San Diego desalination plant opening in November


The Carlsbad Desalination Project will be the biggest desal plant in the western hemisphere when it open in November in San Diego. While the price of desalination is dropping, it is still quite expensive and is problematic in two ways. 1) The salt is dumped back into the ocean, adversely affecting marine life. 2) Desal requires large amounts of electricity, which mostly comes from non-renewable sources now, increasing carbon emissions. Also electricity generation often requires substantial amounts of water for cooling. Thus, water is used to generated energy which is used to desalinate water. Hmm.

Renewable energy from wind and PV solar uses practically no water and could be a long-term solution to the interconnected problem of the relationship between water and electricity creation.

The project will generate 50 million gallons of water a day, enough for 7% of San Diego and will cost about $1 billion.

Desalinated water will be more expensive than imported water when it comes online,” Jones said. “But soon, imported water rates will continue to rise and imported water will be more expensive than desalinated water. And what we need to look at as consumers is what is the cost of not having water at all.”

Paying to offset emissions elsewhere for damage the plant will do is not sustainable or a solution.

The company developing the plant here, Poseidon Water, has promised to counter the environmental damage. For instance, it will pay into a California program that finances projects to offset emissions of greenhouse gases.

Posted in Energy, Water0 Comments


Even climate change deniers favor renewable energy


I’ve said for years the best way to get renewable energy is stop emphasizing climate change. A study by Yale researchers confirms this. Even in areas of the country where most don’t think climate change is due to humans, they still overwhelmingly support R&D into renewable energy.

This is probably because there are so many other reasons to support renewables. In many areas, renewable energy already is the same cost or less than fossil-fuel generation. Renewable energy can be created nearby, cutting down on transmission costs, making electricity cheaper. Plus, having electricity come from multiple sources (as in rooftop solar everywhere) not just a few big plants, makes the grid more resilient and stronger. Otherwise vacant land can be used for wind and solar farms, generating income for owners. Texas has more wind power than any other state, and plenty of ranchers make good income leasing their land.

So maybe lecturing climate change deniers isn’t the best of all possible approaches. Instead, emphasize how renewable energy can help them – because they probably already know it!


Posted in Energy0 Comments


Global wind power growing fast, led by China


Total worldwide wind power capacity is now 370 GW. 50 GW was installed in 2014. China led the way with 23 GW of new wind power, and has 31% of total world wind power, followed by the US at 18%. China is, uh, blowing past us.

These totals are from the comprehensive Global Wind Report for 2014 from the Global Wind Energy Council (PDF).

2014 was a great year for the wind industry, setting a new record of more than 51 GW installed in a single year, bringing the global total close to 370 GW. We knew there would be a substantial recovery last year, but nobody predicted that China would install 23 GW of new wind power alone (another record). Elsewhere in Asia, India had an unspectacular year, but we expect great things from India in the coming 5-10 years as the new government’s renewables push gets underway; and there were significant new installations in Pakistan and the Philippines, helping Asia to once again lead all regional markets and pass Europe in terms of cumulative installed capacity


Posted in Energy, Wind turbines0 Comments

Makani airborne tethered wind wurbine

Google testing airborne tethered wind turbines

Makani airborne tethered wind wurbine
Google X will soon be testing a 84-foot version of their Makani airborne wind turbine. It flies at 1,500 feet altitude, where wind speeds are much faster, and is tethered to the ground. Wind at altitude is also considerably more variable than on the ground, especially where the test will be, and Google says they want a few crashes so they can determine just how far the devices can be pushed. Each one can generate a not insubstantial 600kW.

The energy kite simulates the tip of a wind turbine blade, which is the part of a turbine that makes most of the energy. The kite is launched from the ground station by the rotors, which act like propellers on a helicopter. Once in the air, the kite generates power by flying in large circles where the wind is strong and consistent. Air moving across rotors mounted on the kite forces them to rotate, driving a generator to produce electricity, which travels down the tether to the grid.

Posted in Energy, Wind turbines0 Comments


Philippines has 2,000 inhabited islands, struggles with power shortages


Electricity is expensive in Philippines, compounded by growing shortages. The government has responded by leasing more power, paying big customers to generate their own power (probably by diesel), yet these seem stopgap measures. With so many islands, distributed energy via rooftop solar could help substantially.

