Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Alternative Energy Namibia: Solar Energy

a water pump in Namibia - photography by Adrian Arbib

AllAfrica.com reports that the largest solar power station in Namibia was inaugurated at the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre in the Namib Desert on 30th November 2004.

In the past, diesel generators provided electricity for 16 hours daily, along with noise and air pollution, high maintenance requirements and increasing fuel expenses.

The new station boasts a solar energy array of 26 kiloWatt peak, a battery bank with 200 kiloWatt hours of stored electricity and three-phase electricity for the entire centre and adjacent accommodation units for staff, students and visitors.

Robert Schultz of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Bureau of Namibia (R3E) explains that Gobabeb operates its own electricity grid, called a mini-grid, in an area located far from the national grid.

When two or more energy sources are combined to power a mini-grid, it is called a "hybrid".

In the case of Gobabeb, power is supplied by solar panels and, only when necessary, diesel generators.

The diesel generators were symbolically switched off by Gottlieb Amanyanga, Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, on Friday.

In his speech he described the process of trial and error that the Ministry had embarked on to find solutions to the challenges of rural electrification.

He said off-grid electrification might be the only solution to many of the more than 2,000 settlements in the country without electricity.

These settlements are widely dispersed and too small to be considered for grid electrification.

That is why renewable energy technologies, coupled with energy efficiency measures, are vital for generating electricity and other energy services in off-grid areas.

The approach of using a mini-grid installation, powered by solar and wind energy and with a diesel system only as backup, to electrify a village is a new experience in Namibia.

"If this project is successful, it should offer clear guidelines for the replication of a mini-grid approach not only in Namibia's rural areas, but in the region as a whole," said Amanuanga.

He called the project a stepping-stone that would "hopefully show us a clearer direction on where to go and how to get there".

The main objectives of the project are to assess the replicability of this electrification approach in other areas in Namibia and to demonstrate how such an approach would be implemented and operated.

Dr John Henschel, Director of the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, offered an insight into the US $900,000 project, which was funded by the Danish Development Agency (DANIDA).

The project does not only include solar energy as a power source, but also extensive refurbishment to increase the energy efficiency at the centre through introducing energy-efficient appliances and passive cooling and lighting techniques.

All Africa.com article on the use of renewable energy in rural electrification in Namibia

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Improving Solar Technology: Solar Energy Dish Farms

A Sandia National Laboratories project in New Mexico will test whether a farm of solar dishes can compete with conventional fuels for electricity generation.

The initiative calls for the installation of six dishes by the end of the year, which should create enough electricity to power 150 kilowatts of grid-ready electricity--enough to supply 40 homes.

The dishes, which have 82 individual mirrors in them, can automatically move to capture the most sun during the course of the day and then shut down at sunset. The system, which can be monitored via the Internet, requires minimal maintenance, according to Stirling Energy.

Sandia's solar dishes direct the sun's rays onto a receiver that transfers the heat to an engine filled with hydrogen. As the hydrogen is heated and then cools, the pressure on the engine changes. That changing pressure drives the pistons, which in turn power an electrical generator.

Stirling Energy researchers believe that large formations of these dishes are viable--and pollution-free--energy sources for utility companies in the southwest, where there is a lot of sun, or potentially remote areas, such as the Navajo reservation.

The Stirling system dishes are more efficient than commonly used photovoltaic solar cells at converting the sun's heat to electricity, Liden said. The net solar-to-electricity conversion is 30 percent, which is substantially higher than what photovoltaic cells are capable of.

CNet News Article on New Mexico Solar Farm Project

Monday, November 22, 2004

Plastics : Replacing Oil - From Opium to Hemp

It's been said that oil is much too valuable to burn. Petroleum is used to produce many of the things that form part of modern living. One particularly ubiquitous item is plastic. Look around you - how many items can see that are made from plastic or contain plastic?

