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Archive for the ‘Solar Energy’ Category

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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JOHN UPTON, San Francisco Examiner, August 22, 2010

The view to the west from Ocean Beach could one day be cluttered with scores of spinning windmills, generating power.

San Francisco under Mayor Gavin Newsom has long explored the possibility of tapping alternative energy sources, including tidal, wave, solar, geothermal and wind power.

San Francisco is reviewing the environmental impacts of a planned project that would place underwater devices off Ocean Beach to harness wave power, which is a nascent form of renewable energy. The review and its approvals are expected to wrap up within a year.

City leaders are starting to think that construction of the wave power project could help them assess the viability of a more visually striking proposal: a wind farm.

Ocean Beach was found by UC Berkeley professor Ronald Yeung to have good potential for a powerful wave energy farm. Waves that roll into the beach are created by Arctic tempests.

The finding was confirmed last year by city contractors, who determined a facility could provide up to 30 megawatts of electricity — enough power for 30,000 homes.

Environmental review work under way involves studying sediment movement and tracking whale migration patterns to determine the best places on the sea floor to attach futuristic wave power devices.

Recent changes in federal regulations could limit San Francisco to working within three miles of the shoreline because offshore renewable energy projects now require expensive leases instead of less-expensive permits, although the process is clouded by uncertainty.

The federal Mineral Management Services agency has responsibility for regulating offshore renewable energy resources, including wave and power farms, but the agency is being overhauled in the wake of the Gulf oil spill disaster.

The recent regulatory changes could see offshore energy rights snapped up by deep-pocketed oil or utility companies under anticipated bidding processes.

On San Francisco’s clearest days, visitors to Ocean Beach can sometimes see the Farallon Islands, which are 27 miles west of San Francisco — nearly 10 times further out to sea than the three-mile offshore border.

After safe and potentially powerful locations have been identified, wave energy technology will be selected from a growing suite of options including devices that float near the surface, those that hover in midwater and undulating seabed equipment inspired by kelp.

The next step would involve applying for permits and installing the equipment.

Somewhere along the way, costs will be determined and funds will need to be raised by officials or set aside by lawmakers.

Once the wave-catching equipment is in place, it could be used to help determine wind velocities and other factors that make the difference between viable and unviable wind farm sites.

“What we really need to do is put some wind anemometers out there,” Newsom’s sustainability adviser Johanna Partin said. “There are a couple of buoys off the coast with wind meters on them, but they are spread out and few and far between. As we move forward with our wave plans, we’re hoping there are ways to tie in some wind testing. If we’re putting stuff out there anyway then maybe we can tack on wind anemometers.”

Partin characterized plans for a wind farm off Ocean Beach as highly speculative but realistic.

Wind power facilities are growing in numbers in California and around the world.

But wind farms are often opposed by communities because of fears about noise, vibrations, ugliness and strobe-light effects that can be caused when blades spin and reflect rays from the sun.

A controversial and heavily opposed 130-turbine project that could produce 468 megawatts of power in Nantucket Sound received federal approvals in May.

West Coast facilities, however, are expected to be more expensive and complicated to construct.

“The challenge for us on the West Coast is that the water is so much deeper than it is on the East Coast,” Partin said.

Treasure Island is planned site for turbine test

A low-lying island in the middle of the windswept Bay will be used as a wind-power testing ground.

The former Navy base Treasure Island is about to be used in an international project to test cutting-edge wind turbines. It was transferred last week to to San Francisco to be developed by private companies in a $100 million-plus deal.

The testing grounds, planned in a southwest pocket of the island, could be visible from the Ferry Building.

The first turbines to be tested are known as “vertical axis” turbines, meaning they lack old-fashioned windmill blades, which can be noisy and deadly for birds.

The devices to be tested were developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in cooperation with Russian companies. Five were manufactured in Russia and delivered to California earlier this year.

The wind-technology relationship, which was funded with $2 million in federal funds, grew out of an anti-nuclear-proliferation program started in 1993.

“The vertical machines should be good in gusty low-wind conditions, which are those which you expect in an urban environment,” lead LBNL researcher Glen Dahlbacka said recently.

The machines were designed to minimize noise and are easily built.

“They’re relatively easy to work up in a fiberglass shop,” Dahlbacka said.

Eventually, each device could be coupled with solar panels to provide enough power for a modest home, Dahlbacka said.

The team is not expected to be the only group to test wind turbines on the island.

San Francisco plans to provide space for green-tech and clean-tech companies to test their wind-power devices on the island to help achieve product certification under federal standards adopted in January.

