Monthly Archives: September 2009

Energy Secretary Announces $34 million for CO.

DENVER—Colorado will get more than $34 million in federal stimulus money for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday.

Of the total, $9.5 million will be used to expand the Renewable Energy Rebates and Grants Program, Chu said. The other $24.6 million will go to the State Energy Program.

The projects will reduce energy consumption and carbon pollution, and create green jobs across the state, Chu said.

“This funding will allow Colorado to make major investments in energy solutions that will strengthen America’s economy and create jobs at the state and local level,” he said. “It will also promote some of the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable energy technologies we have—energy efficiency and conservation—which can be deployed immediately.”

Gov. Bill Ritter said the funding will help Colorado achieve its Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent against 2005 levels by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050.

Part of the money will be used for rebates that will reimburse homeowners for a portion of the cost of activities such as energy audits or the installation of attic insulation, air sealing, duct sealing, and high-efficiency furnace replacements.

It will also be used for incentives for residents and businesses that use onsite renewable energy technology, particularly home heating systems, and the state will also offer $400 rebates for the purchase and installation of efficient biomass-burning stoves that can make use of the state’s wood-pellet resource.

The money will also be used for programs to help state agencies, including public schools, reduce their energy use and carbon emissions. The state says it will promote greater energy efficiency in new and existing homes with programs such as a “whole house tune up” that bundles efficiency incentives.

By Steven K. Paulson, Associated Press Writer, September 30, 2009.

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Ben & Jerry’s, GE Work on Greener Freezers

WASHINGTON—Think propane and butane are just for barbecuing? Think again: The common cooking fuels can also chill your drinks and ice cream with less energy and almost none of the global warming worries of current refrigerants.

Some of the world’s largest consumer product companies are promoting freezers and refrigerators in the U.S. that use propane, butane and other coolants that don’t trap heat in the atmosphere as much as Freon and other conventional refrigerants.

The new so-called hydrocarbon coolers—already popular in Europe—are being tested by Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company at stores in the Washington and Boston areas. Meanwhile, General Electric is seeking approval to market a home refrigerator in the U.S. using a hydrocarbon refrigerant.

The new freezers take advantage of the way hydrocarbon gases absorb heat when they change from a liquid to a gas. It’s the same process when a propane tank becomes cool to the touch when you’re using it with a gas grill. The hydrocarbon refrigerant is compressed and expanded as it makes its way through the compressor and tubes surrounding the freezer.

Unlike car exhaust or power plant pollution that’s spewed directly into the air, the coolants used in most U.S. refrigerators today only enter the atmosphere when their compressors leak, or when appliances are thrown out and their refrigerant eventually escapes.

If hydrocarbons are accidentally released into the atmosphere, their effect on trapping heat is about 1,400 times less than conventional refrigerants, said Pete Gosselin, director of engineering for Ben & Jerry’s.

The fuels are flammable, of course, but current models only use the amount contained in two or three cigarette lighters. Electronic components are designed to prevent igniting a possible leak.

“It’s extremely potent,” Gosselin said. “And as the world develops, especially in developing nations, refrigeration use is one of the first technologies that comes on board.”

The appliances cost about the same as similar conventional freezers and use about 10 percent less electricity.

“And that turns out to be a huge gain in terms of your carbon footprint, that 10 percent gain in efficiency,” Gosselin said. “Every kilowatt hour that comes in the wall, comes in with a certain amount of CO2 footprint with it and if you can knock 10 percent off that, that’s huge.”

Gosselin said Ben & Jerry’s still hasn’t determined whether hydrocarbon refrigerants can be used in larger applications. Coca-Cola spokeswoman Lisa Manley said the company decided on using carbon dioxide because their equipment requires more cooling capacity and would require using more hydrocarbon refrigerant, which they decided against partly out of safety concerns.

While carbon dioxide equipment is more costly, Coca-Cola is hoping to convince others to adopt the technology and drive the price down through increased demand, Manley said.

