A lot of interest in biomass-for-power last month. American Wind Power Association’s WINDPOWER 2012 conference, Karl Rove on board with PTC wind extension. USDOE SunShot Initiative recipients and First Solar milestone and Australia construction. Climate change impacts on U.S. Atlantic coast and implications for thermoelectric plants. Carbon trading success in nine states. Smart grid infrastructure complete in Pacific Northwest Smart Grid project….
A newly developed and very fast sampling method may speed forest management and improve biofuel harvests. Boston-based SilviaTerra is now offering Timber Scout, a fast, simple, and accurate new remote sensing method for inventorying forest resources.
Developed over the past five years by Zack Parisa, a Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies graduate student, Timber Scout uses satellite data from clients’ land (including spectral images, which reveal overhead views of forests, and radar images, which penetrate the canopy) to acquire GPS coordinates for plots that best represent the forest overall. Investigators then collect on-the-ground data for a few choice areas, developing a speedy algorithm that helps foresters take stock, and inventorying the entire forest with up to 95% accuracy at a 95% confidence level for both total basal area and trees per acre.
The new method replaces the time-consuming process of taking forest inventories by hiking through representative plots and recording each tree. Timber Scout can deliver accurate stand tables with number of stems, diameter, and species in a fraction of the time of regular cruises. The application could be used by private concerns to stabilize forests and manage sustainable harvesting, and by the government, to inventory public lands swiftly and apply 21st century forest management techniques, maximizing renewables and greatly reducing the impact and destructiveness of wildfires. Two-thirds of western forestland is publicly owned, mostly by federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service. However, more than 80% of eastern forestland is privately owned.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Southwest Region also pioneered a new mapping tool in June. EPA launched an online waste-to-biogas system to support the use of organic waste for energy projects. First of its kind in the nation, the tool will help restaurants, hotels, and other food managers connect with large energy producers. “Harvesting this energy prevents waste from ending up in landfills or clogging sewer lines,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.
The month of June saw three new biofuel mixes come to the fore. First, on June 4 Purdue University economists showed that the cost of a Purdue-developed biofuel is competitive with crude oil at a price of about $100 per barrel. Purdue University developed the thermo-chemical process for creating H2Bioil by the rapid heating of biomass, such as switchgrass or corn stover, to about 500 degrees Celsius in the presence of pressurized hydrogen. The reactions that result separate oxygen from carbon molecules, giving the carbon molecules an energy content similar to that of gasoline. Purdue economic analysis shows that the cost of H2Bioil is competitive when crude oil is about $100 per barrel.
Second, on June 20, scientists from Purdue, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Illinois, and Cornell University came out for using sorghum, a grain crop similar to corn, in the biofuels mix. The journal Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining published their findings. As some biofuels can capitalize on the existing petroleum infrastructure, sorghum products could benefit from the rail system, grain elevators, and corn ethanol processing facilities already in place.
“In the near future, we need a feedstock that is not corn,” said Cliff Weil, a Purdue professor of agronomy. “Sweet and biomass sorghum meet all the criteria. They use less nitrogen, grow well and grow where other things don’t grow.” Also, sorghum requires considerably less nitrogen fertilizer than corn. And because sorghum can be produced on low-quality, marginal lands in dry areas, its production should significantly improve the economy of less-developed rural areas, improving welfare and increasing job opportunities there.
Finally, the Advanced Research Projects Agency/Energy (ARPA-E), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, awarded $5.7 million to Chromatin Inc., a Chicago-based energy feedstock developer, Ohio State University, and partners to engineer both sweet sorghum and guayule at the genetic level in order to produce more farnesene, a natural plant oil convertible into diesel.
Guayule is a weedy, drought-tolerant, fast-growing nonfood plant native to marginal lands of the U.S. It’s already used as a source of natural rubber for gloves and other products and has attracted interest from Bridgestone. Dried and powdered “bagasse” (stem and branch resin) left after latex production from guayule yields about the same Btu per pound as charcoal.
Developments at the American Wind Power Association’s WINDPOWER 2012 conference early in the month included examination of industry issues on topics from federal legislation, transmission, and state policy, to operation and maintenance, safety, and the wind industry supply chain.
