the press release, you can see from this list of co-sponsors that the support for the bill leans heavily on the Democrat side of the isle].

    The bill is designed to "geatly spur energy conservation, with a focus on reducing oil demand through greater fuel efficiency and finding ways to moderate natural gas demand by promoting renewable electricity production," according to the press release.

    One of the most important provisions of the bill will be an emphasis on an expanded plan for economy-wide oil savings that will cut oil use, from projected levels, by 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2016, 7 million barrels of oil per day by 2026, and 10 million barrels of oil per day by 2031. That represents a significant reduction in oil consumption over the 27.65 million barrels of oil per day that will be consumed in 2030 accoring to the EIA's 'business-as-usual' reference case forecasts in the Annual Energy Outlook 2006.

    "Time is running out in this Congress to take action on energy,” Senator Bingaman pointed out. “To be effective in responding to our current energy crisis, we must be focused, we must be realistic, and we must be bipartisan. The bill that we are introducing today accomplishes all three goals, and will help consumers by making them more efficient in their use of oil and natural gas.”"

    In contrast to another recently proposed energy bill, the Gas Price Relief and Rebate Act of 2006, which seems to have an overall focus on the short-term and is aimed at 'addressing' high gas prices at the pump - it includes a $100 per person tax rebate to each taxpayer to offset the increased price of gasoline, for example - this act focuses on long-term measures to significantly reduce the United States' use of oil and thus enhance our national security and economic strength.

    [The "Gas Price Relief Act" was introduced by Senate Energy Chairman Pete Dominici (R-NM) and co-sponsored by Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Charles Grassley (R-IA, and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) last week and was one of 140 ammendments to the bloated Supplemental Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4939). Yesterday, the $109 billion bill passed the Senate without Dominici's ammendment.]

    “The high gas prices we are facing today can only be addressed by a serious, long-term effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Senator Bayh said. “Everything from our national security to our economy is impacted by our energy demands, and it will take an effort equal to that of landing a man on the moon to develop a strategy to meet those needs. The bipartisan energy plan we have introduced today represents a real step toward meeting that challenge.”

    In addition to the mandated and measured economy-wide decrease in oil consumption, the legislation includes a variety of measures designed to reduce the country’s almost total reliance on petroleum products in the transportation sector, including:

  • Mandating that each Federal agency achieve at least a 20% reduction in total petroleum consumption, measured from the baseline of fiscal year 1999, not later than 1 October 2009.

  • Accelerating the widespread commercialization of all types of electric drive vehicle technology into all sizes and applications of vehicles, including commercialization of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid fuel cell vehicles, with the application of $1.8 billion in funding from fiscal years 2007 through 2012.

  • Providing up to $1 billion in incentives for the production of cellulosic ethanol from fiscal years 2007 through 2011.

  • Establish a research and development program for lightweight materials for vehicles, and funding it with $360 million from fiscal years 2007 through 2012.

  • Expanding the authority of the Secretary of Energy to provide loan guarantees and competitive grants to automakers and parts manufacturers to convert existing plants or to build new facilities for manufacturing fuel-efficient vehicles and vehicle components.

  • Establishing a trust fund to provide matching funding for building out alternative fueling stations.

  • Providing funds to states for programs to encourage motorists to retire vehicles that are inefficient, and for programs to reduce school bus idling.

  • The bill is similar to legislation that Sens. Bayh, Brownback, Lieberman and Coleman introduced last year called the Vehicle Fuel Choice Act (S.2025, see earlier post). That bill provided a mix of energy policy and energy tax incentives aimed at moving our economy toward both more efficient use of oil and a more diverse future mix of transportation fuels, including biofuels. Introduced by Senator Bayh, the bill had 20 cosponsors.

    According to the press release, because S. 2025 included both policy and tax provisions, it was referred in November to the Senate Finance Committee where it stalled and still sits to this day.

    Many of the provisions of S. 2025 are in the jurisdiction of the Senate Energy Committee, not the Finance Committee. The Enhanced Energy Security Act of 2006 basically takes the energy-related provisions contained in S. 2025 and repackages them in a bill that has now been referred to the Energy Committee.