I vividly remember a picture in the National Geographic issue on "The End of Cheap Oil" where a "typical" family placed everything in the house made from plastic (or other petroleum products such as nylon) in front of their house. It basically looked as if almost the entire contents of their house were on the front lawn.

We know in the coming decades or even years that the supply of cheap oil is going to run out. Yet as individuals, communities and as a global society we seem to be doing little to prepare. Plastic is an everyday part of modern living. Yet I've seen almost no discussion in the mass media of alternative materials or non-petroleum renewable ways of producing plastic. In prior internet searches I have found that plastic can be produced from hemp. Hemp also known as cannabis is well known as a recreational drug. However its demonisation in some parts of the world have lead to its other uses being forgotten. It can also be used to make fabric and paper as well as to produce plastic. It also seems to be little known that there are varieties of hemp where the narcotic properties are minimised or practically eliminated. And yet it remains illegal to grow in many countries.

This article from the BBC discusses how rather than growing opium (which is then turned into heroin for the world's illicit drug trade) Afghani farmers should be encouraged both with protection from the warlords and financial aid to grow hemp instead.

The article points out that hemp can produce quantities of wood equivalent to four times that of trees over a similar period of time. This biomass can be used in the production of clean, renewable energy, biodegradable plastics and building composites.

Hemp is currently being grown for these purposes in 36 countries around the world, including Canada and some European Union countries.

BBC News article on Afghan Opium Trade and the Hemp Alternative

100% Corn-Based Packaging Now In Use

Friday, November 19, 2004

Biogas: $12.6 million plant planne for Nothern Ireland

The Belfast Telegraph reports that there are plans to create a £6.8m (US $12.6 million) biogas plant in County Tyrone. The plant will convert animal manure and food production waste into renewable energy and fertiliser.

Alkane Biogas, the company behind the project, said the by-products from waste conversion include methane gas, which would be used to produce electricity, and hot water that could heat buildings in the local community. Other by-products are pasteurised liquid fertiliser and fibrous soil conditioner.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has already provided a £200,000 grant for pre-construction and will pump in a further £2.9m once preliminary works are complete.

The Fivemiletown plant could be up and running in 2006.

Belfast Telegraph article on Biogas Plant

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Solar Chimney for California?

One of the Alternative Energy Blog's most popular posts was on a proposed solar chimney in Australia (also known as a Solar Tower). It works using the solar chimney to cover a large greenhouse which covers several square miles. As the hot air rises, it would escape up a 990m tower in the centre of the structure. Wind turbo-generators mounted in the chimney would convert this 50km-an-hour rush of hot air into electricity.

Two things I particularly like about the concept are that, firstly it can run almost continuously not just when the sun is out, and secondly it produces a significant (100MW+) amount of electricity. Also as Liam commented "it's the coolest looking power plant I've ever seen" (see the post on the proposed solar tower in Australia for a much bigger and cooler picture). And as Doc Savage says in the next comment it could be a great opportunity for Southern California.

Well now that might just be happening. In an intriguing one line press release Californian company SolarMission
has agreed to "build, own, maintain, and operate 2,600 megawatts of solar towers. "

Where and when these towers are going to be built is not specified.

I look forward to more details.

Industrial Info.com press release

Monday, November 15, 2004

Energy Efficiency: Cut Your Heating Bill this Winter

The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that natural gas prices will increase more than 11 percent above those from last winter. People who use propane for heat will probably find prices increasing by 15 percent or more.

Here are some tips from the California Energy Commission:

Use this checklist of simple ways to make your home more comfortable and keep those escalating energy bills at bay.

Check for leaks

Weatherstripping and caulking is probably the least expensive, simplest, most effective way to cut down on energy waste in the winter. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10 to 15 percent of the homeowner's heating dollars. Take these steps:

    --  Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather-
stripping, and caulk any holes you see that allow heat to escape. Make
sure doors seal properly. If your windows leak really badly, consider
replacing them with newer, more efficient ones. Keep in mind, however,
that replacing windows can be expensive. But new windows also provide
other benefits, such as improved appearance and comfort.

-- Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the wall or ceiling or floor
has the potential to waste energy. Plumbing vents can be especially
bad, since they begin below the floor and go all the way through the
roof. Seal each penetration with caulking or weather-stripping.

-- Electric wall plugs and switches can allow in cold air. Purchase
simple-to-install, pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch
plate and effectively prevent leaks.

-- Don't forget to close the damper on your fireplace. Of course the
damper needs to be open if a fire is burning; but if the damper is
open when you're not using the fireplace, your chimney functions as a
large open window that draws warm air out of the room and creates a
draft. Close that damper -- it's an effective energy-saving tip that
costs you nothing! If your fireplace has glass doors, make sure those
are closed as well.

-- Examine your house's heating ducts for leaks. Think of your ductwork
as huge hoses; only instead of bringing water into your house, they
deliver hot air in winter and cool air in summer. Mostly out of sight,
ducts can leak excessively without you knowing it. Leaky ducts can
make rooms hard to heat and can cause your heater to operate more than
it needs to. In addition, leaks can suck pollutants into the ductwork
from the places where the ducts are located.

Over time, ducts can become torn, or crushed or flattened. Old duct
tape -- the worse thing to use to seal ductwork, by the way -- will
dry up and fall away, allowing junctions and splices to open, spilling
heated air into your attic or under the house. It's wasteful. Ducts
should not be sealed with cloth tape that uses rubber-based adhesive.
Instead, seal them with mastic, metallic tape, plastic tape, cloth
tape with butyl adhesive, or with aerosol sealant injected into the
ducts. Ducts should be sealed by a trained contractor who has the
proper equipment to diagnostically measure the leakage. Contact your
utility to find contractors in your area that have been properly

The effort can be worth it. According to field research performed by
the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other researchers, you
can save 10 percent or more of your heating or cooling bill by getting
your ducts sealed.

Check your insulation

Insulate your attic. In an older home, that can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Before energy efficiency standards, homes were often built with little or no insulation. As a result, large amounts of heat can be lost through walls, floors and -- since heat rises -- especially ceilings.

Check your heating system

-- Get a routine maintenance and inspection of your heating system each
autumn to make sure it is in good working order.

-- Replace your heater's air filter monthly. Your heating system will
work less hard, use less energy and last longer as a result. Most
homeowners can replace filters and do such simple tasks as cleaning
and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters.

-- If your heating system is old, you might consider updating it. A
pre-1977 gas furnace is probably only operating at 50 percent to
60 percent efficiency today. That means only half of the fuel used by
the furnace actually reaches your home as heat. Modern gas furnaces,
on the other hand, achieve efficiency ratings as high as 97 percent.
By replacing an old heating system with one of the most efficient
models, you can cut your natural gas use nearly in half!

If you rely on electricity to heat your home, heat pumps offer the
most efficiency. A heat pump can cut your electricity use for heating
by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

-- Use your setback thermostat. California houses built today must have
them -- if you have an older home, consider installing one. A setback
thermostat allows you to automatically turn down the heat when you're
away at work or when you're sleeping at night, and then boost the
temperature to a comfortable level when you need it. Remember -- it
takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm
temperature all day long. Properly using your setback thermostat could
cut your heating costs from 20 to 75 percent.

Setback thermostats also overcome the urge some people have to simply
turn the heater on "high" to heat a room more quickly. Doing so
doesn't cause the house to warm up faster, and all too often the house
gets too warm before you remember to manually adjust the thermostat

-- Reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward, toward
the ceiling. Ceiling fans are a great idea in the summer, when air
blowing downward can improve circulation and make a room feel four
degrees cooler. A cooling draft is a poor idea when it's cold,
however. By reversing the fan's direction, the blades move air upward
in winter. This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms, where
heat that naturally rises is forced back down into the room.

And, while you're at the store . . .

