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  • richardmitnick 10:42 am on March 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy, , , , Scientists switch on 'artificial sun' in German lab   

    From DLR via phys.org: “Scientists switch on ‘artificial sun’ in German lab” 

    DLR Bloc

    German Aerospace Center


    March 23, 2017

    In this March 21, 2017 photo engineer Volkmar Dohmen stands in front of xenon short-arc lamps in the DLR German national aeronautics and space research center in Juelich, western Germany. The lights are part of an artificial sun that will be used for research purposes. (Caroline Seidel/dpa via AP)

    Scientists in Germany are flipping the switch on what’s being described as “the world’s largest artificial sun,” hoping it will help shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuel.

    The “Synlight” experiment in Juelich, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Cologne, consists of 149 giant spotlights normally used for film projectors.

    Starting Thursday, scientists from the German Aerospace Center will start experimenting with this dazzling array to try to find ways of tapping the enormous amount of energy that reaches Earth in the form of light from the sun.

    One area of research will focus on how to efficiently produce hydrogen, a first step toward making artificial fuel for airplanes.

    The experiment uses as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would in a year.

    n this March 21, 2017 photo engineer Volkmar Dohmen stands in front of xenon short-arc lamps in the DLR German national aeronautics and space research center in Juelich, western Germany. The lights are part of an artificial sun that will be used for research purposes. (Caroline Seidel/dpa via AP)

    See the full article here .

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    DLR Center

    DLR is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport and security is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space programme. DLR is also the umbrella organisation for the nation’s largest project management agency.

    DLR has approximately 8000 employees at 16 locations in Germany: Cologne (headquarters), Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Goettingen, Hamburg, Juelich, Lampoldshausen, Neustrelitz, Oberpfaffenhofen, Stade, Stuttgart, Trauen, and Weilheim. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.

  • richardmitnick 6:47 pm on March 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Clean Energy, , New Materials Could Turn Water into the Fuel of the Future, photoanodes,   

    From Caltech: “New Materials Could Turn Water into the Fuel of the Future” 

    Caltech Logo



    Robert Perkins
    (626) 395-1862

    Scientists at JCAP create new materials by spraying combinations of elements onto thin plates. Credit: Caltech

    John Gregoire tests the properties of newly created materials. Credit: Caltech

    Researchers at Caltech and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have—in just two years—nearly doubled the number of materials known to have potential for use in solar fuels.

    They did so by developing a process that promises to speed the discovery of commercially viable solar fuels that could replace coal, oil, and other fossil fuels.

    Solar fuels, a dream of clean-energy research, are created using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide (CO2). Researchers are exploring a range of target fuels, from hydrogen gas to liquid hydrocarbons, and producing any of these fuels involves splitting water.

    Each water molecule is comprised of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen atoms are extracted, and then can be reunited to create highly flammable hydrogen gas or combined with CO2 to create hydrocarbon fuels, creating a plentiful and renewable energy source. The problem, however, is that water molecules do not simply break down when sunlight shines on them—if they did, the oceans would not cover most of the planet. They need a little help from a solar-powered catalyst.

    To create practical solar fuels, scientists have been trying to develop low-cost and efficient materials, known as photoanodes, that are capable of splitting water using visible light as an energy source. Over the past four decades, researchers identified only 16 of these photoanode materials. Now, using a new high-throughput method of identifying new materials, a team of researchers led by Caltech’s John Gregoire and Berkeley Lab’s Jeffrey Neaton and Qimin Yan have found 12 promising new photoanodes.

    A paper about the method and the new photoanodes appears the week of March 6 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new method was developed through a partnership between the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at Caltech, and Berkeley Lab’s Materials Project, using resources at the Molecular Foundry and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC).

    LBL NERSC Cray XC30 Edison supercomputer

    NERSC CRAY Cori supercomputer

    “This integration of theory and experiment is a blueprint for conducting research in an increasingly interdisciplinary world,” says Gregoire, JCAP thrust coordinator for Photoelectrocatalysis and leader of the High Throughput Experimentation group. “It’s exciting to find 12 new potential photoanodes for making solar fuels, but even more so to have a new materials discovery pipeline going forward.”

    “What is particularly significant about this study, which combines experiment and theory, is that in addition to identifying several new compounds for solar fuel applications, we were also able to learn something new about the underlying electronic structure of the materials themselves,” says Neaton, the director of the Molecular Foundry.

    Previous materials discovery processes relied on cumbersome testing of individual compounds to assess their potential for use in specific applications. In the new process, Gregoire and his colleagues combined computational and experimental approaches by first mining a materials database for potentially useful compounds, screening it based on the properties of the materials, and then rapidly testing the most promising candidates using high-throughput experimentation.

    In the work described in the PNAS paper, they explored 174 metal vanadates—compounds containing the elements vanadium and oxygen along with one other element from the periodic table.

    The research, Gregoire says, reveals how different choices for this third element can produce materials with different properties, and reveals how to “tune” those properties to make a better photoanode.

    “The key advance made by the team was to combine the best capabilities enabled by theory and supercomputers with novel high throughput experiments to generate scientific knowledge at an unprecedented rate,” Gregoire says.

    The study is titled Solar fuels photoanode materials discovery by integrating high-throughput theory and experiment. Other authors from Caltech include JCAP research engineers Santosh Suram, Lan Zhou, Aniketa Shinde, and Paul Newhouse. This research was funded by the DOE. JCAP is a DOE Energy Innovation Hub focused on developing a cost-effective method of turning sunlight, water, and CO2 into fuel. It is led by Caltech with Berkeley Lab as a major partner. The Materials Project is a DOE program based at Berkeley Lab that aims to remove the guesswork from materials design in a variety of applications. The Molecular Foundry and NERSC are both DOE Office of Science User Facilities located at Berkeley Lab.

