Monday, February 28, 2005

Alternative Energy California: A Million Solar Power Homes?

Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has a new plan to make California a world leader in solar energy.

It drops a previous provision, that doomed his "million solar homes" plan last year, that required that half of all new homes eventually be solar powered following opposition from businesses and the construction industry.

California builds about 150,000 new homes a year. Experience shows about 10 percent of homeowners would choose solar if offered the option – about 15 times the roughly 1,000 solar homes currently built each year in the state, said Bernadette Del Chiaro, a solar advocate for the nonprofit Environment California.

"It's clearly the most ambitious solar initiative ever proposed in the United States," said David Hochschild, policy director for the nonprofit organization Vote Solar.

The incentive approach is modeled on Japan, the world leader in solar power, which has seen a 72 percent drop in solar costs as 70,000 homes have been outfitted for the alternative power over the last 10 years.

California already is the third-largest consumer of solar power equipment, behind Germany, but gets 40 percent more annual sunlight than Germany and 20 percent more than Japan.

The goal is to have 3,000 megawatts worth of solar power by 2018, which amounts to about 5 percent of the state's entire electricity usage at peak periods – generally hot summer afternoons when electricity is most in demand, most expensive, and when solar panels are most efficient.

That's the equivalent of 40 new, $30 million, 75-megawatt natural gas plants. One megawatt is enough to power about 750 homes.

"We will be building literally power plants' worth of solar on roofs across the state," said Del Chiaro.

The goal is to create a large, stable solar market that will lower the cost not only of components but also of installation to the point that incentives will no longer be necessary to make solar energy affordable.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Hybrids: Hybrid Boats, Hybrid Ships and Beyond

The New Scientist reports that for several weeks last summer, a team of German engineers from the company SkySails sailed back and forth across the Baltic Sea testing the potential of high-tech kites to pull a ship across the ocean by hitching a ride on winds high above the waves.

The idea isn't to propel a ship by wind alone - a conventional diesel engine will help it along on days when the wind is blowing from the wrong direction, is too strong or dies away entirely. But since the kite reduces the need to use engines, the team at SkySails believes it can halve the amount of fuel a ship burns.

This is just one of the ways in which sail power is being revived.

For nine years a team of naval architects in Copenhagen, Denmark, has been working on a completely new design: a 50,000-tonne cargo ship whose diesel engine will be augmented by a set of high-tech sails set on six masts. Canvas is definitely out. Aerofoils are in.

Led by the naval architects Knud E. Hansen, the research not only produced a new design of ship but also looked at how the ship could make the most of wind power and the cargoes it would be best suited to carrying. Now the team is about to embark on full-scale trials.

The small crew needed on a modern ship, combined with the low wages they are paid, means that the cost of fuel as a proportion of total running costs rose from 10 per cent in 1900 to between 25 and 60 per cent by 2000.

Modern windships can also take advantage of new technologies and materials that weren't available in the days of sail. Wind tunnel tests on different types of rigging and sails quickly showed the Danish team how poorly traditional sails perform. A sail is more than a simple sheet of fabric. To propel a ship it needs to take up an aerofoil shape, and that only happens when the wind fills it. If the wind is too light, or it keeps changing direction, the canvas flaps uselessly and generates drag rather than propulsion.

So the Danish team came up with an alternative that exploits materials borrowed from the aerospace industry. Using high-performance steel for the masts does away with the need for stays to hold them upright. The sail itself is made of fibreglass, with a profile like an aircraft wing. Flaps on the sail's trailing edge generate extra thrust when extended, but can be retracted to minimise aerodynamic drag - important when using engine power alone.

Wind-tunnel tests showed this design to be twice as efficient as the sails on a traditional windjammer. Even more importantly, the sail generates thrust when the ship is sailing close to the wind. Simulations suggest that the vessel will be able to make progress under sail even when the wind is blowing as little as 40 degrees off the bow, which is an excellent performance for a large sailing vessel. With a fresh breeze of 9 metres per second at 100 degrees - blowing only slightly from behind - the sails alone can propel the ship at 13 knots (25 kilometres per hour.

