US Smart Grid Systems Provider Lands Scottish Wind Farm Contract

kristy Green Prosperity

US Smart Grid Systems Provider Lands Scottish Wind Farm Contract

Posted: 04 May 2012 10:23 AM PDT

Photo courtesy: EDF Renewables

Chicago?s S&C Electric Co. is capitalizing on Europe?s drive to develop its wind energy resources. S&C?s European subsidiary, S&C Electric Company Europe Ltd., has won a ?multimillion-pound contract? from Electricite de France?s EDF Renewables to provide a smart grid system that will modulate the variable output of clean, renewable electricity to be produced from the Fallago Rig wind farm in the Scottish Border region south of Edinburgh, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported.

The contract is something of a coup for S&C Electric, which is competing against much larger power industry technology and equipment providers such as ABB Ltd., GE and Siemens, for work on Europe?s growing onshore and offshore wind farm project pipeline.

Europe?s Renewable Energy Drive Opens Up Opportunities for US Companies

Located in the Scottish Borders region, EDF Renewable?s Fallago Rig wind farm will be the site of some 48 wind turbines with a total rated capacity of 144 MW, enough clean, renewable electrical power to supply some 90,000 homes.

S&C?s smart grid systems technology improves ?the quality of electricity, adding only a ?couple of pence? to its cost over the lifetime of the wind farm,? S&C Electric Europe managing director Andrew Jones told Bloomberg BusinessWeek?s Sally Bakewell. The contract includes providing ?all required network studies to guarantee the system meets the National Grid?s grid code requirements.?

?To guarantee Grid Code compliance, S&C will deliver a 60MVAR PureWave DSTATCOM® Distributed Static Compensator to reduce voltage variations such as sags, surges, and flicker which can result from intermittent electricity generation, along with instability caused by rapidly varying reactive power demands,? S&C explained in a press release.

Europe?s drive to meet its world-leading renewable energy targets is opening up substantial business opportunities for US companies like S&C. The Chicago-based company is doubling the size of its factory in Franklin, Milwaukee. S&C?s worked on wind projects worldwide with total capacity exceeding 2,000 MW, Jones told Blakewell, and is looking to win business in countries and markets as diverse as Greece, Romania, South Africa and Turkey.

Consultants Ernst & Young estimate that upgrading its electric grid with smart grid technology could add as much as 13 billion pounds ($21 billion) to the UK economy by 2050, Blakewell noted.

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Solar-Powered Music Studio & Green-Themed Music ? Turtuga Blanku

Posted: 04 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

solar power music turtuga blanku

I ran across this album/musician last year. Yes, it?s been in my queue for a looooong time. I just ran across the draft recently and realized it was time to get a post up on this. The story is quite simple ? basically, Turtuga Blanku makes its/his music in a 100% solar-powered music studio, and the music is often about solar power or other green topics. Double awesome? Yes.

The studio is referred to as the ?Green Machine? and is powered by 18 solar panels.

?Converted energy is lead to a charge controller and on to eight deep loading batteries. Those are a bit different from your regular car battery. They are 6 Volts, but connected in parallel as to put out 12 Volts DC. A (3000 Watt) converter further changes this into 110 Volts 60 Hz AC,? the Turtuga Blanku site writes.

?Because of the batteries, the Green Machine is also operational after the sun has set. A battery system monitor enables checking up on the charge status of the batteries to avoid draining them. To further optimize the system, a small wind generator is part of the system. This way, some small scale charging takes place during the night as well.?

To learn more about the studio, check out that link above.

Other than the tons and tons of other time-sensitive stories to cover every day, what kept me from writing on this for so long is that I wanted to listen to all the music and explore the site a bit first. In the end, I?d say that I really like Turtuga Blanku?s latest single, ?No More? ? video below (and you can also listen to it and 5 other songs on the Turtuga Blanku homepage ? better sound there). I also like the second song, but it took me a few listens to get into it. However, while I?m into the lyrics of the other songs, the music doesn?t quite do it for me. But check the songs out for yourself and see what you think!

Here?s the ?No More? music video:

Read more about the lyrics and music of ?No More? on the Turtuga website if you?re interested.

Turtuga Blanku also sells some cool t-shirts if you?re into that. And if you?re into the music, or just into the effort to popularize solar power in this way, consider this appeal from Turtuga:

?To support Turtuga Blanku?s music and his efforts to popularize Solar Power as an alternative energy source, please buy Turtuga Blanku music, merchandize, send a donation, and/or place a banner on your website.?