    The new bill also includes a number of provisions "aimed at relieving demand and price pressure on natural gas, encouraging states to strengthen their programs on demand-side management, and better educating consumers about energy efficiency measures that they can take," according to the press release.

    In addition to this bill, Sen. Bingaman introduced legislation (S. 2748) that will extend a variety of tax provisions contained in the energy bill enacted last year (the Energy Policy Act of 2005) to encourage efficiency investments and the development of renewables. The bill is also co-sponsored by 10 senators on a bipartisan basis and will provide new incentives to help Americans buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. The cost of these incentives will reportedly be offset by closing various tax loopholes for large oil companies.


    This bill looks to me like an excellent start towards reducing our addiction to oil. This bill is quite similar to the 'Gas Price Relief Act' introduced by Republicans Dominici, Stevens and Grassley last week. Both contain the exact same funding for plug-in hybrids and cellulosic ethanol (our two best near-term options to reduce transportation-related oil consumption). However, the overall focus of that act seemed to be on the short-term - i.e. reducing the price at the pump. It included a wasteful $100 rebate for each taxpayer to 'reduce the impact of high gas prices' as well as a focus on anti-price gouging measures. I can't help but see these as short-term, knee-jerk, ineffective measures that will do little but placate the masses.

    What is a $100 check for each taxpayer going to do to help alleviate our addiction to oil in the near or long-term? And are anti-price gouging measures really going to do anything to reduce our oil consumption?

    I can't help but contrast this with the sensible long-term focus of the 'Enhanced Energy Security Act' - i.e. large, incremental, long-term, economy-wide oil consumption reduction targets. The focus should be right there - on strategies to implement a lasting and real reducting in our oil use - not on alleviating consumers' concerns about prices at the pump with stop-gap short-term and very spendy rebate checks: assuming ~150 million working Americans - i.e. about 1/2 the total population - a $100 check for each of them would cost Uncle Sam $15 billion, money that could clearly be better spend! Besides, high gas prices are exactly what we need to encourage reduced consumption, and if anything, we should be increasing gas prices with a gas tax and funneling that extra revenue into investment into research and infrastructure improvements designed to speed up the transition away from oil.

    And of course, Dominici, Stevens, et al. tried to use the prevelent consumer discontent to try to slip a provision opening ANWR for oil exploration into their ammendment as well... How many times must we say NO to these slippery attempts to open up ANWR [and of course I remain skeptical that drilling in ANWR has anything to do with energy security].

    That's another thing that strikes me about the 'Enhanced Energy Security Act' - the sponsors have the courage and respect for the process to put it forward as a full bill of its own, for an up or down vote, rather than attaching it to any spending bill they can (as with the pro-ANWR crowd).

    I have to say I hope this passes and will be calling my senators to urge them to vote for it if it ever gets out of committee. I would encourage you to do the same as well...

    [BTW, the provisions contained in this bill are very similar to the 'Program to Mitigate the Consumption of Oil' that Jim Fraser of the most excellent Energy Blog recently wrote up. I'd encourage you to check out this short read if you haven't yet.]


    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

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    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    News From My Backyard: Portland's TriMet Expands Use of Biodiesel

    After a successful four-month test [see previous post], TriMet announced last week that it's expanding its use of biodiesel to all 210 LIFT buses that provide door-to-door service for elderly and people with disabilities, according to a TriMet press release. This would double the locally produced biodiesel purchased by TriMet, the transit authority serving the greater Portland, Oregon metropolitan area.

    TriMet uses a B5 blend of five percent used cooking oil based biodiesel fuel and 95 percent petroleum diesel. The B5 biodiesel is blended by Carson Oil using pure biodiesel produced by SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel based in Salem, Oregon.

    "TriMet’s expanding use of biodiesel is helping to build a local industry that is environmentally friendly and helps us become more sustainable," said TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen.

    Biodiesel for LIFT

    In partnership with Carson Oil, TriMet will more than double its use of pure biodiesel from 1,350 gallons to 3,500 gallons monthly, the press release reports.