Unlike traditional sails, these fibreglass wings will not need a large crew to operate them, the designers say. They can be controlled hydraulically from the bridge, and because they never need to be lowered there is no need for storage space that would eat into the cargo capacity. The downside is that in light winds, with the ship under diesel power, they exert aerodynamic drag - even with flaps retracted - which negates some of the fuel savings from having them there in the first place.

The SkySails kite suffers no such handicap. The idea is to harness the winds higher above the ocean with an inflatable aerofoil - a kite designed to fly at a height of 100 to 500 metres, towing the ship on a cable fastened to the hull.

At 500 metres, winds are often stronger and less variable than at sea level, and can differ in direction from those immediately above the waves by 10 to 15 degrees, according to Barry Gromett of the UK's Met Office in Exeter. "Although these differences are not huge they could be really useful," he says.

SkySail's aerofoil is designed to maximise thrust whatever the wind conditions. It uses a computer autopilot and patented wind sensors coupled to the ship's steering system to calculate the kite's optimum position. Then the autopilot manoeuvres the kite using motors in a control unit suspended beneath it to change the trim of the aerofoil by adjusting the tension in its control lines. The kite can move along a rail around the hull to maximise its towing efficiency and a winch on the ship adjusts the length of the kite's main line to fly it where the wind speed and direction are most favourable.

Last year's trials in the Baltic, aboard an 8-metre model of a cargo vessel, were mostly carried out in unfavourable conditions of weak and variable winds. Nevertheless, they showed that the SkySails kite can generate 1 to 1.15 kilowatts for every square metre of aerofoil. "In favourable winds it would generate a lot more thrust," says Stephan Wrage, founder of the company. The kite is designed to be retrofitted to ships of almost any size, but SkySail's largest version, with an area of 2000 to 5000 square metres, will generate propulsive power equivalent to a large ship's engine, he says.

Since the kite is controlled by an autopilot, Wrage says it will not need many extra crew to handle it. Compressed air will be used to blow it up when it is deployed and when not in use it is deflated, so storing it should not be a problem either. But as any kite flyer will tell you, launch and recovery are likely to be a little more complicated. SkySails says it will be an automated process, but won't reveal details until its engineers fit their first system to a ship next year.

Selecting a course that maximises the benefits from the wind is an important part of any successful voyage under sail. Here modern windships have another key advantage over their predecessors: they will have access to far more accurate weather forecasts to help get the best from the wind.

On routes such as Rotterdam to New York the ship would save up to 27 per cent of the normal fuel bill at its design speed of 13 knots, the Danish team calculate.

Just as sales of hybrid cars have been spurred on by environmental concerns and the rising price of gasoline, the price of marine diesel (which closely follows crude oil prices) has soared to nearly three times its 1999 levels and there are increasing concerns about pollution from shipping. These engines release pollutants such as sulphur, nitrogen oxides and PM10 particles. In particular, marine diesel oil contains 2.7 per cent sulphur - more than 500 times what is allowed by the EU for diesel sold for cars and trucks. By 2010 it is estimated that cargo ships will account for three-quarters of all Europe's emissions of sulphur dioxide. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in with new regulations to help improve air quality around large ports.

Just as changing driving habits maximises the mpg returned for a hybrid car reducing the design speed of the windship from 13 to 11 knots, for example, would cut fuel bills by a third on both the North Atlantic and the Indian Ocean routes because the engine wouldn't have to work so hard.

In Australia SolarSailor have developed a passenger boat, showcased at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, that can be powered by solar panels, and whose movable wing-like solar panels can also act as sails. They are being considered for use as urban ferries and would use up to 50% less fuel. According to WorldChanging the inability of the Solar Sailor to run 100% off the sun and wind when operating as a ferry is due to the application's speed requirements--the craft can only do 12-14 knots maximum estimate without also using battery/diesel hybrid assist; but cutting fuel usage in half is still a huge and admirable achievement. It's better than today's best hybrid cars do.