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Wind Turbine for Creating Water

Posted: 04 May 2012 07:40 AM PDT

Growing up in Florida, I?m well aware of the fact that some air conditioning units can create quite a bit of water from the thin air (actually, if you?ve been to South Florida, you know it?s more like thick air). But I guess I wasn?t as inventive as Marc Parent, founder of French startup Eole Water. Marc, while working as an engineer in the Caribbean, was ?reducing his bottled water costs by siphoning the condensation from his air conditioner,? Recharge News notes, and this triggered the idea for a wind turbine that could pull water out of the air in sites highly in need of this fundamental of life.

The wind turbine, picture above and below, is in the testing phase in the Abu Dhabi desert (in Mussafah, to be specific). Even from the desert air, it can pull 500 to 800 liters of clean water each day. With some improvements, Eole Water says that could be increased to 1,000 liters. All the wind turbine needs is wind speeds of at least 15 miles per hour.

?The process is based on the same experience you see after you have taken a shower and every surface is covered with condensation ? we do the same with the WMS1000 but just on a much larger scale,? says Eole Water marketing director Thibault Janin.

Here?s a little more info from Megan Treacy of TreeHugger:

?The 30-kW wind turbine houses and powers the whole system. Air is taken in through vents in the nose cone of the turbine and then heated by a generator to make steam. The steam goes through a cooling compressor that creates moisture which is then condensed and collected. The water produced is sent through pipes down to stainless steel storage tanks where it?s filtered and purified.?

?Under full-time development since May 2010, the technology has attracted huge interest among industrial players, and partnerships have been forged with about 40 companies, including Emerson, Siemens, Danfoss, Carel and Arcelor Mittal,? Recharge News notes.

We always knew that wind power used a lot less water ? I didn?t know it could be used to produce water, though!

Image Credits: © Eole Water

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Green Shipping with uShip

Posted: 04 May 2012 07:30 AM PDT

I?ve written about green shipping options a few times here on CleanTechnica, but there?s still a huge lack of green shipping options and, thus, a ton of potential in this field. uShip is basically doing what Shiply does ? more efficiently connecting shippers or potential shippers who have extra space in their vehicles with common people who need stuff shipped. It?s benefits the environment, the shippers (they get more money), and the customers (they can pay less). But here?s some more detail on this green shipping option and uShip from Gas2:

uShip Offers A Greener Way To Ship (via Gas 2.0)

Transportation is big business in America, and there are millions of delivery trucks criss-crossing this great nation. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to making trucking greener. Anti-idling systems, compressed natural gas engines, and aerodynamic trailers are all great ideas, and companies?

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JFK Calls for an Energy Revolution

Posted: 04 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Just a fun Friday share for you:

I didn?t see this when it came up, before the time I was obsessively writing about green energy. Given that it was created by Greenpeace, and has over 150,000 views on the YouTube page, I imagine it got around a bit and some of you have already seen it, but as relevant today as it was back in? 2008.

Thanks to a reader for dropping it in a comment recently.

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Clean Energy Community Bonds

Posted: 04 May 2012 04:00 AM PDT

On a recent post about clean energy crowdfunding, a reader dropped a link to SolarShare Community Bonds, which finances community-based solar projects in Ontario. As the website states:

?Community Solar Bonds deliver ?triple bottom line? returns, creating economic, social and environmental benefits. The bonds earn 5% annually over a 5 year term. They are invested in solar power projects that generate clean renewable energy, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and supporting local employment in Ontario?s emerging clean energy industry.?

To purchase a bond, you must become a SolarShare Co-op member, a one-time cost of $40. Each co-op member gets a vote in the co-op.

Here?s a little more info from the SolarShare site:

?SolarShare privately raised bridge financing totalling over $3.7 million in order to construct its initial round of solar projects. Today, 18 projects (17 smaller ground mounted rural installations and one large industrial rooftop system) are completed, installed and generating electricity. Since these projects are already completed, SolarShare Community Solar Bonds are at lower risk and offer a steady income for 20 years.?

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State Renewable Energy Standards in State Legislatures ? How They Lookin??

Posted: 04 May 2012 02:00 AM PDT

This is a repost from Midwest Energy News on how renewable energy standards are fairing in state legislatures ? enjoy!

(Photo by Joe Gratz via Creative Commons)

By Dan Haugen

To repeal, reform, or ramp up?

State legislatures across the region have been considering a full spectrum of proposals related to renewable portfolio standards. With sessions winding down for the year, we decided to check in with a few political observers to see how the policies are faring:

The ink has yet to dry on Indiana?s voluntary Clean Energy Standard, which encourages utilities in the state to generate 10 percent of electricity from clean energy sources by 2025. The legislation was signed last May by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

?They?re still figuring out how it?s going to work,? says Christopher Zumski Finke, a policy associate with Wind on the Wires.