    Carson Oil purchases the biodiesel from SeQuential, the first local biodiesel manufacturer in Oregon. The local biodiesel consists of vegetable oil and used cooking oil from such places as NW restaurants and Kettle Foods in Salem.

    Benefits of biodiesel

    According to TriMet, the transit authority's use of biodiesel helps:

  • reduce reliance on foreign oil and volatile price swings;

  • reduce air pollution and emissions; and

  • increase demand for biodiesel in region and will help expand supply.

  • "To build a truly regional biofuels industry requires a concerted effort across industries and user groups," said SeQuential Co-Founder Tomas Endicott. "We commend TriMet, other individual drivers and progressive businesses for making the choice to burn a cleaner sustainable fuel."

    4-month test

    As I reported previously, TriMet began testing biodiesel in 75 of the LIFT fleet buses in December, 2005. The biodiesel performed well through the trial period, particularly in cold weather conditions, TriMet reports.

    According to the press release, LIFT buses provided approximately one million rides last year.


    Bravo TriMet...

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    Monday, May 01, 2006

    NOAA Reports Continued Increase in Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued the latest global Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) today, its benchmark measurement of gases in the atmosphere that affect the Earth’s climate. This year's AGGI shows a continuing, steady rise in the amount of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere overall.

    That steady increase reflects an increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) but a leveling off of methane (CH4), and a decline in two chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), gases that contribute to the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole [see figures below].



    According to NOAA, the AGGI is referenced to a baseline value of 1.00 for the greenhouse gas levels that were present in the atmosphere in 1990. The value of the AGGI for 2005 is 1.215. This reflects a continuing upward trend in the accumulation of greenhouse gases, as well as the change in the amount of radiative forcing.

    Radiative forcing indicates the balance between radiation coming into the atmosphere and radiation going out, NOAA explains. Positive radiative forcing tends on average to warm the surface of the Earth, and negative forcing tends on average to cool the surface. Radiative forcing, as measured by the index, is calculated from the atmospheric concentration of each contributing gas and the per-molecule climate forcing of each gas [i.e. the global warming potential (GWP) of each gas].

    The constant or declining growth rates of methane and CFCs have slightly slowed the overall growth rate of the AGGI, NOAA reports. Methane concentrations have been holding relatively steady since 1990. This is mostly attributed to an equilibrium that has been reached between sources of emission of the gas, its duration in the atmosphere and areas where it is taken out of the atmosphere. Another positive result is the fact that CFCs are continuing to decline. Along with creating the ozone hole over the Antarctic, CFCs are also very powerful greenhouse gases [HFC-23, for example, has a GWP of 260 times that of CO2!].

    According to NOAA, most of the increase in radiative forcing measured since 1990 is due to CO2, which now accounts for approximately 62 percent of the radiative forcing by all long-lived greenhouse gases. During 2005, global CO2 increased from an average of 376.8 parts per million (ppm) in 2004 to 378.9 ppm, NOAA reports. This increase of 2.1 ppm means that for every one million air molecules there were slightly more than two new CO2 molecules in the atmosphere. The pre-industrial CO2 level was approximately 278 ppm.

    [Figure: Radiative forcing of all the long-lived greenhouse gases, relative to 1750, and the NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) on the right axis, which is indexed to 1 on January 1, 1990.]

    NOAA's AGGI, produced by the Global Monitoring Division of the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., is a recently developed index that provides an easily understood and scientifically unambiguous point of comparison for tracking annual changes in levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. The NOAA AGGI will be included in the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin issued by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in November.

    The AGGI is based on the analyses of atmospheric levels of all the major and minor long-lived greenhouse gases, and factors in the relative strengths of each gas in its ability to trap heat. The gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, CFCs and the current replacements for CFCs, and have been measured since 1979 by NOAA's global sampling network.

    Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels change from year to year depending on natural and human-influenced processes. According to NOAA, the largest annual increase in the AGGI, 2.8 percent, occurred between 1987 and 1988 while the smallest was .81 percent from 1992 to 1993. The index has increased in every year since NOAA's global measurements began in 1979. However, according to this year's AGGI, the increase during 2005 was 1.25 percent, which is relatively low.