The program could help San Francisco attract environmental technology companies.

“It’s an opportunity to attract and retain clean-tech companies,” Department of the Environment official Danielle Murray said. “We’ve just started putting feelers out to the industry.”

The proposed testing grounds might have to shift around as the island is developed with thousands of homes and other buildings in the coming years.

“We need to work with them with regards to where these things go and how they would interact with the development project,” Wilson Meany Sullivan developer Kheay Loke said.

— John Upton

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Ukiah Daily, March 9, 2010

Cool Small Wind Device

Mendocino County, along with the counties of Sonoma, Lake, Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Siskiyou will be receiving a $4.4 million grant from the California Energy Commission to initiate the proposed North Coast Energy Independence Program. The NCEIP is patterned after and represents an expansion of the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program. Implementation of the NCEIP will provide Mendocino County residents and businesses access to funding for residential and commercial energy efficiency and water conservation improvements, and stimulate the County’s economy through development of clean technology jobs.

The NCEIP will be implemented through the North Coast Integrated Regional Water Management Group, a coalition of Mendocino and six other North Coast counties. The NCIRWMG’s governance committee will serve as the principal contact with the California Energy Commission and administer the grant on behalf of the participating North Coast counties. Start-up and implementation of the NCEIP will occur within each county under direction of the respective County Board of Supervisors.

The North Coast and Sonoma County Energy Independence programs are the product of recent State legislation, Assembly Bill 811. Assembly bill 811 became law in 2008 and authorizes cities and counties to finance the installation of energy and water efficiency improvements to existing structures within a designated geographic area. Under AB 811, a city or county can loan money to property owners for the installation of permanent energy and water energy efficiency improvements, with the loan being repaid as a part of the property owner’s regular property tax payments. Repayment of the loan is tied to the property. Consequently, when the property changes ownership the loan repayment obligation automatically transfers to the new property owner.

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DAVID TOW, Future Planet, January 16, 2010

By 2015 India and China will both have outstripped the US in energy consumption by a large margin. Cap and Trade carbon markets will have been established by major developed economies, including India and China, as the most effective way to limit carbon emissions and encourage investment in renewable energy, reforestation projects etc.

There will have been a significant shift by consumers and industry to renewable energy technologies- around 25%, powered primarily by the new generation adaptive wind and solar energy mega-plants, combined with the rapid depletion of the most easily accessible oil fields. Coal and gas will continue to play a major role at around 60% useage, with clean coal and gas technologies still very expensive. Nuclear technology will remain static at 10% and hydro at 5%.

Most new vehicles and local transport systems will utilise advanced battery or hydrogen electric power technology, which will continue to improve energy density outputs.

Efficiency and recycling savings of the order of 30% on today’s levels will be available from the application of smart adaptive technologies in power grids, communication, distribution and transport networks, manufacturing plants and consumer households. This will be particularly critical for the sustainability of cities across the planet. Cities will also play a critical role in not only supporting the energy needs of at least 60% of the planet’s population through solar, wind, water and waste energy capture but will feed excess capacity to the major power grids, providing a constant re-balancing of energy supply across the world.

By 2025 a global Cap and Trade regime will be mandatory and operational worldwide. Current oil sources will be largely exhausted but the remaining new fields will be exploited in the Arctic, Antarctic and deep ocean locations.  Renewable energy will account for 40% of useage, including baseload power generation. Solar and wind power will dominate in the form of huge desert solar and coastal and inland wind farms; but all alternate forms- wave, geothermal, secondary biomass, algael etc will begin to play a significant role.

Safer helium-cooled and fast breeder fourth generation modular nuclear power reactors will replace many of the older water-cooled and risk-prone plants, eventually  accounting for around 15% of energy production; with significant advances in the storage of existing waste in stable ceramic materials.

By 2035 global warming will reach a critical threshold with energy useage tripling from levels in 2015, despite conservation and efficiency advances. Renewables will account for 60% of the world’s power supply, nuclear 15% and fossils 25%. Technologies to convert CO2 to hydocarbon fuel together with more efficient recycling and sequestration, will allow coal and gas to continue to play a significant role.

By 2045-50 renewables will be at 75-80% levels, nuclear 12% and clean fossil fuels 10-15%. The first Hydrogen and Helium3 pilot fusion energy plants will be commissioned, with large-scale generators expected to come on stream in the latter part of the century, eventually reducing carbon emissions to close to zero.

However the above advances will still be insufficient to prevent the runaway effects of global warming. These long-term impacts will raise temperatures well beyond the additional two-three degrees centigrade critical limit.