    See the full article here .

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”
    Caltech buildings

  • richardmitnick 6:15 pm on March 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy, MSU solar array project, MSU-Michigan State University,   

    From MSU: “Construction begins on MSU solar array project” 

    Michigan State Bloc

    Michigan State University

    March 6, 2017
    Katie Gervasi
    Infrastructure Planning and Facilities office
    (517) 432-3629

    Sarina Gleason
    Media Communications office
    (517) 355-9742


    Construction on a new solar array project – a venture that could save the university $10 million over 25 years and help keep tuition in check – has started at Michigan State University.

    “The obvious advantage of this project for our students, faculty and staff is cleaner air due to the emissions-free generation of electricity,” said Wolfgang Bauer, a University Distinguished Professor in physics who is assisting with the project. “However, there are significant other benefits such as reducing the university’s utility costs over time. This, in the end, will have a direct effect on keeping tuition rates as low as possible.”

    Arrays are a collection of solar panels that are linked together and can act as an additional energy source.

    At MSU, solar array carports are being constructed at five different parking lots across campus. The structures will cover most of the parking spaces in each lot and provide partial protection from inclement weather for most cars including taller vehicles, such as RVs, for weekend tailgating. The same number of parking spots that existed before will be available after construction is completed.

    “In the summer, the solar carports will provide protection from direct sunlight and prevent parked cars from heating up too much,” Bauer said. “And in the winter, the parked cars will be protected from snowfall.”

    In all, the alternative energy structures will produce power to campus during the daytime hours when demand is typically at its highest and will generate more than 15,000 megawatt hours of power per year – about 5 percent of the electricity used on campus annually.

    Bauer added that the new arrays offer an opportunity to conduct research as well.

    “Student teams from the College of Engineering are already working in collaboration with our faculty and infrastructure employees on using the arrays to research topics such as new power inverter technology,” he said.

    This type of renewable energy technology looks at ways to change how electricity is delivered.

    Three lots located south of the railroad tracks on campus will be the first to undergo construction. Work on the remaining parking areas will follow, with all lots projected to be completed by the end of the year. During construction, portions of each lot will remain open for parking.

    The MSU Board of Trustees in September 2015 approved a power purchase agreement for the project, which is being developed and will be owned by Inovateus Solar, LLC, a solar-energy supplier in Indiana, and Alterra Power Corp., an independent power producer and renewable-energy developer in British Columbia, Canada. The plan supports the university’s Energy Transition Plan to improve the environment on campus, invest in sustainable energy research and contain energy costs.

    The partnership will allow MSU to purchase electricity produced from the solar arrays from Inovateus and Alterra at a fixed price for 25 years. MSU will also cover the cost of connecting the arrays to the university’s power grid for about $2.5 million. Project investors will pay all other construction and maintenance costs projected to be about $20 million.

    See the full article here .

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    Michigan State Campus

    Michigan State University (MSU) is a public research university located in East Lansing, Michigan, United States. MSU was founded in 1855 and became the nation’s first land-grant institution under the Morrill Act of 1862, serving as a model for future land-grant universities.

    MSU pioneered the studies of packaging, hospitality business, plant biology, supply chain management, and telecommunication. U.S. News & World Report ranks several MSU graduate programs in the nation’s top 10, including industrial and organizational psychology, osteopathic medicine, and veterinary medicine, and identifies its graduate programs in elementary education, secondary education, and nuclear physics as the best in the country. MSU has been labeled one of the “Public Ivies,” a publicly funded university considered as providing a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League.

    Following the introduction of the Morrill Act, the college became coeducational and expanded its curriculum beyond agriculture. Today, MSU is the seventh-largest university in the United States (in terms of enrollment), with over 49,000 students and 2,950 faculty members. There are approximately 532,000 living MSU alumni worldwide.

  • richardmitnick 12:20 pm on March 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Clean Energy, , New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive, , T2WELL, The Geysers the world’s largest geothermal field located in northern California, TOUGHREACT   

    From LBNL: “New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive” 

    Berkeley Logo

    Berkeley Lab

    March 1, 2017

    Julie Chao
    (510) 486-6491

    California Energy Commission awards $2.7 million to Berkeley Lab for two geothermal projects.

    Berkeley Lab scientists will work at The Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal field, located in northern California, on two projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective. (Credit: Kurt Nihei/Berkeley Lab)

    Geothermal energy, a clean, renewable source of energy produced by the heat of the earth, provides about 6 percent of California’s total power. That number could be much higher if associated costs were lower. Now scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have launched two California Energy Commission-funded projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective to deploy and operate.

    “There is huge potential for geothermal energy in the U.S., and especially in California,” said Patrick Dobson, who leads Berkeley Lab’s Geothermal Systems program in the Energy Geosciences Division. “The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that conventional and unconventional geothermal resources in the western U.S. are equivalent to half of the current installed generation capacity of the U.S.; however, commercial development of these resources would require significant technological advances to lower the cost of geothermal deployment.”

    The first project will test deployment of a dense array of seismic sensors to improve the ability to image where and how fluids are moving underground. The second project will develop and apply modeling tools to enable geothermal plants to safely run in flexible (or variable) production mode, allowing for better integration with other renewable energy sources. The California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program has awarded Berkeley Lab a total of $2.7 million for the two projects.

