Stories tagged energy

Wind power growing
Wind power growingCourtesy Dirk Ingo Franke

China doubles its wind genereration in 2009

The Global Wind Energy Council said that China doubled power capacity from 12 gigawatts to 25 gigawatts last year.

World wind generation up 31% in 2009

The wind power sector grew rapidly last year. It was up 31% despite the economic downturn. The market for new wind turbines was worth $63 billion in 2009.

China is aiming to increase that sixfold — to 150 gigawatts — by 2020. The Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association says it could hit that target far earlier. But wind power still accounts for only 1% of China's total electricity consumption.

The United States still ranks as the world's largest user of wind power — with 35 gigawatts of capacity — although only 2% of its total electricity consumption comes from wind, the Global Wind Energy Council said. The European Union depends on wind for 9% of its power.USA Today

Feb
06
2010

Brazil grants environmental license for Belo Monte dam

Belo Monte dam proposal on Xingu River
Belo Monte dam proposal on Xingu RiverCourtesy Kmusser

A controversial battle to flood 500 sq km of rain forest in order to provide clean energy for 23 million Brazilian homes appears to be over. The creation of the Belo Monte Dam is expected to begin in 2015 and is rumored to cost around $17 billion. When it is completed, Belo Monte would be third largest hydro-electric dam in the world.

Brazil's environment minister Carlos Minc has stated that those who win the bidding process to building contract and operate Belo Monte will have to pay around $800 million to protect the environment and meet 40 other conditions. EuInfrastructure.com

What are the other costs?

Lives of up to 40,000 natives who extract from the river most of what they need for food and water could be affected. The biodiversity within the area to be flooded would definitely be effected. Does the ever increasing need for electricity justify these hydro-electric projects? Over the next decade at least 70 dams are said to be planned for the Amazon region.

Dec
20
2009

Old refrigerators guzzle energy: Newer refrigerators use 75% less energy
Old refrigerators guzzle energy: Newer refrigerators use 75% less energyCourtesy Rich Anderson

More efficient refrigerators have a huge impact

Refrigerators today are bigger than in the 70s but use 75% less energy. This happened because of stricter energy efficiency standards. Efficiency standards can save more energy than current wind, solar, and geothermal energy sources combined!

United Nations summit on climate change

This week at the United Nations' summit on climate change, U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary, Steven Chu, unveiled a $350-million investment plan to bring to the developing world everything from efficient refrigerators to solar lanterns.

Climate REDI

Climate Renewables and Efficiency Deployment Initiative (Climate REDI) is a $350-million investment by major economies, including $85 million from the U.S., to bring everything from efficient refrigerators to solar lanterns to the developing world.

"The energy savings from refrigerators is greater than all U.S. renewable energy generation—all the wind, solar thermal and solar photovoltaics—just the refrigerators," Chu said in a speech announcing the initiative, noting the refrigerators also cost less. "Energy efficiency is truly a case where you can have your cake and eat it too. [But] it was driven by standards; it didn't happen on its own."

Learn more about the UN energy-efficiency initiative

Source: Scientific American
U.S. Unveils a $350-Million Energy-Efficiency Initiative at Copenhagen

Nov
08
2009

Cleaner coal: The Mountaineer Power Plant is the first in the world to capture some of the carbon dioxide it emits from burning 3.5 million tons of coal yearly and sequester it two and a half kilometers underground.
Cleaner coal: The Mountaineer Power Plant is the first in the world to capture some of the carbon dioxide it emits from burning 3.5 million tons of coal yearly and sequester it two and a half kilometers underground.Courtesy rmcgervey

Carbon dioxide removed from power plant exhaust and pumped underground

In addition to other environmental technology add-ons that strip out the fly ash, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the Mountaineer Power Plant in West Virginia now also uses a carbon-capture unit built by Alstom. Dubbed the "chilled ammonia" process, baker's ammonia is used to strip carbon dioxide from the cooled flue gas and then, by reheating the resulting ammonium bicarbonate, captures that carbon dioxide, compresses it into a liquid, and

pumps it 2,375 meters straight down into the Rose Run sandstone, a 35-meter-thick layer with a nine-meter-thick band of porous rock suitable for storage. (or...) into Copper Ridge dolomite, which has much thinner strata for possible storage, more than 2,450 meters down. Thick bands of shale and limestone that lie on top ensure that the carbon dioxide does not escape back to the surface. Scientific American

Only 1.5% but first in the world

Only about 1.5 percent of the carbon dioxide billowing from its stack is being captured now. Scaling up the process to capture 20% of the CO2 will cost at least $700 million. The removal of carbon dioxide will add abouts 4 cents more to the current cost of Mountaineer electricity (roughly 5 cents per kWh). This chilled-ammonia technology should be available commercially by 2015.

