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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Laurel Krause, MendoCoastCurrent, September 10, 2011 ~ 9/10/11

PRESIDENT OBAMA promised on October 27, 2007: “I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the FIRST THING I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.”

On Peace

President Obama has been in office for 32 months and there are still 45,000 troops in Iraq and 100,000+ troops in Afghanistan.

When we voted for Obama we expected our future President to keep his word, not involve us in FOUR MORE WARS!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You’re ON NOTICE ~ Next election Americans will come out in great numbers to vote for a peace-focused presidential candidate that will keep his word.

On Commercial-scale Renewable Energy

We felt validated that we voted for Obama when early in his presidency our President pledged to begin to develop safe, sustainable and renewable energy. We saw it as an excellent way to put the American workforce ‘back to work’ and begin to build a renewable energy future for America. Since then NOT ONE significant renewable or sustainable energy project has been created nor backed by the federal government. If there is one, please name it! The validation we felt back then has expired long ago into distrust and disrespect.

On the BP Gulf Oil Leak

Mostly based on watching our President minimize and shield his eyes (along with Energy Sec Chu) as the BP Oil Leak continues to leak and spew oil into the Gulf of Mexico, to this day. We are beyond disappointed that no significant or innovative remedial (as in clean up) action has been taken in the Gulf or poisoned coastal areas.

On Fukushima & Nuclear Reactors

Then we were shocked when our President in his address to the nation, moments after Fukushima went into melt-through in March 2011, disbelieving our President’s pledge of allegiance to more, new nuclear development in America. Except for President Obama’s corporate backers, the rest of us DO NOT WANT MORE NUCLEAR ENERGY REACTORS in the U.S. We demand our President begin to close down all U.S. nuclear reactors now, also a position very far from our President’s nuclear energy corporate BFF’s.

THE NATIVES ARE BECOMING RESTLESS MR. PRESIDENT!

PUT AMERICA BACK ON THE RIGHT TRACK

STEP 1) Immediately BRING ALL TROOPS HOME to be re-deployed in cleaning up the affected areas, as in making whole again, at the on-going BP Oil Leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

STEP 1-A ~ Fire & replace Energy Secretary Chu with a qualified, earth-friendly, safe renewable energy visionary.

STEP 2) Segment a significant portion of your new Jobs Bill towards sustainable and renewable energy R&D to create a VISION & PLAN FOR AMERICA to become the world leader in these new, safe technologies.

STEP 2-A ~ Consider and fund Mendocino Energy, a fast-tracked commercial-scale renewal/sustainable energy thinktank to get started TODAY. Learn more about Mendocino Energy ~ http://bit.ly/t7ov1

Mr President, let us live in peace on a healthy planet.

JOIN US, JOIN IN at the Peaceful Party: http://on.fb.me/hBvNE3

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 14, 2011

Dear President Obama,

Continuing to hear comments that you, your administration and your cabinet members consider nuclear power as a clean, renewable solution is most alarming.

Mr. President, let’s consider the nuclear event occurring in Japan right now and learn the simple truth that any safe renewable energy portfolio DOES NOT include nuclear energy.

The ramifications of the current Japanese nuclear trauma will be felt worldwide as will the fall-out, for months and possibly years to come.

Mr. President, I strongly encourage your team to change course, hit the ground running in alternative, renewable and sustainable energy r&d right now.

Here’s a solution that may be started TODAY ~ http://bit.ly/t7ov1

I call it Mendocino Energy and am not attached to the name, yet very passionate about this important safe, renewable energy development concept. Time has come for us to get rolling!

Mendocino Energy ~ At this core energy technology incubator, energy policy is created as renewable energy technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing, refinement and implementation.

The Vision

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco, Silicon Valley. On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, utilizing a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site to innovate in best practices, cost-efficient, safe renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag/algae, smart grid and grid technologies, et al.

The process is collaborative in creating, identifying and engineering optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions with acumen.

Start-ups, utility companies, universities (e.g. Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford), EPRI, the federal government (FERC, DOE, DOI) and the world’s greatest minds gathering at this fast-tracked, unique coming-together of a green work force and the U.S. government, creating responsible, safe renewable energy technologies to quickly identify best commercialization candidates and build-outs.

The campus is quickly constructed on healthy areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre industry created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is underway.

Determining best sitings for projects in solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, algae farming, bioremediation; taking the important first steps towards establishing U.S. leadership in renewable energy and the global green economy.

With deep concern & hope,

Laurel Krause

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JULIETTE JOWIT, Guardian UK, July 28, 2010

Phytoplankton might be too small to see with the naked eye, but they are the foundations of the ocean food chain, ultimately capturing the energy that sustains the seas’ great beasts such as whales.

A new study though has raised the alarm about fundamental changes to life underwater. It warns that populations of these microscopic organisms have plummeted in the last century, and the rate of loss has increased in recent years.

The reduction – averaging about 1% per year – is related to increasing sea surface temperatures, says the paper, published tomorrow in the journal Nature.

The decline of these tiny plankton will have impacted nearly all sea creatures and will also have affected fish stocks.

Phytoplankton provide food – by capturing energy from the sun – and recycle nutrients, and because they account for approximately half of all organic matter on earth they are hugely important as a means of absorbing carbon.

“This decline will need to be considered in future studies of marine ecosystems, geochemical cycling, ocean circulation and fisheries,” add the paper’s authors, from Dalhousie university in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The researchers looked at measurements of ocean transparency and tested for concentrations of chlorophyll, which gives large numbers of phytoplankton a distinctive green sheen. They said that although there were variations in some areas due to regional climate and coastal run-off, the long-term global decline was “unequivocal”.

The Nature article comes as climate scientists published what they said today was the “best ever” collection of evidence for global warming, including temperature over land, at sea and in the higher atmosphere, along with records of humidity, sea-level rise, and melting ice.

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JEANNE ROBERTS, Celsias via CleanTechies, March 29, 2010

There is a cascade failure going on in the world’s oceans that promises nothing but trouble in the future, and the problem stems in part from agricultural practices developed over the last half-decade aimed at growing more food on the same amount of land to feed rising populations.

A cascade failure is the progressive collapse of an integral system. Many scientists also call them negative feedback loops, in that unfortunate situations reinforce one another, precipitating eventual and sometimes complete failure.

The agricultural practices relate to “factory farming,” in which farmers grow crops using more and more chemical fertilizers, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the first two ingredients (chemical symbols N and P) listed on any container or bag of fertilizer. The last is potassium, or K.

But farmers aren’t the only culprits. Lawn enthusiasts add to the problem with their massive applications of fertilizer designed to maintain a species of plant that doesn’t provide either food or habitat, and is grown merely to add prestige. And groundskeepers at parks and large corporate headquarters are equally guilty. In fact, a whole generation needs to rethink its addiction to lawns.

Whoever is guilty of applying the fertilizer, these megadoses are eventually washed off the fields and lawns and into waterways. From there, they migrate to the nearest large bodies of water, where they spark such tremendous and unnatural growth in aquatic plants that the result is eutrophication , or lack of oxygen in the water as bacteria act to reduce the sheer mass of dying organic matter.

One of these aquatic growths is algae, or phytoplankton. Moderate algal growth can produce higher fish yields and actually benefit lakes and oceans, but over-stimulation leads to a whole host of problems whose integral relationship to one another threatens not only aquatic but human life.

A classic example would be the Baltic Sea, where phytoplankton are raging out of control. The Baltic Sea is, as a result, home to seven out of ten of the world’s largest “dead zones,” aquatic areas where nothing survives.

One of the other three is the Gulf of Mexico, where a 2008 dead zone the size of Massachusetts is expected to grow in future years thanks to the U.S. government’s biofuel mandate. Most of the crops for biofuel are grown along the Mississippi River, which drains directly into this dead zone.

In the Baltic, as elsewhere, overfishing has exacerbated the problem. Fish feed on smaller aquatic organisms, which themselves feed on the algae. Take the fish out of the equation, and the balance is lost. It’s very much like removing the wolves that keep down the deer population in order to protect the sheep, and it doesn’t work in the ocean any better than it works on land.

Once the algal blooms begin to thrive, they block sunlight to deeper water and begin to kill off seaweeds and other aquatic plants which are home to fish species. The dying plants then consume more oxygen as bacteria consume them. And, as the seaweeds die, the few remaining fish and shellfish species move away, deprived of habitat.

This is a classic example of a negative feedback loop, and it is reinforced by every meal of fish, every instance of Scotts lawn fertilizer, and every ear of corn grown with a little help from Cargill or Dow, to name just two multinational fertilizer manufacturers.

Another example is occurring in the Pacific Northwest , along the West Coast of the United States, where — in Washington State, Oregon, and even Northern California — piles of Dungeness crab shells on the ocean floor mark areas of severe eutrophication well within sight of land.

Elsewhere along the Pacific shoreline, bird deaths – ranging from pelicans to sea ducks – predict a failure in the natural world that can’t help but reverberate among the planet’s prime predator, man.

These areas of eutrophication have always been present, but their spread – from one or two areas to miles of coastal waters – indicates a larger problem that is likely about to overwhelm not only the fishing industry and tourism but the existence of oceans as living entities.

As Oregon State University ocean sciences professor Jack Barth notes, the once-scarce areas of low oxygen have become the “new normal”, with old areas repeating and new areas cropping up every year. In many of these areas, oxygen levels are 30% lower than they were a mere half-decade ago.

Not all algal blooms are harmful or noxious, of course. But those which occur in response to eutrophication do seem to be, and these – known as HABs, or harmful algal blooms – include pseudo-nitzschia producing algae, which deliver a neurotoxin called domoic acid that can kill humans, birds and aquatic mammals that eat the affected shellfish; golden algae, which under certain conditions produce toxins that cause massive fish and bivalve (clams, mussels, oysters) kills; brown tides, which are not toxic in themselves but create aquatic conditions that can kill fish larvae; red tides, which produce brevetoxins that can affect breathing and sometimes trigger fatal, respiratory illnesses in humans; and blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which can form dense colonies that cause water to smell and become toxic to fish, pets and humans.

This last, which has spread from Texas to Minnesota, has led to livestock deaths in the former. In the latter, where having a lake home is a sign of prestige, many homeowners have been forced to sell at a loss to get away from once-pristine lakes so smelly and toxic that dozens of pet dogs have been killed drinking the water.

Lower oxygen levels in oceans are very attractive to one species; jellyfish, and these odd creatures with their many tentacles and poisonous sting thrive under such conditions. In fact, jellyfish have few predators except man, and those few (tuna, sharks, swordfish, a carnivorous coral , one species of Pacific salmon and the leatherback turtle) are all at great risk of extinction because of eutrophication and its related conditions, pollution, overfishing and climate change.

As one of the most prolific species in the ocean, and certainly one with a long history (the species has been around since the Cambrian), jellyfish will probably take over the oceans if things continue as they have been going since the 1960s. This is good news for the Japanese, Chinese and other Oriental cultures who regard the slimy beast as a delicacy.

For the rest of us, jellyfish are an acquired taste, and one we had better acquire if we want to keep eating seafood. Either that, or we can support legislation that, in the U.S. at least, promises some relief through research, monitoring and rule-making regarding the Great Lakes and both coasts.

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UPI.com, March 9, 2010

Nanotube filaments

A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists say they’ve discovered a phenomenon that might lead to a new way of producing electricity.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Michael Strano, said their discovery of the phenomenon that causes waves of energy to shoot through carbon nanotubes — described as thermopower waves — is similar to flotsam being propelled along the ocean’s surface by waves.

The scientists said a thermal wave — a moving pulse of heat — traveling along a submicroscopic nanotube can drive electrons along with it, creating an electrical current.

Because it is such a new discovery, Strano said it’s difficult to predict what the practical applications will be. But he suggests it might enable new kinds of ultra-small electronic devices — for example, devices the size of grains of rice, or perhaps a sensor or treatment device that could be injected into the body.

In theory, he said, such devices could maintain their power indefinitely until used, unlike batteries nicwhose charge gradually diminishes as they remain unused.

The research that included doctoral student Wonjoon Choi is reported in the journal Nature Materials.

From the peswiki @ MIT, here’s how they describe it works:

Rechargable and disposable batteries use a chemical reaction to produce energy. The problem is that after many charges and discharges the battery loses capacity to the point where the user has to discard it.

However, capacitors contain energy as an electric field of charged particles created by two metal electrodes. Capacitors charge faster and last longer than normal batteries.

The problem is that storage capacity is proportional to the surface area of the battery’s electrodes, so even today’s most powerful capacitors hold 25 times less energy than similarly sized standard chemical batteries.

MIT researchers have solved this by covering the electrodes with millions of nanotubes, which are essentially tiny filaments. The nanotube filaments increase the surface area of the electrodes and allow the capacitor to store more energy.

The MIT capacitor thus combines the strength of today’s batteries with the longevity and speed of capacitors.

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msnbc.com, January 27, 2010

Lots has been said about warming temperatures and rising sea levels, but a new study puts the spotlight on a more imminent threat to coastal communities: extreme waves that are growing taller in some parts of the world.

Data from buoys off the Pacific Northwest coast found that since the mid-1970s the height of the biggest waves has increased on average by nearly four inches a year. That’s about 10 feet over that period.

“The waves are getting larger,” said lead author Peter Ruggiero, an assistant geosciences professor at Oregon State University.

And that, he said, means “the rates of erosion and frequency of coastal flooding have increased over the last couple of decades and will almost certainly increase in the future.”

In the study published in the journal Coastal Engineering, Ruggiero and his colleagues report that the reasons are not completely certain.

“Possible causes might be changes in storm tracks, higher winds, more intense winter storms, or other factors,” Ruggiero said. “These probably are related to global warming, but could also be involved with periodic climate fluctuations such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and our wave records are sufficiently short that we can’t be certain yet.”

The team also looked at how high a “100-year event” might be, given that planners use those scenarios in approving development projects. Using the new data set, the researchers  estimated that the biggest waves could get up to 46 feet tall — a 40 percent increase from 1970s estimates of 33 feet.

Ruggiero said that the study reinforces earlier ones showing similar trends off some other coasts, among them the U.S. Southeast Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific and southwest England. On the other hand, areas like the North Sea and the Mediterranean have shown little to no increase.

Double Whammy

Ruggiero said he’s working on a publishing another study that shows the increase in Pacific Northwest wave heights over the last 30 years “has been significantly more important than sea level rise” in terms of flooding and erosion threats to the coast.

“The bottom line,” Ruggiero said, “is that water levels have already increased in the Pacific Northwest due to wave heights and as sea level rise accelerates the region will experience a ‘double whammy’. So it is critical for engineers and planners to consider both processes.”

Both “winners and losers” are expected in terms of beach stability, with some areas gaining sand, but already some negative effects are visible in coastal towns like Neskowin, Ore.

“Neskowin is already having problems with high water levels and coastal erosion,” Ruggiero said.

“Communities are going to have to plan for heavier wave impacts and erosion, and decide what amounts of risk they are willing to take, how coastal growth should be managed and what criteria to use for structures,” he added.

Ruggiero emphasized that another factor for the Pacific Northwest is that a large earthquake could drop the shoreline by several feet, worsening the impact of extreme waves.

That proved to be the case in Sumatra, Indonesia, during the 2004 quake and tsumani, he said, and some of the shoreline there dropped by up to five feet.

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DAVID R. BAKER, San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 2009

The waves off of Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast could one day generate electricity, if Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has its way.

The utility reported Friday that it has signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to study the area’s potential for a wave power project. If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project could one day generate as much as 100 megawatts of electricity. A megawatt is a snapshot figure, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 750 average homes at any given instant.

Wave power technologies have the potential to provide large amounts of electricity. But they have been slow to leave the lab.

The typical wave power system consists of buoys that generate electricity as they bob up and down on the ocean’s surface. But the ocean has proven tougher than some of the systems.

PG&E two years ago agreed to buy electricity from a proposed “wave park” near Eureka to be built by Canadian company Finavera. But Finavera’s prototype buoy sank during a test, and California energy regulators killed the deal.

Under its $6 million WaveConnect program, PG&E is still studying potential wave park sites off Humboldt County. The utility, based in San Francisco, also examined the Mendocino County coast before ruling it out.

Vandenberg makes an attractive test site. It occupies a bend in the coast of Santa Barbara County where some of the beaches face west, some face southwest and others face south. PG&E in particular wants to study the area between Point Arguello and Point Conception.

“Generally, that piece of the coast is very active for waves,” said PG&E spokesman Kory Raftery. “It picks up swells from different directions.”

If the company wins federal approval, it will study the area for three years before making a decision on whether to test wave power devices there. The company wants to test several different devices but has not yet picked which ones, Raftery said.

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ALLAN CHEN & RYAN WISER, Lawrence Berkeley Nat’l Lab, December 2, 2009

Home sales prices are very sensitive to the overall quality of the scenic vista from a property, but a view of a wind energy facility does not demonstrably impact sales prices.

Over 30,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity are installed across the United States and an increasing number of communities are considering new wind power facilities. Given these developments, there is an urgent need to empirically investigate typical community concerns about wind energy and thereby provide stakeholders involved in the wind project siting process a common base of knowledge. A major new report released today by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory evaluates one of those concerns, and finds that proximity to wind energy facilities does not have a pervasive or widespread adverse effect on the property values of nearby homes.

The new report, funded by the DOE, is based on site visits, data collection, and analysis of almost 7,500 single-family home sales, making it the most comprehensive and data-rich analysis to date on the potential impact of U.S. wind projects on residential property values.

“Neither the view of wind energy facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities was found to have any consistent, measurable, and significant effect on the selling prices of nearby homes,” says report author Ben Hoen, a consultant to Berkeley Lab.  “No matter how we looked at the data, the same result kept coming back – no evidence of widespread impacts.”

The team of researchers for the project collected data on homes situated within 10 miles of 24 existing wind facilities in nine different U.S. states; the closest home was 800 feet from a wind facility.  Each home in the sample was visited to collect important on-site information such as whether wind turbines were visible from the home.  The home sales used in the study occurred between 1996 and 2007, spanning the period prior to the announcement of each wind energy facility to well after its construction and full-scale operation.

The conclusions of the study are drawn from eight different hedonic pricing models, as well as repeat sales and sales volume models.  A hedonic model is a statistical analysis method used to estimate the impact of house characteristics on sales prices.  None of the models uncovered conclusive statistical evidence of the existence of any widespread property value effects that might be present in communities surrounding wind energy facilities.

“It took three years to collect all of the data and analyze more than 50 different statistical model specifications,” says co-author and project manager Ryan Wiser of Berkeley Lab, “but without that amount of effort, we would not have been confident we were giving stakeholders the best information possible.”

“Though the analysis cannot dismiss the possibility that individual homes or small numbers of homes have been negatively impacted, it finds that if these impacts do exist, their frequency is too small to result in any widespread, statistically observable impact,” he added.

The analysis revealed that home sales prices are very sensitive to the overall quality of the scenic vista from a property, but that a view of a wind energy facility did not demonstrably impact sales prices.  The Berkeley Lab researchers also did not find statistically observable differences in prices for homes located closer to wind facilities than those located further away, or for homes that sold after the announcement or construction of a wind energy facility when compared to those selling prior to announcement.  Even for those homes located within a one-mile distance of a wind project, the researchers found no persuasive evidence of a property value impact.

“Although studies that have investigated residential sales prices near conventional power plants, high voltage transmission lines, and roads have found some property value impacts,” says co-author and San Diego State University Economics Department Chair Mark Thayer, “the same cannot be said for wind energy facilities, at least given our sample of transactions.“

Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California.  It conducts unclassified scientific research for DOE’s Office of Science and is managed by the University of California. Visit our Website at www.lbl.gov/

Additional Information:

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Scientific Computing, Advantage Business Media, November 2009

The ocean is a potentially vast source of electric power, yet as engineers test new technologies for capturing it, the devices are plagued by battering storms, limited efficiency and the need to be tethered to the seafloor. Now, a team of aerospace engineers is applying the principles that keep airplanes aloft to create a new wave energy system that is durable, extremely efficient and can be placed anywhere in the ocean, regardless of depth.

While still in early design stages, computer and scale model tests of the system suggest higher efficiencies than wind turbines. The system is designed to effectively cancel incoming waves, capturing their energy while flattening them out, providing an added application as a storm wave breaker.

The researchers, from the U.S. Air Force Academy, presented their design at the 62nd annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics on November 24, 2009.

“Our group was working on very basic research on feedback flow control for years,” says lead researcher Stefan Siegel, referring to efforts to use sensors and adjustable parts to control how fluids flow around airfoils like wings. “For an airplane, when you control that flow, you better control flight — for example, enabling you to land a plane on a shorter runway.”

A colleague had read an article on wave energy in a magazine and mentioned it to Siegel and the other team members, and they realized they could operate a wave energy device using the same feedback control concepts they had been developing.

Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers developed a system that uses lift instead of drag to cause the propeller blades to move.

“Every airplane flies with lift, not with drag,” says Siegel. “Compare an old style windmill with a modern one. The new style uses lift and is what made wind energy viable — and it doesn’t get shredded in a storm like an old windmill. Fluid dynamics fixed the issue for windmills, and can do the same for wave energy.”

