Saturday, November 29, 2014

U S needs to change its lethargic energy policy to win clean energy race

China currently leads the way in clean energy race by being the worlds largest manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines, and accounting for more than one million renewable energy jobs. 

The United States has a lot of catching up to do, and this is something relatively unknown to U.S., something that America hasnt done too often. From the current perspective it looks like China could remain global clean energy leader for some time, mostly because of several major deficiencies in U.S. clean energy politics.

For starters, U.S. still doesnt have nationwide renewable energy standard. The standard on federal level would create excellent foundation for future renewable energy development because it would give investors long-term certainty by forcing electric utilities to gradually increase the percentage of renewable energy sources in their power supply. 

U.S. president Obama used to spoke heavily about the nations clean energy future, but this talk has somewhat cooled down in the last year or so, likely because fossil fuel lobbies are still too powerful so there is still not enough interest in Congress to come up with the federal renewable energy policy.

Without federal renewable energy standard U.S. will fail to give China (and even EU) decent challenge in clean energy race. This could in long run jeopardize U.S. position as the worlds strongest economy.

U.S. needs to show that it means business, and it needs to show it fast, otherwise the gap will soon become too big. This means proper renewable energy policy, more research and funding, and also more focusing on creating strong renewable manufacturing base.

Strong renewable manufacturing sector is something that U.S. renewable energy industry is desperately in need of. Thanks to strong manufacturing base China now has over one million renewable energy jobs, and this is certainly an example from which U.S. can learn (together with more aggressive clean energy policy applied by China).

Renewable energy means both environmental and economic benefits. U.S. has abundance of renewable energy resources at its disposal, and this alone should be enough for U.S. to become more competitive on global clean energy market.

The U.S. energy policy will however require a total makeover, by taking an initiative instead of sitting behind and waiting for better times. The lethargic energy policy is the last thing U.S. needs right now. Unless youre a China, of course.
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Friday, November 28, 2014

UBS Utilities face “perfect storm” from renewables storage

ReNew Economy has an article on a recent report from UBS on the outlook for power utilities - UBS: Utilities face “perfect storm” from renewables, storage.
A new report from leading utilities analysts at investment bank UBS suggests that energy utilities in Europe, north America and Australia are facing a “perfect storm” from the falling costs of renewables, energy efficiency and falling demand, and may not be able to sustain their business models.

The report – entitled “Can utilities survive in their current form?” – is the latest in a series of assessments, reviews and analysis that point to the severe disruption to the centralized generation model, and the demand and supply dynamics that have governed the industry for the past few decades. To briefly summarise the UBS response to its own question, the answer is No.

UBS says the biggest impact on the current utility model will occur in developed markets, where renewables in general and distributed solar in particular will take more of an already depleted “demand pie.”

This, says UBS, will cause profits to fall and could force utilities, particularly generators, to look at greater exposure to renewables and distributed generation, and to other downstream services. It comes to a similar conclusion on this as the CSIRO Future Grid forum, and echoes some of the strategic decisions currently being mooted German energy giants RWE and E.ON.

“We expect the renewables onslaught to continue and that the going will only get tougher for conventional generators,” the UBS analysts write. “We believe the will need to examine and change their traditional business models to survive the renewables era.”

These new business models could include a greater focus on rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and consumer offerings that combined solar, storage, and electric vehicle infrastructure, as well as energy-efficient appliances.

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Radical plots The politics of gardening

The Independent has an article on "radical gardening" (as opposed to "guerilla gardening) - Radical plots: The politics of gardening. Watch out for those old folk pottering around their back yards...
Notions of utopia, of community, of activism for progressive social change, of peace, of environmentalism, of identity politics, are practically worked through in the garden, in floriculture and through what art historian Paul Gough has called "planting as a form of protest". But not all – some are sobering, or frightening, for within the territory of the politically "radical" there have been, and continue to be, social experiments that invert our positive expectations of the human exchange that occurs in the green open space of a garden. There are fascist gardens (for the Nazis the land and its planting were pivotal to their ideology): the notorious herb garden at Dachau concentration camp (run on the biodynamic principles of Rudolf Steiner which were favoured by many senior Nazis); the SS "village" at Auschwitz, as recalled by Primo Levi, with its domestic normality of houses, gardens, children and pets – and the garden paths paved with human bones.