Despite reduction in emissions by up to 85%, irreversible and chaotic feedback impacts on the global biosphere will be apparent. These will be triggered by massive releases of methane from permafrost and ocean deposits, fresh water flows from melting ice causing disruptions to ocean currents and weather patterns.

These will affect populations beyond the levels of ferocity of the recent Arctic freeze, causing chaos in the northern hemisphere and reaching into India and China and the droughts and heat waves of Africa, the Middle East and Australia.

The cycle of extreme weather events and rising oceans that threaten to destroy many major coastal cities will continue to increase, compounded by major loss of ecosystems, biodiversity and food capacity. This will force a major rethink of the management of energy and climate change as global catastrophe threatens.

Increasingly desperate measures will be canvassed and tested, including the design of major geo-engineering projects aimed at reducing the amount of sunlight reaching earth and reversal of the acidity of the oceans. These massive infrastructure projects would have potentially enormous ripple-on effects on all social, industrial and economic systems. They are eventually assessed to be largely ineffective, unpredictable and unsustainable.

As forecasts confirm that carbon levels in the atmosphere will remain high for the next 1,000 years, regardless of mitigating measures, priorities shift urgently to the need to minimise risk to life on a global scale, while protecting civilisation’s core infrastructure, social, knowledge and cultural assets.

Preserving the surviving natural ecosystem environment and the critical infrastructure of the built environment, particularly the Internet and Web, will now be vital. The sustainability of human life on planet Earth, in the face of overwhelming catastrophe, will be dependent to a critical degree on the power of the intelligent Web 4.0, combining human and artificial intelligence to manage food, water, energy and human resources.

Only the enormous problem-solving capacity of this human-engineered entity, will be capable of ensuring the continuing survival of civilisation as we know it.

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RenewableEnergyFocus.com, November 25, 2009

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will fund $18 million to support small business innovation research, development and deployment of clean and renewable energy technologies, including projects to advance wave and current energy technologies, ocean thermal energy conversion systems, and concentrating solar power (CSP) for distributed applications.

The funding will come from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and, in this first phase of funding, 125 grants of $150,000 each will be awarded to 107 small advanced technology firms across the United States for clean and renewable energy. The companies were selected from a pool of 950 applicants through a special fast-track process with an emphasis on near-term commercialization and job creation.

Companies which demonstrate successful results with their new clean and renewable technologies and show potential to meet market needs, will be eligible for $60m in a second round of grants in the summer of 2010.

“Small businesses are drivers of innovation and are crucial to the development of a competitive clean energy US economy,” says Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “These investments will help ensure small businesses are able to compete in the clean energy economy, creating jobs and developing new technologies to help decrease carbon pollution and increase energy efficiency.”

Grants were awarded in 10 clean and renewable energy topic areas, including $2.8m for 12 projects in Advanced Solar Technologies where projects will focus on achieving significant cost and performance improvements over current technologies, solar-powered systems that produce fuels, and concentrated solar power systems for distributed applications.

Another $1.7m will go to 12 clean and renewable energy projects in Advanced Water Power Technology Development where projects will focus on new approaches to wave and current energy technologies and ocean thermal energy conversion systems.

Other key areas are:

  • Water Usage in Electric Power Production (decreasing the water used in thermoelectric power generation and developing innovative approaches to desalination using Combined Heat and Power projects);
  • Advanced Building Air Conditioning and Cool Roofs (improve efficiency of air conditioning and refrigeration while reducing GHG emissions);
  • Power Plant Cooling (advanced heat exchange technology for power plant cooling);
    Smart Controllers for Smart Grid Applications (develop technologies to support electric vehicles and support of distributed energy generation systems);
  • Advanced Industrial Technologies Development (improve efficiency and environmental performance in the cement industry);
  • Advanced Manufacturing Processes (improving heat and energy losses in energy intensive manufacturing processes);
  • Advanced Gas Turbines and Materials (high performance materials for nuclear applications and novel designs for high-efficiency and low-cost distributed power systems); and
  • Sensors, Controls, and Wireless Networks (building applications to minimise power use and power line sensor systems for the smart grid).

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CASSANDRA SWEET, Dow Jones Newswires, November 20, 2009

California regulators have proposed approving a long-term contract between PG&E and Solaren, developers of a speculative technology that would beam 200 megawatts of solar power to earth from outer space.

Under the 15-year contract, Solaren Corp., of Manhattan Beach, Calif., would ship 850 gigawatt-hours of solar power a year starting in 2016, doubling that amount in later years. The power would be sent by radio frequency from an earth-orbiting satellite to a receiving station in Fresno, California. The energy-conversion technology has been used by communications satellites for 45 years on a much smaller scale, Solaren said.