The U.S. will be playing catch-up. Unilever, which has more than 2 million ice cream cabinets worldwide, including 100,000 in the United States, now has more than 400,000 hydrocarbon-based units in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Gosselin said.

About 42,000 bottle vending machines using hydrocarbons or carbon dioxide as refrigerant also have been installed in China, Europe and Latin America by Coca-Cola, Carlsberg and PepsiCo. And McDonald’s has opened two pilot restaurants in Denmark that don’t use traditional refrigerants, according to the Refrigerants, Naturally Web site.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which allowed Ben & Jerry’s to test the new coolers, has already completed a preliminary review on the freezers, as well as the new GE refrigerator. It expects to make a proposed rule on the machines available for public comment later this year, and a final decision could be issued by early next year, said Drusilla Hufford, director of the EPA’s Stratospheric Protection Division.

On a recent afternoon, Dominic Abruzzese, a senior at George Washington University, said he wasn’t aware the freezer steps away from him at the university’s Gallery Market was any different than others nearby.  

“I knew Freon was bad, but I didn’t know people were switching to propane freezers,” Abruzzese said.

The Ridley Park, Pa., student said he would consider buying a propane-based refrigerator or freezer in the future.

“I guess I would be more likely to buy a freezer that was more environmentally friendly, for sure,” he said.

Cathy Cerda, a mother of five from Herndon, Va., said she also wasn’t aware the Ben & Jerry’s freezer was different.

“If I had to make a decision between the two, well give me that one,” she said. “But if it was a lot more expensive, because for me having five children, I think the expense would top my list.”

By Alex Dominguiz, Associated Press, September 27, 2009.

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The New Sputnik

Most people would assume that 20 years from now when historians look back at 2008-09, they will conclude that the most important thing to happen in this period was the Great Recession. I’d hold off on that. If we can continue stumbling out of this economic crisis, I believe future historians may well conclude that the most important thing to happen in the last 18 months was that Red China decided to become Green China.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

Yes, China’s leaders have decided to go green — out of necessity because too many of their people can’t breathe, can’t swim, can’t fish, can’t farm and can’t drink thanks to pollution from its coal- and oil-based manufacturing growth engine. And, therefore, unless China powers its development with cleaner energy systems, and more knowledge-intensive businesses without smokestacks, China will die of its own development.

What do we know about necessity? It is the mother of invention. And when China decides it has to go green out of necessity, watch out. You will not just be buying your toys from China. You will buy your next electric car, solar panels, batteries and energy-efficiency software from China.

I believe this Chinese decision to go green is the 21st-century equivalent of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik — the world’s first Earth-orbiting satellite. That launch stunned us, convinced President Eisenhower that the U.S. was falling behind in missile technology and spurred America to make massive investments in science, education, infrastructure and networking — one eventual byproduct of which was the Internet.

Well, folks. Sputnik just went up again: China’s going clean-tech. The view of China in the U.S. Congress — that China is going to try to leapfrog us by out-polluting us — is out of date. It’s going to try to out-green us. Right now, China is focused on low-cost manufacturing of solar, wind and batteries and building the world’s biggest market for these products. It still badly lags U.S. innovation. But research will follow the market. America’s premier solar equipment maker, Applied Materials, is about to open the world’s largest privately funded solar research facility — in Xian, China.

“If they invest in 21st-century technologies and we invest in 20th-century technologies, they’ll win,” says David Sandalow, the assistant secretary of energy for policy. “If we both invest in 21st-century technologies, challenging each other, we all win.”

Unfortunately, we’re still not racing. It’s like Sputnik went up and we think it’s just a shooting star. Instead of a strategic response, too many of our politicians are still trapped in their own dumb-as-we-wanna-be bubble, where we’re always No. 1, and where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, having sold its soul to the old coal and oil industries, uses its influence to prevent Congress from passing legislation to really spur renewables. Hat’s off to the courageous chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric, Peter Darbee, who last week announced that his huge California power company was quitting the chamber because of its “obstructionist tactics.” All shareholders in America should ask their C.E.O.’s why they still belong to the chamber.