There are also contemporary troubles: the British National Party, for example, has a campaign website entitled Land and People (not such a distant echo in its title of the Nazi Blood and Soil doctrine): "Land and People say the choice between allocating land for locals – utilise as allotments – or for development – building to house migrants – as they say, a no brainer... only British Nationalists will put the engine of immigration into reverse and, in so doing, save our countryside."

The BNP has also argued for the planting of old English varieties of apple trees as part of its campaign to preserve a pure and rustic national culture. In spite of being neither English nor a nationalist, I have planted a "lost" local heritage apple tree in my Lancashire garden (it doesnt fruit as much as the Bramley bought end-of-season from B&Q for a fiver, thus probably explaining why it was lost). But nonetheless, can we say that the discourse of horticultural purity and nativism – and even more so of native vs invasive species – maps uncomfortably on the politics of extreme nationalism and xenophobia?

Any notions of a horti-countercultural politics (I agree that they probably dont called them horti-countercultural politics) that gardeners may have imagined were in their earthy practice and pleasure have a rich and challenging tradition, a significance and a trajectory of energy and import that makes them matter for our future. "Why," asks writer-gardener Jamaica Kincaid, "must people insist that the garden is a place of rest and repose, a place to forget the cares of the world, a place in which to distance yourself from the painful responsibility with being a human being?"

Kincaid and other writers – like Gough, Martin Hoyles and Kenneth Helphand – have helped shape my own understanding of the garden as a place that actually confronts and addresses the cares of the world. Helphands Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime in particular, a study of gardens in the most unlikely of wartime settings (such as planted by troops in First World War trenches or in Jewish ghettos), with a stunning set of archive images from military and holocaust museums, made me completely rethink what might be definable as a garden.

This isnt a forced juxtaposition of plant and ideology. Think only of the English radical writer William Cobbett, who declared in 1819 that "if I sowed, planted or dealt in seeds, whatever I did had first in view the destruction of infamous tyrants". Or the early 20th-century revolutionary playwright Bertolt Brecht, who observed, with startling accusatory power, that "famines do not occur, they are organised by the grain trade". Or the Peace Pledge Unions white anti-war poppy, or the 1960s hippie placing a flower down the barrel of the National Guardsmans rifle. Or the female Colombian activist speaking recently to Western buyers on behalf of the 40,000 women working in the pesticidal Colombian flower industry: "Behind every beautiful flower is a death. Flowers grow beautiful while women wither away." Or street artist Banksy, whose most famous images include the masked rioter throwing not a petrol bomb, but a bunch of flowers. These horticultural snapshots illustrate a compelling and enduring connection between plant and politic, a radical gardening.

In his recent book, Nowtopia, Chris Carlsson writes of a politics inscribed in the very act of "slowing down the gardener, making her pay attention to natural cycles that only make sense in the full unfolding of seasons and years. In a shared garden [especially], time opens up for conversation, debate and a wider view than that provided by the univocal, self-referential spectacle promoted by the mass media".

Climate change, peak oil transition, community cohesion, the environment, genetic modification and food policy, diet, health and disability – the garden is the local patch which touches and is touched by all of these kinds of major global concerns, whether it wants that kind of attention or not. In a sparkling collection of autonomous essays from a decade ago called Avant Gardening, Peter Lamborn Wilson comments wryly that "cultivate your own garden sounds today like hot radical rhetoric. Growing a garden has become – at least potentially – an act of resistance. But its not simply a gesture of refusal. Its a positive act".

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Is 3D printing an environmental win

Jeremy Faludi at has a look at the environmental impact of 3d printing - Is 3D printing an environmental win ?.
Technophilic environmentalists, including myself, tout the 3D printing revolution as a boon that could eliminate waste in manufacturing. But is that really true? Even if it is true, does it matter compared to the extra energy used? And what about toxins — does it release more, or less? No one has done this comparison before in a comprehensive, quantitative way, so some colleagues and I in the UC Berkeley mechanical engineering department set out to find the answers. The results were tricky and surprising.

First, lets bust a myth: 3D printing does not mean zero waste. There are many kinds of 3D printers, making things in very different ways; we measured two kinds. An "FDM" machine (such as a RepRap or Makerbot, sort of a hot glue gun with XYZ controls), actually can have a negligible percent waste, if your model doesnt need any support material to shore it up while printing. (Thats a big "if.") But we found that an inkjet 3D printer (which lays down polymeric ink and UV-cures it layer by layer) wastes 40 to 45 percent of its ink, not even counting support material, and it cant be recycled. Other researchers studying other kinds of 3D printers have found significant waste in some of them as well.