As part of that process, the state House passed a resolution by Republican Rep. Dave Frizzellthat calls for a study of the potential rate impact on customers, among other aspects of the policy. A legislative council will decide by next month whether to order the study.

(A similar rate-impact study was requested in Minnesota last year, the results of which showed the impact was mixed but mostly minimal from that state?s mandatory renewable standard.)

Illinois established its 25-percent-by-2025 renewable standard in 2007, but the state?s competitive electricity market has limited utilities? investments in new renewable energy projects.

Customers in Illinois can choose to purchase power from one of the state?s major utilities or any number of alternative suppliers, which pay a fee to sell their electricity across the utilities? wires. Customers can also change electric companies much like cell phone carriers. This makes long-term planning a challenge for utilities and suppliers, because the number of customers fluctuates from month to month.

?A renewable energy developer needs long term certainty to build a wind project,? says Kevin Borgia, director of the Illinois Wind Energy Coalition. They can?t currently get that certainty from Illinois utilities, which have been meeting their RPS goals so far by purchasing renewable energy credits instead of investing in new projects.

A solution has been proposed in S.B. 678, which would establish a transmission tariff that would be used to fund renewable projects. The legislation would spread the cost of renewable investments proportionally across all utilities and electric suppliers, creating a steady stream of funding regardless of how customers move their dollars.

The bill is a broader piece of energy legislation that includes the controversial Tenaska Energy coal gasification project, which has overshadowed the renewable portfolio standard reforms. Borgia argues that it may be the most important renewable energy legislation in the region, considering Illinois has the Midwest?s largest electricity load.

?The most important renewable energy bill currently pending in the Illinois House is also the most important coal bill pending in the Illinois House,? says Borgia.

That?s made for some interesting bedfellows and a set of political dynamics that make it tough to predict how it will play out, Borgia says. The bill has cleared the Senate and is currently sitting with the House rules committee. The state?s legislative session lasts through the end of next month.

The political action around Michigan?s renewable standard has been outside of the capital.

Since 2008, the state has had a target of 10 percent renewable generation by 2015. A coalition of labor, business and environmental groups called is collecting signatures for a ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would increase the standard to 25 percent by 2025.

?I don?t there?s any doubt that we?re going to get 322,000 plus signatures you need to put it on the ballot, and people are optimistic that it will pass,? says John Sarver, executive director of theGreat Lakes Renewable Energy Association.

The deadline for collecting signatures is July 9. The proposal calls for the legislature to enact laws that would encourage renewable energy projects to use made-in-Michigan equipment and hire Michigan residents. Some utilities have said the target would be unrealistic, but the campaign has support from several labor unions and manufacturers.

?It?s an interesting split of support and opposition,? says Zumski Finke, of Wind on the Wires.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Ray Franz has introduced a bill that would repeal Michigan?s RPS altogether, though observers don?t expect it to gain traction.

Is hydropower renewable or not? The answer depends on the state, we learned earlier this year.

In Minnesota, the state?s 25-percent-by-2025 renewable portfolio standard only counts hydropower from small facilities, those under 100 megawatts.

A freshman legislator, Republican Sen. Michelle Benson, introduced a bill this session that would scratch that limit and allow utilities to count all hydropower toward their renewable targets.

The distinction was put in place in part because Minnesota doesn?t have capacity for hydro facilities larger than 100 megawatts, says Zumski Finke. Canada does. Allowing utilities to count power from large hydro facilities would likely shift utility spending to Manitoba Hydro projects and away from local renewable energy projects, he says.

Republicans who were around when the original legislation was written seem to remember why the cap is there, and there aren?t any signs of the bill advancing.

Missouri?s 15-percent-by-2021 renewable standard was born out of a successful ballot initiative four years ago.

The group behind that campaign, Renew Missouri, hopes to put the issue to voters again this fall with a measure to expand the standard to 25 percent by 2025.

While they collect signatures, the state?s legislature is considering a proposal that would significantly re-write the existing policy.

Sen. Brad Lager has introduced a bill that would let utilities meet the requirements with out-of-state renewable energy credits, which would take away incentive to develop renewable projects in Missouri, says Zumski Finke. It would also establish a cost cap on how much utilities could spend on compliance, and exempt utilities who couldn?t meet the mandate within that budget.

The Missouri Public Service Commission, meanwhile, announced a workshop on April 17 to discuss ideas for improving the rules for the renewable standard.

(Wind on the Wires and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association are members of RE-AMP, which also funds Midwest Energy News)

Dan Haugen is an Energy Journalism Fellow at Midwest Energy News. Contact him at [email protected]

Creative Commons License
This work by Midwest Energy News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

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US-China Relations, Solar Energy & Trade: Radical Rethink, Restructuring Required

Posted: 04 May 2012 01:48 AM PDT

China?s now the second or third-largest economy in the world, yet the Chinese government still maintains a phalanx of protective and stimulus measures that not only shield its domestic industries, businesses and markets from outsiders, but provides massive export and manufacturing subsidies that enable Chinese firms to undercut all comers.