Learn more:
Slide show of Mountaineer Power carbon sequestering technology.
First Look at Carbon Capture and Storage in a West Virginia Coal-Fired Power Plant Scientific American

Nov
02
2009

$10 million dollars

By offering a $10 million dollar prize, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE seeks to enable development and stimulate demand for clean, fuel efficient vehicles.
In the Design Judging process, automotive experts evaluated 97 registered entries for:

  • High fuel economy (100 MPGe) with low emissions (200 g/mi CO2e wells-to-wheels greenhouse gas emissions and low tailpipe emissions)
  • Production-capable and designed to reach the market in volumes of at least 10,000 units per year
  • Safe and affordable
  • Minimum capacities, performance, and features

53 vehicles are moving forward in the competition with 28 represented in the Mainstream Class and 25 represented in the Alternative Class.

  • Mainstream class = Vehicles that meet current consumer expectations for size and capability
  • Alternative class = Outlet for innovative ideas that push forward today's concept of "what a car is"

The big race begins this spring (2010)

43 teams, representing 18 states, 10 countries and 6 fuel types, now advance to the most exciting phase of the competition, performance and safety testing. Vehicles will be tested for efficiency, performance and durability under real-world conditions. Vehicles will race the clock through cities, up hills, and will need both speed and distance capability.

Half of the $10M purse will be awarded to the Mainstream Class winner. The remaining $5M will be split between two winners in the Alternative Class - one vehicle with side-by-side seating, and one vehicle with tandem seating. Performance testing will begin in spring 2010 and winners will be announced in September 2010.

Learn more about the Automotive X Prize

Progressive Automotive X Prize Press kit (PDF)
ProgressiveAutoPrize.org
Links to the Qualified Teams

Oct
24
2009

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Buses can recharge at every stop

Como Park will have 3 or 4 circulating shuttle buses next year to help solve the traffic and parking problem at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. They will allow free and easy parking by the State Fair grounds and within 7 minutes, will drop you off at the front door.

Como Shuttles should use ultracapacitors

Ultracapacitor buses have low maintenance cost, low operation cost, zero tailpipe emission, and can reach a zero carbon footprint if powered by renewable energy sources.
The estimated savings in energy costs over the 12 year life of the bus (at current electric and oil prices) is $200,000.

Why ultracapacitors are perfect for short bus loops

Ultracapacitors will only power a bus for 5-10 blocks, then need about 3 minutes to recharge. Only two recharge stations would be needed, one at the parking lot and one a the conservatory drop off. The bus recharges while passengers load and unload. Capacitors do not wear out like batteries. A capacitor bus is 40 per cent cheaper to build than a battery powered bus. Because the buses can use regenerative braking, they use 40 percent less electricity than an electric trolley using over head wires.

Source: Next Stop: Ultracapacitor Buses;Technology Review
Sinautec Automobile Technologies, L.L.C.

Oct
23
2009

A solar home and a rainy day DC: This is the University of Minnesota's "ICON" solar home. Even beyond MN solidarity, ICON was one of my favorites. It ended up getting the top scores in the engineering and lighting competition, and 5th place over all.
A solar home and a rainy day DC: This is the University of Minnesota's "ICON" solar home. Even beyond MN solidarity, ICON was one of my favorites. It ended up getting the top scores in the engineering and lighting competition, and 5th place over all.Courtesy JGordon
Ahoy, Buzzketeers. Sorry, it’s been a few days since I’ve posted, but, see, I’ve been traveling… to the future.

By the way, I consider the east coast to be the future, because, you know, whatever time it is here… it’s an hour later there! I often call my friends in New York just to ask what I should expect in the next hour. “Loneliness,” they say.

But this weekend I too got to see the future with my own eyes. And I will tell you this: the weather is awful, but the houses are pretty sweet.

