Lots of new electricity capacity came online in January — all wind and solar


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The US brought in service 613 MW of new power generation capacity in January, with wind and solar parks accounting for 100% of that, shows the latest report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

More specifically, five wind parks with a combined capacity of 468 MW and six solar farms of 145 MW in total have become operational for the month. This compares to 742 MW of new wind and 212 MW of new solar capacity recorded in January 2015. Back then, the US also put online 121 MW of natural gas-fired power plants.

The two largest wind parks that went live in January are MidAmerican Energy Co’s 153.4-MW Adams farm in Iowa and the 150-MW Amazon wind farm expansion in Indiana…

The US now has roughly 14,500 MW of operational solar and 74,460 MW of operational wind power capacity. Natural gas remains the top source of electricity with 500,730 MW operational, accounting for 42.83% of all US power capacity.

The Koch Bros continue to weep into their snifters of Napoleon brandy. The Tea Party idjits who pimp for them continue to cry into their lite beer.

Solar energy ready to be US leading new power source

New statistics just released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration suggest that in the coming year, the booming solar sector will add more new electricity-generating capacity than any other — including natural gas and wind.

EIA reports that planned installations for 2016 include 9.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar — followed by 8 gigawatts (or 8 billion watts) of natural gas and 6.8 gigawatts of wind. This suggests solar could truly blow out the competition, because the EIA numbers are only for large or utility-scale solar arrays or farms and do not include fast-growing rooftop solar, which will also surely add several additional gigawatts of capacity in 2016.

In other words, U.S. solar seems poised for not just a record year but perhaps a blowout year. Last year, in contrast, solar set a new record with 7.3 gigawatts of total new photovoltaic capacity across residential, commercial, and utility scale installations.

“If actual additions ultimately reflect these plans, 2016 will be the first year in which utility-scale solar additions exceed additions from any other single energy source,” says EIA…

In the grand scheme, the tax credits for solar, as well as an extension of the production tax credit for wind, could serve as a kind of “bridge” into an era in which the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is operating — or at least, so the current administration hopes. Granted, that depends on whether that plan survives its current legal challenges.

The article has a lot of blather about taxes and tax credits as subsidies. The reality is that no significant change or addition to electric power generation in most countries depends to some extent on subsidies. What upsets conservatives – especially Republicans – is that fossil-brained old coal money is losing out – and even worse, private solar, home-based solar, gives support directly to comsumers instead of corporate moneybags.

A mortal sin in the minds of 19th Century ideologues.

Line freeways with wind turbines: [1] highways are ugly and [2] no one lives there anyway


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Britain’s motorways should be lined with wind turbines because they are already unattractive and very few people live alongside them, according to Baroness Brown, the UK’s green energy ambassador.

Wind farms built along the 2,300-mile motorway network would generate less local opposition than those constructed in unspoiled rural areas, predicted Baroness Brown, an independent peer in the House of Lords.

“You don’t really want to live beside a motorway – it’s not good for you and it’s noisy. I do a lot of driving up the east side of the country and I wonder why we don’t line the sides of our motorways with wind turbines…

“We haven’t got infinite space and you have got to be sensitive about where you put these things. But motorways seem like an ideal location…”

Seems like a good idea here in the US, as well. Think they’d spoil the view driving through Secaucus on the New Jersey Turnpike?

The cost of onshore wind power has plummeted in recent years and is now the cheapest of all electricity sources. But the Government has made it difficult for new onshore windfarms to be built despite them offering the best way to meet ambitious climate targets in an affordable way.

Many stretches of motorway are not windy enough to power turbines, experts warn. But other parts of the motorway network provide plenty of scope for wind farms, they say, such as the 152-turbine Clyde array on either side of the M74 near the Lanarkshire village of Abington and the 11-turbine Swinford complex by the M1 in Leicestershire. The turbines on windfarms such as these have to be set back from the motorway so they don’t fall on to it if they keel over.