Let?s see. China continues to manage the foreign exchange value of its currency, pegging it to the value of the US dollar and its other major trading partners, thereby ensuring that its exports remain competitively priced even if those trading partners? economies weaken and regardless of its trade and current account imbalances. It place restrictions on foreign exchange for its businesses and citizens as well as those from overseas. It restricts foreign direct investment and foreign businesses?foreign firms are prohibited from establishing Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprises in certain economic sectors. State-owned and controlled, as opposed to independent, privately owned enterprises dominate the economy.

In key fast-growing emerging industries and markets it?s identified as strategic, such as solar and wind energy, China employs massive subsidy programs, openly and specifically geared to boost manufacturing and exports. These violate the international trade principles China agreed to when it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), whose rules focus on remedial actions offended countries can take as opposed to strictly defining what constitutes unfair trade.

All of these are contrary to free trade pninciples. They work together to support a centralized, government-controlled mercantilist economic system that needs to dominate foreign competition both at home and overseas if it is to have a net positive payback.

The Blame Game

China?s trade, foreign exchange and domestic economic policies are by no means the only, or even the principal reason for the financial and economic woes Western countries continue to face. There?s more than enough blame to be shouldered at home in the West, but global economic and trade imbalances have grown to the point where radical changes need to undertaken by all the world?s major economies, the US and China included.

Both the World Bank and the Obama Administration are pressing China to restructure its economic system, shifting away from government investment and subsidizing the manufacture of exports and infrastructure to stimulating domestic markets and demand. They?re also pressing China to join the ?adult? economies by opening and freeing up its domestic markets for goods, services and capital, and to allow its currency to float freely.

Of course, this is anathema in a country that continues to be run by a single political party in a Communist system of government. The Chinese government operates a quasi-market based economy in which the national production of goods and services and the allocation of investment capital remains to significant degree set by government plans as opposed to the operation of free, open markets.

Besides urging China to take the next steps towards a capitalist economic system, what can the US and other nations do to address and adapt to the challenges of holding there own and competing with a new hybrid form of centralized, state-directed economy the size and maturity of China?s?

How to Compete against State Capitalism?

Well, to date, they have just let things run their course. But the fundamental economic and financial tensions and strains of running unbalanced economies overwhelmingly skewed to either consumption and asset inflation or production of goods and services for export have increasingly manifested themselves in the past decade.

The US and other China trade partners could, in a sense, fight fire with fire, enacting sustainable national energy strategies that provide strong, clear, long-term support for the use of renewable and appropriate clean energy technology in what University of California, Berkeley renewable energy authority Daniel Kammen describes as a ?race to the top.?

Seems to me that countries in Europe, Germany comes to mind, have done this. So has the US, particularly at the state level. But it?s been the ?non-market? economy of China?s that?s been the big winner, at least in terms of economic growth and job creation, as it?s marshaled its economic forces and agents and taken advantage of these incentives and subsidies to an extent and degree not possible for its market economy counterparts.

Graphic courtesy US DOE

The ?fight fire with fire? approach would entail the US meeting and counteracting China?s massive solar and wind energy subsidies to manufacturers and exports with subsidies of the same nature and equal in size. That?s not what Kammen envisions with a ?race to the top?, and there are several problems of practical significance as to why this hasn?t and isn?t happening.

First is the overhang of bad debt the US government and private sector citizens and businesses have accumulated over the past decade and more. The bill for pro-cyclical economic policies that wound up funding binges in stock, commodities and real estate markets, financing overseas wars in the Middle East, and then bailing out and saving the banking and financial industry from itself severely limits the amount of fiscal stimulus the government can undertake just at the time the US economy really needs it, even if Tea Party Republicans would vote for it.

Second, government ?picking winners? and directly subsidizing specific certain industries and economic sectors is ideologically anathema in the US. That?s despite the fact that the government has and continues to do so, though to a much lesser extent and degree than is the case in China and other countries with more socialist economic systems. China is a state-run economy. Though the US government plays a big part, the US economy is driven primarily by multinational and domestic businesses responding to increasingly global market signals and forces.

All that said, a sizable manufacturing sector is an essential component of a healthy, sustainable modern economy. Large, well-established and well-capitalized corporations have routinely employed loss leaders to gain market share and outdo their competitors, relying on other profitable business segments, their reserves and their ability to raise capital to do so. When you?re dealing with a business entity the size of state-managed China, Inc., more direct support and protection is needed.

