A small German village, Wildpoldsried, has invested heavily in renewable energy for 17 years and now produces far more than it uses, selling the rest for a profit. This is a genuinely inspiring example of what a united community can do.
The entire list of Wildpoldsreid’s projects is pretty remarkable: in addition to the five biogas plants, 4,983 kWp of photovoltaics, 11 wind turbines and the hydropower system, the town is also home to several municipal and residential biomass heating systems and 2,100 m² of solar thermal systems. Five private residences are heated by geothermal systems and passivhaus techniques have been used in some new construction. One is also likely to see a fair number of electric cars dotting about.
Burlington, a town of 42,000 in Vermont, recently bought the Winooski One 7.4 MW hydro plant and now claims to be 100% renewable. Well, maybe. While I applaud them for moving towards renewables, their logic is claiming to be 100% renewable is overblown and misleading.
Over time Burlington will indeed produce more renewable energy than it uses. It sells the excess into the market. Plus, it sells renewable energy credits to southern New England utilities, and buys back cheaper credits. So, somehow, to some, this means the city is 100% renewable even though it sometimes buys fossil fuel energy. Bzzt. Sorry, that does not compute.
Sandy Levine, of the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation, commended Vermont utilities for seeking renewable sources of power but questioned the credit trading.
“They are selling the renewable energy credits to customers in other states. Those customers have the renewable and clean energy benefits of that power,” Levine said. “Simply using accounting measures to make claims about clean energy doesn’t get us there.”
Those living in poverty need cheap energy to help them get a better life. Lectures by wealthy countries saying poor countries need renewable energy now to cut carbopn emissions is unrealistic and will keep them in poverty. Instead, such countries need cheap, clean fossil fuels. So says Bill Gates, whose foundation has serious influence and clout.
Even as we push to get serious about confronting climate change, we should not try to solve the problem on the backs of the poor. For one thing, poor countries represent a small part of the carbon-emissions problem. And they desperately need cheap sources of energy now to fuel the economic growth that lifts families out of poverty. They can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions, and we can’t expect them wait for the technology to get cheaper.
Gates features a video from the highly controversial Bjorn Lomborg, saying “I certainly don’t agree with Bjorn (or the Copenhagen Consensus) on everything, but I always find him worth listening to. He’s not an ideologue. He’s a data-driven guy who cares about using scarce resources in the smartest possible way.
Greentechmedia explains why they think Gates is wrong.
Reflected heat from mirrors at the Ivanpah solar thermal plant in California near Primm NV has been killing large numbers of birds. To their credit, site operator BrightSource Energy is creating bird deterrent systems. These include anti-perching devices, sonic deterrents, anti-bird LEDS, and waste and water containment so birds don’t gather.
As to the efforts currently underway, the waste and water containment is actively being done daily and the heliostat repositioning is complete. The sonic deterrent has been purchased and is in the process of being tested on site. The lighting on the towers are now being turned off at night and bids to replace the current ground level lighting with LED were returned this week and will be purchased and installed.
They also plan to donate $1.8 million to cat trap, neuter, and release organizations as cats kill birds too. Current efforts include a “25 million for our desert tortoise program, and in developing a high quality, scientifically valid, and robust avian plan.”
I don’t quite get the advantage of solar thermal, which reflects heat to a central tower to power turbines, over solar photovoltaic. PV is not nearly as destructive to wildlife and birds and uses practically no water, an important issue in baking deserts. Another problem with Ivanpah is airline pilots report the glare can be blinding.
A combination of renewable energy from wind, water, and sunlight could power California completely by 2050, say perky researchers from Stanford. In my view they’re a bit too perky as well as overly We Know What Is Best For You.
First off, all those pesky gas and diesel vehicles would need to be completely replaced by electric, they say. No word on how electric semis would be able to haul multi-ton loads up the steep Grapevine outside of Los Angeles. No electric truck to my knowledge has the needed torque and power to do this. Maybe they will one day. But they don’t now.
Then there’s this.
[Wind, water, and sunlight] sources selected “ranked the highest among several proposed energy options for addressing pollution, public health, global warming, and energy security.”
Um, shouldn’t cost be a criteria too? Also, grid technology neccessary to support 100% renewables doesn’t exist yet. Perhaps it will soon. However, making projections based on technology that doesn’t exist yet seems a bit specious.
They claim going to 100% renewables would pay for itself.
“The California air-pollution health plus global climate cost benefits from eliminating California emissions could equal the $1.1 trillion installation cost of 603 GW of new power needed for a 100% all-purpose WWS system within ~7 (4–14) years.”
“Global climate cost benefits”, whatever that might be, do not pay for the project or decrease costs eleswhere and should not be included in cost calculations.
Stanford researchers have developed a way to keep solar photovoltaic cells cooler, even in baking temperatures. If the cells get too hot, efficiency drops as does the lifetime of the cells. Adding pyramid-shaped layer of silica glass allows the cells to cool on their own, avoiding the need for water or wind for cooling.
“The goal was to lower the operating temperature of the solar cell while maintaining its solar absorption,” Fan said. “We were quite pleased to see that while the flat layer of silica provided some passive cooling, the patterned layer of silica considerably outperforms the 5 mm-thick uniform silica design and has nearly identical performance as the ideal scheme.”
Thus, efficiency and cell lifetimes both increase, hugely improving productivity.
The ginormous Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California near Primm NV reflects baking heat from the sun to a central tower where electricity is generated from steam turbines. Some solar thermal plants store excess heat in molten salt to be used later to generate power. Ivanpah doesn’t do this. It doest recycle 100% of the steam, keeping water usage at a minimum. However, the concentrated heat does kill birds and the glare can be an aviation hazard. No source of electricity creation is completely benign. That’s just the way it is.
The biggest use of water in the US, 41%, is for power generation. Coal, natural gas, and nuclear power require large amounts of water for cooling. The same is true in other countries, many of whom are also facing water shortages. A new study says this should be a primary reason to move to wind and solar PV, because they require practically no water. In addition, another major use of electricity is to move water, especially in arid areas. In California, 19% of power was used to pump water in 2011. Thus, 60% of total California water usage is for creating energy and pumping water. Running faster and faster to stay in the same place?
During the summer of 2011, Texas experienced the worst drought in state history.
One of the main reasons residents did not experience blackouts that summer was Texas’ wind energy production, the researchers said. At least 10 percent of the state’s energy needs were provided by wind that summer, up to 18 percent on some days — making it an important alternative to nuclear, coal and natural gas.
Folsom Lake, CA. Credit: Robert Couse-Baker. Flickr
California utilities are being forced to use natural gas plants to create electricity as drought cuts down on hydropower generation. Lakes and dams where hydropower is used are sometimes less than 50% full. Without ample water, the energy can’t be created.
Increasingly, utilities are using natural gas power plants as fallbacks. However natural gas creates more emissions than hydro and is also more expensive. California has an ambitious plan to generate 33% renewable in-state energy by 2020. A continued dry spell will certainly impact those plans, even if California doesn’t count big hydro as renewable energy. (This odd distinction is probably due to political considerations. If big hydro isn’t renewable, then big solar and big wind projects must be built, and will have captive buyers. How cozy is that for big money?)
In 2011 hydropower account for 18.2% of California energy. In 2012 it plunged to 11,7% 2013 numbers haven’t been released yet but are probably even worse.
A Jamaica law firm has installed an 80 kw hybrid solar-wind array on the roof of their office. It is expected to save $2 million over its 25 year lifespan and uses small vertical turbines and solar PV.
The installation incorporates 50 of WindStream’s SolarMill devices. The different SolarMill models each comprise one or more solar panels and three or more turbines