    California renewable energy generation by resource type (Credit: California Energy Commission)

    California is looking to geothermal energy to help in reaching its goal of getting half of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030. Geothermal plants are possible only in locations with particular geological characteristics, either near active volcanic centers or in places with a very high temperature gradient, such as parts of the western United States. Thanks to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” California has a vast amount of geothermal electricity generation capacity.

    Seeing fluid flow with seismic sensors

    While geothermal technology has been around for some time, one of the main barriers to wider adoption is the high up-front investment. “A large geothermal operator might drill three wells a year at a cost of approximately $7 million dollars per well. If one of the wells could provide twice the steam production, a savings of $7 million dollars could be realized. That’s where we come in,” said Lawrence Hutchings, a Berkeley Lab microearthquake imaging specialist who has worked in geothermal fields around the world.

    In a project led by Berkeley Lab scientist Kurt Nihei, a dense network of portable seismic recorders (about 100 recorders over a 5 square kilometer area) will be installed to demonstrate the ability to perform high-resolution tomographic imaging. “The goal is to image where steam and fluids are going using geophysics,” Nihei said. “We will improve the spatial resolution of the imaging using a dense array and demonstrate that this can be done cost-effectively in an operating geothermal field.”

    The demonstration will take place at The Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal field, located north of San Francisco in Sonoma and Lake Counties. Wells there—some deeper than two miles—bring steam to the surface. The steam is converted to electricity while water is injected into the underground rock to replenish the steam.

    Berkeley Lab scientists at The Geysers (Credit: Pat Dobson/Berkeley Lab)

    Berkeley Lab scientists currently run a network of 32 seismic recorders at The Geysers to monitor microearthquakes. With the dense network of 100 inexpensive seismic recorders, they will be able to improve the resolution of seismic imaging sufficient to track fluid movement as it moves through the network of fractures that intersect the injection wells.

    “Similar to what is done in medical ultrasound tomography with sound waves, we will record seismic waves—both compressional waves and shear waves—from which we can extract information about rock properties, fluid properties, and changes in the subsurface stresses,” Nihei said. “We think these images will allow us to get a clearer picture of where fluids are going and how stresses in the rock are changing in time and space between the injection wells and production wells.”

    Having a better understanding of fluid flow in fractured geothermal reservoirs would be a big benefit for well placement as well as cost-effective operation. “If they can increase the likelihood getting a productive well every time they drill, it would be huge,” said Hutchings. “More than 10 percent of California’s total renewable energy capacity comes from geothermal, so the potential impact of this technology is exciting.”

    Lowering the cost of renewables

    In the second project, led by Berkeley Lab scientist Jonny Rutqvist, the goal is to enable the conversion of geothermal production from baseload or steady production to flexible or variable mode. Flexible-mode geothermal production could then be used as a supplement to intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, which are not available around the clock, thus significantly reducing the costs of storing that energy.

    The technical challenges are considerable since grid demands may require rapid changes, such as reducing production by half within tens of minutes and then restoring full production after a few hours. Such changes could lead to mechanical fatigue, damage to well components, corrosion, and mineral deposition in the wells.

    “A better understanding of the impacts of flexible-mode production on the reservoir-wellbore system is needed to assure safe and sustainable production,” said Rutqvist.

    Berkeley Lab will adapt a suite of their modeling tools for wellbore and geothermal reservoir integrity, including T2WELL, which models fluid flow and heat transfer in wells; and TOUGHREACT, which simulates scaling and corrosion. These tools will be integrated with geomechanical tools into an improved thermal-hydrological-mechanical-chemical (THMC) model to address the specific problems.

    “This will provide the necessary tools for investigating all the challenges related to flexible-mode production and predict short- and long-term impacts,” Rutqvist said. “The advantages to California are many, including greater grid reliability, increased safety, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

    In both projects, the Berkeley Lab researchers will be working with Calpine Corporation, which has the largest commercial operation at The Geysers. Calpine will contribute data as well as access to their sites and models. The projects build on a wide variety of prior research at Berkeley Lab funded by the DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office.

    See the full article here .

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    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

    University of California Seal

    DOE Seal

  • richardmitnick 9:18 am on January 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy, Electron holes, How solar cells turn sunlight into electricity, Negative and positive silicon or n- and p-type silicon,   

    From COSMOS: “How solar cells turn sunlight into electricity” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    25 January 2017
    Andrew Stapleton

    Some solar power plants contain more than a million panels. But how do they convert the sun’s energy to electricity? Rolfo Brenner / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Renewables have overtaken coal as the world’s largest source of electricity generation capacity. And about 30% of that capacity is due to silicon solar cells. But how do silicon cells work?

    A silicon cell is like a four-part sandwich. The bread on either side consists of thin strips of metallic electrodes. They extract the power generated within the solar cell and conduct it to an external circuit.

    Just like a sandwich, it’s the filling which is the most interesting part – this is where photons from the sun are converted into usable electricity. The filling of a solar cell consists of two different layers of silicon: negative and positive silicon, or n- and p-type silicon.


    Creating positive or negative types of silicon is relatively easy. The silicon is impregnated with elements known as dopants. Dopants replace some of the silicon atoms in the crystal structure, allowing the number of electrons present in each layer to be manipulated.

    For instance, phosphorus is used to create n-type silicon while boron is used to create p-type silicon. Phosphorus has one more electron than silicon. When substituted into the silicon structure, the electron is so weakly bound to the phosphorus that it can move freely within the crystal, creating a negative charge.

    On the other hand, boron has fewer electrons than silicon and sucks up silicon’s electrons. This creates “electron holes” – regions of mobile positive charge in the crystal structure.

