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Solar farm

Utility-scale solar is considerably cheaper than rooftop

Solar farm

Rooftop solar, especially when leased, is much more expensive than grid-scale solar, plus carbon savings are less. Economies of scale for big solar produce electricity cheaper and with less carbon. And unless a rooftop solar system has battery storage, it won’t help in a power outage.

The savings from utility-scale solar are considerable.

“Most of the environmental and social benefits provided by PV systems can be achieved at a much lower total cost at utility-scale than at residential-scale,” is how the study puts it.

“The biggest two takeaways were surprising,” Fox-Penner said. “The generation cost per solar MWh purchased is half as large for utility-scale solar as for rooftop solar. And per MW of solar installed, the carbon savings and the fuel savings from a MW of utility-scale PV are 50% larger.”

Utility-scale solar offers higher capacity factors and significant economies of scale, Crossborder concludes. But rooftop offers location at the point of end-use, reliability benefits (especially when paired with storage), societal and customer choice benefits, and lower cost to customers than green pricing programs.

The supposed resilience of rooftop solar doesn’t exist yet because they automatically shut off when there is an outage (to prevent power going back up the lines when repairs are happening.) Batteries will help. Even so, they generally won’t power a house at full power or for more than a few hours.

Rooftop solar offers the potential of greater resilience for the homeowner against outages, he said. It is only a potential advantage because most rooftop solar systems, as currently installed, automatically shut down when the grid goes out “to protect workers and to meet fire protection requirements.”

Rooftop solar still provides many benefits. However, big can almost always produce something cheaper than small.

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Grid-connected wave energy now a reality


Electricity generated by movement of ocean waves is operational in Australia. The buoys are completely underwater, and their motion forces ocean water to land via high pressure pipes to drive the turbines. Added bonus: The process can also desalinate the water.

An electrical generating plant powered by wave energy has commenced operations near Perth, Australia. Built by Carnegie Wave Earth, the Perth Wave Energy Project is the first and only operational wave power plant anywhere in the world that uses multiple wave units. The facility has a peak generating capacity of 240 kilowatts — enough to power up to 2,000 homes.

Carnegie’s unique CETO [Cylindrical Energy Transfer Oscillating] technology is different from the conventional energy generating devices because it operates fully underwater and is safe from large storms and other surface hurdles.

An additional benefit of the CETO system is that it can also power a reverse osmosis desalinization installation to make fresh drinking water without using electrically or gasoline powered pumps.

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Carbon Engineering: Industrial-scale capture of CO2 from air

Thinking big and out-of-the-box, Carbon Engineering says they can remove CO2 from ambient air then use the carbon to create fuel. The process and machinery can be powered by renewable energy, sited anywhere, and scaled to suit local needs. There isn’t a big demand for this technology now. In a few years though, if the technology proves to be reliable, cost-effective, and scalable, there easily could be. Bill Gates is an investor.

From their home page:

Carbon Engineering is commercializing technology to capture carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, which we will use to enable production of ultra-low carbon fuels.

Air capture of CO2 enables large facilities to manage emissions from any source or location so that industrial economies of scale can be applied to the large fraction of emissions that come from distributed and mobile sources such as vehicles, airplanes, and buildings. Air capture can provide pure CO2 at point of demand for industrial use, and atmospheric CO2 can be used via multiple production pathways to manufacture ultra-low emissions fuels.

CE’s technology strategy is to develop a low-risk, chemical-based CO2 air capture system that we can bring to market in the near-term with competitive economics. Our air capture system combines proven, scalable industrial technologies with CE’s proprietary designs and innovations.

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Denmark just generated 140% of its electricity from wind

Horns rev offshore wind farm

Horns rev offshore wind farm, Denmark. Photo by Vattenfall

Renewable energy from wind supplied Denmark with all its electricity on the night of June 9 and early morning June 10. Excess energy was stored by Germany and Denmark using pumped hydro. Wow. This shows that renewables can indeed supply huge amounts of power on a reliable basis. Will power plants using natural gas and coal continue to be needed? Absolutely. However perhaps someday, sooner rather than later, carbon-based fuel supplies will be the backup power for renewable energy.