PG&E wouldn’t disclose the cost of the proposed 15-year contract but said it would be above-market, more than 12.9 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to documents filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC.

PG&E among other California utilities are required to use renewable sources for a fifth of the power they sell by 2010, ramping up to one-third of their retail power by 2020. The requirements are part of the state’s 2006 plan to combat climate change.

Because Solaren’s technology is untested, raising “concerns regarding the viability of the project,” PG&E can’t rely on the contract to comply with its renewable energy requirements until construction begins on the project and the CPUC gives additional approval, the agency said in a proposed decision.

The CPUC could make a decision as early as December 3, 2009.

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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, August 27, 2009

berkeleysolar1When Greg Hare looked into putting solar panels on his ranch-style home in Magnolia, Tex., last year, he decided he could not afford it. “I had no idea solar was so expensive,” he recalled.

But the cost of solar panels has plunged lately, changing the economics for many homeowners. Mr. Hare ended up paying $77,000 for a large solar setup that he figures might have cost him $100,000 a year ago.

“I just thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity to do the most for the least,’ ” Mr. Hare said.

For solar shoppers these days, the price is right. Panel prices have fallen about 40% since the middle of last year, driven down partly by an increase in the supply of a crucial ingredient for panels, according to analysts at the investment bank Piper Jaffray.

The price drops — coupled with recently expanded federal incentives — could shrink the time it takes solar panels to pay for themselves to 16 years, from 22 years, in places with high electricity costs, according to Glenn Harris, chief executive of SunCentric, a solar consulting group. That calculation does not include state rebates, which can sometimes improve the economics considerably.

American consumers have the rest of the world to thank for the big solar price break.

Until recently, panel makers had been constrained by limited production of polysilicon, which goes into most types of panels. But more factories making the material have opened, as have more plants churning out the panels themselves — especially in China.

“A ton of production, mostly Chinese, has come online,” said Chris Whitman, the president of U.S. Solar Finance, which helps arrange bank financing for solar projects.

At the same time, once-roaring global demand for solar panels has slowed, particularly in Europe, the largest solar market, where photovoltaic installations are forecast to fall by 26% this year compared with 2008, according to Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm. Much of that drop can be attributed to a sharp slowdown in Spain. Faced with high unemployment and an economic crisis, Spain slashed its generous subsidy for the panels last year because it was costing too much.

Many experts expect panel prices to fall further, though not by another 40%.

Manufacturers are already reeling from the price slump. For example, Evergreen Solar, which is based in Massachusetts, recently reported a second-quarter loss that was more than double its loss from a year earlier.

But some manufacturers say that cheaper panels could be a good thing in the long term, spurring enthusiasm among customers and expanding the market.

“It’s important that these costs and prices do come down,” said Mike Ahearn, the chief executive of First Solar, a panel maker based in Tempe, Ariz.

First Solar recently announced a deal to build two large solar arrays in Southern California to supply that region’s dominant utility. But across the United States, the installation of large solar systems — the type found on commercial or government buildings — has been hurt by financing problems, and is on track to be about the same this year as in 2008, according to Emerging Energy Research.

The smaller residential sector continues to grow: In California, by far the largest market in the country, residential installations in July were up by more than 50% compared with a year earlier. With prices dropping, that momentum looks poised to continue.

John Berger, chief executive of Standard Renewable Energy, the company in Houston that put panels on Mr. Hare’s home, said that his second-quarter sales rose by more than 225% from the first quarter.

“Was that as a product of declining panel prices? Almost certainly yes,” Mr. Berger said.

Expanded federal incentives have also helped spur the market. Until this year, homeowners could get a 30% tax credit for solar electric installations, but it was capped at $2,000. That cap was lifted on Jan. 1.

Mr. Hare in Texas cited the larger tax credit, which sliced about $23,000 from his $77,000 bill, as a major factor in his decision to go solar, in addition to the falling panel prices. Sensing a good deal, he even got a larger system than he had originally planned — going from 42 panels to 64. The electric bill on his 7,000-square-foot house and garage has typically run $600 to $700 a month, but he expects a reduction of 40-80%.

Mr. Berger predicts that with panel prices falling and the generous federal credit in place, utilities will start lowering rebates they offer to homeowners who put panels on their roofs.

One that has already done so is the Salt River Project, the main utility in Phoenix, which cut its homeowners’ rebate by 10% in June. Lori Singleton, the utility’s sustainability manager, said the utility had recently spent more than it budgeted for solar power, a result of a surge in demand as more solar installers moved into Arizona and government incentives kicked in.