SkySails has its eye on a rather different market. "One surprising result from the trials was the vessel's stability in heavy seas," Wrage says. Unlike conventional sails, the kite tends to stabilise the ship instead of making it heel over. This is partly because it is tethered to a rail close to the vessel's centre of gravity, and partly because the horizontal tug of the kite is counterbalanced by the vertical pull it generates, which tends to hold the vessel upright. "The sail acts like a damper so the ship moves smoothly, which will prevent passengers being sick." This is significant because Wrage sees cruise liners, and the growing number of cargo ships that carry passengers, as important markets for the technology. The next step for SkySails is to move from a model to a full-size craft.

So could there be a sea change for sail? "It will now be profitable both environmentally and economically to build the windship," says Anders Carlberg of Knud E. Hansen. Other new sailing ship projects are already in the works, one in Germany and one in Japan. Carlberg and his team estimate that full-scale trials of their design will start within three years.

The point to be made is hybrid engine technology has encouraged a new way of thinking beyond the garage which has many applications from buses, trucks and tractors to even planes. While GreenCarCongress brings us news of an Extreme Flywheel Plug-in Hybrid concept theoretically capable of 250mpg. The overall trend spells an end to head-in-the-sand consumption of oil and the beginning of a transition to a post-oil age with hybrid technology most likely being one of a number of key bridge technologies.

WorldChanging's coverage of the Solar Sailor a Hybrid Solar / Wind Boat

WorldChanging's Original Article and Dicusssion of the SkySails Concept

WorldChanging on an entirely solar powered aircraft concept

Gravity Powered Aircraft Concept

Full Text of New Scientist Article

Wired's 2000 coverage of the Solar Sailor

SkySails Official Website

Naval Architects Knud E Hansen

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Alternative Energy Zambia: Solar Power for Rural Electrification

One hundred and twenty one community-based organisations and nine schools in rural areas of Zambia will soon be getting BP Solar panels to generate electricity for lighting, radio, television and refrigeration. The panels will be supplied by BP Solar which has been awarded a contract by the Zambia Social Investment Fund. BP Solar is one of the world's largest solar companies and has manufacturing facilities in the United States of America, Spain, India and Australia.

Arnaud Mine, CEO of Apex-BP Solar, said: "This project is another example of the part solar energy is called on to play in sustainable development in Africa. It combines environmental, economic and social considerations, while obviating the need to set up capital-intensive infrastructure in the regions concerned. The same technology is already available in Europe for more specific applications."

The project will produce a peak power of approximately 250 kilowatts (kWp).

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Alternate Energy Pakistan: US $875m Windpower Project to Provide 30% of Karachi's Needs

A new US$875 million wind power project will provide 30 percent of Karachi's power needs, a state government official has said. Speaking at the inauguration of the Gharo project, adviser to Sindh Chief Minister for Environment and Alternate Energy, Noman Saigol, said it was the first alternate energy project for Sindh.

Sixteen companies from the US, Japan and China are taking part in the project, which will be built on 19,700 acres of government-provided land.

The windpower project, expected to employ 30-40,000 locals, will have a 50MW capacity, rising to as much as 900MW by 2010, he said.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Alternative Energy Iran: Windpower for the North West

Iran has been carrying out a set of expert-level studies to set up seven wind power plants in three northwestern provinces.

If the results of the studies confirm that the target regions are fine for the purpose, the projects will be immediately started under private sector management.

Arastou Sadeqi, the director of the wind and water energies department in the Iran New Energies Organization had earlier said that “the government has removed basic problems on the way of investors and therefore several domestic and foreign companies have applied to subcontract these projects.”

He stated that 17 wind measuring stations equipped with 40-meter height masts have been installed in Gilan and Azarbaijan provinces each of which cost the government about $15,000 in investment.

With a youthful population of nearly 70 million and a fast-growing economy, energy consumption is rising by around 7 percent annually. Iran estimates that it may need capacity to generate some 90 GW by 2020, from about 31 GW at present.