Three-quarters of Danish wind power is onshore, with big offshore wind farms being planned as well as more onshore wind turbines.

So much power was produced by Denmark’s windfarms on Thursday that the country was able to meet its domestic electricity demand and export power to Norway, Germany and Sweden.

On an unusually windy day, Denmark found itself producing 116% of its national electricity needs from wind turbines yesterday evening. By 3am on Friday, when electricity demand dropped, that figure had risen to 140%.

Texas is also a leader in wind power. On March 26, 2014, it set a new record of 29% of power from wind.

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Compact fusion reactors are safe, emissions-free, and coming


Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works says their compact fusion reactors will be operational in ten years. If so, this could change the world. Seriously. Compact fusion reactors are emissions free, safe, and produce prodigious amounts of energy, 3-4x more than nuclear fission. Further, gas lines into existing gas turbines can be replaced with heat exchangers coming off fusion reactors, so infrastructure for it already exists.

Normally I would tend to discount such research. However this is coming from Skunk Works, developers of multiple famous aircraft designs and lots more too.

This is an invention that might possibly modify the civilization as we know it: A compact fusion reactor presented by Skunk Works, the stealth experimental technology section of Lockheed Martin. It’s about the size of a jet engine and it can power airplanes, most likely spaceships, and cities.

How it works:

Nuclear fusion works by stripping electrons from atoms of two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, mixing the resulting nuclei and confining the mixture, called a plasma, into a small space. The plasma then is heated to accelerate the nuclei (in a gas, particle speed is a function of temperature). This is necessary because both nuclei are positively charged and high velocity is necessary to overcome electrostatic repulsion to force them to collide. At high enough speed, fusion produces a helium atom and a highly energetic neutron, whose energy can be captured by slowing it down. Transferring this energy to a coolant allows it to be used to generate electricity. A small amount of deuterium and tritium can match the performance of a conventional nuclear reactor, but without the nuclear waste and with much lower radiation risk.


European Safety and Environmental Assessment of Fusion Power concluded that fusion has very good inherent safety qualities, among which absence of ‘chain reaction’ and no production of long-lived, highly radiotoxic products. The worst possible accident would not be able to breach the confinement barriers. Even when a hypothesis is done that confinement barriers be breached, any accidental radioactive release from a fusion power station in this case cannot reach the level that would require the evacuation of the local community.

At the end of a fusion power station’s working life the radiotoxicity in the reactor chamber and other structural and waste materials will decay rapidly. In less than 100 years the residual activity of these materials would be less than the radiotoxicity found in the waste from a conventional coal-fired power station.

More from the Skunk Works Compact Fusion site.

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Floating wind turbine

Fukushima 7 MW floating wind turbine is world’s biggest

Floating wind turbine
Japan is installing the biggest floating wind turbine ever near Fukushima. The blades are 270 feet long. It will generate enough power for at least 3,500 homes. The photo and video show a smaller 2 MW turbine that was installed in 2013. The new turbine is much larger.

A mere 12 miles from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will soon sit a 620-foot, 1,500-ton windmill atop a 5,000-ton podium. It’ll be the biggest floating wind turbine on Earth, and it could usher in a new age of green energy.

The turbine will generate up to 7 megawatts of electricity, making it Japan’s most powerful wind turbine, and the most powerful floating turbine in the world.

This truly is amazing technology.

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Garage door insulation is super easy to install

It’s been 106-108 this week in Vegas. Our south-facing garage has been baking because heat comes right through the garage doors. Happily, garage door insulation is simple to install and really cuts down garage heat on a baking day. It also helps keep garages warm in winter in cold areas.

DIY home improvement videos showed garage door insulation to be highly effective.  On a hot day in San Diego, the before temperatures on the inside of uninsulated garage door panels was 105.  After installation it was 80. That’s a huge difference.

I used the Reach Barrier insulation. Each $50 box contains eight panels and 48 double-sided adhesive stickees. In install, practice a few times to see how the sheets fits into the panels.. Then, press five stickees on each panel and put the lightweight, insulated aluminum sheet on top on them. The trick is, don’t cut it the sheet to make it fit. Instead, jam any excess size into the grooves in the panel. This helps it stay put.