Windmills have active controls that turn the blades to compensate for storm winds, eliminating lift when it is a risk, and preventing damage. The Air Force Academy researchers used the same approach with a hydrofoil (equivalent to an airfoil, but for water) and built it into a cycloidal propeller, a design that emerged in the 1930s and currently propels tugboats, ferries and other highly maneuverable ships.

The researchers changed the propeller orientation from horizontal to vertical, allowing direct interaction with the cyclic, up and down motion of wave energy. The researchers also developed individual control systems for each propeller blade, allowing sophisticated manipulations that maximize (or minimize, in the case of storms) interaction with wave energy.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep the flow direction and blade direction constant, cancelling the incoming wave and using standard gear-driven or direct-drive generators to convert the wave energy into electric energy. A propeller that is exactly out of phase with a wave will cancel that wave and maximize energy output. The cancellation also will allow the float-mounted devices to function without the need of mooring, important for deep sea locations that hold tremendous wave energy potential and are currently out of reach for many existing wave energy designs.

While the final device may be as large as 40 meters across, laboratory models are currently less than a meter in diameter. A larger version of the system will be tested next year at NSF’s Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) tsunami wave basin at Oregon State University, an important experiment for proving the efficacy of the design.

Compelling images of the cycloidal turbine:

The view from the far downstream end into the test section of the U.S. Air Force Academy water tunnel. Three blades of the cycloidal turbine are visible at the far end. Engineer Stefan Siegel and his colleagues test the turbine using the tunnel, with both steady and oscillating flow conditions simulating a shallow-water wave-flow field. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, U.S. Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

 

A cycloidal turbine is installed on top of the test section of the U.S. Air Force Academy water tunnel. In the background, Manfred Meid (left) and Stefan Siegel (right) operate the turbine. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, US Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

 

 

 

A cycloidal turbine prototype with three blades (translucent, at bottom of image), is shown lifted out of the tunnel. One of the blade pitch control servo amplifiers is visible in the foreground, and the servo motors can be seen in the top portion of the image. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, US Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

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CAROL FLETCHER, The Record, November 29, 2009

Linda Rutta says she has a “tiger by the tail” with a renewable energy device she and her husband, Stanley, invented that can convert the power of ocean waves into electricity.

Now the research and development team needs funding to analyze five days of data from a landmark test of the 12-foot cylindrical prototype and build a life-size version.

“We have to scale up and make a commercial unit,” said Linda Rutta, but “the costs ahead are larger than a small entity can shoulder.”

Able Technologies is based in the Ruttas’ Englewood home, where the couple designed what they call an electricity-generating wave pipe with the help of colleagues in mechanical and oceanic engineering after patenting their concept in 2002.

Devices harnessing kinetic energy from ocean waves, known as wave energy converters, are not new and can be problematic. Online organizations reported in March that three devices installed off the coast of Portugal by a Scottish developer were taken ashore due to structural problems and lack of funding.

The Scottish devices are horizontal, serpentine structures that undulate in sync with the waves, whereas the Ruttas’ version anchors vertically to the ocean floor.

That means the machine has to stand up to the fierce oceanic conditions much like a bridge stanchion. These include the very force it captures in trying to produce enough electricity to be viable, said Rutta.

The Ruttas got their first opportunity to test the prototype’s endurance and energy production in mid-November, at the Ohmsett Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Facility at Leonardo in Monmouth County. The facility operates under the U.S. Department of Interior and runs a massive, 11-foot-deep wave tank for testing oil spill response equipment. This year it added wave energy technology.

The agency offered the Ruttas a week at Ohmsett after finding merit in a white paper the Ruttas submitted on the technology.

Every day for a week, the wave pipe was fitted with probes and other sensory equipment while being battered with saltwater waves up to 3 feet high. The purpose was to measure how it performed against small waves — which might have made it stall — and high ones, and whether it delivered energy, said Rutta.

“It worked with the waves beautifully — that was my happiest surprise,” said Rutta, “and it produced power. It exceeded our expectations.”

The week’s worth of results will be analyzed to determine the weight and size a commercial unit should be to withstand ocean conditions and estimate how much electricity could be produced, Rutta said.

While the tests raise their credibility, she said, funding is needed to analyze the data and design and build a full-size prototype.

Rutta said she is waiting for word on their application for a $150,000 grant from the small business arm of the Department of Energy to analyze the data. Designing and building a commercial-sized prototype could be “in the millions,” she said.

All money up to this point has come from their personal savings, said Rutta, and has reached “into the six figures.”

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JESSICA MARSHALL, Discovery.com News, November 30, 2009

The patterns that schooling fish form to save energy while swimming have inspired a new wind farm design that researchers say will increase the amount of power produced per acre by at least tenfold.

“For the fish, they are trying to minimize the energy that they consume to swim from Point A to Point B,” said John Dabiri of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who led the study. “In our case, we’re looking at the opposite problem: How to we maximize the amount of energy that we collect?”

“Because both of these problems involve optimizing energy, it turns out that the model that’s useful for one is also useful for the other problem.”

Both designs rely on individuals capturing energy from their neighbors to operate more efficiently.”If there was just one fish swimming, it kicks off energy into the water, and it just gets wasted,” Dabiri said, “but if there’s another fish behind, it can actually use that kinetic energy and help it propel itself forward.”

The wind turbines can do the same thing. Dabiri’s wind farm design uses wind turbines that are oriented to rotate around the support pole like a carousel, instead of twirling like a pinwheel the way typical wind turbines do.

Like the fish, these spinning turbines generate a swirling wake. The energy in this flow can be gathered by neighboring turbines if they are placed close enough together and in the right position. By capturing this wake, two turbines close together can generate more power than each acting alone.

This contrasts with common, pinwheel-style wind turbines where the wake from one interferes with its neighbors, reducing the neighbors’ efficiency. The vortexes occur in the wrong orientation for the neighboring turbines to capture them.

For this reason, such turbines must be spaced at least three diameters to either side and 10 diameters up — or downwind of another, which requires a lot of land.

Although individual carousel-style turbines are less efficient than their pinwheel-style counterparts, the close spacing that enhances their performance means that the amount of power output per acre is much greater for the carousel-style turbines.

Dabiri and graduate student Robert Whittlesey calculated that their best design would generate 100 times more power per acre than a conventional wind farm.

The model required some simplifications, however, so it remains to be seen whether tests of an actual wind farm produce such large gains. That will be the team’s next step. “Even if we’re off by a factor of 10, that’s still a game changer for the technology,” Dabiri noted.

In the end, schooling fish may not have the perfect arrangement. The pair found that the best arrangement of wind turbines did not match the spacing used by schooling fish.

“If we just mimic the fish wake, we can do pretty well,” Dabiri said. “But, as engineers, maybe we’re smarter than fish. It turns out that for this application there is even better performance to be had.”

This may be because fish have other needs to balance in their schooling behavior besides maximizing swimming efficiency. They seek food, avoid predators and reproduce, for example.

“I think that this is a very interesting possibility,” said Alexander Smits of Princeton University, who attended a presentation of the findings at a meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics in Minneapolis last week.

But a field test will show the idea’s real potential, he noted: “You have to go try these things. You can do a calculation like that and it might not work out. But it seemed like there was a very large reduction in the land usage, and even if you got one half of that, that would be pretty good.”

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SUPREET SHARMA, TopNews.India, November 22, 2009

Bhubaneswar, India – The underwater behaviour of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins of Chilka Lake in Orissa will now be monitored with special hydrophones developed to catch their high-frequency “click” sounds.

The Chilka Development Authority, along with the Underwater Technology Research Center of Tokyo University, has developed the hydrophones that are being tested in the lake. The devices would help in chalking out long-term conservation plans for the endangered species, an official said.

“This is the first time that such a study is being conducted to observe the underwater behaviour of the Irrawaddy dolphins. The software for the hydrophones has been developed by Underwater Technology Research Center of Tokyo University,” said Ajit Pattnaik, chief executive officer of the Chilka Development Authority.

Studies have found that dolphins interpret the meaning of the click sounds through its complex nerve system after the sound bounces off the objects.

The hydrophones are designed to capture the high frequency clicks which can travel through water at a speed of about 1.5 km/sec, which is 4.5 times faster than sound travelling through air.

These hydrophones have been designed to capture the clicks and underwater behaviour of the dolphins.

“These devices would help determine the responses of dolphins to approaching boats and noise from the boat and other sources. It will also help to develop protocols for dolphin watching,” he said.

The data gathered from the devices would help in determining the size, shape, speed and migration behaviour of the dolphins in the lake, without disturbing them.

An MoU had been signed in 2006 to develop these devices and tests were also conducted before these complete devices were decided on. The Japanese scientists have now developed a set of eight devices with inbuilt software to interpret the data. The World Wide Fund for Nature is also collaborating on the project. (IANS)

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WENDEE HOLTCAMP, National Wildlife, December/January 2010

Frank Fish was browsing in a Boston sculpture shop a few years ago when he noticed a whale figurine. His first thought was, “This isn’t right. It’s got bumps on the leading edge of its flipper. It’s always a straight edge.”

Fish, a West Chester University professor specializing in the dynamics of locomotion, was surprised because all flippers he knew of had straight edges—including those of dolphins, penguins and even most whales. The straight-edge blade is also shared by ceiling fans and most industrial blades and rotors. But the store manager showed him a photo of a humpback whale, and sure enough, it had tubercles on its flippers. Humpbacks have a unique habit of catching fish in a bubble net that they create by diving deep and swimming in a spiraling circle, and Fish speculated that the tubercles may somehow give them a hydrodynamic advantage.

Turns out he was right. After testing a scaled-down flipper replica in a wind tunnel, Fish and colleagues Loren Howle and Mark Murray found the tubercles reduced drag by 32% and increased lift by 6% compared with a smooth-edge flipper. The bumps have the same effect on rotors and blades in air—a revolutionary discovery in aerodynamics. Fish co-patented so-called “Tubercle Technology” and in 2005 he helped found Whale Power, a company that is building energy-efficient windmills using scalloped-edge blades. The technology could eventually improve energy-efficiency for any machine that uses turbines, fans or pumps.

Fish is among an increasing number of scientists, inventors and companies turning to the natural world to help them create better, more sustainable products and to find solutions to some of humanity’s most vexing problems. The concept is called biomimicry and the idea behind it is simple: Over the millennia, living organisms in the natural world already have tested and solved many of the challenges humans are grappling with today.

“People are looking for ways to reduce material use, get away from toxic substances and reduce energy use. When they hear about biomimicry, they realize it’s an R&D program that’s been going on for 3.8 billion years,” says biologist Janine Benyus of the Biomimicry Guild, a Montana-based consulting firm that provides research and guidance on natural solutions for some of the country’s largest companies and government agencies.

In her landmark 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Benyus issued a call to action, urging people to engage not just in shallow biomimicry—copying nature’s forms—but to push for deep biomimicry where manufacturing processes follow nature’s lead of sustainability. The ideal industrial loop, she says, would work as seamlessly as a redwood forest, where one’s processed wastes become food or input for another and nothing is wasted. In the book, Benyus also compiled dozens of examples of how people are emulating natural processes.

Velcro, for example, one of the most famous products to come from mimicking nature, was created by a Swiss engineer in the 1940s after observing how cockleburs got stuck in his dog’s fur. Three decades later, a German botanist discovered that lotus leaves contain tiny waxy bumps that cause water to bead up and run off the surface, washing and cleaning the leaves in the process. The discovery has since inspired a number of waterproof products including Lotusan, a self-cleaning paint that keeps the outsides of buildings free of algae and fungi.

More recently, scientists from the University of New South Wales discovered a revolutionary antibacterial compound in a type of red algal seaweed that lives off the coast of Australia. Bacteria form slimy biofilms but require a “quorum” to congregate, and so they constantly communicate with one another. The seaweed stays bacteria-free by emitting the compound furanone, which jams the bacteria’s communication sensors. Mimicking that natural action, the Australian company Biosignal created cleaning fluids that keep surfaces bacteria-free without killing them, which is a breakthrough because its use does not lead to the evolution of antibiotic resistance, as has happened with the proliferation of so many antibacterial cleaning compounds. So far, furanone works on various bacteria, including staphylococcus and vibrio, which causes cholera. It also works on the bacteria that corrode pipes, leading to oil spills.

In another flip on tradition, Mercedes-Benz recently modeled an ecologically friendly, fuel-efficient concept vehicle called the Bionic Car after the yellow boxfish, a squarish tropical creature found in reefs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Traditionally, aerodynamic cars have been built long and lean, but it turns out the boxfish has a drag coefficient nearly equal to that of a drop of water, which has one of the lowest drags possible. The automobile company not only borrowed from the boxfish’s boxy but aerodynamic shape but also from its unique skeletal structure that protects the animal from injury, making the car safer by putting extra material in certain parts of its frame and economizing by lightening up the load elsewhere.

Another product, the UltraCane, was developed not long ago as a result of research at the University of Leeds in Great Britain to help the blind “see” by utilizing the echolocation systems of bats. The cane emits an ultrasonic sound that bounces off objects, allowing vision-impaired people to develop a mental picture of where and how far away objects are—and hence better navigate around them.

In Zimbabwe, the architectural design firm Arup Associates modeled the country’s largest office complex, Eastgate Centre, after the passive cooling system used by African termites in their mounds. Termites farm fungus that they must keep at a precise 87 degrees F, while outside air varies from 35 degrees at night to 104 by day. To accomplish this amazing feat, termites constantly plug and unplug cooling vents that create convection currents, drawing air through the mound as needed. The Eastgate Centre builders copied this model, using fans and chimneys to shunt hot air out, and ground-level cavities to allow cooler air in—a concept known as passive cooling. Without any modern heating or air conditioning, the facility uses only 10% of the electricity of a conventional building its size. The energy-cost savings trickle down to tenants, who pay 20% lower rent than in neighboring buildings.

Elsewhere, scientists are turning to Mother Nature for inspiration for other energy-related materials. To increase the amount of sunlight that is absorbed by solar panels, for instance, a University of Florida researcher is developing a coating for the panels based on the structure of moth eyes, which reflect little light. In China and Japan, scientists are modeling more efficient solar cells after the scales on butterfly wings, which serve as highly effective, microscopic solar collectors.

The benefits humans gain as a result of such research provide a strong argument for conserving wildlife. “Protecting plant and animal habitats means also preserving the wellspring of ideas for the next industrial revolution,” says Benyus, who in 2007 was named by Time magazine as one of its “International Heroes of the Environment.”

That same year, she also founded the nonprofit Biomimicry Institute, which urges companies to donate a percentage of their profits to the habitat from which their biomimicry-inspired products come from. “We must become nature’s apprentice at this point,” she says, “and part of that path has to be preserving the wild places we now realize are the homes of geniuses.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, November 16, 2009

For centuries humanity has gazed at the sea, rivers and rambling brooks in awe of water currents and the energy potential they hold. With increasingly critical demand for safe renewable energy solutions, our ability to capture water power has been an abstruse, distant choice for mitigating our dependence on fossil fuels.

Now with Peak Oil and Climate Change concerns igniting our interest in renewable energies, our brightest, most creative thinkers the world-over turn their attention and intention toward creating efficient, sustainable and safe renewable energy capture devices. It’s understood best bets for generating constant electricity straddle natural energy sources: the sun, the wind and the tides, with the energy captured from water and the tides currently garnering longest odds.

Water power, known more formally as hydrokinetic energy, is based on hydro, meaning water, and kinetic with roots in Greek, κίνηση, or kinesis, meaning motion. The motion of water and study of it includes capturing its power. At the heart of this energy is spinning and flowing, ironically a strikingly dissimilar concept from capture.

Whether extracted, converted, captured or transformed, hydrokinetic energy may well be the ‘holy grail’ of renewable energy, especially when considering the math:

  • ‘One foot of tidal change, when funneled through the natural orifices of the coastal inlets, has the potential to generate pure, clean, green energy and all with absolutely no carbon footprint.’
  • Thus, as an example, one Florida inlet having an average tidal change between 2” up to 1’ carries 75 trillion Cu-Ft of fast moving water every tide.

Furthermore, hydrokinetic energy offers consistent yields and potentials unknown and possibly undiscoverable from other naturally-sourced energy. Wind power faces insufficient, constant wind to return the capital investment, even with government subsidies, and robust solar energy opportunities are mostly located in far, off grid locales.

Traditional hydrokinetic solutions include tidal turbines, wave buoys, wave hubs, tethered ocean, buoyant/flexible wave snakes and tidal stream machines that generate electricity yet also create gross negative impacts on marine wildlife and the environment.

These solutions must overcome fundamental issues like potential fish or turtle kill, corrosion and tethering issues, repair distance and processes, long-term durability in water/weather, noise pollution and super expensive grid connections that are also environmentally damaging.

Seems that when we embrace and mimic nature in creating organically-derived energy capture tools, the harmonious capacity of the design inherently overcomes the problems of other inelegant hydrokinetic systems.

Over the last two years, W. S. “Scotty” Anderson, Jr. may have either consciously or unconsciously designed along these lines as he victoriously led his team to invent and build the ECO-Auger™. You’ll find information on this and other cool inventions at Anderson’s laboratory, www.smartproductinnovations.com.

As a lifelong fisherman, Anderson designed his hydrokinetic system to convert energy from moving water, delivering renewable, sustainable energy, while completely safe for fish and marine wildlife.

The tapered helix permits fish and other marine life to pass through with absolutely no sharp edges to injure them. Even turtles can swim through or are gently pushed aside as the ECO-Auger generally rotates under 100 rpm. The tapered design also permits debris to pass.

First thoughts of the ECO-Auger came to Anderson in 2008 as he was fishing the waters of the fast-moving Kenai River in Alaska. His mind focused on capturing the river’s energy; here are his notes: “I got the vision of a screw turning in the river current and generating electricity on the river bank. The screw would turn a flexible shaft and drive an electric generator outside the water.”

The ECO-Auger is a double-helix, auger-shaped spinner regulated by the size of the radius and the strength of the water current. “It’s easy to array, bi-directional and housed in an individual, streamlined single form,” Anderson points out.

Anderson originally envisioned the ECO-Auger “simply installed under bridges between the arches of bridges, housed on the ECO-Sled, a sort of a pontoon boat like a floating dry-dock.” This permits easy launch and retrieval for maintenance or if/when the ice gets too thick.

Over the next year Anderson built and tested prototypes, refining his hydrokinetic system completely from U.S. materials, requiring that each generation of the ECO-Auger be “very reasonable to build, deploy, easy to service and inexpensive to array.”

In describing his invention, Anderson said, “the ECO-Auger does not have blades, straight or twisted like other devices, and is environmentally-friendly to all marine wildlife. The fish are not harmed and swim through the organic design. With no electrical generation under or in water, there also is no danger to transmitting vibrations or naval sonar to whales and dolphins.”

This novel approach is so very different to existing technology. So very different and innovative that in late September 2009 Anderson’s team won First Place in the ConocoPhillips Energy Prize, a joint initiative of ConocoPhillips and Penn State University recognizing new ideas and original, actionable solutions that help improve the way the US develops and uses energy.

The prize-winning ECO-Auger was described as “a hydrokinetic energy capturing device that converts moving water from river and ocean currents to renewable electric energy using the constant hydraulic pressure and storage to maintain continuous energy output regardless of tidal current strength.”

How the ECO-Auger Works:

The ECO-Auger rotates in either direction from the moving water and current and is directly transferred through planetary gears to a high-pressure hydraulic pump located in the machine’s nose cone. The nose cone, which is physically tethered to bridges by cables, or anchored in moving water, stabilizes the torque generated from the rotation and transfers it to a hydraulic pump. The pump supplies variable volumes of high-pressure fluid at controlled, set pressure, regardless of the direction or speed of rotations. This pressure turns an oil-driven electric generator that delivers stable electrical current. Thus, constant power is generated through the ECO-Auger’s unique hydraulic circuit.

As the ECO-Auger rotates, the high-pressure oil flows through check valves to an array of standard air oil accumulators that are connected directly in line to the oil motor driving the electric generator. The oil to the electric generator is sized below the maximum gallons per minute of the ECO-Auger’s hydraulic pump, allowing the pumped oil to be supplied to the motor, while the excess volume is stored in the accumulator. A computer-monitored storage system assures maximum energy stability, storing energy and supplying the generators during the slow down of tidal flow.

Guide for Installation Opportunities:

Since the ECO-Auger is bi-directional, it is well-suited for high velocity, coastal ocean and bay locations. Near the ocean, the generation hydraulic system uses nitrogen-over-oil accumulators to maintain power generation during ebb tides or slack tidal movement under 1 knot (0.5m/s).

Each potential installation of the ECO-Auger is unique, requiring the water velocity and profile or depth of the installed area to be fully studied and documented. Anderson recommends a month-long study to support 30-year energy capture forecasts and projections.

River installations of the ECO-Auger are successful when current is in excess of 3 kts (1.5 meters/sec). The accumulators mentioned above are not required in mono-flow installations and installation reflects this cost savings. With the mono-directional ECO-Auger, electricity can be generated already existing power dams, downstream in any dam outlet, discharge from municipal water treatment facility, cooling water discharge and many river bridge options.

The ECO-Auger in its recent First Place win in the 2009 ConocoPhillips Energy Prize, a joint initiative of ConocoPhillips and Penn State University — won specifically for its new, original idea improving the way the U.S. creates and uses energy.