The US and other Western governments where private-sector market economies prevail could enact protections of corresponding nature and size to those of their ?non-market? economy competitors. Besides being contradictory to their fundamental economic ideological principles, this rise in protectionism would eliminate the possibility of realizing the economic efficiencies and substantial benefits an open, integrated global economy can provide.

Market & Non-Market Economic Systems Clash in a Globalized Economy

It?s certainly true that the explosive development of globalized markets and trade have yielded substantial benefits and improvements. Yet, it appears that in critical aspects the current state of affairs has set the world?s leading economies on a race to the bottom, running to find the lowest common denominator in terms of environmental health, safety and conservation, as well as in terms of economic and social equity.

A recent calculation by former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz shows that the average American worker is worse off now than he or she was 44 years ago. Let me see?that would be 1968.

?A full-time worker in the US is worse off today than he or she was 44 years ago. That is astounding ? half a century of stagnation. The economic system is not delivering. It does not matter whether a few people at the top benefited tremendously ? when the majority of citizens are not better off, the economic system is not working,? Stiglitz said in a recent interview.

Things are looking as bad or worse for the average European worker or Japanese salary person. It seems that Western labor is moving faster toward the living standard and quality of life of the average Chinese worker, than the average Chinese worker is moving toward that of his or her Western counterpart.

Rapid industrialization and population growth in emerging market countries participating in a globalized economy calls for radical rethinking, redesign and restructuring not only of systems of political economy and how they interrelate, but even more fundamentally, of how each and every person thinks about and ?measures? their living standard and quality of life.

Rapid development and deployment of renewable energy and clean technology in their broadest definitions are crucial to building more sustainable, socially and environmentally just economies. More broadly, multinational cooperation, transparency and accountability needs to be established on a scale and to a degree that hasn?t occurred.

All things considered, it seems abundantly clear that all players pursuing a strategy founded on Kammen?s ?race to the top? principle is vastly preferable to the alternative: a self-destructive race to the bottom involving trade wars and protectionism. Helping and getting national leaders to formulate the policies, build the institutions, and enact the programs, initiatives, rules and regulations required is the challenge.

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Is Cincinnati the Greenest City in America?

Posted: 03 May 2012 02:34 PM PDT

Cincinnati sustainability

Bridge to a sustainable tomorrow?

Many cities trumpet their sustainability initiatives to claim the title of ?greenest? city in America, but it?s hard to argue with the ongoing turnaround from brown to green in Cincinnati.

Last week, the Queen City announced it had received a winning bid for its solicitation to provide 100 percent renewable electricity. Ohio municipalities are allowed to aggregate their power demand and then leverage it for the best available deal in the state?s competitive electricity market.

While wind farms or solar arrays won?t directly generate all of the city?s power, the deal with FirstEnergy Solutions means energy consumed by up to 53,000 homes and businesses will be offset through renewable energy credits that finance production of wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable resources.

The deal makes Cincinnati the largest city in the U.S. and first city in Ohio to provide an all-renewable electricity supply ? a remarkable about-face considering coal currently meets 85 percent of all electricity demand. Most impressive of all, homeowners will save around $133 annually compared to incumbent utility Duke Energy Corp.?s standard service offer for a two-year period.

?This process provided the opportunity to promote renewable energy, and places Cincinnati as a national leader, at the forefront of green energy in this country,? said Milton Donohey, city manager.

But city government isn?t stopping at renewable energy for electricity ? it?s also working on a plan to completely remove fossil fuels from all vehicles in the municipal fleet by 2025. The Green Fleet Plan aims to switch the city?s 3,600 vehicles to a combination of alternative-fuel, hybrid-electric, and Zipcar car-sharing vehicles. Cincinnati?s existing fleet consumes more than two million gallons of fuel, with 95 percent coming from gasoline and diesel and a $5.1 million annual price tag.

The city?s public schools system is also contributing to the green shift, recently taking out a $26.8 million low-interest loan to fund energy-efficiency renovations at 28 district schools. The funding will go toward efficient lighting, centralized thermostat controls, motion sensors, and other improvements. School board officials estimate the upgrades will lower energy costs up to 25 percent in each building, and pay for themselves over the 22-year loan payment period.

This holistic approach to sustainable government administration is setting the bar high for other cities, both for Ohio and across the country, according to one policy analyst.

?Cincinnati?s ongoing commitment to protect our environment is saving its residents money, reinvigorating the economy, and raising the bar for communities across the country,? said Brian Kaiser, Director of Green Jobs & Innovation at Ohio Environmental Council, in an email interview. ?Gone are the days when decisions like this were put off for future generations ? Cincinnati has stepped up to the plate and it?s time for others to do the same.?