About three quarters of current electricity needs come from gas-fired power stations, and the rest from hydroelectricity or oil.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Site Agreed for Australian Solar Tower, Plans for Solar Tower in China

The firm behind the plan to build a power-generating solar tower (also described as a solar chimney) - touted as the world's tallest structure - in Outback New South Wales is to sign an agreement to buy the site.

Melbourne-based Enviromission will buy a 10,000ha slice of Tapio station at Buronga, 25km northeast of Mildura, to build the 1km tower.

Enviromission chairman Roger Davey confirm the purchase price was in excess of a million dollars (USD). The agreement will be signed in Mildura, about 350 miles northwest of Melbourne, before an audience of community leaders.

"It confirms our commitment to the site and the Sunraysia region for the first solar tower."

The mammoth project, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, will be built by the end of 2009.

The reinforced concrete tower will cover approximately one square kilometres at its base and will be surrounded by a "greenhouse" of glass, polycarbonate and polymer. Air at 30C at the edge of the glasshouse is heated up to 70C at the centre, where the tower draws it through 32 turbines to the cooler air above.

The power station will produce up to 200 megawatts of electricity and can generate 24 hours a day.

EnviroMission and SBP estimate the cost of their first 200-megawatt solar thermal tower at $670m, and say the cost of subsequent towers would fall. An engineering infrastructure, materials manufacturing plants and trained workforce would be in place and the design and construction would have been refined.

The initial cost is comparable with the $600m cost of building a new 200MW brown-coal power station and a drying plant for the coal, which is nearly 70% water by weight. A 200MW black-coal power station in Queensland would cost $440m. These prices ignore the unknown environmental and health costs of greenhouse gas, sulphur and particulate emissions from coal-fired power stations.

Each solar tower would abate between 920,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually from fossil fuels. Solar towers would help lessen Victoria's heavy dependence on brown coal-sourced electricity.

Enviromission floated on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2001. Its major investor is the owner of the solar tower technology, US company SolarMission Technologies.

Enviromission has the exclusive Australian rights to the technology, first developed on a much smaller scale in Spain in the early 1980s, using a German design.

There are also plans to invest a further US$8 million for development of a solar tower in China.

Enviromission will be a part owner of a global intellectual property company that will benefit from solar towers built around the world, Davey said.

The pre-feasibility study was completed successfully in February last year.

actual photographs (as far as I can tell) of the demonstration project in Manzares, Spain:

Solar Tower Spain

Inside the Spanish Solar Tower

Solar Tower Turbine in operation

more info:

February 2005 Wired Article on Australian Solar Tower

Solar Chimney in California?

Enviromission Website

Solar Mission Website

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, February 07, 2005

Wave Energy News: USA, UK and South Africa

There are multiple ways to tap the energy of the ocean, including its tides, thermal features, and salinity. But wave energy appears to be the most promising and closest to commercial production.

A new report from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that generation of electricity from wave energy may be economically feasible in the near future. The study was carried out by EPRI in collaboration with the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and energy agencies and utilities from six states.

Conceptual designs for 300,000 megawatt-hour (MWh) plants (nominally 120 MW plants operating at 40% capacity factor) were performed for five sites in the United States: Waimanalo Beach, Oahu, Hawaii; Old Orchard Beach, Cumberland County, Maine; WellFleet, Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Gardiner, Douglas County, Oregon; and Ocean Beach, San Francisco County, California.

The study determined that wave energy conversion may be economically feasible within the territorial waters of the United States as soon as investments are made to enable wave technology to reach a cumulative production volume of 10,000 - 20,000 MW.(For comparison land-based wind turbines currently generate 40,000 MW.)

"Wave energy will first become commercially competitive with land-based wind technology at a cumulative production volume of 10,000 or fewer MW in Hawaii and northern California, about 20,000 MW in Oregon and about 40, 000 MW in Massachusetts," said Roger Bedard, ocean energy project manager. This forecast was based on the output of a 90 MW Pelamis wave energy conversion plant design and application of technology learning curves that will enable cost savings.