Anderson and his team are up to this important challenge and set their sights on installing this remarkable fish-friendly, economical, high-yielding hydrokinetic solution in a river, alongside a bridge or coastal inlet near you.

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Endangered species’ communication critical to survival

ARIEL DAVID, Seattle Post Intelligence, December 8, 2008

Whale-460_980418cThe songs that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world’s oceans, U.N. officials and environmental groups said Wednesday.

That sound pollution — everything from increasing commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar — is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the survival of these endangered animals.

Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome.

“Call it a cocktail-party effect,” said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a Britain-based NGO. “You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore.”

An indirect source of noise pollution may also be coming from climate change, which is altering the chemistry of the oceans and making sound travel farther through sea water, the experts said.

Representatives of more than 100 governments are gathered in Rome for a meeting of the U.N.-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The agenda of the conference, which ends Friday, includes ways to increase protection for endangered species, including measures to mitigate underwater noise.

Environmental groups also are increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to sound pollution, Simmonds said.

Marine mammals are turning up on the world’s beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in divers suffering from decompression sickness. The condition, known as the bends, causes gas bubbles to form in the bloodstream upon surfacing too quickly.

Scientists say the use of military sonar or seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond their physical limits, Simmonds said.

Several species of cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how many animals are affected, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious factor, the experts said.

As an example, Simmonds offered two incidents this year that, though still under study, could be linked to noise pollution: the beaching of more than 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar and that of two dozen common dolphins on the southern British coast.

The sound of a seismic test, used to locate hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 1,800 miles under water, said Veronica Frank, an official with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A study by her group found that the blue whale, which used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90 percent of its range over the past 40 years.

Despite being the largest mammal ever to inhabit Earth, the endangered blue whale still holds mysteries for scientists.

“We don’t even know where their breeding grounds are,” Simmonds said. “But what’s most important is that they need to know where they are.”

Other research suggests that rising levels of carbon dioxide are increasing the acidity of the Earth’s oceans, making sound travel farther through sea water.

The study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the United States shows the changes may mean some sound frequencies are traveling 10% farther than a few centuries ago. That could increase to 70% by 2050 if greenhouse gases are not cut.

However, governments seem ready to take action, said Nick Nutall, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program, which administers the convention being discussed in Rome. The conference is discussing a resolution that would oblige countries to reduce sound pollution, he said.

Measures suggested include rerouting shipping and installing quieter engines as well as cutting speed and banning tests and sonar use in areas known to be inhabited by the animals.

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MendoCoastCurrent, October 27, 2009

Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks there have been numerous Blue Whales showing up dead on the coast of California and a cause of the recent Blue Whale washing up on the Mendocino coast has been the topic of great discussion and mystery here. Actual cause of death has been identified by propeller of a NOAA research ship. Additionally, here’s a new theory based on noise pollution and new research: Blue whales are forced to make more noise to compete with man-made noise pollution like ship sounds and sonar. More specifically: Blue whales increase their ‘singing’ to cope with noise pollution. And: Man-made noise such as ships’ engines has caused hearing loss in whales.

LOUISE GRAY, Telegraph UK, September 23, 2009

Whale-460_980418cIt has also caused other behavioural changes, including forcing the creatures to strand on beaches because they are unable to navigate.

The endangered blue whale uses sonar to navigate, locate prey, avoid predators and communicate.

However in recent years the increasing use of hi-tech sonar by ships, the noise of propellers, seismic surveys, sea-floor drilling, and low-frequency radio transmissions have made oceans noisier.

New research has shown that the whales are having to ‘chatter’ more often and for longer periods to communicate the location of prey and to mate.

Zoologist Lucia Di Iorio, of the University of Zurich, analysed the song of blue whales recorded by microphones during seismic explorations in the St Lawrence estuary off Canada’s north east coast over an eleven day period in August 2004.

“We found that blue whales called consistently more on seismic exploration days than on non-exploration days as well as during periods within a seismic survey day when the sparker was operating,” she said.

“This increase was observed for the discrete, audible calls that are emitted during social encounters and feeding.”

The study, published in Biology Letters, provides the first evidence that blue whales change their calling behaviour when exposed to sounds from seismic surveys.

“This study suggests careful reconsideration of the potential behavioural impacts of even low source level seismic survey sounds on large whales. This is particularly relevant when the species is at high risk of extinction as is the blue whale,” added Dr Di Iorio.

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Dan Bacher, October 23, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Environmentalists and fishermen on California’s North Coast are calling for an independent investigation into the killing of an endangered blue whale off Fort Bragg by a mapping survey boat contracted by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

In order to stop the killing of any more whales, locals are also asking for an immediate suspension of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process that the boat was collecting habitat data for.

The 72-foot female blue whale, a new mother, perished on Monday, October 19, after being hit by the 78-foot Pacific Star, under contract to NOAA to update maps of the ocean floor

Jim Milbury, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the boat was doing multi-sonar beam surveys to update marine charts and to determine the habitat to be used in state and federal marine protected area designations.

“We know that the whale’s death was caused by the collision with the boat because the boat crew called us to report the collision,” said Milbury. “After the collision, the dead whale washed up on the beach off Fort Bragg.”

Collisions with boats are relatively infrequent, but the Fort Bragg blue whale was the second to perish from a collision with a boat this fall. On October 9, a 50-foot blue whale was found floating in a kelp bed off Big Sur along the Monterey County coast after an undetermined vessel hit it.

The National Geographic and other media outlets gushed that the Fort Bragg blue whale’s death provided a unique opportunity for scientists to study a whale.

“Though unable to move the blue whale, scientists and students are leaping at the research opportunity, scrambling down rock faces to take tissue samples and eventually one of the 11-foot-long (3.5-meter-long) flippers,” according to an article at National Geographic.

However, fishermen, environmentalists and seaweed harvesters are outraged that the vessel, conducting surveys designed to designate habitat to be included in no-fishing zones that will kick Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters off their traditional areas, was negligent in trying to avoid a collision with the whale. Many believe that the sonar beams coming from the boat may have disoriented the whale, causing it to collide with the boat.

Fearing the endangered animals could soon become extinct, the International Whaling Commission banned all hunting of blue whales in 1966. There are now an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 blue whales in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest known blue whale measured 106 feet long and 200 tons. Whales are an average life span of 80 to 90 years.

Local environmentalists and fishermen have decided to name the dead whale “Jane” after Jane Lubchenko, the NOAA administrator who is running the federal fishery “management” scheme that resulted in the whale’s death.

“The NOAA vessel was mapping both federal and state waters, and part of that data will be used in the MLPA process,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “I guarantee you she wants to have a federal MPA process to close large chunks of the ocean out to 200 miles. The state MLPA process is just the beginning.”

The RFA, Ocean Protection Coalition and other conservation groups have asked for a suspension of the MLPA process, due to lack of dedicated funding, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the lack of clarity about what type of activities are allowed in reserves. This tragic incident only highlights the urgent need to suspend the corrupt and out-of-control MLPA corporate greenwashing process that is opposed by the vast majority of North Coast residents.

“How many blue whales must be killed in the name of so-called ‘ocean protection,’” asked Martin. “How many of these beautiful and magnificent animals must be sacrificed at the altar of corporate-funded marine ‘protection’?”

Martin emphasized, “The whale is a metaphor for North Coast communities who have been run over by NOAA, an agency on auto pilot. The Department of Fish and Game is riding their coattails using this habitat data in the MLPA process.”

Among the communities of the North Coast dramatically impacted by the corrupt MLPA process is the Kashia Pomo Tribe, who have sustainably harvested seaweed, mussels and abalone off Stewarts Point for centuries. However, the California Fish and Game Commission in August, under orders from Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger, banned the Kashia Tribe, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and abalone divers from their traditional harvesting areas in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

As Lester Pinola, past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria, said in a public hearing prior to the Commission August 5 vote, “What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths. When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”

Everybody who cares about the health of our oceans and coastal communities should support a full, independent and impartial investigation of the killing of “Jane ” the whale by a NOAA contract boat. At the same time, the MLPA process, rife with conflict of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process, should be immediately suspended.

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CATHY PROCTOR, Denver Business Journal, July 31, 2009

SmartGrid-graphicWind farms and solar power plants may offer free fuel costs and no carbon-dioxide emissions, but don’t assume there’s universal support from environmentalists, according to industry observers.

“The world is changing,” said Andrew Spielman, a partner at the Denver office of Hogan & Hartson LLC who works on renewable energy projects.

Spielman was part of a panel discussing issues in the renewable energy sector at the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s annual natural gas strategy conference. “There are more complexities with renewable projects,” he said, “and it’s no longer an assumption that the environmental community will approve and support renewable projects.”

Among the larger considerations of renewable energy:

  • Big wind farms and solar power plants take up a lot of land. Whether it’s for towering wind turbines or acres of solar panels, additional land is needed for construction areas and support services such as workers and storage yards.
  • Rural roads accustomed to a few cars and tractor traffic often need upgrades to handle heavy construction trucks and semis laden with towers, nacelles and turbine blades.
  • Often, the remote new wind farms and solar power plants need a new transmission line — with its own set of construction impacts — to get the renewable power to cities and towns, the panelists said.

For example, the Peetz Table Wind Farm in northeastern Colorado, owned by a subsidiary of big energy company FPL Group Inc. (NYSE: FPL) of Juno Beach, Fla., generates 400 megawatts of power from 267 wind turbines that sprawl across 80 square miles.

The wind farm, which started operating in 2007, also required the construction of a 78-mile transmission line to connect it to the grid and get power to the wind farm’s sole client, Xcel Energy Inc.

It’s called “energy sprawl,” akin to the idea of “urban sprawl,” said Tim Sullivan, panelist and acting state director for the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

“All energy has a footprint, and renewable energy has to be a concern for anyone concerned about land-based habitat,” he said. “We need to treat renewables and oil and gas equally on their footprints.”

That doesn’t mean, Sullivan said, that every square inch of ground in Colorado should be off-limits to energy development. “We don’t have to protect every inch of ground,” he said.

“We can make trade-offs.”

One area of land good for wind energy might be “traded” for another piece that’s good for wetlands or grasslands where birds flourish, he said.

People who live near wind farms also are growing more aware of their impacts, Spielman said.

There’s the height issue. A wind turbine can soar 400 feet from the base to the top of the blade, he said. That’s about the height of the Tabor Center’s office building.

Also, there are new “flicker” problems — stemming from light flashing off the rotating blades as they go around about once a second. Turbines also make a repetitive, low-key “vrroomp” noise as they rotate, he said.

State regulators are becoming more aware of the impacts from renewable and alternative energy projects, said Kate Fay, energy manager at the Colorado Department of Health & Environment.

“All energy projects have impacts,” she said. “There is no free ride. The impacts from renewables may be small now, but there’s not that many of them out there.”

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GRANT WELKER, Herald News, June 25, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA renewable energy consortium based at the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center has received a $950,000 federal grant to study the potential for a tidal-energy project between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, among other projects.

The New England Marine Renewable Energy Center, which includes professors and students from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is developing a test site between the two islands that will determine the potential for a project that could power much of Martha’s Vineyard. Partners from other universities, including the University of Rhode Island, are researching other potential sites in New England for clean energy. The federal Department of Energy grant will mostly go toward the Nantucket Sound project but will also benefit other MREC efforts.

The ATMC founded the Marine Renewable Energy Center in spring 2008 through funding from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative based on the ATMC’s proposal with officials from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The partnership was hailed by UMass Dartmouth officials as an extension of the university’s outreach to Cape Cod and the islands. Creation of the tidal-energy project itself is still years off, said Maggie L. Merrill, MREC’s consortium coordinator. But the site, Muskeget Channel, has “a lot of potential,” she said.

UMass Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology scientists are conducting the oceanographic surveys to locate what MREC calls “sweet spots,” where the currents run the fastest for the longest period of time. The test site will also be available to other clean energy developers to test their systems without needing to create costly test systems themselves, MREC said in announcing the grant.

Besides the federal grant, the MREC consortium is funded by UMass and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. “While New England suffers from energy shortages and high prices, there is tremendous energy available in the ocean at our doorstep,” MREC Director John Miller said in the announcement. “MREC is here to open that door bringing electricity and jobs to our region.” Miller was given a Pioneer Award last week in Maine at the Energy Ocean Conference for MREC’s work. The conference, which bills itself as the world’s leading renewable ocean energy event, recognized MREC for developing technology, coordinating funding, publicizing development efforts and planning an open-ocean test facility.

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JAMES RICKMAN, Seeking Alpha, June 8, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoOceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. As the world’s largest solar collectors, oceans generate thermal energy from the sun. They also produce mechanical energy from the tides and waves. Even though the sun affects all ocean activity, the gravitational pull of the moon primarily drives the tides, and the wind powers the ocean waves.

Wave energy is the capture of the power from waves on the surface of the ocean. It is one of the newer forms of renewable or ‘green’ energy under development, not as advanced as solar energy, fuel cells, wind energy, ethanol, geothermal companies, and flywheels. However, interest in wave energy is increasing and may be the wave of the future in coastal areas according to many sources including the International Energy Agency Implementing Agreement on Ocean Energy Systems (Report 2009).

Although fewer than 12 MW of ocean power capacity has been installed to date worldwide, we find a significant increase of investments reaching over $2 billion for R&D worldwide within the ocean power market including the development of commercial ocean wave power combination wind farms within the next three years.

Tidal turbines are a new technology that can be used in many tidal areas. They are basically wind turbines that can be located anywhere there is strong tidal flow. Because water is about 800 times denser than air, tidal turbines will have to be much sturdier than wind turbines. They will be heavier and more expensive to build but will be able to capture more energy. For example, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest region alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity.

Companies to Watch in the Developing Wave Power Industry:

Siemens AG (SI) is a joint venture partner of Voith Siemens Hydro Power Generation, a leader in advanced hydro power technology and services, which owns Wavegen, Scotland’s first wave power company. Wavegen’s device is known as an oscillating water column, which is normally sited at the shoreline rather than in open water. A small facility is already connected to the Scottish power grid, and the company is working on another project in Northern Spain.

Ocean Power Technologies, Inc (OPTT) develops proprietary systems that generate electricity through ocean waves. Its PowerBuoy system is used to supply electricity to local and regional electric power grids. Iberdrola hired the company to build and operate a small wave power station off Santona, Spain, and is talking with French oil major Total (TOT) about another wave energy project off the French coast. It is also working on projects in England, Scotland, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Pelamis Wave Power, formerly known as Ocean Power Delivery, is a privately held company which has several owners including various venture capital funds, General Electric Energy (GE) and Norsk Hydro ADR (NHYDY.PK). Pelamis Wave Power is an excellent example of Scottish success in developing groundbreaking technology which may put Scotland at the forefront of Europe’s renewable revolution and create over 18,000 green high wage jobs in Scotland over the next decade. The Pelamis project is also being studied by Chevron (CVX).

Endesa SA ADS (ELEYY.PK) is a Spanish electric utility which is developing, in partnership with Pelamis, the world’s first full scale commercial wave power farm off Aguçadoura, Portugal which powers over 15,000 homes. A second phase of the project is now planned to increase the installed capacity from 2.25MW to 21MW using a further 25 Pelamis machines.

RWE AG ADR (RWEOY.PK) is a German management holding company with six divisions involved in power and energy. It is developing wave power stations in Siadar Bay on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland.

Australia’s Oceanlinx offers an oscillating wave column design and counts Germany’s largest power generator RWE as an investor. It has multiple projects in Australia and the U.S., as well as South Africa, Mexico, and Britain.

Alstom (AOMFF.PK) has also announced development in the promising but challenging field of capturing energy from waves and tides adding to the further interest from major renewable power developers in this emerging industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced several wave energy developments including a cost-shared value of over $18 million, under the DOE’s competitive solicitation for Advanced Water Power Projects. The projects will advance commercial viability, cost-competitiveness, and market acceptance of new technologies that can harness renewable energy from oceans and rivers. The DOE has selected the following organizations and projects for grant awards:

First Topic Area: Technology Development (Up to $600,000 for up to two years)

Electric Power Research Institute, Inc (EPRI) (Palo Alto, Calif.) Fish-friendly hydropower turbine development & deployment. EPRI will address the additional developmental engineering required to prepare a more efficient and environmentally friendly hydropower turbine for the commercial market and allow it to compete with traditional designs.

Verdant Power Inc. (New York, N.Y.) Improved structure and fabrication of large, high-power kinetic hydropower systems rotors. Verdant will design, analyze, develop for manufacture, fabricate and thoroughly test an improved turbine blade design structure to allow for larger, higher-power and more cost-effective tidal power turbines.

Public Utility District #1 of Snohomish County (SnoPUD) (Everett, Wash.) Puget Sound Tidal Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. SnoPUD will conduct in-water testing and demonstration of tidal flow technology as a first step toward potential construction of a commercial-scale power plant. The specific goal of this proposal is to complete engineering design and obtain construction approvals for a Puget Sound tidal pilot demonstration plant in the Admiralty Inlet region of the Sound.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company – San Francisco, Calif. WaveConnect Wave Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. PG&E will complete engineering design, conduct baseline environmental studies, and submit all license construction and operation applications required for a wave energy demonstration plant for the Humboldt WaveConnect site in Northern California.

Concepts ETI, Inc (White River Junction, Vt.) Development and Demonstration of an Ocean Wave Converter (OWC) Power System. Concepts ETI will prepare detailed design, manufacturing and installation drawings of an OWC. They will then manufacture and install the system in Maui, Hawaii.

Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMT) – Manassas, Va., Advanced Composite Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion – “OTEC”, cold water pipe project. Lockheed Martin will validate manufacturing techniques for coldwater pipes critical to OTEC in order to help create a more cost-effective OTEC system.

Second Topic Area, Market Acceleration (Award size: up to $500,000)

Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, Calif.) Wave Energy Resource Assessment and GIS Database for the U.S. EPRI will determine the naturally available resource base and the maximum practicable extractable wave energy resource in the U.S., as well as the annual electrical energy which could be produced by typical wave energy conversion devices from that resource.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation (Atlanta, Ga.) Assessment of Energy Production Potential from Tidal Streams in the U.S. Georgia Tech will utilize an advanced ocean circulation numerical model to predict tidal currents and compute both available and effective power densities for distribution to potential project developers and the general public.

Re Vision Consulting, LLC (Sacramento, Calif.) Best Siting Practices for Marine and Hydrokinetic Technologies With Respect to Environmental and Navigational Impacts. Re Vision will establish baseline, technology-based scenarios to identify potential concerns in the siting of marine and hydrokinetic energy devices, and to provide information and data to industry and regulators.

Pacific Energy Ventures, LLC (Portland, Ore.) Siting Protocol for Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Projects. Pacific Energy Ventures will bring together a multi-disciplinary team in an iterative and collaborative process to develop, review, and recommend how emerging hydrokinetic technologies can be sited to minimize environmental impacts.

PCCI, Inc. (Alexandria, Va.) Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Technologies: Identification of Potential Navigational Impacts and Mitigation Measures. PCCI will provide improved guidance to help developers understand how marine and hydrokinetic devices can be sited to minimize navigational impact and to expedite the U.S. Coast Guard review process.

Science Applications International Corporation (SAI) – San Diego, Calif., International Standards Development for Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy. SAIC will assist in the development of relevant marine and hydrokinetic energy industry standards, provide consistency and predictability to their development, and increase U.S. industry’s collaboration and representation in the development process.

Third Topic Area, National Marine Energy Centers (Award size: up to $1.25 million for up to five years)

Oregon State University, and University of Washington – Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center. OSU and UW will partner to develop the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center with a full range of capabilities to support wave and tidal energy development for the U.S. Center activities are structured to: facilitate device commercialization, inform regulatory and policy decisions, and close key gaps in understanding.

University of Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii) National Renewable Marine Energy Center in Hawaii will facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy systems and to assist the private sector in moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization, long-term testing.

Types of Hydro Turbines

There are two main types of hydro turbines: impulse and reaction. The type of hydropower turbine selected for a project is based on the height of standing water— the flow, or volume of water, at the site. Other deciding factors include how deep the turbine must be set, efficiency, and cost.

Impulse Turbines

The impulse turbine generally uses the velocity of the water to move the runner and discharges to atmospheric pressure. The water stream hits each bucket on the runner. There is no suction on the down side of the turbine, and the water flows out the bottom of the turbine housing after hitting the runner. An impulse turbine, for example Pelton or Cross-Flow is generally suitable for high head, low flow applications.

Reaction Turbines

A reaction turbine develops power from the combined action of pressure and moving water. The runner is placed directly in the water stream flowing over the blades rather than striking each individually. Reaction turbines include the Propeller, Bulb, Straflo, Tube, Kaplan, Francis or Kenetic are generally used for sites with lower head and higher flows than compared with the impulse turbines.

Types of Hydropower Plants

There are three types of hydropower facilities: impoundment, diversion, and pumped storage. Some hydropower plants use dams and some do not.

Many dams were built for other purposes and hydropower was added later. In the United States, there are about 80,000 dams of which only 2,400 produce power. The other dams are for recreation, stock/farm ponds, flood control, water supply, and irrigation. Hydropower plants range in size from small systems for a home or village to large projects producing electricity for utilities.

