Sunday, November 29, 2015

Where Renewable Energy is Beating Fossil Fuels

Renewable energy is growing in the U.S., but that growth is concentrated into some very specific states.
 BY: Travis Hoium  (TMFFlushDraw)                
Author Bio
Travis Hoium has been writing for since July 2010 and covers the solar industry, renewable energy, and gaming stocks among other things.

The U.S. is now installing more renewable energy power plants each year than fossil fuels and with costs continuing to come down the trend will likely pick up steam in the future. Old guard utilities like Southern Company (NYSE:SO) and Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) have even made the transition, investing billions in wind and solar projects of late.
But renewable energy isn't being installed evenly throughout the U.S. Midwestern states dominate the wind markets while the southwest and eastern U.S. dominate solar energy. Where is renewable energy really beating fossil fuel and why is it winning? A key lies in where resources are located.
Not all solar energy is created equal
We don't have coal mines or oil wells in every state in the U.S. because those fossil fuel resources aren't located everywhere. And while the sun does shine on every state it doesn't do so evenly.
You can see in the map below that solar potential is highest in the Southwestern states like California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Solar Resource
Those markets are driven by abundant sunshine for large and small solar installations alike, but the East Coast is a booming market as well, driven by high electricity prices and state incentives.
Us Solar Plants
Utilities have found ways to move where the resources are as well. Southern Company and Dominion are just two of a number of utilities buying solar projects through their unregulated arms, taking on long-term contracts to sell solar electricity to local utilities in California, Arizona, and elsewhere. It's a novel model that we can expect more utilities to pursue in coming years.
Solar energy isn't beating fossil fuel everywhere in the U.S., but where there's a combination of abundant sunshine, high electricity prices, and state willpower there's a booming market in the U.S.
Where the wind blows
The wind industry follows a similar dynamic to solar, making sense where the resource occurs naturally.
Wind Resource
You can see that the Midwest down to Texas has abundant wind resource and that's where most of the wind turbines have been built. This is where Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE:BRK-A)(NYSE:BRK-B) energy business began investing in renewables, building the largest wind fleet in the country. Since then it has taken ownership to the non-regulated side of the business like competitors, buying projects from wind and solar developers in states outside its home territory.
Us Wind Plants
There's also abundant unutilized resources offshore. That's where manufacturers GE and Siemens have spent a lot of money to develop innovative solutions, but so far with very little commercial successs.
Incredibly, most coastal states have more wind resource than even the windiest states inland. But there's not enough infrastructure to exploit offshore wind and there remains a hostile local opposition in most states working against offshore wind.
Renewable energy still has challenges ahead
The growth renewable energy has seen over the last decade has been impressive, but it hasn't been smooth. Costs have come down but until recently the industry has been reliant on tax incentives to drive adoption and as those incentives have ebbed and flowed (coming down along the way) these renewable resources have seen ups and downs.
The next two challenges will come from the solar investment tax credit declining from 30% to 10% in 2017 and rate changes being put forth by utilities themselves.
But with utilities like Dominion, Southern Company, and Berkshire Hathaway Energy taking a little less adversarial approach to renewable energy, even finding ways to turn it into a growth platform, there's a bright future ahead for renewable energy. It won't be everywhere in the country, but where there are resources available renewable energies are beating fossil fuels long-term

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

AMAZING! Just pedal for 1 hour to get 24 hours of home power

Creator of 5-hour Energy Wants to Power the World's Homes—With Bikes
The mystery man behind the popular caffeine shot plans to roll out 10,000 stationary bikes next year in India.

Picture of a man riding an electric bike
Manoj Bhargava, creator of the 5-hour Energy drink, demonstrates his Free Electric bike. By pedaling for one hour, he says, a person can power a home's lights and basic appliances for an entire day.

Image result for national geographic small logo png

By Wendy Koch, National Geographic

The man who created the 5-hour Energy drink says he has more money than he needs—about $4 billion more. So he’s giving it away, spending his fortune on a quest to fix the world's biggest problems, including energy. Manoj Bhargava has built a stationary bike to power the millions of homes worldwide that have little or zero electricity. Early next year in India, he plans to distribute 10,000 of his Free Electric battery-equipped bikes, which he says will keep lights and basic appliances going for an entire day with one hour of pedaling.
Bhargava, who dropped out of Princeton University after a year because he was bored and then lived in ashrams in his native India for 12 years, doesn’t stop at bikes. He’s working on ways to make saltwater drinkable, enhance circulation in the body, and secure limitless amounts of clean geothermal energy—via a graphene cord.
“If you have wealth, it’s a duty to help those who don’t,” says Michigan resident Bhargava, 62, in a documentary released Monday, Billions in Change, about his Stage 2 Innovations lab. “Make a difference in people’s lives,” he says, “Don’t just talk about it.”

Could his bike really work? Will people want to pedal for power? Could they afford it or even have room for it in their homes? It holds “huge potential and opportunity for rural households,” says Ajaita Shah, CEO of Frontier Markets, a company selling solar lamps and lighting kits in India. (Read about her work.) She says she’d like to test the bike with her rural customers.