California has been steadily bringing down its rebates. An impending 29% cut in rebates offered within the service area of Pacific Gas and Electric, the dominant utility in Northern California, means that “with the module price drop over the last few months, it is pretty much a wash,” Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, an installer in Novato, Calif., said in an e-mail message.

Even if falling rebates cancel out some of the solar panel price slump, more innovative financing strategies are also helping to make solar affordable for homeowners. This year about a dozen states — following moves by California and Colorado last year — have enacted laws enabling solar panels to be paid off gradually, through increased property taxes, after a municipality first shoulders the upfront costs.

Some installers have adopted similar approaches. Danita Hardy, a homeowner in Phoenix, had been put off by the prospect of spending $20,000 for solar panels — until she spotted a news item about a company called SunRun that takes on the upfront expense and recovers its costs gradually, in a lease deal, essentially through the savings in a homeowner’s electric bill.

“I thought well, heck, this might be doable,” said Ms. Hardy, who wound up having to lay out only $800 to get 15 solar panels for her home.

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TODD WOODY, The New York Times, September 30, 2009

brightsourceIn a rural corner of Nevada reeling from the recession, a bit of salvation seemed to arrive last year. A German developer, Solar Millennium, announced plans to build two large solar farms here that would harness the sun to generate electricity, creating hundreds of jobs.

But then things got messy. The company revealed that its preferred method of cooling the power plants would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20% of this desert valley’s available water.

Now Solar Millennium finds itself in the midst of a new-age version of a Western water war. The public is divided, pitting some people who hope to make money selling water rights to the company against others concerned about the project’s impact on the community and the environment.

“I’m worried about my well and the wells of my neighbors,” George Tucker, a retired chemical engineer, said on a blazing afternoon.

Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year.

“When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on renewable energy,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin who studies the relationship between energy and water.

Conflicts over water could shape the future of many energy technologies. The most water-efficient renewable technologies are not necessarily the most economical, but water shortages could give them a competitive edge.

In California, solar developers have already been forced to switch to less water-intensive technologies when local officials have refused to turn on the tap. Other big solar projects are mired in disputes with state regulators over water consumption.

To date, the flashpoint for such conflicts has been the Southwest, where dozens of multibillion-dollar solar power plants are planned for thousands of acres of desert. While most forms of energy production consume water, its availability is especially limited in the sunny areas that are otherwise well suited for solar farms.

At public hearings from Albuquerque to San Luis Obispo, Calif., local residents have sounded alarms over the impact that this industrialization will have on wildlife, their desert solitude and, most of all, their water.

Joni Eastley, chairwoman of the county commission in Nye County, Nev., which includes Amargosa Valley, said at one hearing that her area had been “inundated” with requests from renewable energy developers that “far exceed the amount of available water.”

Many projects involve building solar thermal plants, which use cheaper technology than the solar panels often seen on roofs. In such plants, mirrors heat a liquid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. As in a fossil fuel power plant, that steam must be condensed back to water and cooled for reuse.

The conventional method is called wet cooling. Hot water flows through a cooling tower where the excess heat evaporates along with some of the water, which must be replenished constantly. An alternative, dry cooling, uses fans and heat exchangers, much like a car’s radiator. Far less water is consumed, but dry cooling adds costs and reduces efficiency — and profits.

The efficiency problem is especially acute with the most tried-and-proven technique, using mirrors arrayed in long troughs. “Trough technology has been more financeable, but now trough presents a separate risk — water,” said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar analyst with New Energy Finance, a London research firm.

That could provide opportunities for developers of photovoltaic power plants, which take the type of solar panels found on residential rooftops and mount them on the ground in huge arrays. They are typically more expensive and less efficient than solar thermal farms but require a relatively small amount of water, mainly to wash the panels.

In California alone, plans are under way for 35 large-scale solar projects that, in bright sunshine, would generate 12,000 megawatts of electricity, equal to the output of about 10 nuclear power plants.

Their water use would vary widely. BrightSource Energy’s dry-cooled Ivanpah project in Southern California would consume an estimated 25 million gallons a year, mainly to wash mirrors. But a wet-cooled solar trough power plant barely half Ivanpah’s size proposed by the Spanish developer Abengoa Solar would draw 705 million gallons of water in an area of the Mojave Desert that receives scant rainfall.

One of the most contentious disputes is over a proposed wet-cooled trough plant that NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of the utility giant FPL Group, plans to build in a dry area east of Bakersfield, Calif.