Impoundment

The most common type of hydroelectric power plant (above image) is an impoundment facility. An impoundment facility, typically a large hydropower system, uses a dam to store river water in a reservoir. Water released from the reservoir flows through a turbine, spinning it, which in turn activates a generator to produce electricity. The water may be released either to meet changing electricity needs or to maintain a constant reservoir level.

The Future of Ocean and Wave Energy

Wave energy devices extract energy directly from surface waves or from pressure fluctuations below the surface. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity. (A terawatt is equal to a trillion watts.)

Wave energy rich areas of the world include the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, Japan, Australia, and the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. The West Coast of the United States is more than a 1,000 miles long.
In general, careful site selection is the key to keeping the environmental impacts of wave energy systems to a minimum. Wave energy system planners can choose sites that preserve scenic shorefronts. They also can avoid areas where wave energy systems can significantly alter flow patterns of sediment on the ocean floor.

Economically, wave energy systems are just beginning to compete with traditional power sources. However, the costs to produce wave energy are quickly coming down. Some European experts predict that wave power devices will soon find lucrative niche markets. Once built, they have low operation and maintenance costs because the fuel they use — seawater — is FREE.

The current cost of wave energy vs. traditional electric power sources?

It has been estimated that improving technology and economies of scale will allow wave generators to produce electricity at a cost comparable to wind-driven turbines, which produce energy at about 4.5 cents kWh.

For now, the best wave generator technology in place in the United Kingdom is producing energy at an average projected/assessed cost of 6.7 cents kWh.

In comparison, electricity generated by large scale coal burning power plants costs about 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Combined-cycle natural gas turbine technology, the primary source of new electric power capacity is about 3 cents per kilowatt hour or higher. It is not unusual to average costs of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and up for municipal utilities districts.

Currently, the United States, Brazil, Europe, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Canada and France all lead the developing wave energy industry that will return 30% growth or more for the next five years.

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SustainableBusiness.com News, April 30, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA bill introduced in the Senate aims to encourage development of renewable ocean energy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today introduced the legislation as a companion to a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), that would authorize as much as $250 million a year to promote ocean research.

The Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2009 and a companion tax provision would expand federal research of marine energy, take over the cost verification of new wave, current, tidal and thermal ocean energy devices, create an adaptive management fund to help pay for the demonstration and deployment of such electric projects and provide a key additional tax incentive.

“Coming from Alaska, where there are nearly 150 communities located along the state’s 34,000 miles of coastline plus dozens more on major river systems, it’s clear that perfecting marine energy could be of immense benefit to the nation,” said Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It simply makes sense to harness the power of the sun, wind, waves and river and ocean currents to make electricity.”

The legislation would:

  • Authorize the U.S. Department of Energy to increase its research and development effort. The bill also encourages efforts to allow marine energy to work in conjunction with other forms of energy, such as offshore wind, and authorizes more federal aid to assess and deal with any environmental impacts. 
  • Allow for the creation of a federal Marine-Based Energy Device Verification program in which the government would test and certify the performance of new marine technologies to reduce market risks for utilities purchasing power from such projects.
  • Authorize the federal government to set up an adaptive management program, and a fund to help pay for the regulatory permitting and development of new marine technologies.
  • And a separate bill, likely to be referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration, would ensure marine projects benefit from being able to accelerate the depreciation of their project costs over five years–like some other renewable energy technologies currently can do. The provision should enhance project economic returns for private developers

 The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that ocean resources in the United States could generate 252 million megawatt hours of electricity–6.5% of America’s entire electricity generation–if ocean energy gained the same financial and research incentives currently enjoyed by other forms of renewable energy.

“This bill, if approved, will bring us closer to a level playing field so that ocean energy can compete with wind, solar, geothermal and biomass technologies to generate clean energy,” Murkowski said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, April 17, 2009

space-solar-energy-jj-001San Francisco — PG&E has begun exploring renewable energy from space as it seeks approval from California state regulators, the CPUC, to purchase power from Solaren Corporation offering 200 megawatts over 15 years.

Solaren’s technology uses solar panels in Earth orbit, converting the energy to radio frequency for transmission to an Earth-based receiving station. The received radio frequency is converted into electricity and fed into the power grid. 

Solaren envisions deploying a solar array into space to beam an average of 850 gigawatt hours the first year of the term and 1,700 gigawatts per year over the remaining term according to their filing to the CPUC.

A clear advantage of solar in space is efficiency. From space, solar energy is converted into radio frequency waves, which are then beamed to Earth. The conversion rate of the RF waves to electricity is in the area of 90%, said Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak, citing U.S. government research. The conversion rate for a typical Earth-bound nuclear or coal-fired plant, meanwhile, is in the area of 33%. And space solar arrays are also 8-10 times more efficient than terrestrial solar arrays as there’s no atmospheric or cloud interference, no loss of sun at night and no seasons.

So space solar energy is a baseload resource, as opposed to Earth-based intermittent sources of solar power. Spirnak claims that space real estate is still free although hard to reach. Solaren seeks only land only for an Earth-based energy receiving station and may locate the station near existing transmission lines, greatly reducing costs.

While the concept of space solar power makes sense on white boards, making it all work affordably is a major challenge. Solar energy from space have a long history of research to draw upon. The U.S. Department of Energy and NASA began seriously studying the concept of solar power satellites in the 1970s, followed by a major “fresh look” in the Clinton administration.

The closest comparison to the proposed Fresno, California deployment is DirecTV, the satellite TV provider, Spirnak explained. DirecTV sends TV signals down to earth on solar-powered RF waves. However, when they reach the Earth, the solar energy is wasted, he said, as all the receivers pick up is the TV programming. 

Solaren claims they’ll be working with citizen groups and government agencies to support the project’s development. Solaren is required to get  all necessary permits and approvals from federal, state and local agencies.

At onset, in exploring space solar energy as in exploring all nascent technologies, explorers shall have to show and prove their renewable technology safe.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 25, 2009

aquamarine-power_fb8xa_69

Aquamarine Power has signed a $2.7 million contract with Fugro Seacore to install their wave energy generator, the Oyster, at the European Marine Energy Center.

Aquamarine’s Oyster converter is designed for waters that are from 26-52 feet deep with anticipated installation 550 yards offshore in the second half of 2009.  The Oyster has a wave action pump sending pressured water in a pipeline to an electricity generator.

The generator, to be built in Orkney, Scotland, is expected to produce between 300 and 600 kilowatts for Scotland’s national grid.

The contract is part of the Scottish government’s goal to derive 50% its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

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Ocean Energy Council, March 17, 2009

fauResearchers in Dania Beach, Fla., landed almost $1.2 million in a federal grant to continue working on an underwater turbine prototype that will use ocean currents to generate power.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Center for Ocean Energy Technology (COET) joined Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., today to announced the funding at the SeaTech campus in Dania Beach. The grant is part of the $410 billion spending bill signed by President Barack Obama. This is the first time the project has received federal funds.

The money will help pay for testing and possibly expanding the staff as the Center moves toward making the turbines a commercial product that can be used in offshore areas around the country. Scientists and engineers say these underwater turbines can power buildings along the coastline and eventually become a major energy source.

All the testing to date has been on land while the FAU Center studies underwater conditions and seeks federal and state permits to put the first prototype in the water, possibly this summer.

The Center expects to raise its national profile and get more funding for this and other renewable ocean energy projects, including ocean thermal energy (OTEC) and deep seawater cooling for air conditioning. “This [money] puts us on the radar screen at the federal level,” said Susan Skemp, executive director of the Center.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 17, 2009

Here’s a map indicating the measurement of wave energy flux around the world:  

Average Annual Wave Energy Flux (kW/m)

Average Annual Wave Energy Flux (kW/m)

From March 2009 Greentech Innovations Report.

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PETER BROWN, EnergyCurrent.com, February 16, 2009

stromnessOn a Monday morning in May last year, the Atlantic tide set a turbine in motion on the seabed off Orkney, and the energy captured was connected to the national grid. It was, said Jim Mather, Scotland’s Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, a “massive step forward”.

The amount of electricity generated may have been tiny, but for marine engineers the significance was huge. Their industry had stopped paddling and started to swim.

For small companies trying to get wave or tide devices off the drawing board and into the sea, many problems lie in wait. All turbines, whether they sit on the seabed or float, must withstand that once-in-a-century wave that could be a thousand times more powerful than the average. Conditions vary with the seasons and the seabed. A device that works in a fjord might not function in a firth. Rigorous, long-term testing is therefore vital.

“There are parallels with wind,” says Alan Mortimer, head of renewables policy at Scottish Power. “Many different types of turbine were proposed in the early Eighties. They boiled down to a small number of successful concepts. The same needs to happen with marine devices, but the difference is that they need to be full- size just to be tested.

“To get a reasonable number of prototypes into the water costs millions. What these small companies need is capital support.”

That, however, is hard to find. The Wave and Tidal Energy Support Scheme (Wates), which put GBP13.5 million into promising technologies, is now closed. Last year the Scottish Government offered the 10m Saltire Prize for a commercially viable scheme, but the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), in its recent report Marine Energy: More Than Just a Drop in the Ocean?, called on the Government to provide another 40m.

This would go towards schemes to be tested at EMEC, the European Marine Energy Centre, which has two supported sites, with grid access, at Orkney. It was there that an Irish company, OpenHydro, made the grid breakthrough last year. “It’s desperately important that we grasp the nettle now,” says William Banks, IMechE’s president. “We have the micro-systems in place and I’d like to see them developed to the macro stage. However, unless we do that step by step, we’ll be in trouble.”

An estimated 50 teams are working around the world on marine energy. The danger is that Britain, and Scotland in particular, could lose the race, even though, as Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, says, “Scotland has a marine energy resource which is unrivalled in Europe.”

Scotland has a quarter of Europe’s tidal resources and a tenth of its wave potential.

Around 1,000 people work in Scottish marine energy, but that figure could billow. “You’re talking about an exercise that could transform the marine industry into something equivalent to oil and gas,” says Martin McAdam, whose company, Aquamarine Power, is growing fast.

Among his rivals in Scotland are AWS Ocean Energy, based near Inverness, with Archimedes, a submerged wave machine; Hammerfest UK, which wants to develop three 60MW tidal sites and is working with Scottish Power; Pelamis Wave Power, who are based in Edinburgh; and Scotrenewables, based in Orkney, who are currently developing a floating tidal turbine.

Politicians need to be educated about marine energy’s potential, says Banks. Indeed, IMechE has highlighted the need for sustained political leadership if what many see as the biggest problem – that of the grid – is to be solved. Why bring energy onshore if it can’t then reach homes?

“Grids were built to connect large power stations to cities. Now you’re going to have electricity generated all over the countryside. It’s a huge challenge,” says McAdam.

“We have had meetings with Ofgen and the national grid companies and we’re outlining the need to have grids to support at least 3,000MW of energy by 2020. That is definitely possible.” McAdam adds: “A European undersea grid is also being promoted and we’re very supportive of that.”

Such a system would help to overcome a frequent objection to renewables – their fickleness. If waves were strong in Scotland, Finland or France could benefit, and vice versa.

Another challenge is the cost of installation. “At the moment we’re competing with oil and gas for boats,” says McAdam. “We need to move away from using heavy-lift, jack-up vessels.” The answer might be devices that can be floated into position and then weighted down.

The race between suppliers is speeding up. Permission for a 4MW station at Siadar, off Lewis in the Western Isles, has just been granted to Wavegen, based in Inverness, and Npower Renewables. It could power about 1,500 homes, creating 70 jobs.

Among the success stories are the three 140-metre, red tubes developed by Pelamis (named after a sea serpent) which already float off the northern Portuguese coast at Aguadoura. More Pelamis turbines are to be installed at EMEC, along with Aquamarine’s wave device Oyster.

Oyster is basically a giant flap which feeds wave energy onshore to be converted to electricity. It has already been made, at a former oil and gas plant at Nigg, north of Inverness. A high- pressure pipeline was completed in December and a hydro-electric station will be installed this spring. In the summer, Oyster will finally be bolted to piles hammered into the seabed.

Unlike wave energy, tidal power needs a channel between two land masses – and in the roaring Pentland Firth, between Caithness and Orkney, Scotland has what has been called “the Saudi Arabia of marine power”, Europe’s largest tidal resource. To exploit it, a GBP2 million contract to build Aquamarine’s tidal power device, Neptune, was awarded last month. It will be tested at EMEC.

Elsewhere, SeaGen, an “underwater windmill” developed by a Bristol company, has just generated 1.2MW near the mouth of Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.
But the most controversial of Britain’s tidal energy schemes is, of course, in the Severn Estuary, where a barrage could provide around 5% of Britain’s energy. Environmentalists fear irreparable damage to marshes and mudflats, but the Government is known to prefer the barrage to other, smaller options. The decision it takes next year is sure to be eagerly watched in Scotland.

Somewhat overshadowed by the Severn plan is Wave Hub, a project to build a wave-power station 10 miles off St Ives, on Cornwall’s north coast, using both Pelamis and a sea-bed device developed by ORECon of Plymouth. An application to create a safety area around it has just been submitted, part of the meticulous planning that precedes any marine trial.

“We have to have environmentalists looking at the impact on fisheries, flora and fauna,” says McAdam. “And we have to be completely open with the communities we’re going into. But most people realise that climate change and energy security are real things. We want to minimalise our environmental impact and give the country a means of isolating itself from the volatility of oil and gas.”

In theory, marine energy could generate a fifth of the UK’s electricity needs, but that would require a multitude of stations. Bill Banks believes nuclear power will be needed. “But we also need a variety of renewables,” he says. “Marine will take its place along with bio, hydro and wind energy. It’s available, it’s there at the moment, and if we get our act together I think we can lead Europe. We need a synergy of activity.”

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TYLER HAMILTON, CleanBreak.ca, February 17, 2009

humpback_finToronto-based WhalePower, maker of the tubercle-lined turbine blades inspired by humpback whale flippers, got the results back from its first independent study in the field. 

The blade design was tested on a 25-kilowatt Wenvor Technologies turbine at the Wind Energy Institute of Canada. The institude found that annualized energy production from the retrofitted blade increased by an estimated 20%.

You can find the data here and analysis here. “Rated power was attained at 12.5 metres per second versus the 15 meters per second previously published performance for the unmodified Wenvor turbine. (Caveat: it’s an estimate because the test of the retrofitted blade followed International Electro-Technical Commission standards, while the benchmark data did not).

“An improvement of just 1% or 2% in AEP is significant,” said Stephen Dewar, WhalePower’s director of R&D. “Here we have about 20% with low noise. We’re thrilled by this result.”

The next step is to perform a more comprehensive apples-to-apples test on a larger turbine. These results may help the company raise the capital it needs to take its testing to the next level. Perhaps at some point it will begin catching the attention of some of the bigger wind-energy players.

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MendoCoastCurrent from Platts Energy Podium, February 12, 2009

The recently approved Economic Stimulus Plan includes expanding the US electric transmission grid and this may be the just the start of what will be a costly effort to improve reliability and deliver renewable energy to consumers from remote locations, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Acting Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told the Platts Energy Podium on February 12, 2009.

Wellinghoff defines the Stimulus energy funds as “seed money. But it really isn’t [enough] money to make huge advances in the overall backbone grid that we’re talking about to integrate substantial amounts of wind.”

While details of the plan compromises are unclear, the measure could provide $10 billion or more to transmission upgrades. Wellinghoff said backbone transmission projects could cost more than $200 billion. “And I think we’ll see that money coming from the private sector,” based on proposals already submitted to FERC.

Wellinghoff’s focused on Congress strengthening federal authority to site interstate high-voltage electric transmission lines to carry wind power to metropolitan areas and expects FERC to be heavily involved in formulation of either a comprehensive energy bill or a series of bills meant to address obstacles to increasing renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy, and other matters that fall within FERC’s purview. 

FERC plays a critical role “given the authorities we’ve been given in the 2005 and 2007 acts and our capabilities with respect to policy and implementation of energy infrastructure.”

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Washington Post Editorial, February 12, 2009

Interior Secretary Salazar Keeps his Options Open on Offshore Drilling 

17transition2-6001Here’s the ultimate midnight regulation: On the very last day of the Bush administration, the Interior Department proposed a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. All hearings and other meetings on the scope of the plan, which would have opened as much as 300 million acres of seafloor to drilling, were to be completed by March 23, 2009. On Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s interior secretary, pushed back the clock 180 days, imposing order on a messy process.

Mr. Bush’s midnight maneuver would have auctioned oil and gas leases without regard to how they fit into a larger strategy for energy independence. More can be done on the shelf than punching for pools of oil to satisfy the inane “drill, baby, drill” mantra that masqueraded as Republican energy policy last summer.

Mr. Salazar’s 180-day extension of the comment period is the first of four actions that he says will give him “sound information” on which to base a new offshore plan for the five years starting in 2012. He has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to round up all the information they have about offshore resources within 45 days. This will help the department determine where seismic tests should be conducted. Some of the data on the Atlantic are more than 30 years old.

The secretary will then conduct four regional meetings within 30 days of receiving that report to hear testimony on how best to proceed. Mr. Salazar has committed to issuing a final rule on offshore renewable energy resources “in the next few months.” Developing plans to harness wind, wave and tidal energy offshore would make for a more balanced approach to energy independence. It would also have the advantage of complying with the law. Mr. Salazar helped to write a 2005 statute mandating that Interior issue regulations within nine months to guide the development of those offshore renewable energy sources [the Energy Policy Act of 2005], a requirement that the Bush administration ignored.

Mr. Salazar’s announcement was also notable for what it didn’t do. Much to the chagrin of some environmental advocates, it didn’t take offshore drilling off the table. Nor did it cut oil and gas interests out of the discussion.

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JENNY HAWORTH, Scotman.com, February 12, 2009

na910MORE than three dozen energy companies from across the world are hoping to install wave energy devices in a stretch of sea off the north of Scotland. The renewable energy firms all have their sights on the Pentland Firth, which is considered one of the best locations in the world for generating electricity from the power of the tides.

Yesterday, the Crown Estate, which owns the seabed and will authorize any offshore  wave energy project, announced it had invited 38 companies to submit detailed plans for schemes in the Pentland Firth.

This is the first stretch of water off the UK to be opened up for development of marine renewables, meaning successful companies will be building among the first marine wave energy projects in the world.

Each company hopes to install dozens, or even hundreds of wave energy devices, such as tidal turbines, in the ocean.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, hopes it will help Scotland become a world leader in renewable energy, saying “the fact that so many companies have already registered their interest in developing wave and tidal energy projects in the Pentland Firth and surrounding waters is extremely encouraging.”

“The Scottish Government has recently launched the world’s greatest-ever single prize for innovation in marine energy, the £10 million Saltire Prize, and the opening of the Pentland Firth for development is a timely and crucial move.”

The Crown Estate invited initial expressions of interest in the Pentland Firth from renewables firms in November 2008. A spokeswoman said she could not reveal how many companies had shown an interest because of competition rules, but she confirmed 38 firms would be invited to the next stage – to tender for sites in the Pentland Firth.

They must now submit detailed applications, spelling out how many devices they want to install in the water, by the end of May.

The Crown Estate will decide which are suitable, and the companies will then have to apply for planning permission from the Scottish Government.

Calum Duncan, Scottish conservation manager for the Marine Conservation Society, welcomed renewable technologies, but said the possible impact of the devices on sensitive seabed habitats must be considered, including the likely affect on mussel beds and feeding areas for fish, basking sharks and seabirds.

Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson and MSP for Orkney, also welcomed the strong interest but had reservations. “This energetic stretch of water will be a challenging resource to tame,” he said.

“We still know relatively little about the Pentland Firth and what will happen when we start putting devices in the water there.

“While the Pentland Firth is often described as the Saudi Arabia of tidal power, the challenges it presents also make it the Mount Everest.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 31, 2009

On January 26, 2009, Lockheed Martin and Ocean Power Technologies agreed to work together to develop a commercial-scale wave energy project off the coasts of Oregon or California.

OPT is providing their expertise in project and site development as they build the plant’s power take-off and control systems with their PowerBuoy for electricity generation.  Lockheed will build, integrate and deploy the plant as well as provide operating and maintenance services. Lockheed and OPT have already worked together on maritime projects for the U.S. government.

Spanish utility Iberdrola is using OPT’s PowerBuoy on the Spainish coast in Santoña for first phase deployment, hoping to become the first commercial-scale wave energy device in the world.  In the Spainish project, Lockheed and Ocean Power are working toward an increased cost-performance of a power-purchasing agreement from which this U.S. wave energy project may benefit.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 15, 2008

Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton today launched the Business, Environment and Social Responsibility (BESR) Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, offering “Sustainability Meets Entrepreneurship,” a new Friday forum series designed to provide UW students and members of the community access to experts on clean technology and alternative energy.

“This new program will give bright entrepreneurs both the vision and tools they need to develop innovative strategies to address the opportunities of developing a green economy,” said Lawton. “Local economic growth and job creation begins with sustainable development.”

The forum series was motivated and inspired by Lawton’s Green Economy Agenda, an agenda to empower smart individual and institutional action related to energy, water and climate change while strengthening Wisconsin’s competitive position in a global economy

“I am approached again and again by people wanting to start up a clean tech or alternative energy business,” said Lawton. “Now they can learn from green business experts who will share their experience – stories of the challenges they’ve met, trends they see and the successes they’ve realized in this growing sector. We want Wisconsin’s entrepreneurs poised to take advantage of the opportunities that can come with a new president who is committed to driving green-collar jobs creation.”