“It’s so simple that we think we can make it for $100 … A bicycle repairman anywhere can fix it,” Bhargava says in an interview. Pedaling turns a turbine generator that creates electricity, stored in a battery. The first 50 bikes will be tested in 15 or 20 small villages in the northern state of Uttarakhand before a major rollout in the first quarter of next year. He says they’ll be made in India but doesn’t give details.

Who Is He?

Bhargava’s a bit of a mystery man. He grew up in an affluent home with servants in India, but his family struggled financially after coming to the United States when he was 14. He worked odd jobs and got academic scholarships. “It was worth a year,” he says of studying math at Princeton. After a spiritual quest in India, he built companies, including Living Essentials, maker of the popular two-ounce caffeine shot that’s sold at checkout counters.

Though generally low-profile, he’s not without controversy. He’s sued to fend off copycats of his blockbuster product and countered challenges from state attorneys general for alleged deceptive marketing. The Center for Public Integrity dubbed him the “political kingmaker nobody knows,” saying he’s donated millions to mostly GOP political candidates via limited liability companies.
Also unknown: exactly how much money he has. The documentary says his net worth is $4 billion, but Forbes does not list him among America’s richest 400 people, which includes those with at least $1.7 billion. Bhargava has said it’s difficult to put a specific valuation on his private companies, but he’s signed the Giving Pledge, a Bill Gates-led challenge for the rich to donate their fortunes to charitable causes.
He says he didn’t want to “ruin” his son by giving him money. “I told him when he was 10, 'You’re not getting anything.' His attitude: 'Great. I want to do it on my own,'” Bhargava says about his now adult son.
Instead Bhargava has funded hospitals in India and his cutting-edge Stage2 lab in Farmington Hills, Michigan, begun in 2011 with former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda. “It’s the most well-funded playhouse for engineers you can possibly have,” lab engineer Kevin Moran says in the documentary.
This is going to affect a few billion people.

Big Problems, Simple Fixes

Bhargava’s team has come up with innovative ideas in health, water, and energy. It’s pursuing Renew, a medical device that functions as an auxiliary heart by squeezing blood from the legs into the body’s core.
To address drought, it’s building the Rain Maker to convert 1,000 gallons an hour of any kind of water into drinkable water. Bhargava says potable water could be piped from offshore barges with this machine, now being tested at a desalination research facility in New Mexico.
He has an even grander idea—one aimed at nixing the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases when burned. Whatever people think of climate change, he says in the documentary, “pollution is a problem.” His answer: tap the heat from deep beneath the Earth.
While geothermal energy is already widely used in some countries, including Indonesia and Iceland, Bhargava takes a novel approach. Rather than using steam—mixed with chemicals—to bring the heat to the surface, he would instead pull it up with a graphene cord. He notes graphene, stronger than steel, is an incredible conductor of heat.
“You don’t need to burn anything…Once you bring [heat] up, you don’t change any of the infrastructure,” he says, explaining that utilities could simply distribute it instead of coal, oil, or natural gas.

“That’s going to be, in my mind, the final answer,” he says, estimating this type of geothermal could replace 85 percent of today’s fossil fuels. He says maps show half of the world has plentiful underground heat, and since graphene cables could run horizontally, they could route it to the other half as well.

“I think someone’s going to kill me,” he says with a laugh, noting how such an idea could upset geopolitics. He’s working with a graphene research center in Singapore to develop a cable and plans to have pictures available later this year.
"It’s not giving back. It’s what else am I going to do?"

The Bike Ridden Round the World?

Bhargava gets most animated when talking about his graphene cable, but he sees the most immediate potential in Free Electric. He says it could provide electricity for the developing world and offer post-storm backup power in wealthier countries.

Picture of an iPad charging via electric bike
The stationary Free Electric bike has a battery to store electricity generated when the rider is pedaling. Its monitor shows how much the battery is charged.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Underwater balloons give us a brilliant new way of storing renewable energy

DAVID NIELD     22 NOV 2015

While solar or wind farms are now contributing more energy than ever to the world's power supply, traditional energy sources are often required at peak times or to supplement renewable sources during dips in availability - at night, for example. So Canadian startup Hydrostor has invented a system of pressurised underwater balloons that can store renewable energy until it's needed, which could reduce the need for diesel or gas as a back-up source of power.
The company says its solution can last twice as long as the best batteries we have today, and at a much lower cost. The first facility has been set up in Lake Ontario near Toronto, with a series of balloons set 55 metres under the surface of the water and connected to the power grid via a pipeline.
"Compressed air's been around for 40 years," Hydrostor CEO Curtis VanWalleghem told Canadian Manufacturing. "It's finding places to store the air that's been the problem [and] why it hasn't been massively adopted. We open it up to thousands more sites because we use hydrostatic water pressure."
The material used by the underwater balloons - known technically as accumulators - is the same used to raise sunken ships from the ocean floor. Compressed air is at the heart of the system: excess energy is converted into compressed air via Hydrostor's proprietary technology, while heat generated by the process is stored as well through heat exchangers.
When required, the natural pressure of the lake is used to pump the air back to land, driving a turbine and generating electricity as it goes. The balloons in Lake Ontario are capable of holding enough energy to power 330 homes, and the developers of the system say it can be easily scaled up.
"We're now focused on commercialising this technology globally to bring our green energy storage solution to countries around the world," Vsaid VanWalleghem. "The G20 is talking about getting off fossil fuel by 2050. To do that, our electricity system has to incorporate storage so we don't need as much backup diesel and natural gas capacity - that's what this can do."
Here's how the system will work:

Should Residential Solar Pay A Utility Fee?