Hopefully, the Brits – and other folks – are capable of erecting wind turbines that don’t fall over onto freeways. Unlike our out-of-repair bridges.

Squirrels are winning the cyberwar

On January 2nd, the power went out on the Lloyd Expressway, near Evansville, Indiana. The outage lasted 45 minutes, with a transformer damaged and stop lights turned off. The culprit? A squirrel.

The attack is just one of the latest tracked by the semi-satirical Cyber Squirrel 1 map. “This map”, according to its About section, “lists all unclassified Cyber Squirrel Operations that have been released to the public that we have been able to confirm. There are many more executed ops than displayed on this map however, those ops remain classified.” Based on data from a Twitter account dating back to at least March 2014, the map has been around since at least September 2015. It tracks power outages caused by squirrels, birds, raccoons, snakes, rats, beavers, and monkeys, as well as nations like China, Russia, and the United States. If there is a cyber war happening, it’s one fought between humanity and nature, not nations against each other.


Squirrel power outages

This is hardly the first attempt to use squirrels as a metaphor for exaggerated fears about cyber war. Before he was comparing the risk to planes from drones relative to turtles, Eli Dourado, an economist and technologist at the libertarian Mercatus Center, made a similar point about squirrels and power outages.

Like the Cyber Squirrel map, the argument reveals itself merely by the data points selected. Natural causes get in the way of technology a lot. Even successful cyber attacks, like the one that took out power in part of Ukraine last month, can so far only replicate damage that animals might do anyway.

OTOH, squirrels can be as territorial – and stupid about being territorial – as any Congressional chickenhawk.

Solar electricity from discarded car batteries

MIT researchers have developed a simple procedure for making a promising type of solar cell using lead recovered from discarded lead-acid car batteries — a practice that could benefit both the environment and human health. As new lead-free car batteries come into use, old batteries would be sent to the solar industry rather than to landfills. And if production of this new, high-efficiency, low-cost solar cell takes off — as many experts think it will — manufacturers’ increased demand for lead could be met without additional lead mining and smelting.

Laboratory experiments confirm that solar cells made with recycled lead work just as well as those made with high-purity, commercially available starting materials. Battery recycling could thus support production of these novel solar cells while researchers work to replace the lead with a more benign but equally effective material.

Much attention in the solar community is now focused on an emerging class of crystalline photovoltaic materials called perovskites. The reasons are clear: The starting ingredients are abundant and easily processed at low temperatures, and the fabricated solar cells can be thin, lightweight, and flexible — ideal for applying to windows, building facades, and more. And they promise to be highly efficient.

Unlike most advanced solar technologies, perovskites are rapidly fulfilling that promise. “When perovskite-based solar cells first came out, they were a few percent efficient,” says Angela Belcher…Professor in biological engineering and materials science and engineering at MIT. “Then they were 6 percent efficient, then 15 percent, and then 20 percent. It was really fun to watch the efficiencies skyrocket over the course of a couple years.” Perovskite solar cells demonstrated in research labs may soon be as efficient as today’s commercial silicon-based solar cells, which have achieved current efficiencies only after many decades of intensive research and development.

Research groups are now working to scale up their laboratory prototypes and to make them less susceptible to degradation when exposed to moisture. But one concern persists: The most efficient perovskite solar cells all contain lead…

Recognizing the promise of this technology and the difficulty of replacing the lead in it, in 2013 the MIT researchers proposed an alternative. “We thought, what if we got our lead from another source?” Belcher recalls. One possibility would be discarded lead-acid car batteries. Today, old car batteries are recycled, with most of the lead used to produce new batteries. But battery technology is changing rapidly, and the future will likely bring new, more efficient options. At that point, the 250 million lead-acid batteries in U.S. cars today will become waste — and that could cause environmental problems.

According to Belcher, recovering lead from a lead-acid battery and turning it into a perovskite solar cell involves “a very, very simple procedure”…The simple procedure for recovering and processing the lead and making a solar cell could easily be scaled up and commercialized. But Belcher and Paula Hammond knew that solar cell manufacturers would have a question: Is there any penalty for using recycled materials instead of high-quality lead iodide purchased from a chemical company?