The power profile of the three major island groups is quite different. Visayas and Mindanao get half their power from renewable sources, geothermal and hydro respectively, while Luzon relies heavily on coal. Yet new growth for all three will mainly be coal. (Big hydro is controversial, some think big dams are so damaging they shouldn’t be classified as renewable. Yet, the power does indeed come from a non-carbon source.)

The three main island regions of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao each have distinct generation profiles. In the northern part of the country, Luzon’s capacity is mainly powered by fossil fuels, with anticipated capacity additions of more than 500 MW, most of which will be coal-fired. Visayas, in central Philippines, currently relies heavily on its geothermal resources, but has plans to add 300 MW of coal capacity by 2017. In the south, Mindanao relies heavily on its hydropower resources, with plans for both additional hydropower capacity and additional coal-fired generation to increase system reliability.

Their Secretary of Energy says rooftop solar actually cheaper than coal.

As a simple example, the cost of electricity from a coal plant can run up to P5.50 per kilowatt hour, plus P6.50 for distribution and transmission, which amounts to P12.00. If you install solar panels on your rooftop, you will only spend P9.00 per kilowatt hour for generation and no cost for distribution or transmission. This already saves you up to P3 per kilowatt hour.”

Let’s hope Philippines makes a big push towards rooftop solar.

Posted in Energy, Solar power


Grid-scale solar growing fast, yet still quite small


Renewable energy, especially solar and wind, gets lots of attention, yet it still a tiny part of total power generation worldwide.

Large-scale solar PV grew a startling 40% in 2014, from 21.7 to 35.9 GW, an increase of 14.2 GW in just one year. The US has the most capacity at 9.3 GW, followed by China at 8.5. While this is certainly impressive growth, solar PV is still, globally speaking, a minor player.

In 2012, worldwide installed electricity was 5549 GW, the last year the US Energy Information Agency has data for. Thus, 35 GW is 0.06 of that total, less than 1%. The real percentage would be even smaller than that, since installed electrical has increased since 2012.

The World Coal Association, certainly not an unbiased source, says 41% of world power is generated from coal with the US at 45%.

California is a leader is renewable energy. This image, which is updated daily (PDF), shows how renewables in California are still a relatively small part of the mix. Renewable energy spikes during the day due to solar, then quickly drops off. ‘Imports’ is power coming in from other states. ‘Thermal’ is power from something being burned, specifically coal and natural gas. So, at the daylight peak, renewable energy in California is about 22% of total energy generated. This is impressive (and growing). However most other states (and  countries) lag way behind this. this.

California power production by type. 03/04/5

California power production by type. 03/04/5

Posted in Energy, Solar power

California Duck Power curve

California Duck Curve. Too much renewables during day, not enough at night

California Duck Power curve

About 6% of San Diego CA power comes from rooftop solar. Even this relatively small amount of solar power creates serious problems on the grid. Once solar hits 15%, the problems get more pronounced. This is not just blather from utilities resisting change. When it gets dark, utilities have to ramp up other types of power quickly, something which not trivial. The Duck Curve for California for 2015 is moderate, as shown in the image. As more rooftop solar is installed, the curve becomes more pronounced.

More solar is produced during the day when people aren’t home. This production vanishes when they come home, as night falls, precisely when more power is needed. Also, the glut of production during the day can cause prices to be actually less than zero as well as creating grid problems, since the grid must always be in perfect balance between supply and demand.

As in most locales, solar output in California peaks in the naturally sunny middle of the day. But lots of people are at work and there isn’t much demand on the system. SDG&E’s system peaks closer in the evening, when people get home from work and the sun goes down. The drop in solar production almost perfectly coincides with the utility’s daily ramp up to peak demand.

The San Diego utility says solar rooftop users only pay about half of what their solar costs the company. This is probably at least partly true, made worse by a convoluted state-mandated rate structure. Time-of-use rates probably make more sense. Users would pay more for power on a baking hot summer afternoon than on a moderate Spring night. The ability to store power for a few hours would help enormously, however doing so is expensive. Other solutions though, are available now.