By: Eugene Wilkie

When we were first starting out in solar 20 something years back interconnecting solar to the utility was not an option. It was around 2000 that Sandia Labs really came out with interconnect design for solar inverters. Since then the ability to interconnect to the grid has grown in leaps and bounds from equipment side to regulations by utilities to allow net metering.

There have been many reasons that solar has enjoyed  this hockey stick growth model. Public education, net metering, huge cost reduction, and incentives are the main reasons for accelerated growth. I believe that the whole solar residential market owes its growth due to being allowed to interconnect to the utility so lets first define NET METERING.

This is the definition from SEIA or Solar Energy Industry Association.

Net Metering

Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid. Many states have passed net metering laws. In other states, utilities may offer net metering programs voluntarily or as a result of regulatory decisions. Differences between states' legislation and implementation mean that the benefits of net metering can vary widely for solar customers in different areas of the country.

What Is Net Metering?

Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a PV system on the home's rooftop, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods where the home's electricity use exceeds the system's output. Customers are only billed for their "net" energy use. On average, only 20-40% of a solar energy system’s output ever goes into the grid. Exported solar electricity serves nearby customers’ loads.

This digital meter runs in both directions to accommodate electricity generated at this customer’s home.
A 4 kilowatt PV system on a home in this area would offset around 4911 kilowatt hours
of electricity each calendar year, saving the homeowner over $380 on their utility bill.
(Source – NREL PV Watts, EIA)
The way I explain it to our customers is that the grid is your battery and that you charge that battery during the day and withdraw from the storage at night. It is such a great storage system that you can over deposit during the summer then use it in the winter. In my experience with energy storage it is by far the most reliable and cost effective. Or one could look at it as a bank that you deposit savings into and withdraw when needed.

Just about every customer that we visit wants to have no power bills and emergency power with at least a five year return on investment. If I add batteries to completely disconnect from the grid the return on investment jumps up into the ten year ROI. I probably am working in solar in one of the most difficult markets, Washington State. The power is one of the cheapest energy markets in the US. We have an abundance of Natural Energy and we have been harvesting it since the 50's. We are selling a large amount of solar in this market due to NET METERING, LOCAL & STATE INCENTIVES, and of course the low cost of solar products. Yes we had to skinny up our margins but we are doing plenty of work to offset this.

Our average system that we sell cost around $33,000 that is using all the incentives which is around a 3-4 year return on investment or ROI. If I were to add a battery system and disconnect them from the grid or equal sized to their solar system it is another $33,000 and probably more. Our solar is warrantied for 25 years. Battery last 10 years adds huge replacement or maintenance cost. Yes we are hearing on the news every day the leaps that battery technology is making. I am in the market, pricing these storage systems and the economics are miles away from being financially viable for total offgrid.

The $33,000 solar system we sell is our smallest for the most part. So lets just do a comparison. If the utility charges you a meter fee of $25 a month it is $300 a year or $7500 for the 25 year life of the system. The storage system for the would be another $33,000 plus maintenance and 10-15 year replacement cost.

Our motto for years has been Why Rent Your Power When You Can Own It. I believe that even renting your storage still leaves the control for the most part in the customers hands. If one of our customers is still concerned about the ability to have autonomy during power outages we suggest a critical load back up battery system. Another words enough battery storage to handle some lights, fridge, and outlets to charge. We get a lot of request for this.
So lets talk about fairness. We know that the utility has a cost to at least upkeep the lines you are connected to as well as administration costs. The customer has just spent a huge amount of money (if they are owning not leasing) to get as close as possible to zero out their electricity bill. So who and how is responsible to offset the utilities cost? They have a customer still connected to their grid they HAVE to maintain but they are no longer making those great profits from the sell of power anymore.

If one were to just take the two previous points for utility cost versus solar customer is a very narrow view of the total benefits solar is providing to the utility and here is where it can get a bit complicated.

Lets start with this scenario. If you have a residential neighborhood of 20 houses and 10 of those houses installed solar. The power they produce is over what they are using in their house and is going onto the grid feeding the homes around it. About 20-40% of the power they are producing so realistically they are producing enough for 13-15 homes from the 10 with solar. So here is where it can be difficult as all utilities charge differently as far as TOU or time of use. For the most part utilities charge far more during PEAK HOURS which usually lasts from 7 AM to 7 PM or when everyone is using their power. We know that the energy over produced is used locally by neighbors. So the utility is not producing or shipping that power for three to five homes but they are collecting premium prices from non solar residents. Peak hour charges are about 30% of your bill. Yes you are buying the power back at night but that power is priced far below day time energy cost. 