The sheets are feather weight. I did two garage doors in about 45 minutes. The garage is noticeably cooler this morning.

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Intel micro wind turbines

Intel installs micro wind turbines on HQ roof, for testing, power

Intel micro wind turbines

Intel has installed 58 small wind turbines on the roof of their Santa Clara headquarters to help power the building and to test renewables. The turbines are manufactured by JLM Energy, 6-7 feet tall, weigh 30 lbs., and sited on the edge on the building to gather the most wind, which averages 8-9 mph. Intel, an industry leader in using renewables, also has solar on the roof, and is the largest voluntary user of renewable energy in the country.

Intel has installed 58 micro-turbines atop the roof of their headquarters in Santa Clara, California, in what is a two-fold project aiming at providing renewable energy for the building, as well as acting as a proof of concept project, “in which Intel hopes to collect data that will help the company better understand green power and identify ways to continue evolving its sustainability programs.”

Posted in Energy, Wind turbines0 Comments

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California doubles down on fighting climate change

The California Senate just passed a hugely ambitious plan to shift to renewable energy, electric cars, and to combat global warming. The goals are laudable, however there are real questions whether they can be reached without massive, painful disruption to regular Californians. Seriously. Mandating a 50% cut in petroleum use within 15 years means way more electric and alt-energy vehicles, including big rigs. Electric cars require electricity, which means more power plants will need to be built. California is also mandating 50% in-state renewable energy by 2030, which is, um, highly optimistic, as grids now have trouble handling large amounts of always fluctuating renewable energy. Plus, the price of electricity may climb sharply.

California has a long way to go and a short time to get there. This plan is so ambitious they it will either be a hero for achieving or a clown for failing.

“I’m quite dubious about our ability to accomplish these goals we’re getting so many kudos for setting,” said James Sweeney, director of Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center.

“It’s going to be up to future governors and future lawmakers to make these goals work,” Sweeney said. “Unless we come up with a plan that’s not terribly disruptive to average Californians’ lives, they’re never going to follow through.”

If the legislation becomes law, it will be up to the California Air Resources Control Board to implement two of the measures’ toughest goals: cutting petroleum use by cars and trucks in half over the next 15 years and slashing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels over the next 35 years.

Posted in Climate change, Energy

Tesla Powerwall will mostly disrupt taypayers subsidizing it

Tesla’s Powerwall is way too expensive and underpowered to do much of anything except provide a wee bit of power to your house, assuming the sun has been shining, that is. Plus, Tesla is getting huge subsidies, so forget about it being an example of scrappy capitalism bootstrapping new products to market.

But does all the messianic talk of battery-powered “disruption” and solar triumphalism stack up? Hardly. For all their ballyhooed price reductions, Tesla batteries are still way too feeble and expensive to come even within hyping distance of neither a reliable power supply, nor an off-grid revolution.

Contrary to Musk, you would be ill advised to go off the grid with solar panels and batteries. The 10-kWh Powerwall stores enough electricity to supply an average American home, which uses 30 kWh of electricity per day, for all of 8 hours; a day of overcast weather would leave an off-grid solar-plus-Powerwall system without any power at all. And the 10 kWh system can only cycle — charge up with electricity and then discharge — about once per week; it’s designed as a back-up for grid outages, not to store daily household solar generation.

However, Elon Musk is indeed a magician at extracting concessions from government to pay for his projects.

Basically, Tesla is operating tax free for ten years and gets a discount on the electric bill. That’s the invisible hand of capitalism in action.

And please stop telling me that Elon Musk is some kind of visionary. Is he is bad as the Wall Street parasites who are eating our colons from the inside out? No. He’s actually making something. But just because he builds electric cars doesn’t mean he’s Leonardo da Vinci. Stop telling me all of his quirks and personality flaws are symptoms of genius. He seems to me like a full-fledged creature of the modern age: a media savvy techno geek with a Gordon Gekko attitude. Forgive me if I don’t get wet.

Posted in Energy

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