China’s leaders, mostly engineers, wasted little time debating global warming. They know the Tibetan glaciers that feed their major rivers are melting. But they also know that even if climate change were a hoax, the demand for clean, renewable power is going to soar as we add an estimated 2.5 billion people to the planet by 2050, many of whom will want to live high-energy lifestyles. In that world, E.T. — or energy technology — will be as big as I.T., and China intends to be a big E.T. player.

“For the last three years, the U.S. has led the world in new wind generation,” said the ecologist Lester Brown, author of “Plan B 4.0.” “By the end of this year, China will bypass us on new wind generation so fast we won’t even see it go by.”

I met this week with Shi Zhengrong, the founder of Suntech, already the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. Shi recalled how, shortly after he started his company in Wuxi, nearby Lake Tai, China’s third-largest freshwater lake, choked to death from pollution.

“After this disaster,” explained Shi, “the party secretary of Wuxi city came to me and said, ‘I want to support you to grow this solar business into a $15 billion industry, so then we can shut down as many polluting and energy consuming companies in the region as soon as possible.’ He is one of a group of young Chinese leaders, very innovative and very revolutionary, on this issue. Something has changed. China realized it has no capacity to absorb all this waste. We have to grow without pollution.”

Of course, China will continue to grow with cheap, dirty coal, to arrest over-eager environmentalists and to strip African forests for wood and minerals. Have no doubt about that. But have no doubt either that, without declaring it, China is embarking on a new, parallel path of clean power deployment and innovation. It is the Sputnik of our day. We ignore it at our peril.

By Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, September 26, 2009.

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Solar Power, Without All Those Panels

Solar shingles

Solar Shingles

The main way for homes to harness solar power today is through bulky panels added to the rooftop or mounted on the ground.

But companies are now offering alternatives to these fixed installations, in the less conspicuous form of shingles, tiles and other building materials that have photovoltaic cells sealed within them.

“The new materials are part of the building itself, not an addition, and they are taking photovoltaics to the next level — an aesthetic one,” said Alfonso Velosa III, a research director at Gartner and co-author of a coming report on the market for the new field, called building-integrated photovoltaics.

Companies are creating solar tiles and shingles in colors and shapes that fit in, for example, with the terra cotta tile roofing popular in the Southwest, or with the gray shingles of coastal saltbox cottages.

SRS Energy of Philadelphia is making curved solar roofing tiles designed to blend in with Southern California’s traditional clay tiles, said Martin R. Low, the chief executive of SRS. A solar tile system that met half the power needs of a typical California home would cost roughly $20,000 to install after rebates, he estimated, or about 10 to 20 percent more than solar panels providing comparable power.

U.S. Tile of Corona, Calif., a maker of clay tiles, will be selling SRS’s Solé Power Tiles, initially in California, and then in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and other states, said Steve Gast, the company’s president. It will be taking orders perhaps as early as November for shipment in January, he said. SRS Energy buys the photovoltaic cells that cover its roofing from United Solar Ovonic, a maker of flexible solar modules that is based in Rochester Hills, Mich. SRS bonds the silicon cells to the curved Solé tiles, which are made of the same basic material as car bumpers, said J. D. Albert, director of engineering at SRS.

The cells have been installed at several demonstration sites, including a home in Bermuda Dunes, Calif. Rather than creating an entire new roof with the solar tiles, the homeowner, Bill Thomas, a roofing contractor, chose to insert them in his existing roof, replacing about 300 square feet of terra cotta tiles; the job took about four hours, he said.

The solar insert in the roof will generate about 2,400 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough to cover a quarter to a third of a typical electric bill, Mr. Albert of SRS said.

A different solar material for the roofs and sides of buildings is being produced by Global Solar Energy of Tucson, Ariz. Atomized layers of a photovoltaic coating called CIGS are deposited in layers on a thin sheet.

“We provide the film, and other companies like Dow take it and design it into a product,” said Timothy Teich, vice president for sales and marketing.