Avery imagines a world where your house pre-cools during the off-peak, where your electric water heater delivers demand response during the peak, and your electric vehicle charges based on price signals.

“All these things today are reality. They can happen right now,” he said.

Posted in Energy, Solar power


Generating power from flow of water in existing water lines


Lucid Energy installs turbines inside major water mains. The flow of water turns the turbines, creating electricity. Unlike other forms of renewable energy, this is not dependent on the weather, only on downhill water flow, making it excellent for heavy industry, server farms, and more. The video highlights the deep relationship between water and power. It takes electricity to move water and it takes often takes large amounts of water to create energy. Using these turbines on major water pipelines would get the amount of outside energy needed to move the water. Big power plants and industrial areas that use large amounts of water can also use it to cut their power bill. The water pressure is there inside the pipes. Lucid Energy turns it into electricity.

Driven by the demand for reliable, cost-effective electricity, water- and energy-intensive industries, municipalities and agricultural irrigation districts worldwide can deploy our in-pipe hydropower system to generate millions of megawatt hours of renewable electricity from the water already flowing through their pipelines – without interrupting flow.

LucidPipe systems can be deployed 3-4 turbine diameters apart, so up to four LucidPipe units can be installed in a standard 40-foot section of pipe. One mile of 42” diameter pipeline could produce as much as 3 megawatts or more of electricity

Posted in Energy, Water


Solar power, energy storage, and biomass to create 24/7 power


A proposed power plant in Israel will generate power continually by using solar thermal to power turbines, storing excess heat for future use, and burning garbage that would be otherwise be landfilled. Most solar thermal plants focus the sun’s heat to a central tower to run the turbines. This innovative design by Brenmiller Energy stores the heat from each reflector apparently as steam in underground pipes, releasing it as needed. Backup power will be created by using biomass as fuel, allowing 24/7 energy production from renewable energy.

Solar power stations integrating storage and backed up by biomass are the best solution for producing electricity in Israel,” said Brenmiller Energy CEO Avi Brenmiller. “Biomass alone cannot meet electricity demand but combining it with solar energy and storage represents the cheapest and cleanest alternative. This combination is a solution for the high costs of burying garbage borne by the local authorities.”

Posted in Energy


Tesla plans solar-powered home battery storage

Tesla, perhaps to distract from lackluster car sales, just announced plans for battery packs powered by solar panels for residential homes. This is not a new idea. Off-grid homes as well as grid-connected homes with solar panels already have batteries to store energy. So really, why is this news, except that Tesla announced it with great fanfare and says the batteries will look elegant. The amount of hype emanating from Tesla has always made me a bit suspicious.

Working with SolarCity (of which Musk is Chairman) to power the batteries with solar energy just makes the whole endeavor sound like a fantastically Earth-friendly project.

Um, no. Batteries by definition are not earth-friendly at all. They require mining, often in impoverished areas where workers are exploited, use noxious chemicals, and are difficult to dispose of. So don’t go hugging trees quite yet because of the not really green at all Tesla home battery. Is it better than powering your home with coal power? Absolutely. But it’s not green. Batteries probably never can be.

Another problem is the utilities, some of whom are dinosaurs that don’t want to lose revenue because people install solar.

Unregulated batteries to power homes attached to solar panels that keep the battery charged mean some annoyed executives at utilities, especially if the battery’s storage is large enough that it wouldn’t even need much in the way of the electric grid to supplement the solar panels. Not that you’ll ever hear it spelled out so bluntly. Tesla has said that utilities are partners, not enemies, but arguably that just depends on where you look.

Smart utilities, like Green Mountain Energy in Vermont, are leading the move towards home solar. And yes, home batteries do need some regulation. For example, they must never ever send power grid into the grid during a blackout to prevent electric shock to linemen fixing, say, downed power lines, who aren’t expecting power to be coming upstream to them.

Stored power from home solar is a great idea. Let’s hope it becomes ubiquitous soon. For that to happen, the grid will need to be rejiggered to handle distributed energy  flowing from many places to many places rather than the centralized system we have now.

Posted in Energy, News, Solar power


Bob Morris


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