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Dutch ?Superbus? Gets 155 MPH (VIDEOS)

Posted: 03 May 2012 10:00 AM PDT

dutch superbus

A Chinese ?3D Fast Bus? I wrote about in 2010 seemed to get a lot of people excited, getting about 47,000 views on StumbleUpon, but I haven?t heard anything about the bus since then. However, a new Dutch ?Superbus? (admittedly, not quite as flashy as the 3D Fast Bus) is already built and hitting the roads, and hopefully it will get a few eyes on it, as well. The bus can go up to 155 mph (~249 kmh) and can carry 23 passengers. I don?t want to think about what a crash would look like ? although, the thing looks about as strong as the Batmobile.

Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels, a professor of aerospace sustainable engineering and technology, is the man who dreamt up this superbus, and its designer is Antonia Terzi, former chief aerodynamicist of the BMW-Williams Formula 1 team.

Terzi says that the superbus will ?tackle the challenges of mobility, spatial planning, service detail and environmental demands all in one.? However, before it does, I imagine a lot will need to be done to bring down its ?13 million price tag.

Here?s one more video of the bus, in the wonderful city of Groningen where I once lived for 5 months (gray day in the video, unfortunately).

The bus is made of carbon fiber and fiberglass. It made its world debut at a trade fair in Dubai last month.

Source: Huffington Post

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Kyocera Buildings Cool Off with Edible Green Curtains

Posted: 03 May 2012 10:00 AM PDT

Kyocera is well known for its solar panels. But the Japanese company greens up its own buildings in more ways that with solar. The company also grows ?Green Curtains? on trellises around its buildings ?to shade windows and outer walls of manufacturing and office buildings at 19 locations in Japan.?

This, of course, cuts energy use in the buildings, since it keeps them cooler in hot summer months when people might be tempted to turn on or turn down energy-demanding air conditioners. Also, it just looks nice, doesn?t it? And I imagine it helps air quality around the building a bit, as well.

On top of the energy-saving benefit of these green curtains, they also feature healthy edibles!

?The goya (bitter gourd; a traditional summer vegetable of Okinawa), cucumbers and peas that form the Green Curtains are harvested by Kyocera employees and commonly served as part of a special lunch menu in employee cafeterias,? Kyocera writes. ?Goya, which is rich in nutrients, is widely used as an ingredient for the prevention of fatigue in the hot summer months in Japan. Moreover, the employees enjoy watching the plants grow and harvesting the vegetables.?

And, taking the awesomeness one step further, the company has a Green Curtains website that shows people how to grow their own green curtains.

Cool stuff. It?s really just common sense stuff like this the world needs more of.

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Poland to Get Recyclable Subway Cars

Posted: 03 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

Warsaw, Poland is to get recyclable subway cars for its Metro Warszawskie this Fall, according to Siemens. The metro cars are being developed by Siemens and BMW Group DesignworksUSA, an independently operating BMW Group subsidiary. Metro Warszawskie will get the first cars, 35 of them, this Fall.

Other than being 97.5% recyclable, the subway cars are extremely lightweight, making them more energy efficient than typical subway cars, and ?additional energy-saving systems, such as those that control air conditioners with carbon-dioxide sensors or utilize energy-efficient LED lighting systems.?

And, my favorite part style-wise, the vertical handrails have a tree-like form ? looks both cool and useful.

Of course, while the subways cars are almost entirely recyclable, that doesn?t mean they won?t be used for long ? the expected lifespan is 40 years.

How are they making the cars so light, you ask? Well, in many ways.

Numerous measures were undertaken to reduce the weight of the Inspiro. The front end of the cars alone, which houses the couplings, weighs 500 kilograms less than before. Its design is based on the use of light aluminum profiles. To identify areas in which fewer materials could be used without limiting functionality, the entire car body was computer analyzed by means of the finite element method. Certain components in the cars themselves were made as multifunctional as possible ? for example, parts of the ceiling also serve as cable ducts. In a further effort to reduce weight, air ducts are made of light textiles rather than the metal previously used, while a new type of cork-aluminum floor weighs 30 percent less than before, acts as a noise dampener, and also provides better heat insulation.

?The first 10 trains will be built in Germany, while the remaining 25 will be constructed in Poland,? Karen MacKay of Crisp Green notes. ?Forty percent of the components will be sourced in Poland.?

Despite living in Poland for nearly 4 years now, I?ve never made it to Warsaw. Maybe these super-green subway cars will finally pull me over there.

This isn?t the first green move the Warsaw Metro has made. As I wrote in November, it is working on a project with ABB to capture and reuse the braking energy of some its trains.