To see whether 3D printing will be a sustainability win, we compared it to machining by a computer-controlled mill (starting with a block of stuff and cutting away everything you dont want). We only looked at machining things out of plastic, because thats what these FDM and inkjet 3D printers do. Lets be clear: most plastic consumer products are not machined; theyre injection-molded. But 3D printing is not going to replace injection-molding for mass-manufactured products (plastic parts made in the millions). It is replacing machining for smaller runs (1 unit, 10 units, maybe 1,000 units).

We compared them by doing a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of the two 3D printers and the CNC mill, including the materials and manufacturing of the machines themselves, transportation, energy use, material in the final parts, material wasted, and the end-of-life disposal of the machines. ...

The 3D printers impacts mostly came from electricity use, which is simply a function of time, so anything that reduces the time spent running also reduces eco-impacts. The mills impacts were mostly from material use and waste, but energy use was significant too. The resources and manufacturing to make the machines themselves was a small portion of impacts when they run at high utilization, as shown above; but if you only make one part per week, those embodied impacts can be significant for the FDM and the mill.

The final verdict, then, is that 3D printing can be greener, if its the right kind (FDM); but again, the biggest environmental win comes from sharing the fewest tools so each has the most utilization. If you want to know more, the full study (with far more detail in methodology and results, including breakdowns of impacts by source for all 22 scenarios studied) has been submitted to the Journal of Rapid Prototyping. Be patient, though; peer-reviewed academic publications take a year or more to get published.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Concentrating on Solar PV

The Climate Spectator reports that Silexs long delayed CPV plant for Mildura in Victoria may at last be moving ahead - All Systems go.
Silex Systems has finally secured formal agreement from the federal government to continue the $75 million of fund granted to a proposed 152MW concentrated solar project in Mildura. The fate of the grant had been in some doubt, because the company that originally received the grant, Solar Systems, went bankrupt in late 2009 before being bought by Silex early in 2010. Silex says the grant – combined with $50 million in funds from the Victorian government – will enable the company to progress to a 2MW pilot plant, then a 100MW demonstration project that could be expanded by a further 50MW at a later date.

Silex says it has refined and solved many of the technical difficulties that had plagued the original project, and which had forced the company into receivership because its shareholders, which include TRUenergy and several private, either couldn’t or wouldn’t provide more funds. The unique dense array concentrating PV technology is said to be deal for large commercial and utility-scale solar projects, and Silex says the Mildura facility has the potential to be of the one of the largest and most efficient solar power stations in the world.

Silex says it continues to investigate opportunities to construct utility-scale solar plants in Australia and US, as well as growth opportunities worldwide. The $75 million of Commonwealth funding was announced in 2006 as part of the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund. The Federal Government has further assisted the project with a $4.5 million grant under the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, of which approximately $1.9 million was transferred to Solar Systems.

Renewable Energy World has a report on a CPV project in New Mexico - San Diegos New CPV Solar Giant.
With a 150 MW project planned in San Diego and a 25-year PPA in place, CPV has at last entered the commercial arena. Standing in the New Mexico desert, a 1 MW Concentrating Photovoltaic (CPV) power plant is establishing a route for the emergence of this utility-scale technology. Installation of this first pilot commercial deployment began in the summer of 2010 and the plant was commissioned early in 2011, with official inauguration in April.

Located on the tailings site of Chevron Mining Incs (CMI) molybdenum mine in Questa, New Mexico, some 2000 metres above sea level in an area of the US noted for its high levels of Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI), its developers say the project will demonstrate the technology as well as a practical use of previously impacted land. Electricity produced from the installation will be sold to the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, through a power purchase agreement.

Covering some 20 acres (8 ha) the site has 173 CPV modules, each of which has an area of about 18 by 21 feet (35 m²) and is pole mounted on dual axis trackers supplied by a major manufacturer. The Concentrix technology uses Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight almost 500 times onto high efficiency multi-junction PV cells. With this technology, Soitec claims to achieve AC system efficiencies of 25% and more, significantly higher than currently available conventional solar PV technology, and as a result, cost reductions of 10%-20% could be reached, depending on the location of the installation, it says. ...