So for example if your electricity rate during the day from Southern California it is $0.17 a KwH during peak hours or daytime and $0.09KwH at off peak or night. So they are charging the consumer that does not have the solar $0.17 you then buy your credited power at night for $0.09 a KwH. They are making a profit of $0.08 a KwH then wanting a fee from the original generator of the solar system. Remember they are not paying generation cost or transmission as the power is produced and used locally.

Lets just take for example one of our average systems of 7 kw. It produces 9,863 KwH in Washington State. So if 30% of that is Peak usage your personal peak usage is 2959 KwH leaving 6904 KwH the utility is selling to your neighbors at $0.17. If you calculate that by the profit they are making from selling your power and then discount your power charge at night for the $0.08 the utility makes it is $552 per year that they make. SCE or Southern California Edison has about 300,000 residential installs to date. If they were all our minimum size of 7 kw they would have profited $165,600,000.00

My point is this. For the most part utilities that have Time Of Use charging systems for electricity are profiting and at the same time returning to the trough for even more by adding a meter fee. Thier base power is usually provided with fossil fuel and they will probably tell you that they have to buy that power no matter what due to their contract they signed with that energy producer. So YOU the solar producer are being asked to once again subsidize fossil fuel and to add insult to injury it is coming from those investing in clean energy. But they are not the only ones that are attacking residential and small commercial solar.

There have been a group of very influential investors into large utility solar projects. Berkshire Hathaway and the Walmart family to name some of the bigger players. and They can not sale you their solar power if you already have solar so they have spent a huge amount of money making false claims about the cost of residential solar to the utility to protect their investment.

Americans have stood up and the majority now support solar energy. We have the same old fossil and special interest wanting to keep it in Corporations pocket not the end user.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Oil kingdom Saudi Arabia now solar kingdom. Very Smart.

Saudi Arabia aims to build 41 gigawatts of solar capacity — more than any nation has today — in the first half of this century. (Fahad Shadeed /Reuters)

Image result for the washington post logo

As Jeffrey Ball puts it in the July-August issue of the Atlantic magazine, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has long been “a poster child for fossil-fuel waste.” Gasoline is sold at 50 cents a gallon, electricity is made in colossally inefficient oil-burning plants, people run their air conditioning while they’re out of town for weeks at a time. As a result, the country — with 30 million people, it is the 44th-most-populous in the world — is the sixth-largest consumer of oil.
But times are changing, Ball reports in “Why the Saudis Are Going Solar.” The petro-kingdom is preparing to build a solar-panel factory, another factory is about to produce polysilicon for solar cells, and 10 big solar projects are getting underway. The country has set a goal of building 41 gigawatts of solar capacity — more than any nation has today — in the first half of this century. Why? Because its domestic oil consumption has gotten so out of control and is increasing so fast that the kingdom could be a net oil importer in just over 20 years. That would wreak havoc in a country where political stability rests on the royal family’s ability to keep its subjects happy without making them pay taxes.
“Solar, they have decided, is an obvious alternative,” Ball continues. “In addition to having some of the world’s richest oil fields, Saudi Arabia also has some of the world’s most intense sunlight.” (Some people have all the luck.)
There’s a certain disconnect between aspiration and reality, with dust storms clouding the solar panels and problems with imported manufacturing parts. But Ball concludes that the surprising truth remains: Saudi Arabia may become a model for other countries trying to shift away from oil. And if that doesn’t happen, the desert kingdom could end up exporting its solar riches to us they way they traditionally have exported oil.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

U.S. Strikes Deal to Block Coal Plants Worldwide

Public financing of the polluting power plants will be curbed

Saturday, November 14, 2015

This new robot eats water pollution and produces electricity as it swims

So cool.
13 NOV 2015
The latest novel and potentially revolutionary use of robotic technology comes from Bristol University in the UK, where academics have developed the Row-Bot: place it in water and the little machine can clean up pollution and generate electricity from it at the same time. As Fast Company reports, Row-Bot floats on the surface of the water and is powered by a small artificial stomach that runs on bacteria. Because Row-Bot produces power from dirty water, it can go on moving and swimming for as long as there's cleaning to do, and it could one day be a hugely useful tool in the fight to limit our impact on the environment around us.
"The work shows a crucial step in the development of autonomous robots capable of long-term self-power," write the report's authors, who also say the water boatman beetle was an inspiration for their design. Key to the robot's operation is the Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) that acts as its digestive system: microbes digest the bacteria in the water and produce electrons as a result, electrons that can be harvested to give the 'oars' of the bot another push. In this way the Row-Bot can happily paddle around foraging for its own food and without having to rely on an external energy source or a refuelling stop. While this is only a proof-of-concept at this stage, the researchers are hoping their design can be developed and adapted for widespread use. "The energy generated has been shown to exceed the energy required to refuel," explains the report. "It is the first practical robotic application to use a single MFC and as such demonstrates the potential of the technology as an energy supply... This work demonstrates a suitable system for robots operating autonomously for extended periods in the environment and presents many avenues for development." As Fast Company reports, one of the key innovations in the design of the Row-Bot is the way the electrons are sent directly to the battery rather than requiring another chemical reaction first – this improves the efficiency of the robot's internal systems enough for it to be able to propel itself across the water unaided. There's actually some energy left over which could be used elsewhere. It's going to be a while before the Row-Bot is deployed to clean up sewage pollution but it's a promising development in autonomous robotics that can refuel themselves rather than having us do it for them. The same concept could eventually be used for robots moving on land and through the air too.