    NOAA's network of five global baseline observatories and about 100 global cooperative sampling sites extends from the high Arctic to the South Pole. Samples also are taken at five-degree latitude intervals from three oceanic ship routes. A Baltic ferry line collects samples as it makes its daily crossing. All samples are then sent to Boulder for analysis and comparison with NOAA's world standards for the gases.

    NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

    Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, 61 countries and the European Commission to develop a global network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

    Resources

  • NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI)

  • NOAA Global Monitoring Division

  • NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory


  • [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

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    News From My Backyard: More Press for OSU's Work on Wave Power

    Oregon State University's work on a linear generator buoy prototype [see picture] that generates electricity from 'the motion of the ocean' has been getting a lot of press lately [see previous post]. Their wave power buoys could be deployed in the next few years in what would be the United States' first commercial wave generation park, likely off the coast of Oregon.

    OSU's generator, which turns the churning of ocean waves into useful electricity, is a 'linear generator' buoy design. The motion of ocean waves moves a floating copper coil through a fixed magnetic shaft, generating electricity through the simple action of Faraday's Law [you may be familiar with those manually chargable emergency flashlights that operate on the same principle]. That means the OSU design can generate electricity without any contact between its main parts, reducing the effects of wear and corrosion that at sea can turn the toughest materials into rusted wrecks. This is in contrast to current commercialized wave power generators (i.e. Pelamis' design that just recieved an investment from GE) that operate based on hydraulic or pneumatic joints.

    The Register Guard, my local paper, just published a new story on the OSU design and the prospects for a wave park in Oregon. Its a good read and points to the importance of available infrastructure for renewable projects (wave power is no different here than wind or solar - you've got to get the power from where the wind is blowin' or the ocean is rockin' to the place where folks need it) and the potential ocean power has to reinvigorate small coastal communities which could become the new center of an emerging ocean power industry (and again, this is quite similar to the potential of wind and solar). Also, like offshore wind and other renewables, the proposed wave park faces several permitting and (some) NIMBY hurdles. Read on for the text of the article:

    Ocean swells pack enough raw power to snap a mega-freighter in two and chisel rocks into sand. Soon they might also provide the energy to light a city and even boost its economy.

    Call it the wave of the future.

    And it's a future that might not be too far off. Researchers at Oregon State University are honing the design of a new electricity-generating ocean buoy that can turn the churning of the sea into clean, green power for an energy-hungry grid. They are helping lay the groundwork for what would be the nation's first offshore wave energy park.

    The electricity is out there. Engineers have estimated that harnessing just 0.2 percent of the ocean's untapped energy would meet the entire planet's power needs.

    "There's a tremendous amount of energy available in the ocean," said Oregon State University engineering professor Annette von Jouanne, who is leading an OSU wave energy project with fellow professor Alan Wallace. "There is a tremendous amount of energy available in wave motion."

    But not all waves are created equal. Some, such as those on parts of the East Coast, are so mild that they don't have the oomph to charge a flashlight battery.

    The West Coast, though, is swimming in big, horsepower-heavy swells kicked up far out in the Pacific Ocean that eventually come crashing ashore in foaming, surfable and soon, perhaps, electricity-generating waves. What's more, studies have shown that of all America's western shoreline, one place stands out as having the best potential for wave energy.

    "Sweet spot"

    "Oregon is the sweet spot for wave energy in the world," von Jouanne said. "Anyone who goes to the coast can see the potential in that ocean."

    To realize that potential, OSU is working on a new type of generator to convert the motion of waves into electricity. Rather than using hydraulics or pneumatics - the basis of current designs - the prototype is based on a linear magnetic generator that uses what researchers call a "contactless force transmission system" to generate electricity.

    What that means is that the buoy can produce electricity without having its main parts in contact, reducing the effects of wear and corrosion that at sea can turn the toughest materials into rusted wrecks.