    At the interface of the p- and n- type silicon, the positive electron holes and the electrons combine. It’s not a simple electrostatic interaction, but the upshot is that you get a slightly positive charge in the n-type silicon and a slightly negative charge in the p-type silicon at the interface of the n- and p- type silicon – the opposite of what you might expect.

    Photons from the sun pass between the strips of the top electrode and strike silicon atoms in the crystal structure. Like the strike of a cue ball, the colliding photon gives some of the silicon electrons enough energy to escape from their parent silicon atom.

    The “free” electrons move to and accumulate within the n-type silicon.

    Once free electrons have accumulated in the n-type silicon, it’s time to put all the free electrons to work. In order to use their energy, the electrodes must be connected via an external circuit. Electrons flow through the electrodes and the external electric circuit from the n-type to the p-type. The p-type silicon acts as an electron sink. Without it, the electron flow would clog up.

    It is this flow of electrons that creates the electrical current we can use to power appliances or charge batteries for when the sun isn’t shining.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:58 am on December 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Spins to Life, , Clean Energy,   

    From NYT: “America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Spins to Life” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 14, 2016

    The Block Island Wind Farm’s turbines off the coast of Rhode Island in August. They began spinning on Monday and will deliver electricity to Block Island, a community nearby. Credit Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

    Until this week, all of the wind power generated in the United States was landlocked.

    But in a first for America, the ocean breeze is now generating clean, renewable power offshore — electricity that will supply a small island community off the coast of Rhode Island. Renewable energy, including from offshore wind, is crucial to the effort to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change, according to environmentalists and some elected officials.

    On Monday, the country’s first offshore wind farm, developed by a company called Deepwater Wind and helped along by the state’s political leadership, started spinning its turbines to bring electricity to Block Island, a vacation destination with few year-round residents that had previously relied on diesel-fueled generators for power.

    “This is a historic milestone for reducing our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that it’s happening here in the Ocean State,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and co-founder of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, said in a statement from Deepwater Wind.

    Though the Block Island Wind Farm is small — made up of five turbines, which were built by a division of General Electric, and capable of powering about 17,000 homes — it is the first successful offshore wind development in the United States, and it sets up the possibility for offshore wind projects elsewhere along the coast.

    According to a spokeswoman for Deepwater Wind, about 90 percent of the island’s needs will be met by the wind-generated power, and more will go back to the grid. Current estimates are that the wind farm will supply 1 percent of the state’s electricity, the spokeswoman said.

    Despite its modest size, the wind farm, which cost about $300 million to build, still represents a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions — about 40,000 tons per year.

    Deepwater Wind will receive a federal tax credit for the project, and first-year rates for Rhode Island customers of National Grid, the utility company laying one of the cables to the wind farm, may be higher than what customers currently pay.

    Environmentalists, members of the Obama administration and government officials in several states see significant potential for offshore wind energy, given that winds over the ocean usually blow stronger and more steadily than those on land.

    Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced a lease for a wind farm off the coast of Long Island, and the Department of Energy has said that if wind farms were built in all of the suitable areas, including in the Great Lakes, they could provide up to twice as much electricity as the country now uses.

    In the past, offshore wind farms have faced significant opposition in the United States for a few reasons: high costs, complicated rules about who gets to build on the seafloor and what they build, and complaints from people who do not want their ocean view obstructed.

    In Europe, however, thousands of wind turbines have sprouted up along the coast, and an additional 3,000 megawatts of wind power were added last year (about 100 times the amount of power provided by the Block Island Wind Farm).

    There has been some opposition to offshore wind projects in Europe, including from President-elect Donald J. Trump, who unsuccessfully fought to block construction of a wind farm off the coast of Scotland near one of his golf courses.

    Mr. Trump has expressed skepticism of wind power, saying in an interview with The New York Times that “the wind is a very deceiving thing.” And an email written by Thomas J. Pyle, who is running the Department of Energy transition for the president-elect, said that the Trump administration might be looking to get rid of all energy subsidies.

    Mr. Trump has also been accused of exaggerating the harmful effects of wind turbines on bird populations, which Mr. Pyle also addressed in the email, writing, “Unlike before, wind energy will rightfully face increasing scrutiny from the federal government.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:31 pm on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: California Energy Commission, Clean Energy, Massive US Solar Farms Will Deliver Power to Millions,   

    From Seeker: “Massive US Solar Farms Will Deliver Power to Millions” 

    Seeker bloc


    California Energy Commission Blog

    A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy finding that U.S. solar power capacity will have nearly tripled in less than three years by 2017 is a milestone not only as a technology whose time has come but also as a major shift where the embrace of solar power is a result not just of environmental principle but of practical necessity.

    Ten percent of total U.S. energy consumption comes from renewables, and solar currently makes up 6 percent of that segment, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and is among the fastest-growing sources of energy.

    Once a cottage industry of small-scale producers, the solar energy landscape has grown and seen a number of major projects go online in recent years. Based on the recent Major Solar Projects List by the Solar Energy Industries Association, last updated in September, combined solar capacity for the more than 4,000 projects currently operating, under construction or under development stands above 72 gigawatts. To put that number in perspective, a single gigawatt, the equivalent output of two coal-fired power plants, can power 750,000 homes.

    “Consumers are now starting to demand more from their energy providers and are beginning to play a more active role in their interaction with the grid, which is ultimately changing the way utilities are serving them,” John Berger, CEO of Sunnova, told Seeker. “As a result, we are currently witnessing the beginning of the greatest shift in the electricity industry that we’ve seen during its 100-plus year existence. It’s also the biggest shift we’ve seen in the energy industry since oil started to be used in transportation 100 years ago.”