Zachary Shahan of the blog cleantechnica suggests that the important news from the WINDPOWER 2012 conference is that Microsoft and Sprint, both Fortune 100 companies, delivered a new letter to Congress asking for an extension of the critical Production Tax Credit for wind. They join 15 other major U.S. companies and brands, including Starbucks, Nike, Campbell’s Soup, Staples, Yahoo!, and Hewlett-Packard, who have committed to purchasing more renewable energy.
Republican strategist Karl Rove is also on board with supporting the PTC extension. “We’ve got a growing economy that’s increasing energy consumption and wind energy should be part of the solution,” Rove said. “My hope is that after the election people say, look, let’s start making some priorities and find some things that we can agree on, and maybe one of them is the production tax credit. It is a market mechanism, you don’t get paid unless you produce the power, and we’re not picking winners and losers, we’re simply saying for some period of time we will provide this incentive.”
Shahan notes also that both the Bush and Obama administrations have supported wind energy and extension of the tax credit. Republican governors are some of the leaders in the wind power industry, Republican voters support it, and many Republican Congresspeople do also. Half the jobs in the nascent industry (about 37,000) are at stake if the PTC is not renewed/extended.
In other wind energy news from last month, ABS, a marine facility feasibility investigator, completed its analysis of the technical feasibility of deploying floating wind turbines on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The study identified real-world challenges and resulted in a draft design guideline for permitting such installations. And E.ON Climate & Renewables North America announced that Bank of America Merrill Lynch has committed $150 million of institutional equity financing for E.ON’s 150MW Pioneer Trail wind farm in eastern Illinois.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced recipients of SunShot Initiative funds last month. The SunShot Initiative aims to reduce the installed cost of solar energy systems in the U.S. by about 75%, which should drive widespread, large-scale adoption of solar technology and restore U.S. leadership in the global clean energy race. Recent announcements indicate the department’s increasingly strong view of the relative importance of reducing soft costs and of integrating non-dispatchable solar resources into the power grid.
On June 20, the Energy Department announced a total of about $40 million in awards to advance solar power technologies in 2013-2014. The 21 awards are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.
In Tempe, Arizona, First Solar (which manufactures thin film technology with the smallest carbon footprint and fastest energy payback time of all the PVs) announced that it will design, construct, and maintain two utility-scale solar PV power projects totaling 159 MW for AGL Energy Limited as part of Australia’s Solar Flagships Program. First Solar will maintain both projects for AGL Energy for their first five years of commercial operation. Also last month, First Solar announced installation of its 10 millionth solar photovoltaic module in a utility-scale solar power project.
IKEA, the world’s leading home furnishings retailer, announced plans to install solar energy panels on two more of its United States locations: Perryville, Maryland, and Westampton, New Jersey. IKEA already has 17 U.S. solar energy systems operational and 20 more underway. Solarizing these two additional locations will increase the company’s U.S. solar presence to nearly 90%, taking a 38 MW burden off the existing U.S. grid.
A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey has found that sea level rise along the U.S. Atlantic Coast is increasing three to four times as quickly as global sea level. The study by Asbury H. Sallenger Jr, Kara S. Doran, and Peter A. Howd was published in the prestigious journal Nature last month. It presents evidence of recently accelerated sea level rise in a 600-mile stretch of coastal zone from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to north of Boston, Mass., on the highly populated North American Atlantic shoreline. Sea level has risen there in the past 20 years by two to almost four millimeters per year. The global increase over the same period was only 0.6 to one millimeter per year. Interestingly, the American Pacific coast encountered no increase during the period.
Higher water temperatures and reduced river flows in Europe and the United States have resulted in reduced production from, or temporary shutdown of several thermoelectric (nuclear or fossil-fueled) power plants in recent years, according to a study recently published in Nature Climate Change. Thermoelectric plants, supply 91% and 78% of total electric power in the U.S. and Europe, respectively
The shutdowns caused electricity prices to rise and prompted concerns about environmental objectives and future energy security in the changing climate. Scientists studied 61 power plants in the central and eastern U.S. and 35 power plants in Europe and projected a decrease in thermoelectric generating capacity of between 6-19% in Europe and 4-16% in the United States for 2031-2060. Because thermoelectric power is one of the largest water consumers in the U.S. (at 40%) and in Europe (43% of surface water withdrawals), supplies of cooling water are expected to drop.