The first community forum is scheduled for Friday, January 30 at noon. UW-Madison professors Tom Eggert and Xuejun Pan are providing an overview on cleantech and alternative energy companies, on-going research, and future opportunities. The forum will be held in 5120 Grainger Hall on the UW-Madison campus. Lunch will be provided.

Subsequent forums will be held on the following Fridays: February 13, February 27, March 13, March 27 (Lt. Governor Lawton), and April 17. Interested individuals will need to register for each of these forums separately at the above internet address.

The BESR forum is part of the Wiscontrepreneur Initiative, made possible in part by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and administered by the UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations. Additional support is provided by the MGE Foundation.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 17, 2009

Here’s the post from MendoCoastCurrent in the Citizen’s Briefing Book at President-elect Barack Obama’s change.gov site:

Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force

Immediately establish and staff a Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force chartered with exploring and fast-tracking the development, exploration and commercialization of environmentally-sensitive renewable energy solutions in solar, wind, wave, green-ag, et al.

At this ‘world-class incubator,’ federal energy policy development is created as cutting-edge technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing to refinement and implementation.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

If you wish to support this, please vote up this post at :

Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Mendocino Energy:

Renewable energy incubator and campus on the Mendocino coast exploring nascent and organic technology solutions in wind, wave, solar, green-ag, bioremediation and coastal energy, located on the 400+ acre waterfront G-P Mill site.

Mendocino Energy may be a Campus in Obama’s Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force.

Vision:

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley.  On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site shall be used for exploring best practices, cost-efficient, environmentally-sensitive renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag, among many others. The end goal is to identify and engineer optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions.

Start-ups, universities (e.g., Stanford’s newly-funded energy institute), the federal government (RED) and the world’s greatest minds working together to create, collaborate, compete and participate in this fast-tracked exploration.

The campus is quickly constructed of green, temp-portable structures (also a green technology) on the healthiest areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is currently being tested (one more sustainable technology requiring exploration). So, readying the site and determining best sites for solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, wave energy, etc.

To learn more about these technologies, especially wave energy, RSS MendoCoastCurrent.

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GREEN BIZ, January 14, 2009

palmdriveStanford University is establishing a $100 million research institute to focus on energy issues and work toward development of more affordable and efficient ways to capture the power of the sun and store, deliver and use energy in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

University President John Hennessy announced the launch of the Precourt Institute of Energy.

The three lead donors whose contributions are financing the creation of the institute are Stanford alums. Energy executive Jay Precourt, the namesake of the new institute, donated $50 million, and university trustee and managing partner of Farallon Capital Management Thomas Steyer and spouse Kat Taylor gave $40 million.

The balance was contributed by Douglas Kimmelman, senior partner of Energy Capital Partners, Michael Ruffatto, president of North American Power Group Ltd., and the Schmidt Family Foundation.

The institute will embrace the university’s Global Climate and Energy Project, The Precourt Energy Efficiency Institute, which was founded in 2006, and the new TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, which is to be established with the couple’s gift.

Lynn Orr has been named the director of the new institute. A professor in energy resources engineering, he previously was director of Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 1, 2009 

Here's a possibility...prius with solar panels

Here's a possibility...prius with solar panels

Toyota Motor is developing a vehicle that will be powered solely by solar energy in an effort to turn around its struggling business with a futuristic ecological car, a top Japanese business daily reported.

The Nikkei newspaper, however, said it will be years before the planned vehicle will be available on the market. Toyota’s offices were closed Thursday and officials were not immediately available for comment.

Toyota is working on an electric vehicle that will get power from solar cells equipped on the vehicle, and that can be recharged with electricity generated from solar panels on the roofs of homes. The automaker later hopes to develop a model totally powered by solar cells on the vehicle.

In December, Toyota stunned the nation by announcing it will slip into its first operating loss in 70 years, as it gets battered by a global slump, especially in the key U.S. market. The surging yen has also hurt the earnings of Japanese automakers.

Still, Toyota is a leader in green technology and executives have stressed they won’t cut back on environmental research despite its troubles.

Toyota, the manufacturer of the Lexus luxury car and Camry sedan, has already begun using solar panels at its Tsutsumi plant in central Japan to produce some of its own electricity.

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CYNTHIA THIELEN, The Star Bulletin, December 21, 2008

Rep. Cynthia Thielen represents the 50th District (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) in the State House

coh1An unusual consortium comprised of large utilities, environmental groups, energy think tanks and ocean energy developers has just written to President-elect Barack Obama about the tremendous potential of wave energy and the role it can play in reducing our nation’s dependence upon oil.

The group includes utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Portland General Electric and Florida Power & Light (the largest utilities in California, Oregon and Florida, respectively); environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Surfrider Foundation and Natural Resources Defense Council; and academic entities Oregon State University and the New England Marine Renewable Energy Center. Taking the initiative on Hawaii’s behalf are Robbie Alm, COO of Hawaiian Electric Co., Virginia Hinshaw, chancellor of the University of Hawaii, and Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. I encouraged these Hawaii leaders to participate in the important discussions with the new administration.

In its letter to the president-elect, the consortium is asking Obama to provide support for wave energy, citing “conservative estimates” that indicate wave energy could “supply at least 10% of the current U.S. demand.” That’s a staggering number for an economically imperiled nation that has spent $700 billion in the last two years on imported oil.

The consortium attached a white paper, titled “Ocean Renewable Energy: A Shared Vision and Call for Action,” to its letter. Among the guiding principles are encouraging pilot and demonstration scale projects, streamlining regulatory processes and cooperating in preparation of unified environmental documents.

Economic stimulation can’t take place at home if the U.S. ends up having to import wave energy conversion technology. The consortium stakeholders are making this a major focal point, stating that “without increased government action to encourage demonstration projects and to fund research and development, the promise of ocean renewable energy may never be realized, and the U.S. may see Europe corner the market on these technologies, in much the same way that it did with wind.”

The consortium also stresses the importance of pilot projects in determining the effects of wave energy technology on marine environments to ensure that we protect our ocean resources to the greatest degree possible while extracting energy from ocean waves.

I joined the stakeholders in the consortium and met with Obama’s transition team on December 16, 2008 in Washington, D.C., to discuss how best to integrate wave energy technology into the U.S. energy portfolio.

Hawaii is poised to become a leader. The Department of Energy designated the University of Hawaii as one of two national Marine Renewable Energy Centers. HECO, the administration and energy department signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, an effort to meet 70% of Hawaii’s energy needs with clean energy by the year 2030. Since that time, Hawaii has seen bold plans in the renewable sector. Two of the more ambitious projects are Oceanlinx LLC’s wave energy project off Maui, and Better Place’s electric vehicles. But the electric vehicles must be able to obtain energy from clean, renewable resources, such as ocean waves.

The message I gave to Obama’s transition team is that Hawaii is one of the best places in the world for wave energy conversion, and we are ready. We have an abundance of year-round wave energy, a large, concentrated market on Oahu and our residents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation because our state exports up to $7 billion each year to import oil. With UH Chancellor Hinshaw, HECO executive Alm and economic director Liu joining the consortium’s call for action, our state will lead.

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JOHN KING, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 2008

dungenessThe impacts of climate change are a hot topic among scientists and environmental activists.  Now the Bay Conservation and Development Commission wants to hear from another perspective: the design community.

The state agency is preparing to launch a $125,000 competition that will invite architects, planners and engineers to bring innovative proposals “to climate proof the Bay Area,” in the words of the competition outline.

The aim isn’t to stop climate change from happening, say officials, or to build impregnable levees. The goal is to get designers thinking creatively about how to prepare for a world where the sea level might climb several feet – inundating large portions of the developed region unless something is done

“We are looking for ideas that can lead to future standards about how to deal with rising tides,” said Brad McCrea, a development design analyst for the commission. “We want to move the discussion forward.”

The commission approved a $25,000 contract with David Meckel to manage the competition. This means selecting the design jury as well as framing the rules – such as deciding whether design teams will be asked to look at specific sites or respond to broader issues.

“There’s an opportunity to suggest ideas that can be applied to our bay but have universal access,” said Meckel, whose design competition work is a sideline to his role as director of research for the California College of the Arts. “If one of the results is a solution for protecting low-lying freeways, for example, other cities are welcome to steal it.”

As now envisioned, $10,000 awards would go to each of the five entrants who present the most innovative schemes for adapting our urban region to natural changes. The current timetable calls for the competition to be launched in the spring and conclude by the end of 2009.

Given the relatively modest prize, Meckel suggested it’s unlikely that major architectural and/or engineering firms will respond.

“More likely we’d get something from three young staffers in the back room” of a large firm, said Meckel. “It’s a great way for emerging talent to step out.”

Still, commission officials say they’re looking for provocative and plausible examples of what the competition brief calls “resilient shoreline development techniques.”

“We all want it to go beyond cool-looking ideas,” McCrea said. “What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond what we think of when we talk about ‘protecting the shoreline.’ ”

The competition is the latest sign of how a commission created in 1965 to keep the bay from shrinking now grapples with the opposite problem: projections that show climate change could lift the level of the bay by more than a yard at high tide by 2050.

Left unchecked, this would submerge much of Silicon Valley as well as stretches of Highway 101 on the Peninsula. Marin County subdivisions along Richardson Bay would be imperiled; so would the Oakland and San Francisco airports.

Other coastal regions face similar impacts – which is why the commission wants the competition to have as wide an impact as possible. Current plans call for presenting the top entries in public forums and a competition catalog.

Another factor that might draw attention: the novelty.

“There’s been nothing with a focus like this that I’ve heard of in this country,” said G. Stanley Collyer, editor of Competitions, a professional quarterly.

“Ideas competitions can really have value if people take them seriously,” Collyer said. “If this one comes up with interesting ideas, it could be a model for other communities.”

“What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond ‘protecting the shoreline.’ “

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MendoCoastCurent, December 9, 2008

sri-wave-generator1SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research and development organization, demonstrated and tested a buoy-mounted, wave powered generator in the ocean near Santa Cruz, Calif. This demonstration was part of a program sponsored by HYPER DRIVE Corporation, a Japanese company focused on the development of wave powered generators around the world. The generator converts energy from ocean waves to electrical energy.

This wave-powered generator is unique in that it uses SRI’s Electroactive Polymer Artificial Muscle (EPAM™) technology, a rubbery material that can generate electricity by simply being stretched and allowed to return to its original shape. This “artificial muscle” technology can generate electricity directly from the motion of waves without the need for complicated and costly hydraulic transmissions that are typically found in other wave-power generators.

In 2004, the technology was licensed exclusively to Artificial Muscle Inc., an SRI spin-off company. HYPER DRIVE has licensed the background technology for wave power generator applications from Artificial Muscle Inc., and application-related technology from SRI International.

An earlier version of the generator was deployed in August 2007, in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Tampa Bay experiment used a generator design that was intended to show how the EPAM™ technology could supply electricity to existing buoys, such as navigation buoys, and eliminate the need to replace large numbers of costly batteries. In today’s experiment, SRI will test a new design that shows how the technology might be used on a buoy intended to harvest larger amounts of power for use on shore or nearby industries.

The EPAM™ technology allows rubbery polymers to change shape in response to applied electrical energy, much like biological muscles change shape in response to an electrical stimulus. As a generator, the technology operates in reverse — changing the shape of the polymer creates electrical energy. Since this solution requires few moving parts and is based on relatively low-cost polymers, there is great potential for low-cost production of electricity.

“In our first demonstration we proved that SRI’s wave-powered generator could be mounted on a typical buoy and operate in a marine environment,” said Philip von Guggenberg, director of business development, SRI International. “For this demonstration, we will test a new design that we anticipate will produce greater amounts of energy in harbors and bays, as well as unprotected ocean waters. For this reason, this year’s test location was selected to be off the coast of Northern California.”

“HYPER DRIVE is excited to see the new wave powered buoy design and the results it will produce,” said Shuji Yonemura, CEO, HYPER DRIVE. “We look forward to seeing this technology at work in an ocean environment.”

Although the power output of the buoy is still quite modest, the same basic design can be used to produce significantly greater amounts of power. The long-term goal of this development is to design a system that will supply electricity to the buoy or to feed the power grid on land. The wave powered generator tested today in the Pacific Ocean could, in time, produce many kilowatts of power from a relatively small buoy.

Background

HYPER DRIVE Corporation, founded in 2006, is a venture-backed startup company based in Tokyo, Japan. The company is focused on the application of EPAM™ to wave power generation. HYPER DRIVE is the only company to commercially develop SRI’s EPAM™ technology for wave powered generation. The company is planning large scale (hundreds of watts or several kilowatts) sea trials in Japan in the near future. HYPER DRIVE has been developing other water-based EPAM™ generators including a watermill generator, and continues to focus on developing power-generating systems using water, wind, and other renewable energy. In December 2007, HYPER DRIVE won the “best paper award” at the Eco Design Fifth International Symposium on Environmentally Conscious Design and Inverse Manufacturing. 

Artificial Muscle, Inc. (AMI) is a high-technology company that designs and manufactures actuator and sensing components based on the new technology platform called electroactive polymer artificial muscle (EPAM™). AMI was founded by SRI International, which is a Silicon Valley nonprofit research and development institute that has a history of more than 60 years of developing advanced technologies, to exclusively commercialize artificial muscle technology. EPAM™ technology was developed at SRI over a 12-year period. AMI became an independent company in early 2004 with venture fund financing from Vanguard Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, and NGEN Partners.

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JESSICA LUSSENHOP, Santa Cruz Sentinel, December 9, 2008

“I hope I don’t get seasick,” says a Japanese translator as she and several visitors from the Tokyo-based company Hyper Drive prepare to board Velocity, a 60-foot Stagnaro whale-watching boat, to see the newest model of the company’s ocean wave-powered generator—which is at this very moment bouncing around in the waves about a mile off the Santa Cruz Harbor, creating small amounts of electricity.

Hyper Drive’s president and CEO, Shuji Yonemura, is explaining with some difficulty through his translator how the device actually works. “Within 10 years, we can bring it to land,” says the translator. “Powering a city. A whole city.”

Chief technology officer Mikio Waki chimes in, reporting that the trial model that is working today is producing about 20 joules of energy each time it bobs in the water. That’s enough to power a dim light bulb.

Roy Kornbluh, the principal research engineer from the illustrious Menlo Park research firm SRI International, asks the translator politely if he may clarify. “We are only making small amounts of energy today,” he says. “The focus is on the way we are making energy, using artificial muscle technology.”

Hyper Drive is a start-up company that partnered with SRI’s scientists looking to commercialize the device’s energy-gathering capabilities. This demonstration is the generator’s second run; the first was in August 2007 in St. Petersburg, Florida, when a buoy was tested in relatively placid Atlantic waters to determine if it could operate in a marine environment. This time the investors at Hyper Drive and the scientists from SRI International were looking for more active waters to determine whether or not their invention—a rubber-like material called Electroactive Polymer Artificial Muscle (EPAM)—could use the heaving motion of the waves to generate power. Philip von Guggenberg, the director of business development at SRI, figured Santa Cruz’s early-winter chop was a convenient solution.

“We’re hoping there’s not a hurricane,” he says. “But we are certainly looking for bigger waves.”

To the Japanese translator’s chagrin, after a rather placid morning, the afternoon waves have picked up. A quick trip takes the Velocity out to where the canary-yellow buoy is jostling about in the ocean, connected by a length of thick rope to the Shana Rae, a smaller boat equipped with computer equipment taking a reading 10 times every second. A legion of life-vest-clad scientists are clustered on its deck, including the main inventor of the artificial muscle, Ron Pelrine, identifiable by his bushy beard.

The Velocity pulls up alongside the buoy to allow its passengers to watch, entering into the same rocking dance.

Mounted on top of the buoy are two long cylindrical tubes, and inside, what looks like the black bellows of an elongated accordion is pumping jerkily up and down in response to the waves. The black material is the artificial muscle, a polymer coated in an electricity-conducing material. As the material expands and contracts, a small amount of mechanical energy is changed to electric energy, collected, and detected on the Shana Rae. Two jaunty white arms protruding from the base of the buoy serve to amplify the pitching motion, producing even more work inside the tubes. It seems wonderfully simple, almost too simple to have dragged five Japanese business-people, three U.S. Department of Energy representatives, one PG&E representative and a half-dozen of SRI’s brightest minds out into the ocean. But the simplicity is the whole point.

“Power-generating buoys exist, but they work on conventional approaches. The waves pump a cylinder, that spins a turbine, that drives a rotary,” says Kornbluh. “This is very simple. We like to say it’s just a souped-up rubber band.”

Everything has to start somewhere.

As the frantic appetite for energy alternatives brings all sorts of solutions out into the open, it’s easy to look at each skeptically, with their far-off promises for real solutions. SRI International’s solution is intriguing not just because of the uniqueness of its EPAM model, but also because of the enterprise’s track record.

SRI was one of the birthplaces of the Internet, a concept that once sounded so ridiculous that companies like AT&T turned their noses up at it. On Oct. 29, 1969, at 10:30pm, a scientist at UCLA used an interface message processor, or “node,” to talk to another node at SRI. It was the first host-to-host peep the Internet made. In 1977, SRI sent an inter-network transmission from a van in Menlo Park, through London, and back to USC.

The Tuesday after the EPAM demo in Santa Cruz marks the 40th anniversary of the so-called Mother of All Demonstrations in 1968, when SRI scientist Doug Engelbart showed how to use the first computer mouse. The grainy black-and-white videos show Engelbart, his hair scrupulously combed, explaining how to type, cut and paste, save a file, as well as use teleconference, multiple windows and hypertext linking.

The ’60s also brought Shakey the Robot, the first mobile robot able to reason its surroundings. From those beginnings in robotics, fast forward to the ’90s, when Roy Kornbluh wrote the paper that would jumpstart EPAM, a treatise on the need for a polymer that would bend and move like a muscle, as opposed to the static joints that named Shakey.

“We started with a clean sheet of paper and thought, what can we come up with to simulate a muscle,” says Pelrine. “We decided one of the best approaches would be to put a polymer between two electrodes.”

A current through the polymer caused expansion and contraction, which could create muscle-like movement—more fluid, more durable. And Pelrine also saw that the opposite was possible.

If the polymer were stretched and then allowed to relax, this would create energy, usable if captured by a material that can conduct electricity. Using polymers from commercial silicon and rubber, one branch of the project used EPAM to create a line of spidery little robots, while work began in earnest on the wave powered generator as well.

“There’s nothing necessarily magic about the material itself, but how it’s used,” Pelrine says.

On the Velocity, things are progressing well. Someone has their head hanging over the edge on one side, but on the other side, that’s good news for Pelrine and Kornbluh, who’re getting lots of data thanks to the raucous sea.

“This is really good,” says Pelrine from the Shana Rae. “We’re really psyched.”

“Every technician loves to see their creativity turned into reality,” Kornbluh says.

Of course, it’s the next step that is truly important. Hyper Drive hopes to use SRI’s technology to create larger units within two years that will generate about 100 watts of power. While too small to power a grid, this would be useful in producing self-sustaining navigational buoys that currently run on expensive lithium batteries that need replacing. In five to 10 years, von Guggenberg says, the company hopes to be able to produce kilowatts for large-scale industrial uses, for example, seaside industries like canneries. Then someday, of course, the groups hope to feed a power grid, perhaps with long string of buoys rolling up and down in the seashore, side by side, sending the power landward.

“Put this at a seawall or breakwater,” Kornbluh says. “Why not make it work for you?”

They are still toying with the ways of capturing that energy. Ideas include an actual line that runs from the buoys to land, a pipeline for hydrogen broken down by the buoy’s electrical power, or rechargeable battery cells that could be harvested from the buoy.

Though Santa Cruz has been ideal for the demo, von Guggenberg and the rest aren’t sure when they’ll be back for their next trial, or if they’ll return at all. “We can do it anywhere,” says von Guggenberg—pointing out yet another virtue of the technology.

Suddenly, right in front of the buoy, a seal leaps high into the air. He jumps over and over, circling the Velocity, the buoy and the Shana Rae again and again, to the delight of the Japanese visitors.

Von Guggenberg sighs. “Most of the time we work in the lab,” he says. “We love it when our customers ask us to take their experiment out. This is a lot more fun.”

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Guardian.co.uk, December 3, 2008

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoWay back in Napoleonic Paris, a Monsieur Girard had a novel idea about energy: power from the sea. In 1799, Girard obtained a patent for a machine he and his son had designed to mechanically capture the energy in ocean waves. Wave power could be used, they figured, to run pumps and sawmills and the like.

These inventors would disappear into the mists of history, and fossil fuel would instead provide an industrializing world with almost all its energy for the next two centuries. But Girard et fils were onto something, say a growing number of modern-day inventors, engineers, and researchers. The heave of waves and the tug of tides, they say, are about to begin playing a significant role in the world’s energy future.

In the first commercial scale signal of that, last October a trio of articulated, cylinder-shaped electricity generators began undulating in the waves off the coast of Portugal. The devices look like mechanical sea snakes. (In fact, their manufacturer, Scotland’s Pelamis Wave Power Ltd., takes its name from a mythical ancient Greek sea serpent.) Each Pelamis device consists of four independently hinged segments. The segments capture wave energy like the handle of an old fashioned water pump captures the energy of a human arm: as waves rock the segments to and fro, they pump a hydraulic fluid (biodegradable, in case of spills) powerfully through a turbine, spinning it to generate up to 750,000 watts of electricity per unit. Assuming the devices continue to perform well, Portuguese utility Energis expects to soon purchase another 28 more of the generators.