    States like California provide solar energy companies the political and geographic advantages to operate and expand. Last year, the Solar Star project (in Los Angeles and Kern counties) was completed, bringing online a 579-megawatt solar plant. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, a 550-megawatt solar power station in the Sonoran Desert, was also finished in 2015. The year prior, the Topaz Solar Farm, a 550-megawatt solar plant San Luis Obispo Count, became fully operational.

    The solar energy market in Hawaii, a state that generates more solar electricity per capita than any other state in 2015, is “one of the shining lighthouses of what’s possible on a state-level basis,” Alan Russo, senior vice president at REC Solar, tells Seeker. Solar energy adoption rates in Hawaii are among the highest in the nation, Russo adds, in large part because the utility costs are so high. Hawaii traditionally has had to import most of its energy and is the first state to legally commit itself to generating 100 percent of its energy from renewables in 2045.

    But solar is even growing in states with competing energy interests from traditional sources. Take Texas, for example. “Texas, a traditionally oil and gas state and subsequently a wind state, is leading the way in new utility-scale solar projects,” Berger notes of the Lone Star state, where Sunnova is based. “Texas is currently the fastest growing utility-scale solar market in the country, and by the end of 2016, the state’s total installed solar capacity is expected to more than double.”

    The reason for the growth of solar isn’t simply one of environmental conscience but also cost. “Solar costs just a small fraction of what it did even a few years ago,” notes Eli Hinckley, head of the energy group at Sullivan & Worester. “In addition to the absolute price drop, the cost is certain, basically just the price of installation.”

    As the spread between the price of renewables like solar closes with that of traditional energy sources like oil and coal, the decision to move to solar power becomes more enticing to both consumers and businesses, the latter of whom have the added benefit of touting their green credentials to the former.

    “Kind of like the IT transformation back in the ’90s versus where it is today, solar is going from — or renewables in general are going from kind of an esoteric, technology-driven decision to a mainstream provider of business value,” Russo said. “With that, it’s becoming less a matter of ‘Do I do it?’ vs. ‘How much do I do it?’ ‘When do I do it?’ and ‘How do I do it?'”

    And it’s not just in the United States where the cost of renewables is becoming more competitive. Take the example of Abu Dhabi, whose government just received bids for the construction of a large solar farm. “Prices were as low as 2.42 cents per kWh,” Hinckley said. “That is less than it costs to generate power from some coal and gas plants that are already built and is a fraction of what it would cost to build and operate a new fossil fuel plant.”

    The move by Abu Dhabi, a major player in energy markets, has chosen solar over natural gas, of which it controls nearly 5 percent of global reserves, represents “an enormous shift in the perception of solar as the future of energy,” Hinckley said.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:20 am on October 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Clean Energy, From greenhouse gas to usable ethanol, ,   

    From Science Node: “From greenhouse gas to usable ethanol” 

    Science Node bloc
    Science Node

    19 Oct, 2016
    Morgan McCorkle

    ORNL scientists find a way to use nano-spike catalysts to convert carbon dioxide directly into ethanol.

    In a new twist to waste-to-fuel technology, scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed an electrochemical process that uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol. Their finding, which involves nanofabrication and catalysis science, was serendipitous.

    Access mp4 video here .
    Serendipitous science. Looking to understand a chemical reaction, scientists accidentally discovered a method for converting combustion waste products into ethanol. The chance discovery may revolutionize the ability to use variable energy sources. Courtesy ORNL.

    “We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked,” said ORNL’s Adam Rondinone, lead author of the team’s study published in ChemistrySelect. “We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own.”

    The team used a catalyst made of carbon, copper and nitrogen and applied voltage to trigger a complicated chemical reaction that essentially reverses the combustion process. With the help of the nanotechnology-based catalyst which contains multiple reaction sites, the solution of carbon dioxide dissolved in water turned into ethanol with a yield of 63 percent. Typically, this type of electrochemical reaction results in a mix of several different products in small amounts.

    “We’re taking carbon dioxide, a waste product of combustion, and we’re pushing that combustion reaction backwards with very high selectivity to a useful fuel,” Rondinone said. “Ethanol was a surprise — it’s extremely difficult to go straight from carbon dioxide to ethanol with a single catalyst.”

    The catalyst’s novelty lies in its nanoscale structure, consisting of copper nanoparticles embedded in carbon spikes. This nano-texturing approach avoids the use of expensive or rare metals such as platinum that limit the economic viability of many catalysts.

    “By using common materials, but arranging them with nanotechnology, we figured out how to limit the side reactions and end up with the one thing that we want,” Rondinone said.

    The researchers’ initial analysis suggests that the spiky textured surface of the catalysts provides ample reactive sites to facilitate the carbon dioxide-to-ethanol conversion.

    “They are like 50-nanometer lightning rods that concentrate electrochemical reactivity at the tip of the spike,” Rondinone said.

    Given the technique’s reliance on low-cost materials and an ability to operate at room temperature in water, the researchers believe the approach could be scaled up for industrially relevant applications. For instance, the process could be used to store excess electricity generated from variable power sources such as wind and solar.

    “A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol,” Rondinone said. “This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.”

    The researchers plan to refine their approach to improve the overall production rate and further study the catalyst’s properties and behavior.

    ORNL’s Yang Song, Rui Peng, Dale Hensley, Peter Bonnesen, Liangbo Liang, Zili Wu, Harry Meyer III, Miaofang Chi, Cheng Ma, Bobby Sumpter and Adam Rondinone are coauthors on the study.

