September 2010


A company called FloDesign has created an all new wind turbine based on technology found in jet engines. They claim that these new turbines are 3-4 times more efficient, require less space, and can operate at higher speeds than the traditional wind-mill style turbines we see installed today.

Traditional wind turbines create a wake effect much like a wake seen behind a boat. This causes the turbines behind the front line to be less effective than the ones behind it. Turbines after the first row tend to produce 20-30% less power. This is due to the fact that the turbines cannot dynamically move as winds change direction.

The parts of traditional turbines need to be shipped in very large pieces requiring many trucks to haul the blades and motor to the location for assembly. FloDesign’s wind turbines break down so all the pieces fit on to one truck, and they have just secured $34.5 million to help begin commercial development.

The FloDesign turbines seem to address many of the issues faced by traditional turbines including size, space required for operation, efficiency, and directional mobility. Let’s hope this new turbine is as good as FloDesign says. If it is, we could see the price of wind energy start to drop dramatically.

Source: The Modern Green.

A report suggests Australian demand for biofuels has outstripped the rate of global production growth in the past year.

A study by APAC Biofuel Consultants shows demand has increased by 34 per cent, which is more than double the rate of world growth in production.

APAC joint chief executive Michael Cochran says a mandate for ethanol use in New South Wales and the fuel’s promotion in Queensland and Victoria have led to higher demand.

Petrol with 10 per cent ethanol now makes up 10 per cent of Australia’s fuel sales.

Mr Cochran says the benefits of switching to biofuels are more than environmental.

“It helps Australia with its fuel security. Australia is a large importer of both diesel fuel and petrol and both biodiesel and ethanol substitute for imports,” he said.

“Much of the new growth is expected to come from Queensland with the sugar industry.

“There’s also a new project that’s on the cards in Victoria, making ethanol from garbage waste and so forth.”

Source: ABC News.

A massive satellite that harvests the power in solar wind could meet the energy needs of all humanity and then some.

Solar and wind power have long been two of the main contenders in the race to find the next big renewable energy resource. Rather than choosing between the two, scientists at Washington State University have instead combined them.

Using a massive 8,400-kilometer-wide (5,220-mile-wide) solar sail to harvest the power in solar wind, the team hopes their concept could generate 1 billion billion gigawatts of power, far more power than humanity needs — if they can get that power back to Earth.

“It’s quite amazing how much power it can actually produce,” said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a scientist at Washington State University and a co-author of the paper, which appears in the International Journal of Astrobiology. “In principle it should work quite well, but there are some practical issues.”

Solar wind doesn’t act like wind on Earth, and the satellite wouldn’t generate electricity like a windmill.

Instead of physically rotating a blade attached to a turbine, the proposed satellite would use a charged copper wire to capture electrons zooming away from the sun at several hundred kilometers per second.

According to the team’s calculations, 300 meters (984 feet) of copper wire, attached to a two-meter-wide (6.6-foot-wide) receiver and a 10-meter (32.8-foot) sail, would generate enough power for 1,000 homes.

A satellite with a 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) cable and a sail 8,400 kilometers (5,220 miles) across, placed at roughly the same orbit, would generate one billion billion gigawatts of power.

That’s approximately 100 billion times the power Earth currently uses.

Of course, all of that power has to be able to get to Earth. Some of the energy the satellite generates would be pumped back into the copper wire to create the electron-harvesting magnetic field. The rest of the energy would power an infrared laser beam, which would help fulfill the whole planet’s energy needs day and night regardless of environmental conditions.

The main shortfall of this approach is that over the millions of miles between the satellite and Earth, even the tightest laser beam would spread out and lose a lot of its original energy. While most of the technology to create the satellite already exists, a more focused laser would be necessary, said Schulze-Makuch.

Greg Howes, a scientist at the University of Iowa, agrees that “the energy is certainly there,” in solar wind, and that to generate practical amounts of energy from solar wind would require a very big satellite, “but the practical constraints are a big question.”

Brooks Harrop, the other co-author of the journal paper, said that they made “practically no allowance for engineering difficulties,” and that these problems would have to be solved before such the satellite could be deployed.

Source: Cool Sydney.

Google’s clean power ambitions are ramping up. The company has hired Philip Gleckman, former chief scientist at solar thermal startup eSolar, to work on solar tech internally for Google, Green Energy Reporter first reported, and we’ve confirmed with Google.