'Fool's gold battery' developed as alternative to lithium ion

The main advantage of the battery is the wide availability of its materials
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By Brooks Hays   |   Updated Nov. 13, 2015 at 2:57 PM

Researchers have invented a battery using pyrite nanocrystals, tiny specks of fool's gold. Photo by farbled/Shutterstock

ZURICH, Switzerland, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Lithium ion batteries power a wide range of electronics, including electric cars. But researchers say it's unlikely to be the battery of the future. Instead, look to the "fool's gold battery."
Lithium is a finite resource. And as more and more products rely on the element, the precious resource is likely to become prohibitively expensive.

Material scientists have been working hard to come up with cheaper alternatives to lithium batteries. The latest potential solution is the fool's gold battery, developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, or ETH Zurich.
The fool's gold battery is made up of iron, sulfur, sodium and magnesium, all elements available in abundance.
The anodes, which facilitate electricity flow into the battery, are made of magnesium. The electricity inside the battery flows through an electrolyte solution made of magnesium and sodium ions. Nanocrystals made of pyrite -- crystalline iron sulfide, also known as fool's gold -- serve as the cathode, taking electricity out of the battery.
In other words, the magnesium charges and the pyrite discharges -- the energy flow traveling via sodium ions.
The main advantage of the battery is the availability of its materials. It can be made cheaply and easily. But there are other pluses. Magnesium anodes don't catch on fire as easily as lithium does.
In lab tests, 40 discharging and charging cycles failed to put a dint in the battery's performance, suggesting it can withstand extended use without degrading.
Unfortunately, the battery can't facilitate as strong of an outflow of energy as lithium ion, making it unsuitable for things like electric cars, which need their batteries to deliver them a lot of power and fast. Instead, the battery could serve as a cheaper storage battery for large-scale electricity systems.
All power generation systems need a cheap and efficient way to store excess energy. The fool's gold batteries could be installed at nuclear power stations, for example.
"The battery's full potential has not been exhausted yet," researcher Maksym Kovalenko, a chemistry professor at ETH Zurich, said in a press release. "If we refine the electrolytes, we're bound to be able to increase the electric voltage of the sodium-magnesium hybrid cell even further and to extend its cycling life. We also look for investors willing to support research into such post-Li-ion technologies and bring them to the market."
Kovalenko and his colleagues detailed their invention in a new paper published in the journal Chemistry of Materials.

Chinese scientists develop tunable stealth material that can hide ships from radar

Researchers from China have reportedly turned out a new type of stealth material that is far more advanced than anything out there today. Published in the Journal of Applied Physics, the technology behind it is called “active frequency selecting surface” (AFSS), and it is described as an ultra-thin multi-layered material that is only 7.8mm thick. The technical details of this material are impressive.

The first 7mm of the composite is a honeycomb substrate that supports the outer layers and separates them from the metal outer surface of the craft to which it is applied. Next comes a copper-and-semiconductor AFSS layer that runs 0.04mm thick, and this leads to an outer layer called FR4. FR4 is a material used in printed circuit boards which is able to variably tune itself to absorb a wide band of radio frequencies.

Due to its utility and physical properties, it is possible to use the material on many different types of craft, including drones, fighter jets, satellites, and more. It appears that this technology will make its way over to Chinese jets and ships, making them harder to detect.

This new material is designed to defeat microwave radar at the UHF band level. With its thin profile, this type of material is applicable to fighter jets, defeating a practical limitation found in previous materials.

Stealth technology, and radar evasion in aircraft technology, have been part of a longstanding cat-and-mouse game between the major military powers extending over many years. From the earliest days of high altitude craft, to the ultra-sophisticated materials that are placed on craft today, the goal is to be invisible to the tools of detection. Stealth aircraft materials are designed to break up and change the normal way in which radar waves bounce of a craft’s surfaces. In time, radar detection equipment has become increasingly fine-tuned in order to counteract these stealth techniques. Today, detection technology uses ultra-high frequencies (UHF), which have enabled higher resolution than ever before.

This development has certainly not been lost on the U.S. military, as this represents China’s next move in the ongoing stealth race. Its emergence from a research group that was founded on a government grant has caused some concern over the brazen development of technologies that can be applied to the military.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Research team invents efficient shockwave-based process for desalination of water

Shared BY:
November 12, 2015 by David L. Chandler

Researchers say the new desalination method could be useful for cleaning the contaminated water generated by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Shown here is a holding pit for fracking water.

