Clean Wind Energy for Year

Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), an environmental nonprofit, has launched a year-long contest for Pennsylvania residents in which it will give away six compact fluorescent bulbs each month to a monthly winner and a grand prize of one year's supply of clean wind energy. (Enter here.)

Perhaps more importantly, every entrant in the contest will receive a free copy of a PennFuture brochure, "Ten Quick Actions to Help Stop Global Warming."

Great idea, happy to see...

New York Sees Renewables Progress

The summary of a report on New York's Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) makes for some interesting reading. Some highlights:

  • Two solicitations for renewable energy have resulted in contracts for approximately 3 billion kilowatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy from 26 projects, totaling more than 800 megawatts (MW), or enough clean energy to supply approximately 400,000 average-size homes.

  • The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) estimates that more than $1.9 billion will be invested to build the New York-based renewable generation facilities awarded contracts under the RES. NYSERDA estimates that these investments have the potential to yield more than $720 million of in-state economic benefits over a 20-year period.

  • In addition to the significant economic benefits, the facilities awarded contracts under the RES could result in potential reductions of 2,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 4,400 tons of sulfur oxides, and 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

    NYSERDA is planning a third solicitation this fall, and says, "Considering the large number of wind projects under development, a significant number of potential bidders are expected, and consequently, reasonably priced bids are anticipated."

    What is happening in New York is a good example of what can happen with strong leadership at the state level. Former Gov. George Pataki (R) and current Gov. Elliott Spitzer (D) deserve enormous credit for pushing this effort forward.
  • Regards

    Storing Solar Power Efficiently

    Thermal-power plants that store heat for cloudy days could solve some of the problems with solar power.

    Solar proponents love to boast that just a few hundred square kilometers' worth of photovoltaic solar panels installed in Southwestern deserts could power the United States. Their schemes come with a caveat, of course: without backup power plants or expensive investments in giant batteries, flywheels, or other energy-storage systems, this solar-power supply would fluctuate wildly with each passing cloud (not to mention with the sun's daily rise and fall and seasonal ebbs and flows). Solar-power startup Ausra, based in Palo Alto, thinks it has the solution: solar-thermal-power plants that turn sunlight into steam and efficiently store heat for cloudy days.

    "Fossil-fuel proponents often say that solar can't do the job, that solar can't run at night, solar can't run the economy," says David Mills, Ausra's founder and chairman. "That's true if you don't have storage." He says that solar-thermal plants are the solution because storing heat is much easier than storing electricity. Mills estimates that, thanks to that advantage, solar-thermal plants capable of storing 16 hours' worth of heat could provide more than 90 percent of current U.S. power demand at prices competitive with coal and natural gas. "There's almost no limit to how much you can put into the grid," he says.

    Major utilities are buying the idea. In July, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) signed a 25-year deal with Ausra competitor Solel Solar Systems of Beit Shemesh, Israel, to buy power from a 553-megawatt solar-thermal plant that Solel is developing in California's Mojave Desert. The plant will supply 400,000 homes in northern and central California when it is completed in 2011. Florida Power & Light, meanwhile, hired Solel to upgrade the 1980s-era solar-thermal plants it operates in the Mojave.

    Ausra, meanwhile, is negotiating with PG&E to supply power from a 175-megawatt plant that it plans to build in California, for which it secured $40 million in venture financing this month.

    What distinguishes Ausra's design is its relative simplicity. In conventional solar-thermal plants such as Solel's, a long trough of parabolic mirrors focuses sunlight on a tube filled with a heat-transfer fluid, often some sort of oil or brine. The fluid, in turn, produces steam to drive a turbine and produce electricity. Ausra's solar collectors employ mass-produced and thus cheaper flat mirrors, and they focus light onto tubes filled with water, thus directly producing steam. Ausra's collectors produce less power, but that power costs less to produce.

    One megawatt's worth of Ausra's solar collectors has been producing steam in New South Wales, Australia, since 2004; the steam is fed into the turbines of a primarily coal-fired power plant. The final piece of the system--a proprietary heat-energy-storage system--should be ready by 2009.


    Sunrgi solar power, sunrgi xtreme concentrated photovoltaics, renewable energy costs, renewable energy technology, solar technology, energy efficiency, cost-effective solar, sunrgi1

    Energy company Sunrgi recently announced an astounding new solar system that will break our grids free from the fossil fuel lockdown. Their Xtreme Concentrated Photovoltaics promise a low-cost, high-efficiency system with an incredible projected energy pricing of 5 cents per kilowatt. This breakthrough puts solar on par with the cost of coal, natural gas, and other non-renewable energy sources.