Google’s Parag Chokshi, who heads up Clean Energy Public Affairs, told me in an email that Gleckman “has a wealth of experience in this sector and his expertise will obviously add to our research and development work with RE<C.” RE<C is geek speak for Google’s renewable energy cheaper than coal project, which was launched back in late 2007 with the goal to spend “tens of millions of dollars on R&D,” and ultimately produce a “gigawatt of renewable energy capacity,” in years, not decades. Chokshi said the solar research is “proprietary and ongoing.”

Google’s Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl has mentioned Google’s internal efforts to build solar thermal mirrors before. Solar thermal technology works by using large mirrors and lenses to reflect the sun onto a liquid that is turned into steam and runs a steam turbine, producing electricity. Utilities in California and other sunny states like Arizona, have been working with third parties like eSolar and BrightSource to get large utility-scale solar thermal plants built in the deserts.

Weihl told Reuters a year ago that Google had started developing its own solar thermal mirrors because there has been a lack of industry innovation around the technology — basically if you want something done right, do it yourself (even if it’s utterly outside of your scope of business). Weihl said back then that Google is looking to cut the cost of developing the solar mirrors by at least a factor of 2 (but ideally a factor or 3 or 4) by using unusual materials. A Google spokesperson said at the time that Google had a “handful of dedicated full-time green engineers” working on green technologies as part of its RE<C project. Gleckman just climbed aboard that team.

Google has invested in both solar thermal companies eSolar and BrightSource, so is clearly trying to bring down the cost of solar in a variety of ways. This isn’t the first time that Google has decided to design hardware outside of its core competency. Google famously builds its own servers and data centers instead of contracting with third parties because the search engine giant says it can make them more efficiently.

Google also recently made a major move to buy clean power from a wind farm through its subsidiary Google Energy, which can buy and sell energy on the wholesale markets. I speculated in a longer article on GigaOM Pro (subscription required) that Google could buy the wind power potentially to one day use it to power data centers. On that note, Google could potentially build its own solar thermal farms with its own solar thermal tech to power its data centers. A stretch, but an idea.

Source: Gigaom.

In its 10th year, the Solar Power International conference in Los Angeles, on Oct. 14-15, is on course to be the largest commercial solar event in the world.

The conference, sponsored by the Solar Electric Power Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association, has grown every year since it started, and this year, sponsors expect more than 27,000 visitors and almost 1,100 vendor booths, said Monique Hanis, a spokesperson for the event.

With 15 percent more booths and 7 to 10 percent more visitors, Hanis said, event organizers are pleased.

“We’ve actually been having issues finding hotel rooms for everyone,” Hanis said.

There’s no wonder the event is expected to be a blowout this year—the solar industry has experienced monumental growth.

Hundreds of thousands of kilowatts of solar panels went up in public and residential spaces this year.

“This is the show that encompasses every element of solar technology,” Hanis said.

Vendors from the public and residential sectors will be exhibiting new technologies in solar thermal, photovoltaic, and other methods of solar energy collection and distribution at the event.

The event will be free and open to the public Wednesday, Oct. 13 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

People from the public will be able to learn about the new technologies, talk with vendors and find out about installing solar at their homes and businesses. They will also be able to learn about how to get a job in the solar industry, Hanis said.

“Solar is a growing industry, and there’s been a lot of job growth already,” Hanis said. “Job growth in solar this year was 7 percent higher than we estimated it would be.”

One big sector for this year’s conference, Hanis said, is the utility-scale work. She said utility companies have broken ground on hundreds of major solar projects this year with many more in the pipeline for approval. She noted some of the huge public lands solar projects approved this year.

“We’ve had 74,000 public land leases for gas and oil extraction,” Hanis said. “But this is the first year the government has granted public land leases for solar development. That’s huge.” She said the western states richest in solar resources have a lot of public lands.

Hanis hopes the growth of the event will highlight the industry’s growth.

Source: Solar Feeds.

It’s been a tough year for those of us committed to tackling the climate crisis. The previous government tried fruitlessly to legislate for an emissions trading scheme, while the tragic floods in Pakistan, record heat waves in Europe, and steadily melting ice in the arctic all hint at what life in a warming world could look like.

Still, even as one who approaches politics with a healthy dose of realism, I’m optimistic that we are turning a corner in the effort to cut the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving climate change.

First, while it may seem incomprehensible that our leaders would sit idly by while study after study made it clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the climate was changing, and that the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for it, we know that politicians, being politicians, act more frequently out of self-interest than they do out of common interest.