Crystalline photovoltaic cells, the same type as in fixed panel installations, are used within the ceramic tiles available from, among others, the Italian company System Photonics. The cells are held in place and sealed from moisture by a clear plastic protective layer made by DuPont, said Stephen L. Cluff, DuPont’s global business director for photovoltaic encapsulants. The tiles come in 13 colors.

Mr. Velosa said installation of built-in solar power was just starting in the United States, where the bulk of the installations were still experimental. But that will change, he said, because “we are seeing that the construction industry has realized that energy-efficient buildings are an opportunity for growth.”

Paul Markowitz, a senior analyst at NanoMarkets L.C., a research firm in Glen Allen, Va., agreed that the market for the building-integrated products looked promising. But he said that much would depend on when the construction and real estate markets began to recover. The best time to install the photovoltaics in terms of cost and design is during building construction, he said.

Akhil Sivanandan, a research analyst in Madras, India, for the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, said that government subsidies would speed adoption of building-integrated photovoltaics in the United States, as they already have in Europe.

“You need government incentives,” he said. “Even with drops in pricing and advances in technology, it is still too costly.”

In France, Germany and other countries, building-integrated solar markets are growing quickly because of subsidies and programs that pay homeowners for the electricity they generate and feed back to the power grid, he said.

“In Europe, building-integrated photovoltaics already make up about 3 to 4 percent of the total solar market,” Mr. Sivanandan said, adding that the incentives help homeowners in repaying the systems’ costs in five to seven years.

But one other quality will be crucial to the popularity of building-integrated solar cells, Mr. Velosa said.

“Aesthetics is key,” he observed. “They have to look good.”

By Ann Eisenberg, The New York Times, September 26, 2009.

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Refitted to Bury Emissions, Plant Draws Attention

NEW HAVEN, W.Va. — Poking out of the ground near the smokestacks of the Mountaineer power plant here are two wells that look much like those that draw natural gas to the surface. But these are about to do something new: inject a power plant’s carbon dioxide into the earth.

Multimedia

Captured, Then Buried 

Photo: Kevin Riddell for The New York Times

The inside of the plant.

The New York Times

The Mountaineer plant in New Haven is ready to inject carbon dioxide into the earth.

A behemoth built in 1980, long before global warming stirred broad concern, Mountaineer is poised to become the world’s first coal-fired power plant to capture and bury some of the carbon dioxide it churns out. The hope is that the gas will stay deep underground for millennia rather than entering the atmosphere as a heat-trapping pollutant.

The experiment, which the company says could begin in the next few days, is riveting the world’s coal-fired electricity sector, which is under growing pressure to develop technology to capture and store carbon dioxide. Visitors from as far as China and India, which are struggling with their own coal-related pollution, have been trooping through the plant.

The United States still depends on coal-fired plants, many of them built decades ago, to meet half of its electricity needs. Some industry experts argue that retrofitting them could prove far more feasible than building brand new, cleaner ones.

Yet the economic viability of the Mountaineer plant’s new technology, known as carbon capture and sequestration, remains uncertain.

The technology is certain to devour a substantial amount of the plant’s energy output — optimists say 15 percent, and skeptics, 30 percent. Some energy experts argue that it could prove even more expensive than solar or nuclear power.

And as with any new technology, even the engineers are unsure how well it will work: will all of the carbon dioxide stay put?

Environmentalists who oppose coal mining and coal energy of any kind worry that sequestration could simply trade one problem, global warming, for another one, the pollution of water supplies. Should the carbon dioxide mix with water underground and form carbonic acid, they say, it could leach poisonous materials from rock deep underground that could then seep out.

Given the depths to which workers have drilled, they also fret that the project could cause earthquakes, although experts at the Environmental Protection Agency discount the risk of catastrophe.

More broadly, some environmentalists argue that the carbon storage effort could give corporations and consumers another excuse to drag their heels in supplanting coal dependence with an embrace of renewable energy sources like the sun and wind.

“Coal is the drug of choice of a major industry with a lot of political power,” said David H. Holtz, executive director of Progress Michigan, an environmental group.