I attended the final two days of the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in Washington DC. Art did a post on the Decathlon last week, but here’s a quick refresher: the Solar Decathlon is an architecture, design and engineering challenge, sponsored by the US Department of Energy, in which colleges and universities from around the world (mostly from the United States) compete to build the best solar-powered home. The houses are judged in ten categories: architecture, engineering, market viability, lighting design, communications, comfort zone (temperature and humidity), hot water, appliances, home entertainment and net metering. The intention is to build a home excelling in those categories that gets all its energy (and more, sometimes) from the sun. The houses in this competition were all approximately 800 square feet, and designed accommodate one couple each.

Obtaining and using solar energy (through both photovoltaics, for turning light into electricity, and solar thermal, for gathering heat from solar radiation) is, of course, a major focus in the houses, but there was a lot more to the houses’ innovations than the arrays of solar panels. Everything is engineered to use as little electricity as possible, so windows are placed to get the maximum amount of light during the day, hot water is used to heat the house and (in the case of Minnesota’s house) dehumidify the air (see the picture and caption), and everything was carefully insulated according to the environment the house was designed for. In Arizona’s house, for instance, the windows on the southern wall were filled with water, which would absorb heat during the day, and radiate it back off during the cool night, while the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign insulated their home so thoroughly that they claim it could be heated with a handheld hair dryer. Many of the houses used energy so efficiently that they would—over the course of a full year—produce more energy than they used, and could feed the surplus electricity back into the grid, essentially selling it to the power company.
Team Germany's house took first place: I didn't get to go inside this one, but the outside was very... cubey. But, located even further east, Germany is far in the future, so naturally things would be a little different there.
Team Germany's house took first place: I didn't get to go inside this one, but the outside was very... cubey. But, located even further east, Germany is far in the future, so naturally things would be a little different there.Courtesy JGordon

I was able to get into 19 of the 20 houses (the line to the house that took first place, Germany’s, was just too long), and they were all quite nice. None of them had the feeling that I think is sometimes associated with “green” products—that is, that they won’t do whatever they’re supposed to do as well as the products we’re used to. The things that seemed “off” to me were design decisions that weren’t necessarily associated with energy use (I’m just not into wet bathrooms, I wouldn’t want an exterior door opening into my bedroom—that sort of thing). The problem I had with most of the houses was, ironically, that they were too nice.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The second place house. Not a great picture. Imagine the rest as looking like this, but stretched into a rectangle. This was the only certified "passive house." Its insulation and air exchange system make the house extremely efficient to heat and cool.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The second place house. Not a great picture. Imagine the rest as looking like this, but stretched into a rectangle. This was the only certified "passive house." Its insulation and air exchange system make the house extremely efficient to heat and cool.Courtesy JGordon

In ensuring that the houses would be both very energy efficient and very comfortable, almost all of the teams ended up with pretty expensive projects, even though the contest limited the houses to a footprint of about 800 square feet. This site lists estimates of construction costs of the homes, and as steep as they are, I’m not sure they’re totally accurate—maybe it was just gossip, but some of the architects were saying that a couple teams’ projects ran up to and over a million dollars, which doesn’t seem to be reflected on the Solar Decathlon’s official page. Only Rice University’s house, built for a lower income couple, was less than $200,000 dollars. Most of the homes cost several times that.
Team California walked away with 3rd place: A man wearing a garbage bag admires the elegant $450,000-$650,000 home from outside.
Team California walked away with 3rd place: A man wearing a garbage bag admires the elegant $450,000-$650,000 home from outside.Courtesy JGordon

I understand that these are prototype structures, and that their costs would be significantly reduced if they were mass produced, but even dropping $100,000 off a $600,000, 800 square foot house still leaves you with an awfully expensive house that most people (including the designers) would consider too small for an average family. The homes were built with particular markets in mind, and those markets were generally young, professional couples (with money) or retiring couples (with money), but if the point of the competition was to make progress in sustainable design… well, that doesn’t make much sense. Sustainable solar architecture has to be something that most of the people in the world could afford to take advantage of. Even if everybody in the world who could afford to buy a very small, half a million dollar solar powered house did, I don’t think it would make much difference to the planet’s consumption of non-renewable resources. It would be interesting to see family-sized solar homes built, or systems that could power an apartment complex… something like that. I’m sure the architects and engineers involved would be totally capable of that, but it wasn’t the nature of this competition.
ICON's desiccant dehumidifier: A chemical solution (basically road salt and water) sucks moisture out of the air as it passes through the clear tube. Heat from the solar thermal panels "recharges" the solution when it gets too saturated. Way more efficient than compressor dehumidifiers
ICON's desiccant dehumidifier: A chemical solution (basically road salt and water) sucks moisture out of the air as it passes through the clear tube. Heat from the solar thermal panels "recharges" the solution when it gets too saturated. Way more efficient than compressor dehumidifiersCourtesy JGordon