    If solar energy is ever going to live up to it’s world-changing potential, it’s going to have to mesh with our existing energy infrastructure, competing with coal and natural gas on price point. While traditional photovoltaic arrays span great expanses and struggle to keep costs down, Sunrgi’s system proposes a novel idea, making better use of fewer expensive materials.

    The XCPV system is based on a principle blinding in its simplicity: use a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun’s energy into a single high efficiency solar cell. Each unit features a lens that magnifies the sun’s rays 2,000 times, focusing it onto a solar cell that converts more than 37% sunlight to energy. The result is a system that maximizes the potential output of each solar cell while minimizing cost and space required.

    Sunrgi solar power, sunrgi xtreme concentrated photovoltaics, renewable energy costs, renewable energy technology, solar technology, energy efficiency, cost-effective solar, sunrgi2

    The units are modular and thus easily deployable on or off-grid, and they can be easily upgraded to accommodate future advancements in solar cell technology. To deal with the tremendous temperature of focused sunlight (more than 3,000 ºF!), Sunrgi has developed a proprietary cooling system that keeps the panels safe and sound. Rounding out the tech is a sun-tracking system and a PV cell composition that doesn’t depend on the world’s depleted silicon reserves.

    Craig Goodman, president of the National Energy marketers Association, has stated that “Solar power at 5 cents per kWh would be a world-changing breakthrough. It would make solar generation of electricity as affordable as generation from coal, natural gas, or other non-renewable sources, without require and subsidy.”

    Sunrgi has built and tested working prototypes, and has announced plans for commercial production in 12-15 months.

    + Sunrgi


    Sunrgi solar power, sunrgi xtreme concentrated photovoltaics, renewable energy costs, renewable energy technology, solar technology, energy efficiency, cost-effective solar, sunrgi3

    Converting wave energy into electricity

    Capturing wave energy and converting it into electricity is not an easy task, but researchers have developed technology to overcome the problems. Three of the pioneering devices are described here.


    TAPCHAN is the name of a prototype generator that was installed on a remote Norwegian island in 1985 and has been functioning ever since. The name is an abbreviation of ‘tapered channel’, which describes the basic idea behind the device. TAPCHAN consists of a reservoir built into a cliff a few metres above sea level. Leading into it is a tapered channel – wide at the mouth, which is open to the sea, and becoming narrower as it penetrates the reservoir. Incoming waves increase in height as they move up the channel, eventually overflowing the lip of the channel and pouring into the reservoir. In this way, TAPCHAN converts the kinetic energy of the wave into potential energy, which is subsequently converted into electrical energy by a generator as the water is fed back to the sea through a pipe.

    Oscillating water column

    Another kind of wave energy converter is known as the oscillating water column (OWC). Like TAPCHAN, this is a fixed device – which means that the housing of the device does not move – located either onshore or fixed to the seabed. It consists of a wedge-shaped chamber that is open to the sea at the bottom. A wave surging into this chamber forces air upwards, which drives a turbine both on its way up (as the wave surges) and on its way down (as the wave recedes). These oscillations give the device its generic name. To take best advantage of this two-way flow, a special kind of turbine (such as the British-designed Wells turbine) is needed.

    An Australian scientist claims to have produced an innovative OWC design that greatly improves its performance. Dr Tom Denniss, from Energetech Australia, uses a parabolic wall (shaped like a satellite dish) to focus the energy of an incoming wave. The rushing air is used to drive a special turbine he claims is four to five times as efficient as the Wells turbine. A 200-300 kilowatt prototype is under development and will probably be installed at Wollongong or Newcastle, in New South Wales.

    The duck

    The ‘duck’ is an example of a floating wave energy converter. It is not fixed to the shore or seabed, relying instead on the ‘nodding’ motion of floats to drive a generator. In fixed devices, the turbine is fixed while the water or air rushes past its blades. Floating devices generate their power by the relative motion of components as they bob up and down in the sea. The duck consists of rows of floats, each generating electricity that is fed ashore by a connecting cable.

    One of the advantages of floating devices over fixed devices it that they can be deployed in deeper water, where wave energy is greater (since waves lose energy with decreasing water depth). There is no need for significant earthworks, either, as there is with onshore devices.

    Related site

    Wave power

    As any surfer knows, there’s plenty of energy in a wave. Waves are a form of solar energy – the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun causes air to move. This wind, in turn, transfers some of its energy to the surface layers of water bodies, particularly the ocean, thereby generating waves.