The completed “wave farm” would feed its collective power onto a single high voltage sea-floor cable, adding to the Portuguese grid about 21 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power about 15,000 homes.

In a world where a single major coal or nuclear plant can produce more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity, it’s a modest start. But from New York’s East River to the offshore waters of South Korea, a host of other projects are in earlier stages of testing. Some, like Pelamis, rely on the motion of waves. Others operate like underwater windmills, tapping the power of the tides.

Ocean-powered technologies are in their infancy, still technologically well behind such energy alternatives as wind and solar. Necessarily designed to operate in an inherently harsh environment, the technologies remain largely unproven and — unless subsidized by governments — expensive. (Portugal is heavily subsidizing the Pelamis project, with an eye to becoming a major European exporter of clean green power in the future.) Little is known about the effects that large wave or tide farms might have on marine ecosystems in general.

Despite the uncertainties, however, proponents say the potential advantages are too striking to ignore. Eight hundred times denser than air, moving water packs a huge energy wallop. Like solar and wind, power from moving seas is free and clean. But sea power is more predictable than either wind or solar. Waves begin forming thousands of miles from coastlines and days in advance; tides rise and fall as dependably as the cycles of the moon. That predictability makes it easier to match supply with demand.

Roger Bedard, who leads ocean energy research at the U.S. utility-funded Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, says there’s plenty of reason for optimism about the future of what he calls “hydrodynamic” power. Within a decade, he says, the U.S. could realistically meet as much as 10% of its electricity needs from hydrodynamic power. As a point of reference, that’s about half of the electricity the U.S. produces with nuclear power today. Although he acknowledges that initial sea-powered generation projects are going to be expensive, Bedard believes that as experience grows and economies of manufacturing scale kick in, hydrodynamic power will follow the same path toward falling costs and improving technologies as other alternatives.

“Look at wind,” he says. “A kilowatt hour from wind cost fifty cents in the 1980s. Now it’s about seven cents.” (That’s about the same as producing electricity with natural gas, and only about three cents more than coal, the cheapest — and dirtiest — U.S. energy choice. Any future tax on carbon emissions could narrow that gap even more, as would additional clean-power subsidies.)

For some nations, wave and tide power could pack an even bigger punch. Estimates suggest, for instance, that the choppy seas surrounding the United Kingdom could deliver as much as 25% of its electricity. British alternative energy analyst Thomas W. Thorpe believes that on a worldwide basis, waves alone could produce as much as 2,000 terawatt hours of electricity, as much as all the planet’s major hydroelectric plants generate today.

Although none are as far along as Pelamis, most competing wave-power technologies rely not on the undulations of mechanical serpents, but instead on the power captured by the vertical bobbing of large buoys in sea swells. Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), based in New Jersey, drives the generators in its PowerBuoy with a straightforward mechanical piston. A stationary section of the mostly submerged, 90-foot buoy is anchored to the ocean floor; a second section simply moves up and down with the movement of sea swells, driving pistons that in turn drive an electrical generator. The Archimedes Wave Swing, a buoy-based system developed by Scotland’s AWS Ocean Energy, harnesses the up-and-down energy of waves by pumping air to spin its turbines. Vancouver-based Finavera Renewables uses seawater as its turbine-driving hydraulic fluid.

Although Pelamis beat all of these companies out of the commercialization gate, OPT appears to be right behind, with plans to install North America’s first commercial-scale wave power array of buoys off the coast of Oregon as early as next year. That array — occupying one square-mile of ocean and, like other wave power installations, located far from shipping lanes — would initially produce 2 megawatts of power. OPT also announced last September an agreement to install a 1.4-megawatt array off the coast of Spain. An Australian subsidiary is in a joint venture to develop a 10-megawatt wave farm off the coast of Australia.

Meanwhile, Pelamis Wave Power plans to install more of its mechanical serpents — three megawatts of generating capacity off the coast of northwest Scotland, and another five-megawatt array off Britain’s Cornwall coast.

The Cornwall installation will be one of four wave power facilities plugged into a single, 20-megawatt underwater transformer at a site called “Wave Hub.” Essentially a giant, underwater version of a socket that each developer can plug into, Wave Hub — which will be connected by undersea cable to the land-based grid — was designed as a tryout site for competing technologies. OPT has won another of the four Wave Hub berths for its buoy-based system.

Other innovators are trying to harness the power of ocean or estuarine tides. Notably, in 2007, Virginia’s Verdant Power installed on the floor of New York’s East River six turbines that look, and function, much like stubby, submerged windmills, their blades — which are 16 feet in diameter — turning at a peak rate of 32 revolutions per minute. The East River is actually a salty and powerful tidal straight that connects Long Island Sound with the Atlantic Ocean. Although the “underwater windmills” began pumping out electricity immediately, the trial has been a halting one. The strong tides quickly broke apart the turbines’ first- (fiberglass and steel) and second- (aluminum and magnesium) generation blades, dislodging mounting bolts for good measure.

Undeterred, in September Verdant Power began testing new blades made of a stronger aluminum alloy. If it can overcome the equipment-durability problems, the company hopes to install as many as 300 of its turbines in the East River, enough to power 10,000 New York homes.

A scattering of similar prototype “underwater windmill” projects have been installed at tidal sites in Norway, Northern Ireland, and South Korea. (In addition, interest in moving into freshwater sites is growing. Verdant itself hopes to install its turbines on the St. Lawrence River. At least one other company, Free Flow Power of Massachusetts, has obtained Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits to conduct preliminary studies on an array of sites on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.)

The environmental benefits of hydrodynamic power seem obvious: no carbon dioxide or any other emissions associated with fossil-fuel-based generation. No oil spills or nuclear waste. And for those who object to wind farms for aesthetic reasons, low-profile wave farms are invisible from distant land; tidal windmill-style turbines operate submerged until raised for maintenance.

There are, however, environmental risks associated with these technologies.

New York state regulators required Verdant Power to monitor effects of their its turbines on fish and wildlife. So far, sensors show that fish and water birds are having no trouble avoiding the blades, which rotate at a relatively leisurely 32 maximum revolutions per minute. In fact the company’s sensors have shown that fish tend to seek shelter behind rocks around the channel’s banks and stay out of the central channel entirely when tides are strongest.

But a host of other questions about environment effects remain unanswered. Will high-voltage cables stretching across the sea from wave farms somehow harm marine ecosystems? Will arrays of hundreds of buoys or mechanical serpents interfere with ocean fish movement or whale migrations? What effect will soaking up large amounts of wave energy have on shoreline organisms and ecosystems?

“Environmental effects are the greatest questions right now,” EPRI’s Bedard says, “because there just aren’t any big hydrodynamic projects in the world.”

Projects will probably have to be limited in size and number to protect the environment, he says – that’s a big part of the reason he limits his “realistic” U.S. estimate to 10% of current generation capacity. But the only way to get definitive answers on environmental impact might be to run the actual experiment — that is, to begin building the water-powered facilities, and then monitor the environment for effects.

Bedard suggests that the way to get definitive answers will be to build carefully on a model like Verdant’s: “Start very small. Monitor carefully. Build it a little bigger and monitor some more. I’d like to see it developed in an adaptive way.”

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PETER S. GOODMAN, The New York Times, November 2, 2008

Newton, Iowa – Like his uncle, his grandfather and many of their neighbors, Arie Versendaal spent decades working at the Maytag factory here, turning coils of steel into washing machines.

When the plant closed last year, taking 1,800 jobs out of this town of 16,000 people, it seemed a familiar story of American industrial decline: another company town brought to its knees by the vagaries of global trade.

Except that Mr. Versendaal has a new factory job, at a plant here that makes blades for turbines that turn wind into electricity. Across the road, in the old Maytag factory, another company is building concrete towers to support the massive turbines. Together, the two plants are expected to employ nearly 700 people by early next year.

“Life’s not over,” Mr. Versendaal says. “For 35 years, I pounded my body to the ground. Now, I feel like I’m doing something beneficial for mankind and the United States. We’ve got to get used to depending on ourselves instead of something else, and wind is free. The wind is blowing out there for anybody to use.”

From the faded steel enclaves of Pennsylvania to the reeling auto towns of Michigan and Ohio, state and local governments are aggressively courting manufacturing companies that supply wind energy farms, solar electricity plants and factories that turn crops into diesel fuel.

This courtship has less to do with the loftiest aims of renewable energy proponents — curbing greenhouse gas emissions and lessening American dependence on foreign oil — and more to do with paychecks. In the face of rising unemployment, renewable energy has become a crucial source of good jobs, particularly for laid-off Rust Belt workers.

Amid a presidential election campaign now dominated by economic concerns, wind turbines and solar panels seem as ubiquitous in campaign advertisements as the American flag.

No one believes that renewable energy can fully replace what has been lost on the American factory floor, where people with no college education have traditionally been able to finance middle-class lives. Many at Maytag earned $20 an hour in addition to health benefits. Mr. Versendaal now earns about $13 an hour.

Still, it’s a beginning in a sector of the economy that has been marked by wrenching endings, potentially a second chance for factory workers accustomed to layoffs and diminished aspirations.

In West Branch, Iowa, a town of 2,000 people east of Iowa City, workers now assemble wind turbines in a former pump factory. In northwestern Ohio, glass factories suffering because of the downturn in the auto industry are retooling to make solar energy panels.

“The green we’re interested in is cash,” says Norman W. Johnston, who started a solar cell factory called Solar Fields in Toledo in 2003.

The market is potentially enormous. In a report last year, the Energy Department concluded that the United States could make wind energy the source of one-fifth of its electricity by 2030, up from about 2 percent today. That would require nearly $500 billion in new construction and add more than three million jobs, the report said. Much of the growth would be around the Great Lakes, the hardest-hit region in a country that has lost four million manufacturing jobs over the last decade.

Throw in solar energy along with generating power from crops, and the continued embrace of renewable energy would create as many as five million jobs by 2030, asserts Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, and an adviser to the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama.

The unfolding financial crisis seems likely to slow the pace of development, making investment harder to secure. But renewable energy has already gathered what analysts say is unstoppable momentum. In Texas, the oil baron T. Boone Pickens is developing what would be the largest wind farm in the world. Most states now require that a significant percentage of electricity be generated from wind, solar and biofuels, effectively giving the market a government mandate.

And many analysts expect the United States to eventually embrace some form of new regulatory system aimed at curbing global warming that would force coal-fired electricity plants to pay for the pollution they emit. That could make wind, solar and other alternative fuels competitive in terms of the cost of producing electricity.

Both presidential candidates have made expanding renewable energy a policy priority. Senator Obama, the Democratic nominee, has outlined plans to spend $150 billion over the next decade to spur private companies to invest. Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, has spoken more generally of the need for investment.

In June, more than 12,000 people and 770 exhibitors jammed a convention center in Houston for the annual American Wind Energy Association trade show. “Five years ago, we were all walking around in Birkenstocks,” says John M. Brown, managing director of a turbine manufacturer, Entegrity Wind Systems of Boulder, Colo., which had a booth on the show floor. “Now it’s all suits. You go to a seminar, and it’s getting taught by lawyers and bankers.”

So it goes in Iowa. Perched on the edge of the Great Plains — the so-called Saudi Arabia of wind — the state has rapidly become a leading manufacturing center for wind power equipment.

“We are blessed with certainly some of the best wind in the world,” says Chet Culver, Iowa’s governor.

Maytag was born in Newton more than a century ago. Even after the company swelled into a global enterprise, its headquarters remained here, in the center of the state, 35 miles east of Des Moines.

“Newton was an island,” says Ted Johnson, the president of local chapter of the United Automobile Workers, which represented the Maytaggers. “We saw autos go through hard times, other industries. But we still had meat on our barbecues.”

The end began in the summer of 2005. Whirlpool, the appliance conglomerate, swallowed up Maytag. As the word spread that local jobs were doomed — Whirlpool was consolidating three factories’ production into two — workers unloaded their memorabilia at Pappy’s Antique Mall downtown: coffee mugs, buttons, award plaques.

“If it said Maytag on it, we bought it,” says Susie Jones, the store manager. “At first, I thought the stuff had value. Then, it was out of the kindness of my heart. And now I don’t have any heart left. It don’t sell. People are mad at them. They ripped out our soul.”

When the town needed a library, a park or a community college, Maytag lent a hand. The company was Newton’s largest employer, its wages paying for tidy houses, new cars, weddings, retirement parties and funerals.

As Whirlpool made plans to shutter the factory, state and county economic development officials scrambled to attract new employers. In June 2007, the local government dispatched a team to the American Wind Energy Association show in Los Angeles. Weeks later, a company called TPI Composites arrived in Newton to have a look.

Based in Arizona, TPI makes wind turbine blades by layering strips of fiberglass into large molds, requiring a long work space. The Maytag plant was too short. So local officials showed TPI an undeveloped piece of land encircled by cornfields on the edge of town where a new plant could be built.

Although TPI was considering a site in Mexico with low labor costs, Newton had a better location. Rail lines and Interstate 80 connect it to the Great Plains, where the turbines are needed. Former Maytag employees were eager for work, and the community college was ready to teach them blade-making.

Newton won. In exchange for $6 million in tax sweeteners, TPI promised to hire 500 people by 2010. It has already hired about 225 and is on track to have a work force of 290 by mid-November.

“Getting 500 jobs in one swoop is like winning the lottery,” says Newton’s mayor, Chaz Allen. “We don’t have to just roll over and die.”

On a recent afternoon, workers inside the cavernous TPI plant gaze excitedly at a crane lifting a blade from its mold and carrying it toward a cleared area. Curved and smooth, the blade stretches as long as a wing of the largest jets. One worker hums the theme from “Jaws” as the blade slips past.

Larry Crady, a worker, takes particular pleasure in seeing the finished product overhead, a broad grin forming across his goateed face. He used to run a team that made coin-operated laundry machines at Maytag. Now he supervises a team that lays down fiberglass strips between turbine moldings. He runs his hand across the surface of the next blade for signs of unevenness.

“I like this job more than I did Maytag,” Mr. Crady says. “I feel I’m doing something to improve our country, rather than just building a washing machine.”

Ask him how long he spent at Maytag and Mr. Crady responds precisely: “23.6 years.” Which is to say, 6.4 years short of drawing a pension whose famously generous terms compelled so many to work at the Maytag plant. “That’s what everyone in Newton was waiting on,” he says. “You could get that 30 and out.”

But he is now optimistic about the decades ahead. “I feel solid,” he says. “This is going to be the future. This company is going to grow huge.”

The human resources office at TPI is overseen by Terri Rock, who used to have the same position at Maytag’s corporate headquarters, where she worked for two decades. In her last years there, her job was mostly spent ending other people’s jobs.

“There was a lot of heartache,” she says. “This is a small town, and you’d have to let people go and then see them at the grocery store with their families. It was a real tough job at the end.”

Now, Ms. Rock starts fresh careers, hiring as many as 20 people a week. She enjoys the creative spirit of a start-up. “We’re not stuck with the mentality of ‘this is how we’ve done it for the last 35 years,’ ” she says.

Maytag is gone in large part because of the calculus driving globalization: household appliances and so many other goods are now produced mostly where physical labor is cheaper, in countries like China and Mexico. But wind turbines and blades are huge and heavy. The TPI plant is in Iowa largely because of the costs of shipping such huge items from far away.

“These are American jobs that are hard to export,” says Crugar Tuttle, general manager of the TPI plant.

And these jobs are part of a build-out that is gathering force. More than $5 billion in venture capital poured into so-called clean energy technology industries last year in North America and Europe, according to Cleantech, a trade group. In North America, that represented nearly a fifth of all venture capital, up from less than 2 percent in 2000.

“Everybody involved in the wind industry is in a massive hurry to build out capacity,” Mr. Tuttle says. “It will feed into a whole local industry of people making stuff, driving trucks. Manufacturing has been in decline for decades. This is our greatest chance to turn it around. It’s the biggest ray of hope that we’ve got.”

Those rays aren’t touching everyone, though. Hundreds of former Maytag workers remain without jobs, or stuck in positions paying less than half their previous wages. Outside an old union hall, some former Maytaggers share cigarettes and commiserate about the strains of starting over.

Mr. Johnson, the former local president, is jobless. At 45, he has slipped back into a world of financial hardship that he thought he had escaped. His father was a self-employed welder. His mother worked at an overalls factory.

“I grew up in southern Iowa with nothing,” he says. “If somebody got a new car, everybody heard about it.”

When Maytag shut down, his $1,100-a-week paycheck became a $360 unemployment check. He and his wife divorced, turning what once was a two-income household into a no-income household. He sold off his truck, his dining room furniture, his Maytag refrigerator — all in an effort to pay his mortgage. Last winter, he surrendered his house to foreclosure.

Mr. Johnson has applied for more than 220 jobs, he says, from sales positions at Lowe’s to TPI. He has yet to secure an interview. His unemployment benefits ran out in May. He no longer has health insurance. He recently broke a tooth where a filling had been, but he can’t afford to have it fixed.

When his teenage daughter, who lives with him, complained of headaches, he paid $1,500 out of pocket for an M.R.I. The doctor found a cyst on her brain. And how is she doing now? Mr. Johnson freezes at the question. He is a grown man with silver hair, a black Harley-Davidson T-shirt across a barrel chest, and calloused hands that could once bring a comfortable living. He tries to compose himself, but tears burst. “I’m sorry,” he says.

He signed up for a state insurance program for low-income families so his daughter could go to a neurologist.

Although the United States is well behind Europe in manufacturing wind-power gear and solar panels, other American communities are joining Newton’s push, laying the groundwork for large-scale production.

“You have to reinvest in industrial capacity,” says Randy Udall, an energy consultant in Carbondale, Colo. “You use wind to revitalize the Rust Belt. You make steel again. You bring it home. We ought to be planting wind turbines as if they were trees.”

In West Branch, Acciona, a Spanish company, has converted the empty hydraulic pump factory into a plant that makes wind turbines. When the previous plant closed, it wiped out 130 jobs; Acciona has hired 120 people, many of them workers from the old factory.

Steve Jennings, 50, once made $14 an hour at the hydraulic pump factory. When he heard that a wind turbine plant was coming in a mere five miles from his house, he was among the first to apply for a job. Now he’s a team leader, earning nearly $20 an hour — more than he’s ever made. Ordinary line workers make $16 an hour and up.

“It seemed like manufacturing was going away,” he says. “But I think this is here to stay.”

Acciona built its first turbine in Iowa last December and is on track to make 200 this year. Next year, it plans to double production.

For now, Acciona is importing most of its metal parts from Europe. But the company is seeking American suppliers, which could help catalyze increased metalwork in the United States.

“Michigan, Ohio — that’s the Rust Belt,” says Adrian LaTrace, the plant’s general manager. “We could be purchasing these components from those states. We’ve got the attention of the folks in the auto industry. This thing has critical mass.”

In Toledo, the declining auto industry has prompted a retooling. For more than a century, the city has been dominated by glass-making, but the problems of Detroit automakers have softened demand for car windows from its plants. Toledo has lost nearly a third of its manufacturing jobs since 2000.

Now, Toledo is harnessing its glass-making skills to carve out a niche in solar power. At the center of the trend is a huge glass maker, Pilkington, which bought a Toledo company that was born in the 19th century.

Half of Pilkington’s business is in the automotive industry. In the last two years, that business is down 30% in North America. But the solar division, started two years ago, is growing at a 40 percent clip annually.

Nearby, the University of Toledo aims to play the same enabling role in solar power that Stanford played at the dawn of the Internet. It has 15 faculty members researching solar power. By licensing the technologies spawned in its labs, the university encourages its academics to start businesses.

One company started by a professor, Xunlight, is developing thin and flexible solar cells. It has 65 employees and expects to have as many as 150 by the middle of next year.

“It’s a second opportunity,” says an assembly supervisor, Matt McGilvery, one of Xunlight’s early hires. Mr. McGilvery, 50, spent a decade making steel coils for $23 an hour before he was laid off. Xunlight hired him this year. His paycheck has shrunk, he says, declining to get into particulars, but his old-fashioned skills drawing plans by hand are again in demand as Xunlight designs its manufacturing equipment from scratch, and the future seems promising.

“The hope is that two years from now everything is smoking and that envelope will slide across the table,” he says. “The money that people are dumping into this tells me it’s a huge market.”

In Newton, the tidy downtown clustered around a domed courthouse is already showing signs of new life, after the pain of Maytag’s demise.

The owner of Courtyard Floral, Diane Farver, says she saw a steep drop in sales after Maytag left, particularly around holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, when she used to run several vanloads a week to the washing machine plant. Times have changed since that decline. When TPI recently dispatched workers to a factory in China for training, the company ordered bouquets for the spouses left at home.

Across the street at NetWork Realty, the broker Dennis Combs says the housing market is starting to stabilize as Maytag jobs are replaced.

“We’ve gone from Maytag, which wasn’t upgrading their antiquated plant, to something that’s cutting-edge technology, something that every politician is screaming this country has to have,” he says.

At Uncle Nancy’s Coffee House, talk of unemployment checks and foreclosures now mixes with job leads and looming investment.