As the availability of clean, potable water becomes an increasingly urgent issue in many parts of the world, researchers are searching for new ways to treat salty, brackish or contaminated water to make it usable. Now a team at MIT has come up with an innovative approach that, unlike most traditional desalination systems, does not separate ions or water molecules with filters, which can become clogged, or boiling, which consumes great amounts of energy.
Instead, the system uses an electrically driven shockwave within a stream of flowing , which pushes salty water to one side of the flow and fresh water to the other, allowing easy separation of the two streams. The new approach is described in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, in a paper by professor of chemical engineering and mathematics Martin Bazant, graduate student Sven Schlumpberger, undergraduate Nancy Lu, and former postdoc Matthew Suss.
This approach is "a fundamentally new and different separation system," Bazant says. And unlike most other approaches to desalination or water purification, he adds, this one performs a "membraneless separation" of ions and particles.
Membranes in traditional desalination systems, such as those that use reverse osmosis or electrodialysis, are "selective barriers," Bazant explains: They allow molecules of water to pass through, but block the larger sodium and chlorine atoms of salt. Compared to conventional electrodialysis, "This process looks similar, but it's fundamentally different," he says.
In the new process, called shock electrodialysis, water flows through a porous material —in this case, made of tiny glass particles, called a frit—with membranes or electrodes sandwiching the porous material on each side. When an electric current flows through the system, the divides into regions where the salt concentration is either depleted or enriched. When that current is increased to a certain point, it generates a shockwave between these two zones, sharply dividing the streams and allowing the fresh and salty regions to be separated by a simple physical barrier at the center of the flow.
"It generates a very strong gradient," Bazant says
Research team invents efficient shockwave-based process for desalination of water
Diagram of the new process shows how a shockwave (red line) is generated in salty water flowing through a porous medium, with a voltage applied to membranes (green) at each side of the vessel. The shockwave pushed the salt ions off to one side of the flow, leaving fresh water at the other side, where it can be separated out.

 Even though the system can use membranes on each side of the , Bazant explains, the water flows across those membranes, not through them. That means they are not as vulnerable to fouling—a buildup of filtered material—or to degradation due to water pressure, as happens with conventional membrane-based desalination, including conventional electrodialysis. "The salt doesn't have to push through something," Bazant says. The charged salt particles, or ions, "just move to one side," he says.

The underlying phenomenon of generating a shockwave of was discovered a few years ago by the group of Juan Santiago at Stanford University. But that finding, which involved experiments with a tiny microfluidic device and no flowing water, was not used to remove salt from the water, says Bazant, who is currently on sabbatical at Stanford.
The new system, by contrast, is a continuous process, using water flowing through cheap porous media, that should be relatively easy to scale up for desalination or . "The breakthrough here is the engineering [of a practical system]," Bazant says.
One possible application would be in cleaning the vast amounts of wastewater generated by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This contaminated water tends to be salty, sometimes with trace amounts of toxic ions, so finding a practical and inexpensive way of cleaning it would be highly desirable. This system not only removes salt, but also a wide variety of other contaminants—and because of the electrical current passing through, it may also sterilize the stream. "The electric fields are pretty high, so we may be able to kill the bacteria," Schlumpberger says.
The research produced both a laboratory demonstration of the process in action and a theoretical analysis that explains why the process works, Bazant says. The next step is to design a scaled-up system that could go through practical testing.
Initially at least, this process would not be competitive with methods such as reverse osmosis for large-scale seawater desalination. But it could find other uses in the cleanup of , Schlumpberger says.
Unlike some other approaches to desalination, he adds, this one requires little infrastructure, so it might be useful for portable systems for use in remote locations, or for emergencies where water supplies are disrupted by storms or earthquakes.
Maarten Biesheuvel, a principal scientist at the Netherlands Water Technology Institute who was not involved in this research, says the work "is of very high significance to the field of water desalination. It opens up a whole range of new possibilities for water desalination, both for seawater and brackish water resources, such as groundwater."
Biesheuvel adds that this team "shows a radically new design where within one and the same channel ions are separated between different regions. … I expect that this discovery will become a big 'hit' in the academic field. … It will be interesting to see whether the upscaling of this technology, from a single cell to a stack of thousands of cells, can be achieved without undue problems."
More information: Sven Schlumpberger et al. Scalable and Continuous Water Deionization by Shock Electrodialysis, Environmental Science & Technology Letters (2015). DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.5b00303

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Why Residential Solar Is Having A Powerful Impact

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By Brian Sodoma

For decades, home solar systems were a great idea that fell short of economic viability, an indulgence only a select few could afford. But today, the U.S. residential solar market is enjoying unprecedented growth. It saw a second straight quarter of record expansion in Q2 2015, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight report released in September by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The report highlights several significant residential solar milestones. Residential installations in the second quarter topped the first quarter by 6 percent and were 70 percent higher than the second quarter of 2014. California installations account for 49 percent of the residential solar power market, but more states are entering the field. Ten states each installed more than 10 megawatts (MW) of residential solar, a significant milestone, according to the report. (On average, 1 MW of solar power produces enough energy for 164 U.S. homes.)
Here are three key factors driving the residential solar power boom.