    The work was supported by DOE’s Office of Science and used resources at the ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, which is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:53 am on October 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Energy and Climate: Vision for the Future", , Clean Energy, , Michael McElroy   

    From Harvard: “A way forward on climate” 

    Harvard University

    Harvard University

    October 5, 2016
    Alvin Powell

    Atop the roof of the Science Center with solar panels in the background, SEAS/EPS Professor Michael McElroy talks about his new book, Energy and Climate: Vision for the Future, on the global energy challenge with climate change.

    Headlines focus on international agreements, sea levels, melting ice, and superstorms, but climate change is most of all an energy problem. Burning fossil fuels to power our cars and heat our homes produces carbon dioxide that transforms the atmosphere into a greenhouse, trapping heat that otherwise would radiate into space.

    While the fundamentals are solid, everything else about climate change is evolving. Climate science is advancing and economic pressures have dramatically altered the national fuel mix — for the better, most agree, though we still have miles to go. Even the political landscape that determines national climate action — or inaction — is in flux.

    Michael McElroy, Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies, has long helped explain the complexities of climate to students, scholars, and government leaders. His most recent book, Energy and Climate: Vision for the Future, published in August by Oxford University Press, is a continuation of that work. He discussed the book in a recent interview with the Gazette.


    GAZETTE: In Energy and Climate, you talk about the U.S. energy picture being transformed over the last five years in ways that may make needed changes regarding climate tougher to accomplish. How has the U.S. energy scene changed into the one we’re in now?

    McELROY: The big change is that we no longer have the previous driving concern about national energy security. What has made the difference was the shale revolution. Ten years ago we were projecting that the U.S. would not only be dependent on imports for oil but also for natural gas. We now have a surplus of both. The U.S. is presently a net exporter of petroleum products. Prices for both natural gas and oil have plummeted. I had a student who wrote a beautiful senior thesis four or five years ago, in which he tried to analyze the break-even price for production of natural gas from shale. His conclusion was it would be about $5 per million BTU at a time when natural gas prices — wholesale prices — were $7, $8, $9. Now they’re below $3. So it’s a different world. Oil prices were $168 a barrel in 2008 just before the economic crisis. They are now below $50.

    The U.S. also has abundant sources of coal. Were it not for the climate issue, we could contemplate taking advantage of this resource also, doing so as efficiently as possible to eliminate conventional sources of pollution such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides and particulates. Emissions of CO2 could go through the roof under these scenarios. There is no cost-effective means to capture CO2. Concerning the potentially expanded emphasis [that] coal — not to mention oil and natural gas — could have on our energy system, this would be a disaster for climate. Bottom line is that we can no longer rely on policies that could be adopted to address concerns about energy security, looking to climate policy as a silent secondary beneficiary. We must now confront the climate issue directly. Clearly many in the body politic are reluctant to do so.

    GAZETTE: And the electricity supply has gotten cleaner, hasn’t it? But not because of climate change efforts?

    McELROY: Not because of climate change, but for economic reasons, largely. If you’re a utility and you’re able to vary the mix of generation options you can tap to produce electricity, your primary choice is likely to be between coal and natural gas. Old coal-fired power plants are very inefficient compared to new gas-fired power plants. The efficiency to turn the energy of coal into electricity in some of the older plants is as low as 20 percent. If you’re just worrying about efficiency, if you have the opportunity to turn off that inefficient coal plant and switch to a gas system and additionally save money [since gas is cheaper than coal], you’re going to do it. The choice is economically driven and the consumers are actually benefiting.

    GAZETTE: In your vision for the future, you emphasize that more electricity usage could be part of the solution. Clearly, electricity is already a big part of our energy picture; why should it be even larger?

    McELROY: Dealing with CO2 emissions from the transportation sector is extremely difficult if the transportation sector is fueled with liquid fossil fuels. You can’t capture CO2 from the tailpipe of every vehicle on the road — 260 million cars in the U.S. At the same time, there’s another a good reason to want to use electricity more in this application. If you drive your car with gasoline, the fraction of the energy in the gasoline that turns the wheels of your car may be as low as about 20 percent. If you drive your car with electricity, the fraction of electricity that turns the wheels could be as high as 95 percent. So, on an efficiency basis, electricity is better. As I discussed in the book, if I had to pay the retail price for electricity here in Cambridge, 19.8 cents a kilowatt hour when I was writing the relevant chapter, the equivalent gasoline price would be as low as $1.46 a gallon, as low as 67 cents a gallon in Washington state where electricity prices average about 9 cents per kilowatt-hour. So on a cost basis, it’s a good thing to do. Then, in addition, air quality would improve if we switched to driving electrically, so long as the electricity was produced from a nonpolluting source. The climate issue would be the obvious beneficiary.

    GAZETTE: You go chapter by chapter on possible fuels, and settle on wind and solar as the cleanest and most likely sources to power a future clean electricity grid. What are their drawbacks and can those be addressed?

    McELROY: The economics of wind in the United States is actually quite favorable. You can produce electricity for about 5 cents a kilowatt-hour with wind at present. So it’s competitive. The really serious drawback is that the wind is strongest in winter and our demand for electricity is highest in summer. The wind is also generally stronger at night than it is during the day and our big demand is during the day. And wind doesn’t blow all the time. So we need to find some way to deal with that particular issue.

    There are a number of possible strategies. You could integrate the electrical system over a large part of the country — so if wind is blowing in one place and not in another, by combining outputs you could reduce the net variability. If you had the opportunity to store electricity, that could minimize the problem also. So putting an emphasis on storage systems is a good thing to do. There’s important work going on here at Harvard by Mike Aziz and Roy Gordon on the flow battery idea. It’s something that might actually scale up as a utility scale opportunity to store electricity.