“We’re seeing hope,” says Mr. Allen, the mayor.

The town is hardly done. Kimberly M. Didier, head of the Newton Development Corporation, which helped recruit TPI, is trying to attract turbine manufacturers and providers of raw materials and parts for the wind industry.

“This is in its infancy,” she says. “Automobiles, washer-dryers and other appliances have become commodities in their retirement phase. We’re in the beginning of this. How our economy functions is changing. We built this whole thing around oil, and now we’ve got to replace that.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, October 13, 2008

osuA new prototype of a wave energy device being developed by Oregon State University and Columbia Power Technologies was successfully tested last month in the ocean off Newport, Oregon, providing valuable data and moving the research program closer to commercialization.

In a $1 million research effort during the past year, 18 different “direct drive” wave energy technologies have been evaluated, five of the most promising selected from that group, and one approach has now been tested in the ocean. The work has been a collaboration of OSU, Columbia Power Technologies and the Facilities Engineering Command of the U.S. Navy.

“Our latest test went exceedingly well,” said Ted Brekken, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at OSU. “The buoy produced significant power, the hydrodynamic behavior fit our expectations and design, the placement and deployment went smoothly and we got a large amount of data to further evaluate. The Columbia Power Technologies and OSU team did a tremendous job in this collaborative effort.”

There are different approaches towards tapping the power of heaving ocean swells, scientists say, but OSU is focused on a direct drive technology that eliminates the need for hydraulic systems and may be more efficient and durable in a rugged ocean environment.

According to Annette von Jouanne, an OSU professor of electrical engineering, one approach may ultimately become the most dominant in this emerging alternative energy industry, as has been the case with wind power. However, different systems may work better depending on the application, she said.

“We may find that the best system is different depending on the need for low, mid-range or high power production,” von Jouanne said. “One might work best for commercial wave parks, while others could be better suited to local use by coastal communities or even small power devices that run sensors or self-powered buoys.”

In use, wave buoys might range widely in size, from a couple of feet to large commercial devices that are as much as 50 feet wide and 100 feet long, probably in a cylindrical shape, Brekken said. The above water portion of the buoy would be similar in size and visibility to a small boat. Researchers envision that energy production devices might have a lifespan of about 20 years with regular maintenance, similar to existing wind energy systems.

OSU is working in several areas of wave energy development, including new technologies, assessments of the potential biological or environmental impacts, site evaluations and outreach to coastal communities and interest groups.

In September, officials also announced funding support for a new Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, to be based at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center, with a total of $13.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, Oregon legislature, OSU, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, the University of Washington and other sources. A key part of this initiative will be creation of a wave energy test facility near Newport that would be available to academic researchers as well as private industry.

Experts have estimated that the electrical power available in the U.S. from wave energy might be similar to that of hydroelectric energy, and as such could become a significant part of a sustainable energy future. In Oregon, based on the amount of ocean space that is being considered for use in wave energy “parks,” it could be possible to supply as much as 10% of Oregon’s energy needs, Brekken said.

Further research is needed to address issues such as buoy spacing and placement, but a wave park that could produce 50-100 megawatts of electrical power might be about three miles long and one mile deep, Brekken said, or three square miles. It’s been suggested that Oregon might develop about seven wave parks. If buoys were placed in the areas between the offshore area from one to three miles off the state’s 300-mile-long coast, the space needed for seven energy production parks would be about one-third of 1% of this 600-square-mile area.

Continued research will further refine the optimal energy production and buoy technology, experts say, as well as methods to scale it up in size for commercial use, monitor its maintenance needs and reliability, and other issues.

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MendoCoastCurrent, October 23, 2008

A new hybrid inorganic/organic material could usher in solar cells that absorb all solar wavelengths. Researchers have created a new material that overcomes two of the major obstacles to solar power: it absorbs all the energy contained in sunlight, and generates electrons in a way that makes them easier to capture.

Ohio State University chemists and their colleagues combined electrically conductive plastic with metals including molybdenum and titanium to create the hybrid material.
This new material is the first that can absorb all the energy contained in visible light at once.

The new polymer could also enable much more efficient charge separation since electrons dislodged by light in the material remain free much longer than in conventional solar cells used in solar powered battery chargers. 

The inorganic/organic hybrid polymer material can be made into polymer blends that can “absorb essentially across the entire solar spectrum–they go from about 300 nanometers down to about 10,000 nanometers,” said professor Malcolm Chisholm of Ohio State University. 

Solar materials work by using incident light to boost the energy of electrons, thereby separating then from the hull of atoms in the material. They can then be harvested to generate electricity.

However, separated electrons fall back into their host atoms if not collected quickly. Usually, solar materials either fluoresce (called singlet emisson) or phosphoresce (triplet emission). The new hybrid material does both, further increasing potential efficiency.

“The materials we have made show both singlet and triplet emissions,” said Chisholm. “The singlet state lasts a relatively long time, in the region of about 10 pico seconds; the triplet lasts a lot longer–up to a 100 or so microseconds, which should be good for separating the electrons and the hull.”

At this point, the material is years from commercial development, but he added that this experiment provides a proof of concept — that hybrid solar cell materials such as this one can offer unusual properties.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and Ohio State’s Institute for Materials Research.

Chisholm is working with Arthur J. Epstein, Distinguished University Professor of chemistry and physics; Paul Berger, professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics; and Nitin Padture, professor of materials science and engineering to develop the material further. That work is part of the Advanced Materials Initiative, one Ohio State’s Targeted Investment in Excellence (TIE) programs.

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 19, 2008

The University of Hawaii (UH) has won an intensely sought-after award, being selected as one of two National Marine Renewable Test Centers, with Oregon State University as the other.

As a test center, UH will receive federal funding to study and encourage the implementation of wave energy systems in Hawaiian waters. The strong wave climate, combined with the highest use of fossil fuel and electricity rates in the nation, make Hawaii an ideal location for the development of lower-cost wave power.

It has been a banner year for renewable energy in Hawaii. After Congress passed the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” the U.S. Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Hawaii in January, seeking to produce 70% of Hawaii’s electricity needs from renewable resources by 2030.

In February, Oceanlinx, one of the world’s leading wave energy developers, announced plans for a wave energy facility off Maui’s northern coast.

The extent to which wave energy companies are drawn to Hawaii will ultimately determine how many jobs are created by their presence. However, given the large market and available resources, the potential is tremendous. Wave energy converters require engineers, consultants, commercial divers, maintenance crews, marine transport services, technicians and shipyard services. In other words, a vibrant wave energy industry will create well-paying jobs while keeping billions of dollars in our state economy instead of shipping them primarily to foreign countries to pay for oil.

With the recent surge in oil prices, renewable energy systems have been experiencing a renaissance. Investors who wanted nothing to do with renewable energy companies a few years ago are now scrambling to get their money invested in leading technologies. Those investors now can compete to catch the wave.

While the UH’s designation as a National Marine Renewable Test Center will certainly make Hawaii a more attractive destination, it’s important to note that Hawaii lacks a mechanism to connect wave energy systems to its power grid. Enter the Wave Hub, an undersea “outlet” that enables multiple wave energy systems to hook into the grid.

Construction of a Wave Hub about 10 miles off the southwest coast of England is creating a real-world testing ground. That Wave Hub should prove a commercial success, as there is already intense competition between rival wave energy companies seeking berths allowing their systems to plug into the Wave Hub.

In conjunction with the UH Marine Test Center, we must develop a Wave Hub here in Hawaii, so wave energy systems can compete to prove their commercial viability. Once an optimal location is selected, then the state can prepare the necessary environment and permit documents and install the seabed device and cable. Wave energy companies will be able to “plug in” their devices, without each spending years in the application phase.

In addition to the vibrant wave energy climate, federal, state and academic support can make Hawaii the premier destination for wave energy development in the United States, not to mention the Pacific theater. This is an innovation economy by definition – one that will make Hawaii more secure and environmentally protected.

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ARIEL SCHWARTZ, CleanTechnica.com, September 3, 2008

Algae fuel is getting another boost with the announcement of a $3 million grant to create kerosene-based aviation fuel derived from the substance.

Arizona State University researchers have already moved past the laboratory stage on the project and are working on a pilot scale production system. The research team says that cost reduction benefits are greater than with kerosene produced from petroleum.

The researchers came up with the new fuel by identifying algae strains that can convert pieces of their cellular mass into oil containing high concentrations of medium chain fatty acids. The hydrocarbon chains that occur when the oil is deoxygenated are similar to those found in traditional kerosene.

According to the ASU researchers, their kerosene provides a competitive advantage because it eliminates an expensive thermal cracking process which is necessary for traditional kerosene production.

The new algae kerosene fuel is compatible with jet planes when mixed with a small amount of fuel additives.

And with the increasing speed of new developments in algae fuel, we may all be driving around in algae-powered cars and flying algae-powered planes within the next few decades.

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TERRY DILLMAN, Newport News-Times, July 25, 2008

It sank to the bottom in 150 feet of water just one day before its planned retrieval. After nine months of waiting for the right weather and ocean conditions, divers and salvage vessels are currently on site to assist in the rebirth of a 75-foot, 40-ton wave energy buoy.

Developed by Finavera Renewables based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and built by Portland-based Oregon Iron Works, the Sept. 6, 2007 deployment of the Aquabuoy 2.0 wave energy converter – the first-ever wave energy test device off the Oregon coast – generated enthusiasm that has never waned, despite the Oct. 28 plunge into the ocean’s nether land. At the time, Finavera spokesman Myke Clark said engineers had gleaned plenty of data via wireless and satellite technology from onboard diagnostic equipment powered by solar panels and small wind turbines on the buoy.

“It performed exactly as we thought it would perform,” he noted.

Except for the sinking, the cause of which remains uncertain. The buoy began taking on water, and the bilge pump failed just one day before engineers were set to tow it back to shore. Finavera crews removed the anchor, mooring lines, tackle, and related paraphernalia, but had to leave the $2 million piece of technology itself resting on the ocean floor beneath the surface of the Oregon State University (OSU) wave energy test site located about 2.5 miles off the shores of Agate Beach.

Harsh weather and ocean conditions wiped out any hope of retrieving the buoy until now, despite everyone’s best efforts to recover it sooner.

Finavera officials notified everyone concerned as soon as they discovered the buoy’s disappearance, including Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE), a local advisory panel established in February 2007 by the Lincoln County commissioners. This panel played a key role in the wave energy test site selection process.

A week after the buoy sank, FINE members, county leaders, and others asked Finavera to explore any and all options to remove the buoy as soon as possible. At the time, Kevin Banister, Finavera’s vice president of business development, ocean energy, said they “pledged to explore” the options.

“We’re just as eager to get it out of the water as anybody,” he told the News-Times. “But we can’t make any guarantees.”

Even in good weather and calm waters, any ocean operation is tricky business. The Salvage Chief and related vessels began operations last week, with divers removing sand, cutting chain, and preparing the buoy for recovery. Banister told the News-Times the buoy “hasn’t moved” when discussing the situation earlier this week.

“It’s a complex operation,” he added. “It will take some time – as much as a week – to complete.”

That estimate is already off. Originally, salvage managers said they could tow the buoy in between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday. The first of the two pieces – the 10-foot buoy that bobs above the ocean surface – was towed into Yaquina Bay at about 2 a.m. Thursday, along with a Coast Guard escort, and taken to a shipyard about four miles upriver to await later transport to the company’s facilities. Salvage crews are working on getting the second piece to the surface and back to port.

Clark said the buoy’s collision with the seafloor at the end of its 150-foot drop damaged it, forcing divers to “cut the supports (of the accelerator tube) to make it easier to bring up.”

Kaety Hildenbrand from OSU’s Oregon Sea Grant Marine Fisheries Extension Service said the Coast Guard “is putting a 500-yard restriction on the vessels while they are towing.” Finavera and Salvage Chief officials ask that everyone steer clear of the work site.

Finavera developers said they would use the data gleaned from the buoy before its demise to “move forward with technological development” and create “the next generation” device – one as unsinkable as they can make it.

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GreenCarCongress.com, July 26, 2008

The US Minerals Management Service (MMS) is proceeding with the consultation and analyses necessary to move toward the issuance of limited leases under its interim policy for authorizing alternative energy data collection and technology testing activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

MMS announced its interim policy in November 2007 to jumpstart basic information gathering efforts relating to development of OCS alternative energy resources such as wind, waves, and ocean currents as authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct). The limited leases envisioned under the interim policy will be for a term of five years and will not convey any right or priority for commercial development.

Following the initial announcement, MMS received more than 40 nominations of areas proposed for limited leasing off the west and east coasts. In April MMS identified a subset of 16 proposed lease areas for priority consideration and provided public notice of those areas for the purpose of determining competitive interest as required by EPAct and for receiving relevant environmental or other information. The comment period on the April notice closed on June 30. A brief description of the information received and MMS’s decisions concerning the 16 proposed lease areas follows.

  • New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia—the 10 lease areas (six off NJ, one off DE, and three off GA) proposed for site assessment activities relating to wind resources drew no competing nominations and no significant comment. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for these sites.
  • Florida—three of the four lease areas off the southeast coast proposed for site assessment or technology testing activities relating to ocean current resources received competing nominations, and comments concerning the areas were favorable. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for the one site that did not receive competing nominations. Due to timing constraints inherent in the interim policy, as well as bureau budget and staffing considerations, MMS has decided not to proceed with a competitive auction for the other areas. Instead, the competing nominators have been asked to collaborate in order to enable interested parties to jointly benefit in information gathering under leases issued noncompetitively.
  • California—neither of the two areas off Northern California (Humboldt and Mendocino Counties) proposed for site assessment and technology testing relating to wave resources drew new competing nominations. However, based on two original overlapping nominations in the Humboldt area from the initial Call for Nominations in Nov. 2007, MMS has determined that there is competitive interest in that proposed lease area. MMS also received numerous comments from local stakeholders concerned about potential use conflicts and environmental issues in both areas. For the Mendocino area, MMS has decided to proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process, working with the applicant and local stakeholders to refine the area and scope of proposed activities and to address other local concerns. For the Humboldt area, MMS has decided not to hold a competitive auction and to ask the competing nominators to collaborate. If they agree to collaborate, MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process as in the Mendocino area.

The process for issuing limited leases under the interim policy will entail thorough environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and related laws, as well as close consultation with federal, state, and local government agencies as required by EPAct.

The limited leases that will be issued under the interim policy will enable the lessees to collect information that will be useful for potential commercial projects in the future under an MMS regulatory program that is in development.

MMS published a proposed OCS alternative energy rulemaking on July 9, 2008. When final, this rule will govern all future commercial OCS alternative energy activities and will apply to any future commercial development in the areas leased under the interim policy. Limited leaseholders wishing to conduct commercial activities will need separate authorization under the final rule that is adopted.

The MMS interim policy is ongoing pending the adoption of a final rule governing OCS alternative energy activity. Interested parties may continue to submit nominations, and MMS may act on other nominations that already have been received or are received in the future.

The specific companies involved with the proposed projects are listed below:

  • Delaware: Bluewater Wind Delaware LLC (wind resources data collection)
  • New Jersey: Bluewater Wind New Jersey Energy LLC (3 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection). Fisherman’s Energy of New Jersey (wind resources data collection). Winergy Power LLC (2 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection)
  • Georgia: Southern Company (3 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection)
  • Florida: Aquantis LLC/Aquantis Development Co. Inc. (ocean current data collection and technology testing)
  • California: Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (wave resources data collection, offshore Mendocino)

There is one proposed lease area off California and three off Florida where there is overlapping interest. For those areas, MMS is investigating whether the companies are interested in collaborating on resource data collection activities. Those companies are:

  • California: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Marine Sciences (wave resources data collection offshore Humboldt)
  • Florida: Proposed lease area 1: Oceana Energy Co and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection). Proposed lease area 2: Marine Sciences and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection). Proposed lease area 4: Florida Power & Light Co and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection).

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EnergyCurrent.com, July 30, 2008

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dick Kempthorne has started the development of a new oil and natural gas leasing program for the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The action could give the next administration a head start in expanding energy production from federal offshore jurisdictions, including some areas where a congressional moratorium has restricted oil and gas development.

Reacting to current energy prices and president George W. Bush’s lifting of the presidential ban on offshore drilling, Secretary Kempthorne has directed the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) to begin the initial steps for developing a new five year program. The multi-year process starts with a call for information from all parties on what a new five year program should consider.

MMS is also requesting comment to ensure that all interests and concerns are considered regarding oil and gas leasing and exploration and development resulting from a new five year program. The governors of all 50 states will be specifically asked for their comments, particularly on issues unique to each state.

The current program runs from 2007-2012 and includes 21 lease sales in eight of the 26 Outer Continental Shelf planning areas in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and the Atlantic. It does not include areas under a congressional ban, with the exception of Virginia. The new program, depending on public comment, can consider any area although any leasing in a banned area would need congressional action. If approved the new program would begin in 2010 and end in 2015.

Kempthorne said, “Today a barrel of oil costs more than $120, almost double the price a year ago. Clearly, today’s escalating energy prices and the widening gap between U.S. energy consumption and supply have changed the fundamental assumptions on which many of our decisions were based.”

“The American people and the President want action and this initiative can accelerate an offshore exploration and development program that can increase production from additional domestic energy resources.”

“This initiative could provide a significant advantage for the incoming administration, offering options it would not otherwise have had until at least 2010,” Kempthorne added.

“Today’s action would provide a two year head start for the next administration on developing a new five-year program.”

The Outer Continental Shelf currently provides 27% of U.S. domestic oil production and 15% of domestic natural gas production, the majority of this from the Gulf of Mexico. MMS believes that the areas under a congressional ban contain an additional 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 Tcf of natural gas in yet-to-be-discovered fields.

MMS considers the numbers conservative estimates because little exploration has been conducted in most of those areas during the past 25 years because of the congressional ban. The estimates could increase with new technology and exploration techniques.

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openPR.co.uk, July 23, 2008

Plans announced yesterday for a study into the feasibility of wind and wave farms off the coast of Northern Ireland and Scotland were heralded as a positive step forward by The Renewable Energy Centre

Costing 1.6 million and funded mainly by Inter-Reg, an EU (European Union) funded programme, the study will begin later this year. The west coast of Scotland and the North and North East coast of Ireland have a huge potential to harness both wind and wave power. The study will investigate the possibility of establishing a grid infrastructure between the two locations which would allow for an offshore transmission network. This would attract commercial investors and the area could become one of the key supply chains of renewable energy for Scotland and the UK.

Scotland has already committed to an ambitious target of sourcing 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020 and this study could pave the way to a successful achievement of this goal. Tim Mather, Scotland’s Energy Minister said “To realise the potential of the huge wind, wave and tidal resources at our disposal, we need to examine the longer term development of our grid infrastructure. Scotland, we believe has never been in better shape to become the green energy capital of Europe and in turn, a renewables powerhouse”

The Renewable Energy Centre said it was a positive move forward for the renewable energy industry and the grid infrastructure. The Centre has already highlighted the issues many investors are experiencing with delays because of grid access and transmission and this study shows that efforts are being made to create a grid network which will support the future of the UK’s energy supply.

The Energy Minister for Northern Ireland agreed saying “We have a vast wealth of free natural resources that we can harness to provide ourselves with a clean and sustainable source of energy”

The Renewable Energy Centre said that more effort to upgrade and prepare the national grid could not come soon enough and that if the UK was to continue to flourish in the wind, wave and tidal industry improvements needed to be planned and implemented without delay.

Richard Simmons Managing Director at The Renewable Energy Centre said “The renewable industry is forging ahead in order to ensure the UK’s future energy supply but as usual our infrastructure is sadly lacking. This has been known for many years and still upgrades and necessary works to support this new industry are hampering projects all over the UK. The Beauly Denny line which would open up the east coast of Scotland has been in planning application since 2005 and is still nowhere near being finalised. Much of the national grid will need to be upgraded in the next 5 to 10 years but at this rate it will seriously affect the progress of the renewable energy industry.”

The Renewable Energy Centre stated that the government and Ofgem needed to work together and formulate a strategic and definite plan of development in order to maintain the momentum gathering the renewables industry. It said that now was the time for the government to act and move the UK forward in order to not only achieve its European Union targets but surpass them.

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MendoCoastCurrent, July 9, 2008

Efforts to harness the energy potential of Earth’s ocean winds could soon gain an important new tool: global satellite maps from NASA. Scientists have been creating maps using nearly a decade of data from NASA’s QuikSCAT satellite that reveal ocean areas where winds could produce energy.

The new maps have many potential uses including planning the location of offshore wind farms to convert wind energy into electric energy. The research, published this week in Geophysical Research Letters, was funded by NASA’s Earth Science Division, which works to advance the frontiers of scientific discovery about Earth, its climate and its future.

“Wind energy is environmentally friendly. After the initial energy investment to build and install wind turbines, you don’t burn fossil fuels that emit carbon,” said study lead author Tim Liu, a senior research scientist and QuikSCAT science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Like solar power, wind energy is green energy.”

QuikSCAT, launched in 1999, tracks the speed, direction and power of winds near the ocean surface. Data from QuikSCAT, collected continuously by a specialized microwave radar instrument named SeaWinds, also are used to predict storms and enhance the accuracy of weather forecasts.