1. Cost Control, Incentives

The declining cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels is a major contributor to the solar boom. Since 1998, residential system prices have dropped from $12 per watt to $4 per watt and continue to fall, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
“On the cost side, solar panels, not unlike flat-panel TVs, have become commoditized and their production costs have come down,” said Mike Lorusso, group head and managing director of CIT Energy Finance, which finances energy projects across the United States.
The lower costs come paired with federal, state and utility incentive programs. The most popular and well-known incentive is the 30 percent federal tax credit, which is set to step down to 10 percent for third-party owned systems and expire for customer-owned systems at the end of 2016; it had been renewed by Congress in 2008, and solar industry leaders are lobbying for another multi-year extension.
The majority of utilities also use “net metering,” which allows residential users to sell back excess solar power produced during peak production times, and use energy from the grid during down times. In addition, Renewable Energy Certificates allow utilities in certain states to buy credits from solar customers to help them meet renewable energy portfolio requirements.
Such incentives, in addition to overall lower system costs, have made the solar proposition more attractive to the American homeowner.

2. Financial Innovation

Even with these incentives, most residential system purchases still range between $20,000 and $30,000, making for a long payback period of usually seven to eight years.
In the past five years, however, financing options have reduced upfront costs and been a huge driver for residential solar power growth. One of the primary factors accelerating the uptake of home solar overall is savings relative to conventional utility bills. Leases, power purchase agreements (PPAs) and loans offer immediate savings to those who sign on for what are commonly 15- to 20-year financings, with no out-of-pocket costs.
With leases and PPAs, the installer holds ownership of the solar system and charges the host rent or volumetric payments for energy produced monthly, usually at a discount of 5 to 25 percent or more from current utility rates, according to Rhys Marsh, director, CIT Energy Finance. The system owner, not the homeowner, is also responsible for maintenance. With a loan, the homeowner owns the system and makes monthly payments, also generally at a discount to utility rates, and can contract with a network of providers if repairs are needed.
“It’s one of those situations that builds momentum. Once you see a few people with solar, or neighbors getting it, you can really see accelerated growth,” Lorusso added.
With leases and PPAs, the owner of the system uses the 30 percent federal tax credit and other available incentives, instead of the homeowner. “While the company as system owner does take the tax credits, it allows the solar provider to offer a lower rate to customers on the financing contract,” Marsh explained. Conversely, with loans, the homeowner takes the credit and can pay down the debt related to the system.

3. Disruption, Storage

California and Nevada take the No. 1 and 3 spots for installations in the second quarter of 2015, while eastern states North Carolina, New York and Massachusetts make up the second, fourth and fifth spots. The growth on the East Coast can be attributed to consumers seeking alternatives to high utility costs, especially in the cases of Massachusetts and New York, Marsh said.
Arizona, whose ranking slipped a spot from fifth to sixth in 2015, may have experienced a decline because of the state’s utilities tacking on extra fees for those with solar systems. Utilities contend that there are fixed costs associated with solar owners accessing the grid both at night and when solar customers sell back their power during peak sun times over the system’s distribution lines. It’s a price that traditional electric users pay, and solar customers should too, they say, though solar companies contend that such analyses ignore other cost benefits that solar can offer the grid as a whole.
“It’s an example of how policy really can impact outcomes,” Marsh said. But he also warned utilities of an “unintended consequence.”
“Artificially slowing the growth of solar doesn’t reduce demand for solar. Disruptive technologies like battery storage can release pent-up demand by reducing solar customers’ need for net metering and the grid,” he said. Some people with solar could disconnect from the grid entirely if the fixed fee charged by utilities is higher than the cost of installing battery storage units, he added.
Battery storage units like Tesla’s Powerwall currently sell for roughly $7,000 fully installed, which makes the grid the more economic “storage” option for most American solar households. But both Marsh and Lorusso believe growth in the market, including new supply from Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 in Nevada, will lead to a drop in the Powerwall’s price. They estimate a decline of anywhere from 30 to 50 percent in the next five years.
SEIA’s Solar Market Insight report forecasts more record residential growth for the coming year. Even with the potentially moderating effects of reduced incentives or new fees, solar still broadly offers customers cost savings and remains the most economically viable of residential renewable energy sources out there today, according to Lorusso.
“In theory, yes, you can get power from a wave or wind, but it all comes down to economics, and those technologies are just not practical at small scale,” he said.