The forecast results have convinced the project team of the rationale for investment in wave energy technology research and development, including demonstration projects to prove the feasibility of wave energy conversion technology in actual sea environments.

Bedard explained that there are several compelling arguments for investing in offshore wave energy technology. First, with proper siting, conversion of ocean wave energy to electricity is believed to be one of the most environmentally benign ways to generate electricity. Second, offshore wave energy offers a way to minimize the 'Not in my backyard' (NIMBY) issues that plague many energy infrastructure projects. Wave energy conversion devices have a very low profile and are located far enough away from the shore that they are generally not visible. Third, wave energy is more predictable than solar and wind energy.

A characteristic of wave energy that suggests that it may be one of the lowest cost renewable energy sources is its high power density. Solar and wind energy is concerntrated into ocean waves, making it easier and cheaper to harvest. Experts estimate that 0.2% of the ocean's untapped energy could power the entire world.

Wave power was delivered to the electrical grid for first time in August 2004. The electricity was generated by a full-scale preproduction Pelamis prototype in Orkney, Scotland by Ocean Power Delivery Corporation.

The new EPRI study indicates that a site off the central Oregon coast is probably the best place in the country to establish a United States Ocean Energy Research and Demonstration Center. Electrical engineers at Oregon State University (OSU) have already created three prototypes of devices that could harness wave energy: A permanent magnet linear generator, a permanent magnet rack and pinion gearbox, and a contactless direct drive generator buoy.

Meanwhile in a British company hopes to harness South Africa's wave energy and establish three wavepower farms. The South African government has set targets to introduce renewable energy over the next decade, but there are no commercial renewable energy power plants in the country.

And in more wave energy news, UK Energy Minister Mike O'Brien recently announced a $78 million support scheme for wave power. The new scheme will allocate up to GBP £42 million towards supporting a number of larger scale pre-commercial demonstration wave and tidal farms.

"One of the other extremely promising possibilities with wave energy is the ability to scale these systems either up or down in size, whatever you need to fit the electrical demand," OSU professor of electrical engineering - Annette von Jouanne said. "Small systems could even be used with individual boats at anchor to generate their own electricity."

The development of wave energy right now is probably 15-20 years behind wind power, which is just starting to achieve some optimal production technologies

EPRI Offshore Wave Energy Reports

Eskom Press Release on Wave Energy

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Automakers Wonder Where the Profit Is. Hydrogen? Hybrids? No, Finance.

Quick quote from a CBS Marketwatch article:

Last week, Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn lamented that while gas-electric hybrid cars are in vogue, their cost of production makes no economic sense.

He also dashed hopes for hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles: "The cost to build one fuel-cell car is about $800,000. Do the math and you figure out that we will have to reduce the cost of that car by more than 95 percent in order to gain widespread marketplace acceptance," Ghosn said in a speech at the National Automobile Dealers Association annual convention in New Orleans.

That means gas-powered cars and trucks are where auto companies will have to stay to find profit from vehicle sales. But that isn't really the case either. Ford and GM make more money through their financing arms than the actual manufacturing of cars of trucks.


Well the good news for those looking forward to a hydrogen economy is that the vehicles have got about 20% cheaper, last thing I heard was they cost about one million dollars each. The bad news is that the infrastructure will costs HUNDREDS of billions and the energy & car companies are looking at you the taxpayer to pay for it. And then of course there's the small question of how to produce hydrogen economically using renewable energy. Seems like the much hyped hydrogen economy is still a few decades of at the very least.

So if selling cars isn't really that profitable any more (although I find it hard to believe selling giant SUVs and pick-ups which don't have to meet emissions or safety standards isn't profitable) then why not go after the giant emerging markets of China and India? And why not go after them with a truely innovative product like an electric vehicle. If most of the money is made through finance, why not expand your customer base with a zero emissions electric car.

Full CBS Marketwatch Article on the Future of the Auto Industry

Labels: ,