    I am enthusiastic also about the idea of taking advantage of the distributed storage available potentially in the batteries of large numbers of electrically propelled vehicles. I discuss this idea at some length in the book. You could imagine charging your car at night when prices of electricity are low and then selling power back to the grid during the day when prices are high, assuming you don’t need to drive at that time. This could represent a win-win strategy.

    You would still have the issue of summer demand for electricity when wind conditions will be less favorable. That’s where solar comes in. Solar, however, to this point, is still more expensive than wind. Despite this, solar is doing quite well in the U.S. We have a house on Cape Cod and five years ago or so we installed PV cells on the roof. We did this by making a deal with a particular company, Solar City, one in which they actually own the solar cells. They sized the solar cells to meet our projected historical annual demand for electricity. They gave us a deal where we have a fixed price for electricity for 20 years at half of what we were paying previously. How do they manage to do that? Turns out the retail cost for electricity on Cape Cod is very high. It’s very high because the delivery cost is high. The retail price is about 26 cents a kilowatt-hour, more than half of which is for delivery. So they’re giving us a deal at 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.

    There are requirements in almost all of the states now that some fraction of the electricity has to be renewable. If the utilities are not able to meet that requirement from their own resources, which generally they’re not, then they have to buy it. So the Solar Cities of the world are auctioning their renewable energy for incorporation in the grid. If New England Electric is looking for a certain amount of electricity from a renewable source, then Solar City can supply this by packaging sources from large numbers of houses under their control.

    The other thing that’s happening in the U.S. is that meters in many states are allowed to run in reverse. We’re not typically present on Cape Cod in winter. The sun is still shining most of the time and the house continues to produce electricity. Solar City is selling this electricity to the grid at the retail price. Our meter is running in reverse. So, for a lot of reasons, solar has done very well.

    GAZETTE: You say that one of the top priorities for this country should be upgrading the transmission grid. I think a lot of people, when thinking about climate change, think wind farm, solar farm, but not transmission grid. Why do we need that?

    McELROY: Think of the role played more than 100 years ago by Thomas Alva Edison. Edison was an incredible inventor. He was also a very smart guy and he built the first electricity-generating system in Manhattan. Then Westinghouse came along and suddenly we began to see electricity generated in central facilities and distributed more widely to local customers. We’ve built our electrical system in a piecemeal way. We didn’t say, “What’s the best national electricity system?” If we had done that, we would have had an interconnected national electricity system.

    The U.S. has three electricity systems: East Coast grid, West Coast grid, and Texas. It’s very difficult to move electricity across those boundaries. At a minimum, we should invest to interconnect the boundaries. That’s a no-brainer and it would not be very expensive. I like to think about being able to move electricity efficiently over several thousand miles, coast to coast, border to border. We have wonderful wind resources in the middle of the country. The key location to produce electricity from the sun is in the southwest, where we have great solar conditions. The ideal would be to bring both those sources to where the markets are, on the East Coast and West Coast and in major cities like Chicago. But if you’re going to serve those markets you have to be able to deliver.

    In addition, the demand for electricity peaks in the morning and peaks in the evening: when people get up and when they come back from work. If we had a system that was interconnected from California to Massachusetts, at a minimum we’d take advantage of the three-hour time shift to smooth out the peaks in demand.

    What are the obstacles? The obstacles are largely political — the fact that you have to bring power across state boundaries, and you may have to go across individuals’ property. The federal government has the authority to overrule objections if it’s declared to be in the national interest or if it’s in effect a matter of national security. That’s largely why we have a reasonably efficient natural gas distribution system. It could be done for electricity also if we had the will to do it.

    If you really make a commitment to developing this electrical infrastructure, you’re going to have to employ lots of people. So this would be good for the economy. My vision would be one in which we invest in community colleges that train people for those jobs. These are going to be good-paying jobs that can’t be exported.

    See the full article here .

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    Harvard University campus

    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

  • richardmitnick 11:09 am on October 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy, MeyGen, , Tidal arrays   

    From Smithsonian: “Inside the World’s First Large-Scale Effort to Harness Tidal Energy” 


    September 29, 2016
    Maya Wei-Haas


    Next month, the UK-based company MeyGen will install four underwater turbines off the coast of Scotland

    Tidal arrays are like the younger sibling of windmills—a bit smaller and slower spinning than their wind-loving brethren. But unlike windmills, they operate under many feet of water, spinning in the predictable movement of the ocean’s tides.

    Over the course of the last decade, a handful of companies have taken individual tidal turbines for a successful spin. But the next wave of tidal energy is about to break. Recently, the UK-based tidal energy company MeyGen unveiled its plans for the world’s first multi-turbine tidal energy field.

    The company is starting with a test of four turbines that will soon be deployed in the churning waters of the Inner Sound in Pentland Firth, Scotland. If the test goes swimmingly, they plan to deploy well over a hundred more over the next decade that would generate up to 398 megawatts of electricity—powering roughly 175,000 homes in Scotland.

    One of the four turbines comes from Atlantis, a tidal power technology company headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the three others were developed by Glasgow-based Andritz Hydro Hammerfest. The devices stand some 85 feet tall, about the height of a five story house, and sport three blades that spin with a diameter spanning nearly 60 feet. While smaller than windmills, the turbines are still quite heavy, each weighing in at 65 tons—roughly the same as six African bush elephants.