To answer that question, the researchers decided to make some solar cells using recycled materials and some using commercially available materials and then compare the performance of the two versions. They don’t claim to be experts at making perovskite solar cells optimized for maximum efficiency. But if the cells they made using the two starting materials performed equally well, then “people who are skilled in fine-tuning these solar cells to get 20 percent efficiencies would be able to use our material and get the same efficiencies,” Belcher reasoned.

The researchers began by evaluating the light-harvesting capability of the perovskite thin films made from car batteries and from high-purity commercial lead iodide. In a variety of tests, the films displayed the same nanocrystalline structure and identical light-absorption capability. Indeed, the films’ ability to absorb light at different wavelengths was the same.

They then tested solar cells they had fabricated from the two types of perovskite and found that their photovoltaic performance was similar…

Based on their results, Belcher and Hammond concluded that recycled lead could be integrated into any type of process that researchers are using to fabricate perovskite-based solar cells — and indeed to make other types of lead-containing solar cells, light-emitting diodes, piezoelectric devices, and more.

Long term, the approach continues be to find an effective, nontoxic replacement for the lead. Belcher and Hammond continue those studies. Meanwhile, their work has the potential of aiding in recycling toxic materials. RTFA for technical detail.

Photo essay – World’s largest solar farm


Click to enlargeMarcelo del Pozo/Reuters

Spain has made renewable energy a top priority. The government has paid over $76 billion in subsidies for clean energy projects since 1998.

And the investment has paid off: 42% of Spain’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2013, according to the country’s grid operator. The majority comes from wind power, but solar provided 13% of the country’s energy and is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the pie…

❝Spain is also home to the largest solar farm in the world, Andasol.

Here’s how Spain’s largest solar farm works — and why it could be a model for the future of energy around the world.

Click through to the article here. Lovely photos of the world’s largest solar farm.

Human waste is a wasted potential source of energy


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A concept that needn’t be limited to the Third World

Gas produced by decaying human waste is a potentially major source of energy that could provide electricity for millions of homes while improving sanitary conditions in developing countries…

Biogas is produced when bacteria break down human feces. And it would be worth the equivalent of $9.5 billion in non-renewable natural gas, the United Nations Institute for Water, Environment and Health said on Tuesday.

Residues from treated waste could yield two million tons a year of “solid” fuel worldwide that could reduce charcoal use and the number of trees being felled, which would help in global warming reduction efforts…

In low-income countries, the use of biogas could finance development

Almost a billion people around the world do not have access to toilets, about 60 percent of them in India, and have to relieve themselves outdoors…

If their waste was collected and used to produce biogas, it could generate electricity for 10 million to 18 million households and be worth $200 million to $376 million per year…

Bringing toilets to so many areas also will improve hygiene and public health in these countries. Poor sanitation is to blame for 10 percent of illnesses in developing countries, the researchers said.

“Challenges are many, but clearly there is a compelling, multi-dimensional financial case to be made for deriving energy from waste,” said Chris Metcalfe, one of the authors of the study.

Many states have a few biogas facilities constructed over bulging landfills. I’ve blogged before about at least one gigantic dairy farm that powers all its trucks with biogas from cow manure. Also another source readily available in India, for example. More important, though nations like the United States are generations away from projects like these suggested making economic sense for us – with some of the cheapest natural gas in the world – the cost of transporting natgas to India and Africa makes the concept of human-origins of biogas more than sensible. It becomes affordable.

Second-use battery storage unit designed for regional grid connection

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As electric cars come towards the end of their life, they create a set of problems that you simply don’t get with petrol cars – namely, getting rid of the batteries. Automotive giant Daimler is doing its bit to tackle the problem by partnering with The Mobility House, GETEC and Remondis to create a 13-megawatt battery storage unit out of second-life battery systems from electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

…Daimler provides its electric vehicle customers with a 10 year battery life guarantee, but reports that there’s still a good deal of life in the cells beyond this point…The company estimates that such batteries should offer at least another 10 years of usefulness when employed in stationary storage systems, which are said to be key in helping to level out dips in the energy supply coming from renewable sources like wind farms and solar power stations.