With shorter days, you'll be using electric lights more often. Buy a few compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace your familiar old incandescent bulbs. Compact fluorescents have greatly improved. Although they cost more than incandescents to begin with, they use only one-quarter the energy and last as much as 15 times longer. Put them in locations where you have the light on often, and you'll recoup the up-front expense more quickly. It's another way to help take the sting out of this winter's higher energy bills.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Alternative Energy South Korea: World's Largest Solar Power Station

After the recent annoucement by Korea of the world's largest tidal power plant, comes the announcement of the world's largest solar power station to be built in 2006 in Sinan county in South Jeolla province.

Construction of the 15-megawatt solar power station will begin next February for completion in October 2006.

Sun Power will design and install the solar power systems, while Sharp Electronics Corporation of Japan will supply the cells needed to generate solar energy, the regional government said.

A total of 12 companies are seeking to establish solar power stations in the province to produce a combined 37 megawatts of solar energy.

It should be noted that the Korean tidal power plant will generate approximately 17 times more electricity than the solar power station. Due to its comparatively high price solar power is an expensive way to generate large quantities of electricity. Also the Israeli solar power plant the Alternative Energy Blog covered recently if built will be have over six times greater capacity.

Asia Times Article on World's Biggest Solar Power Plant

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Alternative Fuel Cars: Mini the Electric Car of the Future?

The British Embassy in Mexico runs an electric BMW mini

As I've commented previously the future may be hydrogen and may always remain the future as it would require hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure. Whereas EVs (electric vehicles aka electric cars) and plug-in hybrids (e.g. a Toyota Prius IF it were possible to plug in it to a regular electric socket) are the present and can be charged from the existing electric grid using surplus electricity at night.

This article in the Toronto Star points out how advances in battery technology
used in cellphones can be applied to electric vehicles.

Lithium ion batteries, such as those commonly used in cellphones, address many battery limitations. They have a much higher energy density than the conventional lead-acid batteries used in electric cars — higher even than the NiCads used in cameras, or the NiMH (nickel metal- hydride) batteries employed in hybrid-electric vehicles.To put that in perspective, a typical lead-acid battery can store about 50 Watt-hours of energy per kilogram — a NiCad can store 75 and a NiMH, 100. A conventional lithium ion battery can store about 130 Watt-hours per kilogram and a lithium ion polymer battery as much as 180.Pushing the envelope even further, a lithium ion super-polymer battery, developed and manufactured by a Mississauga firm called Electrovaya, achieves a world's-best energy density of 250 Watt-hours per kilogram.

In more practical terms, California company Lithium House say they can power a car with 230 kg of lithium ion batteries instead of 600 kg of lead-acid types. The company has already got working prototypes using a Chrsyler Crossfire and Chrsyler PT Cruiser. They have also delivered an electric Mini for the British embassy in heavily polluted Mexico City.

Cars like the BMW Mini and Chrysler Crossfire are cars that many people actually want to drive. Enabling production of these models as electric vehicles could help set us on the path to solving many of our energy problems.

Toronto Star article on Electric Vehicles

Friday, November 12, 2004

Alternative Energy Egypt: Wind Power

According to albawaba.com Egypt's Minister of Electricity, Hassan Younes, said the German government has agreed to finance Al-Za'afrana wind power farm, whose total cost is put at US$98 million and due to be operational in three years.

A German delegation will arrive next month for talks with the Ministry's officials in this regard. According to local press reports, the project will raise Egypt's wind power to 650 megawatts by 2010 compared to 147 megawatts at present.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Alternative Energy Israel: $250m Solar Power Station

Dome of the Rock (Al-Quds) Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel

Israel's National Infrastructure Ministry is planning a US $250 million solar power station in Negev with an initial supply to 0.1 gigawatts, with later expansion to 0.5 gigawatts. The cabinet has decided to produce 2 percent of Israel's electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of 2005.

Haaretz Article on Israeli Solar Power Station