This content first ran on CIT Voice on Forbes.
Brian Sodoma is a Las Vegas–based freelance writer with a focus on health, business and real estate. He has written for several publications, including Vegas Seven, Las Vegas Review and Vegas Inc.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mexico to award up to 2,500 MW in renewable energy contracts in March


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico will start soliciting bids later this month in its first auction of renewable energy certificates, part of an electricity sector overhaul that ends the state-owned power company's monopoly, government officials said on Wednesday.
Initial awards of the new certificates, which provide the right and impose the obligation to produce clean energy, are set for March, officials said.
Up to 6 million of the certificates will be awarded in the first auction via 20-year contracts that seek to produce up to 2,500 megawatts of additional power generation from clean sources like wind or solar.
National electricity company CFE will initially be the only buyer of the energy from companies that are awarded the certificates in the competitive tenders, but new wholesale power companies allowed by the energy overhaul will later be able to purchase it, too, said Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell.
"This blueprint guarantees that there will be demand for companies that generate electricity from clean sources," said Joaquin Coldwell.
Mexico, a major crude oil producer and exporter, has for decades generated most of its power from fuel oil. Over the last several years, however, it has transitioned into cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas as well as renewable sources.
The new contracts will also help CFE meet a mandate to generate at least 5 percent of its power from cleaner sources by 2018.
Further technical and financial details will be published on Nov. 19, when the bidding process starts.
(Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)                           

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

New report on solar in the Western Region of the U.S.…/documents/WesternRegionReport2015.pdf…/documents/WesternRegionReport2015.pdf

Peabody Energy Agrees to Fully Disclose Climate Risks from Coal

Coal companies struggle with the dirtiest fossil fuel’s pollution

Olivier Lantzendorffer ©
Peabody Energy Corp. describes its statement that it would more fully disclose the financial risks it faces from climate change as a penalty-free modification of its financial reporting process.
“There is no other action associated with this settlement, no admission or denial of wrongdoing and no financial penalty,” the company said of the culmination of a two-year investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office in which it was accused of violating state laws prohibiting “false and misleading conduct” in statements to the public and investors.
Peabody stressed it has “always sought to make appropriate disclosures” and explained that financial disclosures “evolve over time.” Even so, future disclosures will include information detailing the risk the company faces from “potential laws and regulations relating to climate change or coal, which could result in materially adverse effects on its markets or [the] company,” it said.
Peabody also agreed to disclose a range of scenarios from the International Energy Agency suggesting declining future demand for coal, changing course from earlier financial statements where the company only disclosed IEA’s business-as-usual scenario.
But refining how it discloses financial risk from climate change will not solve Peabody’s problems.
The world’s largest private-sector coal firm, along with other U.S. giants like Arch Coal Inc., Cloud Peak Energy Inc. and Alpha Natural Resources Inc., are swimming against a powerful current of regulatory and economic change that has shrunk markets and driven down stock prices to unprecedented lows.
Peabody shares on the New York Stock Exchange fell in value during morning trading before rebounding to $15.09. One year ago, the company’s stock traded at $171, compared with roughly $300 per share in November 2013.
Meanwhile, some of Peabody’s chief competitors have bottomed out, with a trio of Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings—Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal Corp. and Walter Energy Inc.—since the beginning of the year.
Arch Coal on watch list
On the Chapter 11 watch list now is Arch Coal, Peabody’s largest U.S. rival and hometown competitor. Both companies are headquartered in St. Louis.
Yesterday, Arch Coal reported bleak third-quarter results to investors, with a net loss of just under $2 billion ($93.91 per diluted share), while its stock price hovered at between $1.50 and $1.60 per share in afternoon trading. Total revenues declined to $2 billion for the nine months ending Sept. 30, “largely due to lower metallurgical coal prices and output,” the company said.
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Arch also reported nearly $150 million in losses related to the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal, as millions of dollars’ worth of retiree medical benefits belonging to Patriot subsidiary Magnum Coal Co. flowed back onto Arch’s balance sheet as part of Patriot’s court-approved reorganization.
“Our results reflect the actions we have taken to respond to the challenging market environment, including reducing costs and enhancing efficiency across the company,” Arch Chairman and CEO John W. Eaves said in a statement.
Yet despite some positive signs, including increased cash margins and higher adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $262 million, Eaves warned that “the difficult conditions impacting the coal industry persist, and we expect they will continue throughout 2016.”
In its most recent earnings report issued late last month, Peabody saw revenue of $1.42 billion, down from $1.72 billion the year before. The company’s earnings per diluted share were down $8.08 due to a reverse split of common stock that occurred in early October. Its U.S. mining operation saw pretax earnings decline by $44.3 million “primarily due to a volume reduction of 2.5 million tons largely driven by lower natural gas prices and a longwall move in Colorado,” the company said.
While industry executives said they would continue to adjust to challenging market conditions, independent experts following the coal sector saw little in the recent news to suggest a rebound, especially as competing fuels from natural gas to renewables like solar and wind power continue to dominate the market for new generation.
“The coal industry is desperately looking for positives, but most appear to come from their own PR campaigns claiming that coal is the solution to energy poverty or that coal is amazing,” James Leaton, head of research at the nonprofit Carbon Tracker Initiative, said of the industry’s ongoing slide in the online journal World Finance.
In its statement, Peabody reiterated its belief that advanced clean coal technology “is the bridge to a low-emissions future for a world experiencing rising electricity demand to satisfy urbanization and offer a higher quality of life.” It cited its work in China on the country’s 250-megawatt GreenGen power plant that will use integrated gasification combined-cycle technology to reduce carbon emissions.
Peabody is also one of the founding partners in the Advanced Energy for Life, an industry-funded campaign to promote coal-fired power as an antidote to acute energy shortages in developing countries.