This is a role that’s partially played by fossil-fuel power plants at the moment, so Daimler says the battery system will help to “speed up the energy revolution and eliminates the cost of expanding the grid and building new power plants.”

The battery storage unit will be connected to the grid in early 2016.

I guess this is taking Elon Musk’s secondary use of his electric car batteries a step further, eh.

Good news in the UK — Renewable electricity overtakes coal

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Britain generated more of its electricity from renewable sources than from burning coal for the first time in the second quarter of 2015, as more wind and solar farms were built.

A record high of 25.3 per cent of the UK’s power came from wind, solar, biomass and hydro-electric sources in the three months to June, up from just 16.7 per cent in the same period the year before.

By contrast the share of electricity from Britain’s ageing fleet of coal-fired power stations fell to 20.5 per cent, down from 28.2 per cent a year previously…

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said the record share of renewable generation reflected not only more renewable capacity, such as the construction of big new offshore wind farms, but also “more favourable weather conditions for renewable generation”.

Biomass energy, which is also classed as renewable, also increased following the conversion of part of Drax, Britain’s biggest coal-fired power plant, to burn wood instead.

The drop in coal power also reflected the closure or temporary shutdown of other coal power stations and an increase in the UK’s carbon tax which made coal plants less profitable to run.

You don’t need an amplifier to hear the tears falling from the dark orbs that pass for eyes in the Koch Brothers. They cry for every penny of profit lost by their fossil fuel brotherhood of pollution.

First nuclear reactor restarted – in Sendai – since Fukushima meltdown


Beginning of the end

A Japanese utility company said Tuesday it restarted a nuclear reactor, the first to do so since the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in 2011.

“We hereby announce that as of today, Sendai Nuclear Power Unit No.1 has extracted control rods from the reactor and started up at 10:30 a.m.,” Kyushu Electric Power Co. said…”We see this startup as one of the important steps on restart process of the nuclear reactor.”

Japan has been working to reshape its energy sector since the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daicchi nuclear reactor by focusing on energy efficiency, conservation and an increased use of cleaner-burning natural gas to help keep emissions in check…

Japan decommissioned 50 reactors after the 2011 meltdown, forcing it to re-examine its energy mix. Prior to the Fukushima disaster, nuclear had provided about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity, with renewable energy accounting for less than 3 percent, excluding hydropower. The country relied heavily in imports of liquefied natural gas in the wake of the disaster.

Kyushu in its statement said it would “never” allow a repeat of the 2011 disaster.

“We will continue to make sincerely an all-out effort to deal with the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s inspections, and carry out carefully remaining process, putting utmost priority to safety, with a sense of alertness more than ever,” it said.

A magnitude-9 earthquake and resulting tsunami 2011 led to a meltdown at the Fukushima facility, the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Not much of an article – deliberately. I’ll offer more in-depth discussion as the process of restart proceeds.

Japan hasn’t much of a choice at present. They have this capacity in place. The nation has been making do – which means spending a lot more to provide electricity than anyone has been accustomed to. The citizens of Japan are – unfortunately – used to going along with whatever decisions their politicians make. So, they’ve been absorbing the price hikes flowing from a kludged-together system of electricity production since the disaster.

Though a lifetime advocate for nuclear-generated power, I’ve had to change that position in the last year or two. China’s subsidized development of solar-generated electricity, wind-generated electricity [along with parallel development in northern Europe] has qualitatively changed the picture…for the better, I believe. Regardless of all the hollering, trade sanctions, whining from Congress, the result has been legitimate cuts in the cost of establishing alternative power generation both on a large-scale and home-based.

A win for nations and individuals. A win for the environment.