Wind energy has the potential to provide 10-15%of future world energy requirements, according to Paul Dimotakis, chief technologist at JPL. If ocean areas with high winds were tapped for wind energy, they could potentially generate 500 to 800 watts of energy per square meter, according to Liu’s research. Dimotakis notes that while this is slightly less than solar energy (which generates about one kilowatt, or 1,000 watts, of energy per square meter), wind power can be converted to electricity more efficiently than solar energy and at a lower cost per watt of electricity produced.

According to Liu, new technology has made floating wind farms in the open ocean possible. A number of wind farms are already in operation worldwide. Ocean wind farms have less environmental impact than onshore wind farms, whose noise tends to disturb sensitive wildlife in their immediate area. Also, winds are generally stronger over the ocean than on land because there is less friction over water to slow the winds down — there are no hills or mountains to block the wind’s path.

Ideally, offshore wind farms should be located in areas where winds blow continuously at high speeds. The new research identifies such areas and offers explanations for the physical mechanisms that produce the high winds.

An example of one such high-wind mechanism is located off the coast of Northern California near Cape Mendocino. The protruding land mass of the cape deflects northerly winds along the California coast, creating a local wind jet that blows year-round. Similar jets are formed from westerly winds blowing around Tasmania, New Zealand and Tierra del Fuego in South America, among other locations. Areas with large-scale, high wind power potential also can be found in regions of the mid-latitudes of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where winter storms normally track.

The new QuikSCAT maps, which add to previous generations of QuikSCAT wind atlases, also will be beneficial to the shipping industry by highlighting areas of the ocean where high winds could be hazardous to ships, allowing them to steer clear of these areas.

Scientists use the QuikSCAT data to examine how ocean winds affect weather and climate, by driving ocean currents, mixing ocean waters and affecting the carbon, heat and water interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere. JPL manages QuikSCAT for NASA. For more information about QuikSCAT, visit: http://winds.jpl.nasa.gov .

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Atom.ex.ac.uk, July 21, 2008

As Europe’s largest ocean energy research programme launches, one of its participants speaks of the huge potential for the South West to become a leader in wave energy development.

Professor George Smith of the University of Exeter is a member of EquiMar, a group of 62 scientists from 11 European countries working together to combine knowledge and expertise in marine energy. They aim to drive forward research so that the potential of renewable energy from waves and tides can be realised. EquiMar will be officially launched at the World Renewable Energy Conference (WREC) in Glasgow on July 22, 2008.

Professor Smith is the Scottish and Southern Energy Associate Professor in renewable energy. He leads the renewable energy group, which is part of the School of Geography, Archaeology and Earth Resources on the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus and says: “The South West of England has a strong commitment to increasing its renewable energy generation as demonstrated by the proposed Wave Hub project off the North Cornwall Coast. Marine Renewable Energy, both wave and tidal, has the potential to provide a significant contribution to the UK’s “green energy” and to the EU target for reduction in carbon emissions. Surrounded by sea, the South West is clearly in a strong position to contribute to this. One of the main barriers to realising the potential is that we still don’t have enough information on the amount of energy that can be realistically extracted from the devices available. EquiMar seeks to produce guidelines that will allow fair evaluation of the potential of the many different technologies. EquiMar has the potential to guide the way forward from demonstration projects like the Wave Hub to the next stage of fully commercial projects. We must act now to ensure that marine renewable can achieve the undoubted potential and contribution to the UK energy mix.”

According to the Dr David Ingram, the Scottish scientist launching EquiMar, marine energy has 10 years to prove itself as a viable technology or risk being eclipsed by other energy sources. Dr Ingram will tell delegates at the WREC conference in Glasgow that time is running out for marine solutions to the world’s energy crisis unless scientists and environmentalists work together.

Dr David Ingram of the University of Edinburgh is coordinator of the European Commission funded project, a €5.5 million programme linking European top research centres and leading device developers to examine the potential of, and identify the barriers to establishing, a marine energy industry. The project has been given three years support by the European Commission to come up with templates to identify viable wave and tidal energy devices and optimal locations so marine energy can be developed commercially and to help to meet the ambitious supply targets set by governments for renewable energy.

According to Dr Ingram: “Every day scientists, inventors and keen amateurs are applying for grants to test their prototypes. Some are promising – many will never work outside the limited test environment of the bath or kitchen sink. Governments need yardsticks by which they can measure the likely success of marine energy systems before backing them. At present we know more about the surface of the moon than parts of the sea bed – both environments demand scientific precision and the toughest possible equipment. Improved national and European funding will help resolve these problems and support the pioneering developers, to progress from testing devices to placing them in the open ocean environment. Good policies are as important as good science at this stage of Ocean Energy development.”

The EquiMar (“Equitable Testing and Evaluation of Marine Energy Devices in terms of Performance, Cost and Environmental Impact”) project is one of two projects funded in the first round of Framework Programme 7, by the European Commission. EquiMar is a €5.5M project, involving 23 partners from 11 different countries, coordinated by the University of Edinburgh including major developers, universities, test sites, research laboratories, a certification agency, a utility and a journalist, bringing together international expertise across a wide range of disciplines. The project will run for three years from mid April 2008. EquiMar’s primary aim is to deliver guidelines so funding agencies, policy makers and investors can fairly judge different technologies and sites.

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MendoCoastCurrent, July 23, 2008

If the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities agrees next month to build offshore wind turbines, then projects covering as much as 40 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean could be built locally over the next several years.

Plans on file in the state BPU office here show most of the proposals favor building the projects in southern New Jersey – anywhere from three to 20 miles offshore, visible from most of the region’s beaches.

The state is seeking to get as much as 350 megawatts of power from the projects. By comparison, the B.L. England power plant in Upper Township produces about 214 megawatts. The proposals are meant to take stress off the grid that gets much of its energy from out of state, while replacing energy sources that emit thousands of tons of pollutants each year.

The Committee includes members from the state BPU, Department of Environmental Protection, NJ Governor’s Office, U.S. Department of Energy and the recently disbanded state Commerce Commission. But NJ officials refused to say who would be making recommendations for the $1 billion project.

While four of the projects would use wind turbines similar to those at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority site, one builder proposed a revolutionary design. Instead of spinning like a pinwheel, New York City’s Environmental Technologies LLC’s windmills would spin like a blender, the multiple long, flat blades rotating around a central pillar inside of an open, boxy enclosure. By placing them somewhere off Seaside Park, Ocean County, the plans say that 225 ‘blenders’ would generate 337.5 megawatts of power. Because they do not have giant spinning arms, each taking up about one acre, whereas traditional wind turbines use about 23 acres.

Three other plans would place wind turbines in sprawling rectangular zones.

Planners seek similar sites off Cape May and Atlantic counties. While the ocean seems limitless, plans show builders are boxed in by constraints that include shipping lanes, flight patterns, transatlantic cables, shipwrecks, fisheries, water depths and proximity to the shore.

The plan by Cape May’s Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey seeks to alleviate fishing concerns. Opposition by fishing groups undercut an unrelated proposal by the Long Island Power Authority.

Cape May’s Fishermen’s Energy wrote they would investigate whether special measures should be taken to conserve fish species. While the structures could overrun some habitat, the company did not expect long-term, negative effects.

The plan would put eight wind turbines about three miles off Absecon Island approximately between the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway and the Margate/Longport border, in hopes of rallying the region behind the project. The application noted the project would add to the Atlantic City skyline.

The second phase would put 66 wind turbines of twice the capacity about seven miles east from the Great Egg Harbor Inlet. They would all be operational in 2014. The plan also calls for creating a pair of nonprofit energy collectives to seek federal funds.

Garden State Offshore Energy, a joint effort by PSEG Renewable Generation and Winergy Power Holdings, would put their farm about 20 miles dead east of Avalon, generating 345.6 megawatts. The 96 turbines would be in an area 3.5 miles by 5.5 miles, but barely visible.

The plan said it could build in water up to 110 feet deep because of groundbreaking technology the company did not share in the public proposal. The company seeks $4 million, with $400,000 for development and $3.6 million for environmental monitoring. The company was one of the few to reveal the overall cost, $1.07 billion.

A fourth plan by Hoboken’s BluewaterWind would put 116 wind turbines 16 miles southeast of Atlantic City, generating 348 megawatts. The project would cover about 40 square miles, but outside of a 33-foot safety zone around the turbines, the firm said there would be no exclusionary zone around them. Like several other plans, it could be operational by the end of 2013. The plan touts the firm’s experience, saying team members helped construct wind turbines that generate 1,120 of the 1,193 megawatts generated worldwide.

It also said it is developing a 450 megawatt wind farm about 11 miles east of Rehoboth, Del., and was the financial advisor and manager of the ACUA’s wind park. The firm seeks $19 million from the state’s Clean Energy Program, paid over five years, based on the electricity delivered to the grid.

The BPU committee is expected to recommend one of the five plans at its Aug. 20 board meeting. The BPU allows groups filing proposals to redact certain sensitive information, typically involving financing, private agreements or aspects that could compromise the company’s financial standing.

Cuts have to be justified using the confidentiality claim. Only one firm, Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey, was the only company since March to justify their redactions. BPU Board secretary Kristi Izzo said she would ask the other firms to explain redactions in the coming days.

A final proposal by Bayonne’s Occidental Development & Equities, LLC, said it would generate 160 megawatts after a 578-day project. But the 22-page filing didn’t say how many windmills, how tall or in what arrangement. The company plan mentions two sites, but only specified they would be “off the coast within territorial waters.” The file raised more questions about the company than it answered. The company redacted information about the firm’s expertise. Satellite photos seem to indicate the company’s mailing address was in a Bayonne, Hudson County, residential neighborhood, and its state incorporation records do not exist.

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MendoCoastCurrent, July 27, 2008

Finavera Renewables CEO Jason Bak provides this overview of 2008 activities to date and an outlook for the remainder of the year.

“The first half of 2008 has been an exciting period for Finavera Renewables,” commented CEO Jason Bak. “Our strategy [in] wind projects is to develop an approximate one gigawatt pipeline with partners that can provide balance sheet strength. Our plan is to maintain majority ownership interests that will provide us with revenues. We have seen significant interest in our British Columbia and Ireland wind projects and we are confident we’ll be able to enter into development agreements with partners that will not result in undue shareholder dilution. We will be focusing our efforts and resources on our most valuable assets in order to demonstrate their value to the market and move them towards production.”

Finavera Renewables’ wind projects have been the focus of much activity in the first half of 2008. Aggressively pursuing partners for projects in British Columbia, Canada and in Ireland. After assessing a number of various partners, a proposal letter has been executed from a potential investor for the equity financing of four projects in British Columbia to be bid into the upcoming BC Hydro Clean Power Call. In addition, in Ireland, preliminary discussions have identified a potential project partner following a detailed review of groups expressing an interest in the project pipeline. The strategy for all of these projects is to maintain a significant ownership interest in the projects in order to provide a revenue stream.

Progress is also being made in the ocean energy division. The planned development of the next generation of its wave energy converter, the AquaBuOY 3.0, is continuing in order to improve the power output and economics of the device. This includes an analysis of advanced composite materials in the manufacturing of the device and discussions with potential technology development partners in an effort to enhance the core hose pump technology. This continued technology development builds on significant progress in wave energy projects including the signing of North America’s first commercial power purchase agreement for a 2 MW wave energy project in California with Pacific Gas & Electric.

Highlights of selected Finavera projects and milestones for 2008:

Wind Project Updates

British Columbia, Canada

Discussions with a potential corporate investor, receiving non-binding indicative financing proposal, in connection with four wind projects currently being developed in the Peace Region of British Columbia, Canada. The proposal contemplates the investor would invest 100% of the equity requirements for each of the four projects awarded an electricity purchase agreement by BC Hydro pursuant to the BC Hydro Clean Power Call. Specific details of the proposal, including the name of the proponent, will be released on signing of a definitive agreement, yet expects to the agreement in place well in advance of the Clean Power Call bid submission deadline November 2008. Finavera is working to prepare bids for the call, and is confident in its ability to secure a contract from the call. Also continuing is the greenfield development of its other permitted areas in the Cascade Mountains area of south central British Columbia, and soon expects to install meteorological monitoring towers on those sites.

Alberta, Canada

Continuing to evaluate development options in order to extract the maximum value from the 75MW Ghost Pine wind project. All of the significant environmental field work has been completed on the project which is located approximately 150km northeast of Calgary. The field work included wildlife, vegetation and land use studies, historical resource investigations and approvals, avian and raptor surveys, and preliminary geotechnical surveys. The project’s final detailed design is close to conclusion. Permitting and interconnection provisions are in place to allow for construction and wind turbine erection would take place in 2009 with a targeted in-service date of December 2009. Wind resource assessment is underway for the nearby 75MW Lone Pine wind project, intending to make an interconnection application for this second Alberta project soon.

Cloosh Valley, Ireland

Discussions are ongoing with a potential partner in order to development prospects for the 105 MW Cloosh Valley wind project. The project has received planning permission for meteorological tower installation for wind data collection from Galway County Council. As well, an application for interconnection has been submitted to Eirgrid, the independent electricity transmission system operator in Ireland, and grid queue position has been established. The next stages of development include the submission of an application for planning permission to An Bord Pleanala, the Irish federal planning authority, under newly established streamlined guidelines for strategic infrastructure projects.

Ocean Energy Updates

Development continues on the next generation AquaBuOY 3.0 design in order to reduce the levelized cost of electricity production and move the technology towards commercialization. Now undertaking an advanced composite materials analysis to lower the construction cost of the device and provide a stronger, lighter housing for the core hose pump technology. Finavera is also in discussion with potential technology development partners in an effort to enhance the hose pump technology and acquire or develop additional IP related to the hose pump technology. The next state of the AquaBuOY design phase will build on the information gathered from the deployment of the prototype AquaBuOY 2.0 technology off the coast of Oregon in 2007. The mathematical and power output modeling was verified during the test phase. The exact timing of future deployments and specific development milestones will be released as research and development objectives are met.

Narrowing its project development focus to the West Coast of North America and South Africa to direct resources to the most valuable project assets. This enhanced focus will help provide clean, renewable and cost effective electricity by 2012 from the project in Humboldt County, California. A long-term Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) has been signed with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for 2 MW wave energy project off the coast of California. This is the first commercial PPA for a wave energy project in North America.

“The second half of 2008 presents a tremendous opportunity for Finavera Renewables as we are poised to complete a number initiatives undertaken during the first half of the year. Our plan is to focus our efforts and resources on our highest value assets while investigating additional partnerships and joint ventures in the renewable energy sector,” said Jason Bak, CEO.

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CHUCK SQUATRIGLIA, Autopia at Wired, June 12, 2008

Volkswagen’s hydrogen fuel cell Tiguan made its North American debut today, and it’s a pretty slick bit of kit even if it won’t appear in showrooms anytime soon, if at all.

Although the company was also showing off its upcoming diesel Jetta TDI and talking a lot about the TDI Cup diesel racing series it sponsors, the Tiguan HyMotion was clearly the star of the show. It’s an advancement over the HyMotion Touran it replaces, but company officials made it clear they aren’t betting on hydrogen alone to save us.

“There isn’t one technology, one fuel, that will provide the answer,” John Tillman, who leads VW’s advanced powertrain division in the U.S, told Wired.com. “We have multiple technologies. This is just one of them.”

The company is pushing clean diesel in a big way and expects it to comprise 30% of its sales within a decade. But, like a growing number of automakers, it believes “the electric motor is the ideal prime mover for sustainable economy,” and Tillman says VW is working on hybrid and battery electric drivetrains.

Volkswagen’s been playing with fuel cells for 10 years now, and it launched a dedicated fuel cell and EV research center in 2001. The Tiguan HyMotion is its fourth generation FCV and the its most advanced.

The proton exchange membrane fuel cell generates 80 kW, but it’s coupled with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery that bump output to 100 kW (about 134 horsepower). That’s enough to propel the Tiguan, which weighs about 4,122 pounds, from zero to 60 in 14 seconds and a top speed of 93 mph. Not great, but better than the Touran’s 86 mph. The battery has a charge capacity of 6.8 Ah and is charged by the fuel cell and regenerative braking. The HyMotion also uses stop-start technology to reduce fuel consumption.

Besides their astronomical price, one of the shortcomings of fuel cell vehicles is their range, and the Tiguan offers a relatively paltry 160 miles. It carries 3.5 kilograms of gaseous hydrogen in a tank made of carbon fiber, kevlar and aluminum at a pressure of 10,000 pounds – twice that of the Touran. “We could go higher, but who’s going to provide the fueling infrastructure at that pressure?” said Westley Khin, one of the engineers who worked on the car.

Ah yes, the fueling infrastructure. The Achilles heal of fuel cell vehicles, along with the astronomical cost of the cars themselves. Khin concedes both are the big stumbling blocks to the commercialization, but says “the vehicles are here” and they work well. That may be, but VW’s only built two HyMotion Tiguans and doesn’t have any plans to start putting them in driveways like Honda’s doing with the FCX Clarity.

“The FCX Clarity is a good vehicle. But we want to introduce a vehicle when the customer has the capacity to fuel it. We don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Tillman says, adding that VW is “working on developing” a home-hydrogen station along the lines of what Honda’s got.

By the way, we asked Tillman if there’s any chance we’ll see that sweet 71 mpg diesel-electric Golf hybrid VW unvieled earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show. “We’re looking at it. I don’t have a timeline, but we are looking at it,” is all he’d say.

VW realizes there’s a market for the car but says the problem is making it affordable. Hybrid drivetrains are expensive – they add about $5K to the sticker price. So are diesel engines, which cost about two grand more than similarly-sized gasoline engines. Put them together in the same car and things quickly get expensive. “We have to get it to a price point that people can actually afford,” Tillman said.

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Green Energy News, June 10, 2008

Whether it’s John McCain or Barack Obama who moves into the Oval Office next January he’ll have have a deskful of problems to cope with: the biggest foreign policy blunder in the nation’s history, a lackluster economy, and what appears to be a peaking of the world’s oil supply.

All of which are related, of course.

As ominous as those problems may seem there’s a bright side: The new president will have a growing and vibrant industry — the green energy industry — on his side that may very well help solve those three problems.

Oil is about fuels for transportation. Peak oil, if that’s what the planet is now beginning to experience, is about fuel being too expensive to get us from here to there at a reasonable cost. Though trying to convince automakers to build more efficient cars and trucks has been an ongoing battle for decades, high priced fuel has forced at least one automaker’s hand.

The news this week that GM would shut four truck and SUV factories and pursue more efficient vehicles, like the hyper-efficient Chevrolet Volt, was a final recognition by the world’s largest automaker that they need to change. Now that GM is on board, the trend towards highly energy efficient vehicles that began with the hybrids from Japan should continue at a brisker pace. Further, perhaps with a little help from the next occupant of the White House, the push for more efficient vehicles could lead to a renaissance — a green renaissance — for Detroit.

In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in October 2007 Obama said this,” I went to Detroit, I stood in front of a group of automakers, and I told them that when I am president, there will be no more excuses — we will help them retool their factories, but they will have to make cars that use less oil.”

Perhaps the automakers should take him up on his word.

John McCain wants to create a cap and trade system to cut greenhouse gas emissions that would encompass transportation fuels and to “reform federal government research funding and infrastructure to support the cap and trade emissions reduction goals and emphasize the commercialization of low-carbon technologies.”

(Obama also supports cap and trade policies.)

A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks also means better conventional fuel economy and/or a switch to alternative fuels. (The temporary suspension of the federal gasoline tax as a way to ease the pain at the pump, supported by McCain, has already been shelved by Congress.)

In coping with a sluggish economy green energies are clearly the next big thing.

The vast central part of the country is ripe for wind energy development. Nearly all the world’s major wind turbine manufacturers have already or are planning to build production facilities on US soil. The huge cost of shipping makes it cheaper to build the massive machines here than overseas.

The desert southwest is just gearing up for a wave of concentrating solar thermal power plants. Plans to build components for solar thermal power plants here are also underway. Solar thermal power, though proven for years, is, as an industry, just taking baby steps.

Biofuels, if they are to be the future of fuels for transportation, are gaining traction again as interest grows with algae as a source of diesel fuel and cellulose as feedstock for ethanol. The brewing of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol are most certainly to be domestic enterprises that will help the economy.

Again cap and trade ideas would help these industries. Obama adds more ideas among them to “Invest $150 billion over 10 Years in Clean Energy”; “Invest in a Skilled Clean Technologies Workforce”, start a “Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund” and “Convert our Manufacturing Centers into Clean Technology Leaders.”

Hyper-efficient cars, biofuels, wind and solar power and other green technologies could repair an ailing economy and dampen the worst effects of high oil prices related to peak oil. But what about Iraq? Can green energies help out there too? Perhaps.

Much of the Iraq’s troubles are related to high unemployment. Yet to their south in the Persian Gulf region at least one state is using what remains of its oil wealth to pursue sustainable technologies and the industries and jobs that will follow. The Masdar Initiative in the emirate of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates is that example.

The objectives of Masdar are to position Abu Dhabi as a world-class research and development hub for new sustainable energy technologies and drive the commercialization and adoption of these and other technologies. Commercialization and adoption means jobs and opportunity, just what Iraq needs. The next president could encourage Iraqis only to look around in the neighborhood to see what is possible for their nation.

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