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How to Start a Solar Co-op (VIDEO)

Posted: 03 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

how to solar co op

The Center for a New American Dream has released a video on how a group of DC residents came together to go solar (to start a solar co-op, to be specific), and how you can too. This video is one of the Center?s new Community Action Kits series. Check it out and share with friends (especially neighbors!):

h/t TreeHugger

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Mining Old Coal Mines for ?Instant? Geothermal Energy

Posted: 03 May 2012 05:13 AM PDT

old coal mines could be used for geothermal energyFlood an abandoned mine with water, let the surrounding rock heat it up, and there you have it: instant geothermal energy. Researchers at McGill University in Canada have been looking into the idea, and they estimate that geothermal energy from abandoned mines could serve about a million Canadians. That?s not so much on a national scale, but on a local scale this kind of geothermal energy could account for a big chunk of a community?s power supply.

Geothermal energy and the coal mine twofer

If anything, tapping old coal mines for geothermal energy would relieve part of the economic burden of tending to the abandoned sites. According to the McGill study?s lead author, Seyed Ali Ghoreishi Madiseh, ?Abandoned mines demand costly perpetual monitoring and remediating. Geothermal use of the mine will offset these costs and help the mining industry to become more sustainable.?

Abandoned coal mines and mine fires

When not properly attended, abandoned coal mines can catch fire and wreak havoc for generations. One classic example is here in the U.S., where an out-of-control coal mine fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania has been burning for decades, forcing local residents to abandon their homes.

Coal mine fires can be caused by lightning strikes and other natural causes, though in the case of Centralia the cause appears to have been a human-engineered accident.

Geothermal from surface mines, too

The McGill study looked at underground or ?shaft? mines, but there seems to be potential for harvesting geothermal from strip mines as well. A couple of years ago, Purdue University in Indiana began mapping the geothermal potential of both types in the southwest part of the state, where coal mines account for about 186,000 acres underground and 284,000 acres on the surface. The idea is to identify sites where underground water could be easily exchanged with surface water.

Parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are also emerging as potential geothermal coal mine hotspots.

Pitfalls of mining for geothermal energy at coal sites

Some local communities in Europe and Canada have already begun tapping into nearby abandoned coal mines for geothermal energy, but as far as their widespread use, the Purdue team sounded a note of caution. New geothermal activity could risk worsening surface problems that are caused when underground mines start to collapse. In addition, while water is stored in underground mines it could dissolve metals and chemicals, contributing to leachate.

Image: Some rights reserved by mjtmail (tiggy).

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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The State of Commercial Solar Power in Australia

Posted: 03 May 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Commercial-scale and utility-scale solar power are viewed as the next frontier for the solar industry in Australia. The incentives that drove the wild boom in residential solar power ? state-run feed-in tariffs coupled with federal up-front discounts in the form of renewable energy certificate ? have mostly died down, and at present, the home solar market has reached a fragile sort of equilibrium. As has been widely noted, the cost of solar PV has plummeted in the past several years. This is a game-changing fact for solar power and for the future of electricity generation.

There are a number of large-scale projects in the pipeline, including the Solar Flagships projects ? the proposed but beleaguered Moree Solar Farm and the Solar Dawn consortium?s CSP plant in Chinchilla, Queensland. Both of these are now on shaky ground, due to the withdrawal of a key partner and failure to secure a PPA in the case of the former, as well as a change of government from Labour to Liberal in Queensland that promises to see a withdrawal of funding in the case of the latter.

But there are a number of other large-scale projects and incentives going forward. For example, there are high hopes for the ACT?s large-scale feed-in tariff ? which received a whopping 49 submissions in its opening round ? to show the rest of the nation how it?s done. The winners are expected to be selected within the year. Meanwhile, Western Australia?s 10MW Greenough River Solar Farm carries on, and a renewable energy think-tank has even recently pitched a well-argued proposal for replacing 2 ageing coal-fired power plants in Port Augusta, South Australia with concentrating solar power.

In addition to these high-profile projects, there are also numerous other medium (~100kW) to large-scale project in the works or already operational throughout the country, including the Nullagine and Marble Bar solar plants in remote Western Australia, and the University of Queensland solar array ? currently Australia?s largest rooftop array. Solar PV and solar thermal combined, however, still made up less than 2.5% of Australia?s electricity generation in 2011, according to the Clean Energy Council?s Clean Energy Australia 2011 (pdf) report. 90.36% of all generation came from fossil fuels ? mostly coal.