And so one must greet the announcement this week that Prime Minister Julia Gillard will herself chair a committee specifically dedicated to tackle climate change, by acknowledging the possibility that what is good for politicians is finally starting to align with what is good for the planet.

This assertion is supported by a new political reality that has the Greens enjoying more leverage in parliament than at any point in history, as well as a recent Australian Conservation Foundation poll that shows more than 80 per cent of Australians want the new government to rapidly invest in clean energy alternatives such as wind, solar and geothermal. (Incidentally the poll showed that regional Australians are even more enthusiastic than those from cities about the switch to renewable power, dispelling an age-old myth about a rural-urban divide when it comes to cutting carbon.)

It is truism in politics that those in power, even the ones we think are on our side, don’t change, maybe can’t change, unless we make them.

Fortunately, the numbers are beginning to look like we are on the cusp of what the fight to tackle climate change needed all along, not more data about how gases were dangerously accumulating in the atmosphere, or tired old laments about the uselessness of politicians, but a movement of people, young and old, rural and urban, that won’t take no for an answer. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd certainly learned the hazard of opposing an idea whose time has come.

And so at 350.org we’re working with people from all walks of life, from across Australia and across the world, to empower and amplify the voice of the climate movement through the power of the internet.

Last October, we organised 5200 rallies in 182 countries in what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history”, to support the goal of stabilising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 350 parts per million. You can see the energy of the movement in the 20,000 photos that streamed into our Flickr set over the day.

Our latest effort is the 10/10 Global Work Party. Working with the 10:10 campaign and many others, we are co-ordinating what is expected to be the largest practical day of action to fight climate change in history on October 10. From women in Pakistan learning to cook with solar ovens, to sumo wrestlers in Japan riding their bicycles to work, to villagers in Fiji restoring mangroves damaged by Cyclone Tomas, people are getting to work on climate solutions and sending the message to world leaders while they’re at it: “We’re doing our work, what about you?”

Scores of events are planned in Australia as well. For example, in Victoria, hundreds will be gathering outside the Hazelwood power plant, calling on their leaders to close one of the industrialised world’s dirtiest and most inefficient coal-burning facilities. At Macquarie University, students will plant carbon-gobbling trees and share ideas on how to go green. In Townsville, folks are focusing on how permaculture can help alleviate the climate crisis.

Of course, this isn’t enough. No person or country or leader can solve the crisis alone. But I’m optimistic that in Australia, even if the evidence that the world is coming to end isn’t enough to spur our politicians to act on climate change, the reality that their careers will come to end if they don’t, finally will.

Emily Mulligan is Australian national director of 350.org, which is creating a global movement to combat the climate crisis.

Source: Cool Sydney.

One of the most curious facts about energy is that economies use more of it even as they use it more efficiently. This strikes us as strange because many of us have heard that making cars, buildings, and factories more energy efficient is the key to cheaply and quickly reducing energy consumption, and thus pollution.

But energy experts have never seen this as particularly mysterious. As energy historian Vaclav Smil writes, “Historical evidence shows unequivocally that secular advances in energy efficiency have not led to any declines of aggregate energy consumption.” A group of economists beginning in the 1980s went further, suggesting that increasing the productivity of energy would have the same effect on the economy as making labor more productive, and that making labor more productive meant using more energy – that is, supplementing and then altogether replacing human labor with energy.

Efficiency advocates have long dismissed the evidence that there is significant “rebound” of energy use, suggesting it is only roughly 5 percent and thus fairly inconsequential. But these advocates typically focus on the relatively direct behavioral changes at the household or business level that are easiest to measure, while others note that the most significant rebounds are indirect and occur in places we consumers never see – in the production of energy, of raw materials, and consumer goods — not in “end use” consumer products.

Below, one of the leading energy efficiency economists, Harry Saunders, explains why energy efficiency does not decrease energy consumption in the way we are conventionally under stand it. In the process, Harry clarifies the controversy over his recent co-authored study for the Journal of Physics reviewing 300 years of lighting history and the likely impacts of new solid-state lighting technologies (e.g. LEDs). Against the claims that new lighting technology will reduce energy consumption, Saunders and his colleagues found that they will likely increase it – greatly expanding the global use of lighting in the process, especially in developing countries. Saunders clarifies some important questions, and explains the basics of “the rebound effect.”

With the new study, rebound has firmly moved from the theoretical to the empirical, and the implications of it must now be dealt with by all of us who were counting on efficiency to be an easy way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: The Breakthrough Institute.

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