NextEra wants to tap freshwater wells to supply the 521 million gallons of cooling water the plant, the Beacon Solar Energy Project, would consume in a year, despite a state policy against the use of drinking-quality water for power plant cooling.

Mike Edminston, a city council member from nearby California City, warned at a hearing that groundwater recharge was already “not keeping up with the utilization we have.”

The fight over water has moved into the California Legislature, where a bill has been introduced to allow renewable energy power plants to use drinking water for cooling if certain conditions are met.

“By allowing projects to use fresh water, the bill would remove any incentives that developers have to use technologies that minimize water use,” said Terry O’Brien, a California Energy Commission deputy director.

NextEra has resisted using dry cooling but is considering the feasibility of piping in reclaimed water. “At some point if costs are just layered on, a project becomes uncompetitive,” said Michael O’Sullivan, a senior vice president at NextEra.

Water disputes forced Solar Millennium to abandon wet cooling for a proposed solar trough power plant in Ridgecrest, Calif., after the water district refused to supply the 815 million gallons of water a year the project would need. The company subsequently proposed to dry cool two other massive Southern California solar trough farms it wants to build in the Mojave Desert.

“We will not do any wet cooling in California,” said Rainer Aringhoff, president of Solar Millennium’s American operations. “There are simply no plants being permitted here with wet cooling.”

One solar developer, BrightSource Energy, hopes to capitalize on the water problem with a technology that focuses mirrors on a tower, producing higher-temperature steam than trough systems. The system can use dry cooling without suffering a prohibitive decline in power output, said Tom Doyle, an executive vice president at BrightSource.

The greater water efficiency was one factor that led VantagePoint Venture Partners, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, to invest in BrightSource. “Our approach is high sensitivity to water use,” said Alan E. Salzman, VantagePoint’s chief executive. “We thought that was going to be huge differentiator.”

Even solar projects with low water consumption face hurdles, however. Tessera Solar is planning a large project in the California desert that would use only 12 million gallons annually, mostly to wash mirrors. But because it would draw upon a severely depleted aquifer, Tessera may have to buy rights to 10 times that amount of water and then retire the pumping rights to the water it does not use. For a second big solar farm, Tessera has agreed to fund improvements to a local irrigation district in exchange for access to reclaimed water.

“We have a challenge in finding water even though we’re low water use,” said Sean Gallagher, a Tessera executive. “It forces you to do some creative deals.”

In the Amargosa Valley, Solar Millennium may have to negotiate access to water with scores of individuals and companies who own the right to stick a straw in the aquifer, so to speak, and withdraw a prescribed amount of water each year.

“There are a lot of people out here for whom their water rights are their life savings, their retirement,” said Ed Goedhart, a local farmer and state legislator, as he drove past pockets of sun-beaten mobile homes and luminescent patches of irrigated alfalfa. Farmers will be growing less of the crop, he said, if they decide to sell their water rights to Solar Millennium.

“We’ll be growing megawatts instead of alfalfa,” Mr. Goedhart said.

While water is particularly scarce in the West, it is becoming a problem all over the country as the population grows. Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, predicted that as intensive renewable energy development spreads, water issues will follow.

“When we start getting 20%, 30% or 40% of our power from renewables,” Mr. Kammen said, “water will be a key issue.”

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MIKE CHINO, Inhabitat, July 27, 2009

48_group-2-1Although electric vehicle use is on the rise, we’re certainly not out of the woods yet in terms of providing them with a steady supply of clean energy – that’s why designer Neville Mars has conceived of an incredible EV charging station that takes the form of an evergreen glade of solar trees. His photovoltaic grove serves a dual function, acting as a go-to source for clean renewable energy while providing a shady spot for cars to park as they charge.

Each of the trees in Neville Mars’s solar forest is composed of a set of photovoltaic leaves mounted on an elegantly branching poll. The base of each trunk features an power outlet that can be used to juice up your eco ride as you run errands.

Neville told Inhabitat that the tree and leaf design wasn’t a goal but came naturally as they tried to maximize the shaded surface that the structures provide. Although the efficiency of overlapping photovoltaic panels initially raised some concerns, Neville went on to explain that the leaves rotate with the sun to ensure maximum efficiency. The solar forest is certainly an aesthetic step up from your standard sun-baked concrete parking lot, and serves as great inspiration for integrating solar technology with natural forms.

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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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MendoCoastCurrent, July 2, 2009

SolarTowerSizeEnviroMission Ltd. recently filed two land applications in the United States for two prospective Solar Tower power station developments.