    Putting this energy to use has proved a titanic task for scientists. For example, sea water is highly corrosive, so making generators that are sensitive to small undulations in the sea yet strong enough to withstand the inevitable storms has been a major undertaking. But scientists are now confident that many of these difficulties are close to being solved. They have developed an array of potential machines, although few have been tested commercially (Box 1: Converting wave energy into electricity).

    The advocates of wave power foresee few environmental side-effects from a large-scale adoption of the technology. There is little potential for pollution – either chemical, visual or noise – and no greenhouse gas emissions. Floating devices are not expected to have any significant impact on the coastal environment, but they could present a hazard to shipping.

    Australia has a huge coastline and significant wave energy resources – particularly along the southern coast of the mainland and the west coast of Tasmania. But the potential for wave power to provide a significant amount of our energy needs remains untested

    Hot dry rocks – a form of geothermal energy

    ‘Geothermal’ means heat stored in rock. The best evidence of geothermal activity can be seen in regions close to the boundaries of tectonic plates – such as Japan and New Zealand – where hot springs, volcanoes and geysers are plentiful. These resources are already being used in some countries for heating and electricity generation.

    The words ‘Australia’ and ‘geothermal’ are not often closely associated. Australia doesn’t have any active volcanoes and relatively few hot springs or geysers. Yet, according to some Australian scientists, we have some of the best reserves of hot dry rocks in the world, offering prospects for a plentiful supply of energy.

    Australia’s hot dry rock resources are found in granite rock layers buried up to several kilometres underground, beneath layers of sedimentary rock. They are hot – up to 300ºC – because of what is known as the radiogenic decay of minerals, in which trace elements in the granite slowly break down, releasing heat as they do.

    Australian hot dry rock resources are unusually well suited to extraction because of a combination of three factors:

    • Heat is being generated in the crust at more than twice the global average.

    • The ‘blankets’ of sedimentary rock above the granite provide excellent insulation but are also of an optimal thickness for heat extraction.

    • The hot dry rocks are oriented horizontally, providing good (and relatively cheap) drilling access.

    The process of extracting the heat is quite simple. Water is pumped down into the hot granite through a bore-hole that may be several kilometres deep. This helps to open up existing tiny cracks in the granite, increasing the permeability of the rock. The water is converted to steam by the heat and is channelled to the surface through another bore-hole, where it can be used to drive a turbine and thereby generate electricity.

    Energy from hot dry rocks is not strictly renewable because the granite mass will eventually cool down. Nevertheless, it produces no greenhouse gases or other pollutants and has a very small ‘footprint’ on the landscape (unlike coal mining, hot dry rock energy requires no large-scale excavations). Some scientists say that Australia has enough hot dry rock resources – particularly in the Hunter Valley near Newcastle and the Eromanga Basin near the South Australia/Queensland border – to provide all our energy needs for centuries. A pilot project in the Hunter Valley is now underway.

    Generating new ideas for meeting future energy needs

    This topic is sponsored by the Australian Government's National Innovation Awareness Strategy.

    Concerns about the greenhouse effect, smog and energy security have led to increasing interest in energy sources such as hot dry rocks, wave power and hydrogen.

    The world has changed dramatically over the last 200 years, thanks largely to fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas. These have provided us with cheap and convenient energy, which we use to heat and cool our homes and to run our cars, appliances and industries.

    But there has been a cost. No city in the world is immune from the polluting effects of fossil fuels, and they contribute vast quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, something that many scientists believe causes global warming.

    So, in the last few decades, scientists have been looking for ways to produce energy without adverse side-effects. Promising renewable energy sources such as wind, direct solar and biomass are dealt with in other Nova topics (see links at the end of this page). Now we'll have a look at hot dry rocks, waves and hydrogen. It may be some years before these energy sources make a big impact but they illustrate the diversity of options that are available.

    Renewable Energy

    Solar energy technologies, paired with energy conservation, have the potential to meet a large portion of future US energy needs...

    Renewable Energy for America's Future

    Energy for America's Future

    President George W. Bush delivers remarks to the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008 Wednesday, March 5, 2008, at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. White House photo by Chris Greenberg

    President George W. Bush delivers remarks to the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008 Wednesday, March 5, 2008, at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. White House photo by Chris Greenberg

    President Bush Attends Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008

    "...[L]et me start first by telling you that America has got to change its habits. We've got to get off oil. And the reason why is, first, oil is -- dependency on oil presents a real challenge to our economy. As economies grow -- and we want all our economies to grow; we want people to be prosperous, we want people who are living in poverty to be able to grow out of poverty. We want there to be general prosperity, but as economies grow, until we change our habits, there is going to be more dependency on oil."

    --President George W. Bush, March 5, 2008