Instead of adopting carbon capture, which Mr. Holtz likens to a methadone cure for addiction, he argues that the industry would do better to go cold turkey.

“There’s no evidence that burying carbon dioxide in the earth is a better strategy than aggressively pursuing other alternatives that clearly are better for the environment and will in the long run be less costly,” Mr. Holtz said.

But power company officials say the effort is the energy industry’s best hope of stanching carbon dioxide emissions over the next few decades.

“I really believe, in my heart of hearts, that coal is going to be burned around the world for years to come,” said Michael Morris, chairman and president of American Electric Power, which owns the plant here. “Retrofitting is going to be essential.”

American Electric Power is the nation’s largest electricity producer, with a coal-fired grid stretching across 11 states.

If all goes smoothly, this week engineers will begin pumping carbon dioxide, converted to a fluid, into a layer of sandstone 7,800 feet below the rolling countryside here and then into a layer of dolomite 400 feet below that.

The liquid will squeeze into tiny pores in the rock, displacing the salty water there, and assume a shape something like a squashed football, 30 to 40 feet high and hundreds of yards long.

American Electric Power’s plan is to inject about 100,000 tons annually for two to five years, about 1.5 percent of Mountaineer’s yearly emissions of carbon dioxide. Should Congress pass a law controlling carbon dioxide emissions and the new technology proves economically feasible, the company says, it could then move to capture as much as 90 percent of the gas.

For now the project consists of the two wells and a small chemical factory. In the factory, smoke diverted from the plant’s chimney is mixed with a chilled ammonia-based chemical. The chemical is then heated, releasing the carbon dioxide, which is pumped deep into the wells.

American Electric Power is spending $73 million on the capture and storage effort, which includes half the cost of the factory. Alstom, the manufacturer of the new equipment, paid for the other half of the factory, hoping to develop expertise that will win it a worldwide market. Alstom would not say what it spent, but public figures indicate that the two companies are jointly spending well over $100 million.

For energy planners, a crucial question is how much this technology would cost if refined and installed on a bigger scale. The answer remains elusive.

Still, many scientists emphasize that Mountaineer is within a dozen miles of four other big coal plants with a combined capacity of 6,000 megawatts, a concentration so great that industry insiders have nicknamed the area Megawatt Alley. If the technology spread to all of them in a cost-effective way, many say, it could have a broad impact on the coal industry.

S. Julio Friedmann, leader of the carbon management program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, calls this corner of the Ohio River Valley a “must win” region for carbon dioxide storage.

Robert Socolow, a Princeton University engineering professor, echoed that sentiment. The nation’s fleet of coal-burning plants “completely dominates our national emissions,” Professor Socolow said.

It is also far easier to corral several million tons flowing from a single chimney than a comparable amount coming from tens of millions of car tailpipes or home heating systems, experts point out.

Far larger projects for capturing and storing carbon dioxide underground have been under way for several years in Europe and North Africa. In North Dakota, the Great Plains Synfuels plant, which converts coal to methane, takes the leftover carbon dioxide and pumps it through a pipeline to Canada to stimulate oil production there. But Mountaineer is the world’s first electricity plant to capture and store carbon dioxide.

A state permit issued to American Electric Power limits the pressure it can use to inject carbon dioxide into the rock. This is to reduce the risk that the injection will crack rock layers above that engineers are counting on to keep the carbon dioxide in place.

A nonprofit research group, Battelle Memorial Institute, has installed monitoring wells around the rock that will measure changes in pressure and temperature. Engineers can also send energy pulses through the earth between the wells and measure how fast these travel, as a guide to how the carbon dioxide is spreading.

Asked whether the injections of carbon dioxide could increase the frequency or magnitude of the small earthquakes that are common in the area, an E.P.A. official said it seemed unlikely.

“With proper site selection and good management, we should be able to implement this safely,” said Dina Kruger, director of the agency’s climate change division. Ms. Kruger also emphasized that the carbon dioxide would be monitored to see if it was seeping.

Some local residents are skeptical.