Melbourne, Australia-based EnviroMission Limited, also opened operations in Phoenix, Arizona, and established a 100% owned subsidiary, EnviroMission (USA) Inc., to lead Solar Tower development in the American market.

The drive for Solar Tower development in America is based on the availability and acquisition of suitable land. Each Arizona land application for 5,500 acres meets the site development requirements for a single 200MW Solar Tower power station.

The Arizona State land sites were identified as ideal for Solar Tower development within due diligence studies that showed critical development criteria, including meteorological and solar insulation parameters met and exceeded at each site.

Ownership surveys, completed in May 2009, informed both applications and identification of the sites will remain confidential until the application process requires further disclosure in order to avoid any prejudice to EnviroMission’s applications. Cultural, archeological and environmental surveys are expected to be completed in July 2009.

EnvrioMission’s CEO, Roger Davey said “I’ve personally walked both sites in Arizona and they tick all the boxes for Solar Tower power station development needs.” He added that “the land is flat, the weather is ideally and consistently hot and both sites are in close proximity to transmission infrastructure. The quality of the sites, and overall market and policy opportunities currently available to renewable energy developers in the U.S. confirms EnviroMission’s decision to shift our Solar Tower development.”

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Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, July 26, 2009

Ken SalazarJust north of the Colorado-New Mexico border, in the sunny expanses of my native San Luis Valley, America’s clean energy future is taking root.

Under President Obama’s leadership, four tracts of land in southern Colorado and two dozen tracts across six Western states may soon be supplying American homes with clean, renewable electricity from the first large-scale solar power projects on our nation’s public lands.

The 24 Solar Energy Study Areas that Interior is evaluating for environmentally appropriate solar energy development could generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity, enough to power more than 29 million American homes.

The West’s vast solar energy potential – along with wind, geothermal and other renewables – can power our economy with affordable energy, create thousands of new jobs and reduce the carbon emissions that are warming our planet.

As President Obama has said, we can remain the world’s largest importer of oil or we can become the world’s largest exporter of clean energy. The choice is clear, and the economic opportunities too great to miss. Will we rise to the challenge?

It is time that Washington step up to the plate, just as states like Colorado and local governments are already doing. Congress must pass strong and effective legislation that will steer our nation toward a clean energy economy that creates new jobs and improves our energy security.

We will not fully unleash the potential of the clean energy economy unless Congress puts an upper limit on the emissions of heat-trapping gases that are damaging our environment. Doing so will level the playing field for new technologies by allowing the market to put a price on carbon, and will trigger massive investment in renewable energy projects across the country.

We are also seeing the dangerous consequences of climate change: longer and hotter fire seasons, reduced snow packs, rising sea levels and declines of wildlife. Farmers, ranchers, municipalities and other water users in Colorado and across the West are facing the possibility of a grim future in which there is less water to go around.

But with comprehensive clean energy legislation from Congress, sound policies and wise management of our nation’s lands and oceans, we can change the equation.

That is why I am changing how the federal government does business on the 20% of the nation’s land mass and 1.75 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf that we oversee. We are now managing these lands not just for balanced oil, natural gas, and coal development, but also – for the first time ever – to allow environmentally responsible renewable energy projects that can help power President Obama’s vision for our clean energy future.

American business is responding to these new opportunities. Companies are investing in wind farms off the Atlantic seacoast, solar facilities in the Southwest and geothermal energy projects throughout the West. We need comprehensive legislation that will create new jobs, promote investment in a new generation of energy technology, break our dependence on foreign oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Let us rise to the energy challenges of our time.

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UCILLA WANG, The Greentech Innovations Report, June 9, 2009

sunpowerWhen Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced a deal to buy solar power from a proposed 230-megawatt project last Friday, it shone a spotlight on a two-year-old company with a different business model than many startups who have inked similar deals with the utility.

The deal also raised the question: Who is NextLight?

NextLight Renewable Power, based in San Francisco, wants to be purely a power plant developer and owner. The deal with PG&E is the first power purchase agreement for the startup, which is funded by private equity firm Energy Capital Partners, said Jim Woodruff, vice president of regulatory and government affairs, in an interview Monday.

“We think the tech agnostic approach is a winning business model,” Woodruff said. “All the core skills that are necessary to develop power projects are the same” for solar or other types of power plants.

The company boasts managers who have experience developing power plants and transmission projects as well as negotiating renewable power purchases.

NextLight’s CEO, Frank De Rosa, worked for PG&E for 23 years and held various roles at the utility, including the director of renewable energy supply, before founding NextLight in 2007. Woodruff worked for Southern California Edison for more than 10 years, first as an in-house counsel and later as the manager of regulatory and legislative issues for the utility’s alternative power business.