    The buoy basically is a copper wire coil surrounding a shaft made from high-density, rare earth magnets. A cable running to the seafloor holds the shaft approximately in one position, while the outer part of the buoy holding the coil bobs up and down on the waves.

    That motion, a magnet moving through the center of a copper coil, generates electricity. Each buoy should produce about 250 kilowatts; four rows of 20 buoys each would extract 20 megawatts of electricity, and a network of 200 buoys would produce enough to power downtown Portland.

    Still, that's a lot of buoys, and where to put them remains an open question. Oregon has 300 miles of coastline, but one spot stands out as a natural for what would be the nation's first commercial wave energy park: the Douglas County town of Gardiner.

    Ready connection

    Gardiner has two things that make it a prime wave energy prospect: an unused electricity substation at the abandoned International Paper mill, and a seafloor pipeline. Three companies already have expressed interest in the site.

    The 53-megawatt substation provides a ready-made connection to the electrical grid, and the pipeline could be the conduit for the delivery line that would carry electricity from the buoy park to shore. That means the start-up costs for a commercial wave park would be substantially lower than a site where facilities would be built from scratch.

    Justin Klure, the state Energy Department official coordinating the wave power initiative, said that also means a shorter development time.

    "I would say it's reasonable to assume that there would be some form of a pilot project in the water in the near term," Klure said. "I would say that two years is probably the best-case scenario."

    If it can, Gardiner and perhaps other coastal towns could benefit in a big way. And not just by having a new source of electricity; they could become the center of a whole new industry.

    That's of particular importance in Gardiner and neighboring Reedsport, where the mill closure meant the end of 650 mostly family-wage jobs.

    "Anytime you develop renewable energy resources, economic development goes hand in hand," Klure said. "And what we're talking about here is an emerging industry, one that Oregon an take the leadership role in developing."

    Obstacles ahead

    The big hurdle right now is the permitting process. The state is working with the federal government and local jurisdictions to lay out some kind of a road map for getting approval for a wave energy operation, but at this point it's all unexplored territory.

    "How do you go about siting an energy facility in the ocean?" Klure asked. "There has yet to be a project like this sited in the U.S., and so coordinating federal, state and local jurisdictions is probably one of the most significant barriers. It's not like I'm going to put in a natural gas plant or something that's already been done."

    But the bureaucracy isn't the only question mark in wave energy.

    A small commercial wave park could take up a part of the ocean 1.25 nautical miles deep by 1,000 feet wide, not only a hazard to coastal navigation but a new and potentially serious headache for the state's important fishing and crabbing industries.

    If a wave park is built off Gardiner, it would just happen to float on top of very prime crabbing territory. That's not something people whose living depends on crabs are particularly happy about, but to their credit, they're willing to keep an open mind.

    "That area is in prime crab real estate," said Nick Furman of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. "The local fishermen who have met with the folks from the (OSU) engineering lab have looked at the charts, and their first thought has always been, `Is there any other place you can put it?' "

    It's possible it could be placed further offshore, but that would be more expensive. So OSU and the state have been working closely with the fishing and crabbing industries to come up with a plan that will be viable from a cost standpoint and have the least possible downside for those who make their living from the sea.

    And Furman pointed out that many fishermen are excited by the idea and recognize it has potential benefits that go beyond its effect on fishing.

    "I personally, and a lot of other people I've talked to who are involved in the project are pretty excited," he said. "In this day and age of $75-a-barrel oil, it certainly seems like it would make sense to harness as many sustainable, clean methods of power as possible. And certainly crab fishermen have a healthy amount of respect and awe for the power that's out there."

    It will be up to a commercial wave power company to actually harness that energy. OSU is helping set the stage for that to happen, but its goal is to get funding for a national wave energy laboratory to be built near the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

    The hope is that the combination of a national laboratory and the first commercial wave energy park will secure Oregon a lead spot in a new industry. That's just the position the state wants to be in when wave energy eventually crests.

    "We want to have the first commercial wave park," von Jouanne said. "The state that has the first one will win big."


    [A hat tip to Jenny]

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