“It doesn’t matter to me if a scientist says it may or may not leak,” said Elisa Young, an anti-coal activist who lives nearby on the Ohio side of the river. “That’s not going to stop it from leaking when push comes to shove.”

At the same time, many others in this coal-dependent region suggest that the notion that carbon dioxide is a menace has been overplayed.

Charles A. Powell, the manager of the Mountaineer plant, who has worked there since it opened three decades ago, pointed out that the gas is given off by every human and animal.

“You are breathing out?” he asked a visitor dryly.

By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times, September 21, 2009.

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Audi, Jaguar & Land Rover Gear Up for Luxury & Sustainability

HERNDON, VA – Calling sustainability the new luxury, the president of Audi America said that Audi hopes to be the top luxury carmaker in the world by 2015, based on adoption of sustainability as a core focus.

Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover has set an internal target to reduce its CO2 emissions by 25 percent over the next five years, reports BusinessGreen.

Jaguar Land Rover is putting a lot of the emphasis on reducing the carbon footprint of its inbound supply chain. Whereas previously the company’s nearly 400 suppliers brought parts to the factory separately, now Jaguar Land Rover goes to the suppliers for pickups as part of a coordinated effort.

The new system helped the company reduce its road miles by 52 percent. In the future, look for Jaguar Land Rover to move more completed vehicles by rail, as opposed to truck.

As for Audi, Johan de Nysschen, president of American operations, said that the era of “legacy luxury” vehicles that convey status without regard to cost or resources consumed is nearing the end of its life cycle.

Audi is adopting what he calls “progressive luxury,” or vehicles that might feature light aluminum body designs, vibration dampeners to ensure the car effectively uses all energy it develops and smaller, high-performance engines that require less fuel to perform, according to a press release.

“The challenge is that Americans, by and large, haven’t quite been willing to put their consumerism where their conscience is – sales of small cars have declined more than the average decline of all segments, meaning that sales are still migrating to small and medium size SUVs,” he said in a speech celebrating Audi’s 100 year anniversary in Sonoma, Calif.

“The truly sustainable solution is to give today’s consumer a much more efficient version of what they already want – whether that’s performance, space, fine finishes, or all of the above,” he continued.

Automotive Fleet, September 14, 2009.

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California Favors Efficiency Over Alt Energy

California’s chief climate change official on Wednesday sees a big need for small-scale clean energy like rooftop windmills and neighborhood solar power plants, but the state will gain more from efficiency than renewable power.

California legislators are debating whether to commit the state to getting 33 percent of its electricity from renewable power like solar and wind, which is already an informal part of the most populous U.S. state’s landmark plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

“We believe that most of the reductions (in emissions) coming from the electricity sector as a whole are going to come from energy efficiency and conservation rather than the introduction of renewables,” Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco.

But big projects like wind farms and solar arrays covering broad swaths of desert could be complemented by more small scale projects than regulators and big utilities contemplate.

“You could do small centralized projects, small fuel cells in a lot of locations. You could even do some thermal projects, even small wind. There are opportunities for rooftop wind projects in certain areas,” she said.

California, the world’s eighth largest economy, is already a major market for roof-mounted solar panels from companies like SunPower Corp and is a test market for modular solar thermal plants from start-up eSolar.

“As utilities have discovered, there is no such thing as an easy site for a power plant,” Nichols said, adding that the state needed both big and small projects.

GLOBAL VIEW

California’s climate change plan is the most ambitious in the nation in terms of raw cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, and it may retain its status as the undisputed leader, in some ways to its chagrin. Nichols said the state wanted to be ahead, not alone, and she voiced skepticism over when a federal climate bill could pass.

“I would not say the chances are very large that we will get that all done before December,” Nichols said. That is the date for global talks in Copenhagen to hammer out a follow-up to the contentious Kyoto climate change treaty.

“I don’t think we will go to Copenhagen empty handed,” she added, though. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could make major regulatory strides that would signal the country is serious about cutting carbon dioxide pollution, she said.

By Peter Henderson, RUETERS

September 9, 2009

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