    The array will likely hit the water this October, says Cameron Smith, project development director of Atlantis Resources. The turbines have already been shipped to the site and undergone testing on shore. “All we need now is an appropriate tidal window and weather window and we’ll be installing,” he says. Engineers assemble the turbine bases on land, and then, with a crane, lift them from a barge and lower them to the sea floor. Once submerged, each will have at least 26 feet of clearance at the lowest tides.

    The turbine stands some 85 feet tall (MeyGen)

    Tidal turbines have many advantages over other renewables, explains Andreas Uihlein, scientific project officer at the European Commission. First, the turbines are submerged underwater, completely out of sight.

    Though some people revel in the beauty of solar or windmill farms, many consider them eyesores. The Block Island offshore windmill farm, the first of its kind in the United States, met largely broad appeal when it was installed this summer, because of its small size and promise to replace the island’s diesel generators. But the distaste for wind farms was abundantly clear with the uproar surrounding the 130-turbine Cape Wind project off of Martha’s Vineyard. So the positioning of the giant turbines well below the cresting waves is considered a plus.

    The tidal turbines also generate a predictable supply of power. Unlike wind or solar that rely on the whims of the weather, researchers can actually calculate the tidal pull and the amount of energy these systems will generate. Though the power isn’t a constant supply, ebbing and flowing through the day, its predictability lessens the need to store large energy reserves.

    The systems will also help with local employment. “There’s the potential to generate 5,300 full-time equivalent jobs over the next three or four years,” says Smith. “I’m hugely proud that 43 percent of this first phase was manufactured using local supply chain.” Many of these new jobs require the same skills as the oil and gas industry, which means that this fledgling industry provides a new home for talented labor.

    Pentland Firth’s Inner Sound and the individually deployed turbines have undergone extensive monitoring, showing few environmental impacts. Noise levels for turbines already churning away are well below a level that would cause damage, according to MeyGen’s environmental impact analysis. The biggest concern would be collisions with the marine mammals—particularly the harbor seal, whose populations have plummeted in recent years. But no collisions have yet been observed for the single turbine installations, according to a recent report from Annex IV, the body established by the International Energy Association Ocean Energy Systems to examine the environmental impacts of marine renewable energy.

    It seems almost too good to be true.

    That is because, of course, the story doesn’t end there. “There’s always trade offs in energy generation. You could take every one of those statements and put an asterisk next to it,” says Brian Polagye, co-director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, a collaboration between the University of Washington, Oregon State University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks with the goal of advancing the commercialization of marine energy technology.

    Though initial tests showed no environmental impact, even minor influences will become magnified as the company increases the number of turbines in the field. And, as the Annex IV report notes, most of the research has been focused on measuring the amount of noise the turbines generate, but few have identified how this level of noise could actually affect the behavior of marine animals. Though the noise levels are low, the sound could still interfere with animal communication, navigation or detection of prey.

    There is also much still unknown about the durability of the turbines. Their placement underwater keeps them out of sight, but the corrosive marine environment could slowly eat away at the devices. They also suffer constant mechanical stress, buffeted about in the currents.

    Though many companies have deployed individual units, none have been in the ocean for very long. Marine Current Turbines installed the first tidal turbine in Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough in 2008. Now in its eighth year, this 1.2 MW spinner, composed of two separate turbines attached to a center platform, has been feeding the grid since its installation.

    “The big challenge for almost every company is going to be, how are you going to do this at a cost that competes with other sources of energy?” says Polagye.

    As a new industry, tidal energy has had its fair share of setbacks, with several companies, including the Ireland-based Wavebob Ltd., folding after failing to secure funding. But with improved designs, MeyGen and others are spinning their way back up to the top. Their long-term success relies in part on the government support for development and installation, explains Polagye.

    The United Kingdom government works on what’s known as “market-pull mechanisms,” explains Polagye. In this system, the government pays the difference between the cost of the renewable energy and that of standard electricity. This system pulls the new companies into the market, allowing them to compete with the big dogs of energy. The United States government, however, uses push mechanisms, supplying grants for development but little help competing with other energy sources. In order for these systems to have a future in the U.S. market, says Polagye, the government needs to develop similar pull mechanisms for energy.

    Though tidal currents aren’t strong enough along every coast to host one of these spinners, there are still many spots around the world with potential. In order for a site to be worthwhile, they must have some type of geographic restriction, like straits and fjords. This narrowing of the flowpath increases the speed of the water movement in the retreating or advancing tides, and therefore increases the energy recovered from the site.

    “If you look at a map of the world and show all the [potential turbine] sites to scale, they’d look really tiny—you probably would have trouble seeing them,” says Polagye. “But if you were to aggregate them all together, you’d probably end up with a few hundred gigawatts of energy.” And though the world will likely never run completely on tidal energy, a few hundred gigawatts is nothing to shake your iPhone at. To put that amount in perspective, since 400 MW is expected to power 175,000 homes, one gigawatt could power roughly 500,000 homes.

    A 2015 report from the European Commission’s Joint Research Center suggests that by 2018, there will be about 40 MW of tidal and 26 MW of wave energy undergoing installation. While tidal energy takes advantage of the tides, wave energy harnesses the energy from churning waves. Still in its early days of development, researchers are exploring different ways to do this—from long floating structures that “ride” the waves to massive bobbing buoys. Though wave energy lags behind tidal, according to the report, it has a global potential 30 times that of tidal energy, due to the large number of potential sites for deployment around the globe.

    Where the field of tidal turbines will go in the next couple decades is a bit of a mystery.

    “A lot of that depends on MeyGen,” says Polagye. “The turbine has to operate well and it has to not kill seals. If they do that, they’re definitely on a good trajectory.”

    See the full article here .

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