CPV systems are typically more efficient than conventional solar systems at locations with both high ambient temperatures and dry weather conditions. Because of the very low temperature coefficient of its solar cells, a CPV systems performance is much less affected by temperature than other photovoltaic technologies. Another key advantage of CPV technology is the very low levels of water required for operations, essentially used in cleaning only, a crucial consideration for the water-constrained regions to which it is suited, such as the Imperial Valley, which is some 150 miles (230 km) from the coast.

Indeed, such technology is expected to work best in areas with higher DNI like northern New Mexico and southern California, as well as in north and southern Africa, the Middle East, and much of China and India. Certainly, in 2010 Soitec announced that it had joined the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) as Associated Partner and Medgrid as a founding member, in the expectation that the decision will pave the way to utility-scale CPV projects in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

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Could hemp nanosheets topple graphene for making the ideal supercapacitor

The American Chemical Society has a post on the possible use of hemp in creating supercapacitors - Could hemp nanosheets topple graphene for making the ideal supercapacitor?
David Mitlin, Ph.D., explains that supercapacitors are energy storage devices that have huge potential to transform the way future electronics are powered. Unlike today’s rechargeable batteries, which sip up energy over several hours, supercapacitors can charge and discharge within seconds. But they normally can’t store nearly as much energy as batteries, an important property known as energy density. One approach researchers are taking to boost supercapacitors’ energy density is to design better electrodes. Mitlin’s team has figured out how to make them from certain hemp fibers — and they can hold as much energy as the current top contender: graphene.

“Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin says. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from biowaste using a simple process, and therefore, are much cheaper than graphene.”

The race toward the ideal supercapacitor has largely focused on graphene — a strong, light material made of atom-thick layers of carbon, which when stacked, can be made into electrodes. Scientists are investigating how they can take advantage of graphene’s unique properties to build better solar cells, water filtration systems, touch-screen technology, as well as batteries and supercapacitors. The problem is it’s expensive.

Mitlin’s group decided to see if they could make graphene-like carbons from hemp bast fibers. The fibers come from the inner bark of the plant and often are discarded from Canada’s fast-growing industries that use hemp for clothing, construction materials and other products. The U.S. could soon become another supplier of bast. It now allows limited cultivation of hemp, which unlike its close cousin, does not induce highs.

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Is time up for Australias uranium industry

Following the latest spill of radioactive material at ERAs Ranger uranium mine he ABC has an opinion piece wondering if it is time to decommission the industry - Is time up for Australias uranium industry ?.
IN THE EARLY HOURS of December 7, a crack appeared in a large leach tank in the processing area of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park. The area was evacuated, the tank completely failed, the containment system was inadequate and one million litres of highly acidic uranium slurry went sliding downhill — taking Energy Resources of Australias credibility with it.

The spill has left traditional owners who live and rely on creeks only kilometres downstream angry and "sick with worry" and raised profound concerns about the management culture and integrity of infrastructure at the mine.

Operations at Ranger are now halted. The mine operates inside Kakadu National Park — Australias largest park and a dual World Heritage listed region. It, and its people, deserve the highest standards of protection, but sadly Ranger is a long way short of this.

The Australian uranium industry has long been a source of trouble. Now it is increasingly in trouble. The commodity price has collapsed, projects across the country have been stalled, deferred or scrapped and the recent Kakadu spill has again raised community attention and concern.

At least the absence of a nuclear power industry in Australia means we dont have stories emerging like this one from the US - U.S. Dumped Tens of Thousands of Steel Drums Containing Atomic Waste Off Coastlines .

More than four decades after the U.S. halted a controversial ocean dumping program, the country is facing a mostly forgotten Cold War legacy in its waters: tens of thousands of steel drums of atomic waste.

From 1946 to 1970, federal records show, 55-gallon drums and other containers of nuclear waste were pitched into the Atlantic and Pacific at dozens of sites off California, Massachusetts and a handful of other states. Much of the trash came from government-related work, ranging from mildly contaminated lab coats to waste from the country’s effort to build nuclear weapons.

Federal officials have long maintained that, despite some leakage from containers, there isn’t evidence of damage to the wider ocean environment or threats to public health through contamination of seafood. But a Wall Street Journal review of decades of federal and other records found unanswered questions about a dumping program once labeled “seriously substandard” by a senior Environmental Protection Agency official…

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