If we wanted to use a metaphor, one could liken Australia?s utility-scale solar power industry to chicks in an incubator who are just beginning to break out of their eggs. To take this awkward metaphor further, more eggs could potentially be on the way, but only if the first few reach a stage of development advanced enough to move out of the incubator to make room for them, and to give their rearers some confidence in their own ability to bring birds into the world. If this happens, Australia could start to see its large-scale solar industry reach its full potential, and, well, take flight to become a large chunk of the country?s generation portfolio.
Australian Politicians Refuse to Acknowledge the Potential of Commercial Solar Power (and Solar PV in General)

This sort of success will be predicated on a number of factors, and many feel that what is really needed right now is a number of projects that demonstrate the technical and financial viability of these projects for Australia. Coal-fired generation technology is well-understood and widely deployed here, and is therefore associated with a low level of risk; from an investor?s point of view, it is a known quantity and therefore seen as bankable technology (at least for now).

This is not yet the case for utility-scale or commercial solar power in Australia, especially after all the turbulence surrounding incentive schemes for the industry. To make matters worse, many Australian politicians still have their heads in the sand with regard to renewable energy, despite ample evidence that renewable technologies can deliver. Shining example and case-in-point is Germany, whose renewable capacity is not only reliably producing a good chunk of the country?s overall generation, but is even starting to show signs of its growing ability to drive down electricity prices, thanks to the merit order effect. It goes without saying that expansive, sunny Australia?s solar power potential easily dwarfs that of smaller, colder Germany. So what?s going on?

Once some larger products are on the ground and proving themselves, more will likely be quick to follow suit, especially with the price of solar technology dropping steadily. As Australian solar industry analyst and veteran Nigel Morris of Solar Business Services wrote recently about solar PV: ?Those on the inside of the PV industry can smell economic parity; we can see it and taste it in many parts of the world, including Australia?s retail market and we know how fast it is going to accelerate. It won?t come without bumps and wobbles and it isn?t a silver bullet. But it is grossly underestimated and with their own confirmation bias I suspect the deniers are failing to open up to what?s really going on around them.?

Morris says that the 3 ?golden rules? required for large-scale solar project developers to get projects on the ground are: 1) knowing the market, 2) getting engineering and business advice, and 3) understanding finance. Making specific reference to Solar Choice?s Operational Lease package for financing big projects, he notes that this last point is integral for ?staying in the game?.

Do what they may, however, commercial solar power project developers, at least for the time being (or until 2020), will need some kind of government support to reach the price-points that will make their projects economically worthwhile. Germany and Spain, as the world?s loss-leaders for solar, have already done much of the heavy lifting in helping to drive the price of solar technologies down to their current historically low levels. The rest of the world can now stand on their shoulders.

Having commented and advised extensively on the state of the utility/commercial solar industry here, Morris recently wrote an eloquently worded open letter to some high-profile government leaders on the topic (copied in below).

Dear respected leaders,

I would like to bring your urgent attention to the report by McKinsey & Company titled ?Solar Power, Darkest before Dawn?. McKinsey are one of the most respected consultancies in the world and are noted for their conservatism. The findings in this report highlight the astounding growth of PV and the crucial role it will play in the world?s energy mix in the near term. They echo the upgraded forecast for solar PV issued recently by the IEA, arguably an even more conservative organisation and those of many others including my own company SolarBusinessServices.

It highlights the fact that solar PV is economic NOW in selected markets and is tantalisingly close to being economic without subsidies in many more.

Quoting the headline statement ? ?Those who believe the potential of the solar industry has dimmed may be surprised. Companies that take the right steps now can position themselves for a bright future in the coming years?.

If only our elected leaders could take this advice and provide meaningful support.

With minor exceptions, Australian Government policy for solar PV, at all levels, remains meek, dis-jointed and inconsistent.

We see State leaders continuing to use solar PV as a completely unjustified scape goat for rising electricity prices.

We see an enormous focus on protecting the viability of coal-fired generation and the potential of CCS from Federal leaders.

We see lacklustre and un-coordinated policy foresight from opposition, that belies the magnitude of the industry.

And we have an Energy White Paper, the business plan for our energy future that is so wrong with respect to solar PV it virtually ignores it.

I do not deny that we need an energy mix, nor is solar PV a silver bullet. However, I remain perplexed and astonished at the lack of will, fortitude and vision when it comes to the most obvious resource that Australia has.

What is it going to take for our leaders to wake up and embrace this unique opportunity ?

I hope that this report might help convince you that solar PV, even by the most conservative estimates, has a staggering and completely underestimated potential in Australia and I look forward to seeing co-ordinated policy that supports rather than hampers solar PV .

Kind regards,

Nigel Morris



The Australian solar industry has its fingers crossed that leaders will heed Morris? words.

Top image: One of Port Augusta, South Australia?s two coal-fired power plants. These plants provide 30% of South Australia?s power. Image via Alinta Energy.

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