It was still all very cool, and it’s neat to see what people come up with when they aren’t really bound by the above practicalities. Maybe seeing new, innovative features in beautiful little luxury homes will get people excited about using them on a larger scale, or implementing them into their older houses.
The ICON home's solar array: On the far left are solar thermal panels, in the middle are regular photovoltaic panels, and on the right are glass photovoltaic panels that can absorb light from both sides. The latter form a wall for the mudroom, and part of the awning above the deck.
The ICON home's solar array: On the far left are solar thermal panels, in the middle are regular photovoltaic panels, and on the right are glass photovoltaic panels that can absorb light from both sides. The latter form a wall for the mudroom, and part of the awning above the deck.Courtesy JGordon

I’ll toss some pictures of the event up with this post, but then I need to get back to trying to adjust back to the present time. I mean, for most of y’all, it’s like 3:00. But for me it’s like 4:00. I’ve got to get out and buy some lottery tickets before this wears off.

Oct
12
2009

ICON Univ of MN Solar Decathlon enty: crane lowers a section of roof onto the University of Minnesota's Icon House, which arrived on the Mall Oct. 2. The house arrived several days late because of transport difficulties.
ICON Univ of MN Solar Decathlon enty: crane lowers a section of roof onto the University of Minnesota's Icon House, which arrived on the Mall Oct. 2. The house arrived several days late because of transport difficulties.Courtesy Richard King/U.S. Department of Energy

20 Solar houses compete in fourth Solar Decathlon

I hope to one day live in a house that produces more energy than it uses. A competition between 20 such houses is going on right now on the Mall in Washington DC. The Solar Decathlon joins 20 college and university teams in a competition to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Points awarded in ten categories determine the overall winner. As of today (Mon) we have climbed up to 7th place(click for most recent rankings).

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Lots of ways to learn about solar housing design

I have been excitedly working my way through information as it comes in. You can follow a umn_solar_house Twitter feed and there is an ICON Facebook fan page. The Solar Decathalon landing page allows you to jump to photos, videos, and team websites(not working? Try the site map). The University of Minnesota's ICON landing page branches off into a blog, a virtual tour, and lots of educational pages about design. The media (WCCO News and Washington Post) and bloggers (myself included) will be all over this. I recommend GetEnergySmartNow.com's cheat sheet and their overview of the UMN ICON house. You can also download a 966KB PDF media kit about the Solar Decathlon.

Sep
27
2009

Carbon nanotubes as energy storage
Carbon nanotubes as energy storageCourtesy ghutchis

Carbon nanotube springs may be better than batteries

What does a mousetrap have in common with a wind-up clock? A spring. A spring can provide energy to run a clock for days. A mouse trap spring can deliver a quick, deadly energy burst. Unlike batteries, energy stored in a spring can last hundreds of years and is usually not diminished by extreme cold or heat.

1000 times the energy density of a steel spring

MIT scientist, Carol Livermore, "did a combination of mathematical analysis and small-scale laboratory testing to determine the potential of carbon nanotubes to be used as springs for energy storage" MITnews.

Lots of basic research and engineering challenges remain

The nanospring concept is sound in theory and may even be patented. Working out the details to provide a working device using carbon-nano-tubes to store and re-deliver energy will require plenty of additional basic research, followed by engineering work.

Sources:

Well, Japan probably doesn't say "Go" exactly, because I don't think it means the same thing in Japanese. But the country is prepared to shell out $21 billion for a space-based, energy-beaming solar power plant.

The same sort of thing was talked about in this post, but that project was being lead by an upstart company, which kinda makes me think that their satellite power plant is a long way off. Japan wants the technology ready inside of four years. (They don't expect the plant to be operating until about twenty or thirty years from now, though.)

The plan is for the satellite to produce about 1 gigawatt. From my super-lazy internet searches, it looks like that's about the same output as a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power plants are cheaper to build (this site says the cost can be around $10 or $15 billion per station), and you don't have to go into space to fix them. But then there's also the cost of obtaining and processing nuclear fuel, and then dealing with it afterwards. Apples and oranges, maybe.

But it's kind of an interesting project, I think.