The report suggests that generators reduce reliance on fresh water and replace it with salt water. Another alternative: switching to new gas-fired power plants, which are both more efficient than traditional thermo plants and also use less water.
America’s first carbon trading program was the subject of a three-year summary released on Monday, June 4. According to the program administrator of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nine-state cap-and-trade organization reduced average annual CO2 emissions by 23% compared to the preceding three-year period, 2006-2008.
“Five years ago, critics were saying climate programs like RGGI couldn’t succeed in the U.S.,” said David Littell, Commissioner of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. “Now, we are seeing significant emissions reductions in the context of economic recovery as we switch to cleaner fuels and learn to use energy smarter. In fact, RGGI has allowed companies to stay competitive and reduce their energy expenditures to weather the recession and come out stronger.”
Welcome smart grid news in June: system infrastructure for the five-state Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project’s transaction control system–the largest U.S. smart grid project–was connected in June. It will go live this fall and should dynamically manage electricity demand, supply, and grid conditions for 11 connected utilities. Its objectives:
- Quantify smart grid costs and benefits,
- Facilitate the integration of renewable resources,
- Validate new smart grid technologies and business models,
- Advance standards for interoperability and cyber security, and
- Provide two-way communication between distributed generation, storage and demand assets, and the existing grid infrastructure.
At the 9th annual Renewable Energy Finance Forum, hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy and Euromoney Energy Events last month, ACORE President and CEO Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn announced ACORE’s initiation of EnergyFactCheck.org (@EnergyFactCheck) to help ensure the distribution of facts about the renewable fuels industry. The site provides ACORE fact checks, leads for deeper research, and an energy library.
Admiral McGinn said, “The sad truth is that America’s debate on clean and renewable energy is unbalanced and overpoliticized…. [O]pponents of renewables are pushing the occasional bad news as if it’s the only news. They are dominating the conversation through misrepresentation, exaggeration, distraction and millions of dollars in lobbying and advertising.”
In a bipartisan vote, the Senate rejected Senator Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) Congressional Review Act resolution, S.J. Res 37, which would have blocked the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, a vitally important public health safeguard.
The Maryland Clean Energy Center polled 179 businesses between May 1 and June 15 and found that the state’s energy industry was not only surviving the roller-coaster economics of 2011-12, it was even growing green-collar jobs.
Ecovative Design’s new plant in Green Island, New York, officially opened in June. The company uses mushroom technology to produce bio-friendly packaging (EcoCradle Mushroom Packaging) to replace Styrofoam and other petroleum-based packaging products for companies like Dell and Steelcase.
Ocean waves could soon be powering thousands of homes and businesses in Reedsport, Oregon, thanks to the U.S. Navy and the state of Hawaii, which tested the Ocean Power Technologies PowerBuoy there for two years.
In Tallahassee, the Public Service Commission approved Tropicana Manufacturing’s plan to generate renewable energy from landfill gas to power its citrus processing plant. This will enable the utility, Florida Power & Light, to supply additional power if needed or buy excess renewable energy.
Late in June, Alcoa, the world’s leading producer of primary aluminum, fabricated aluminum, and alumina, announced that it expects to close by the end of the year on its sale of the 351 MW Tapoco hydroelectric project in Alcoa, Tennessee, to Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners for about $600 million. Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners operates one of the largest publicly traded renewable power platforms globally, with operations in the U.S., Canada, and Brazil.
Tapoco was originally developed by Alcoa to provide power for aluminum smelting and mill operations. It is a four-station project located on the Little Tennessee and Cheoah rivers in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The deal includes all four generating stations and dams, 86 miles of transmission line, and about 14,500 acres of land.
Startup Aquion Energy picked up a $15 million loan from Horizon Technology Finance Corporation and Silicon Valley Bank last month to build a U.S. factory with a capacity of 500 MWh worth of batteries per year in 2013 and 2014. Aquion believes its disruptive, cheap, and safe electrochemical storage (an anode made of activated carbon, a cathode made from sodium and magnesium oxide, and a water-based electrolyte) has the potential for better performance than the lithium-ion materials system that currently dominates the market.