NextLight has been developing other solar power projects on public and private land in western states, including a plan to install up to 150 megawatts of generation capacity in Boulder City, Nevada.

The Boulder City Council is slated to vote on whether to lease 1,100 acres of city land to NextLight tonight. The company would sell 3,000-megawatt hours of energy per year to the city if the project is built, Woodruff said.

PG&E signed the deal with NextLight after it had inked many power purchase agreements in recent years to buy solar power from startup companies with the ambition to both develop their own technologies as well as owning and operating solar farms.

Some of the projects seem to be moving along. A few have hit snags. The deal to buy power from Finavera, an ocean power developer in Canada, fell apart last year when the California Public Utilities Commission decided that the contract would be too costly to ratepayers (see California Rejects PG&E Contract for Wave Energy).

OptiSolar, which was supposed to build a 550-megawatt solar farm to sell power to PG&E, couldn’t raise enough money to operate its solar panel factory and develop solar farms.

First Solar, another solar panel maker based in Tempe, Ariz., bought OptiSolar’s project development business for $400 million in April this year. First Solar would use its own, cadmium-telluride solar panels, instead of the amorphous silicon solar panels OptiSolar was developing. PG&E has said that the power contract would remain in place.

NextLight, on the other hand, would pick different solar technologies instead of developing its own. The approach isn’t new – SunEdison was doing this before others joined the party.

But there is no guarantee that this approach would enable NextLight to deliver energy more cheaply, and neither NextLight nor PG&E would discuss the financial terms of their contract.

“Our priority is about diversification of the resources we use and the companies we work with,” said PG&E spokeswoman Jennifer Zerwer. “Contracting for renewable via [power purchase agreements] is beneficial because it helps grow that ecosystem of renewable development, and there is no risk to our customers.”

Rumors have been circulating about whether NextLight would use SunPower’s equipment for the 230-megawatt project, which is called AV Solar Ranch 1, particularly since the project’s website features a photo of SunPower panels.

Woodruff said NextLight hasn’t selected a panel supplier. The company and PG&E have agreed to use solar panels, but the utility wouldn’t have a final say on the supplier, Woodruff added.

Gordon Johnson, head of alternative energy research at Hapoalim Securities, also cast doubt on the SunPower rumor.  “Based on our checks, we do not believe [SunPower] won the PPA with NextLight,” Johnson wrote in a research note.

NextLight plans to start construction of the AV Solar Ranch project in the third quarter of 2010 and complete it by 2013. The company said it would start delivering power in 2011.

The project would be located on 2,100 acres in Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County, Woodruff said. The company bought the property last year for an undisclosed sum.

The company would need approval from the Los Angeles County to construct the solar farm. The California Public Utilities Commission would need to approve the power purchase contract between PG&E and NextLight.

NextLight also is developing a power project with up to 425 megawatts in generation capacity in southern Arizona.  The company is negotiating to a farmland for the Agua Caliente Solar Project, Woodruff said. The 3,800 acres are located east of the city of Yuma.

The company is negotiating with a utility to buy power from Agua Caliente, said Woodruff, who declined to name the utility.

NextLight hasn’t decided whether to install solar panels or build a solar thermal power plant for the Agua Caliente project. Solar thermal power plants use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight for heating water or mineral oils to generate steam. The steam is then piped to run electricity-generating turbines.

But solar panels appear to be a more attractive option than solar thermal for now, Woodruff said.

“We’ve concluded that, in the near term, PV is more cost effective,” he said.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2009

article_photo1_smWhen giving his slide presentation on America’s new energy direction, Jon Wellinghoff sometimes sneaks in a picture of himself seated in a midnight blue, all-electric Tesla sports car.

It often wins a laugh, but makes a key point: The United States is accelerating in a new energy direction under President Obama’s newly appointed chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). At the same time, FERC’s key role in the nation’s energy future is becoming more apparent.

Energy and climate legislation now pending in Congress would put in FERC’s hands a sweeping market-based cap-and-trade system intended to lower industrial greenhouse-gas emissions.

Besides its role granting permits for new offshore wind power, the agency is also overseeing planning for transmission lines that could one day link Dakota wind farms to East Coast cities, and solar power in the Southwest to the West Coast.

“FERC has always been important to power development,” says Ralph Cavanagh, energy program codirector for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group. “It’s just that people haven’t known about it. They will pretty soon.”

That’s because Mr. Wellinghoff and three fellow commissioners share an affinity for efficiency and renewable energy that’s not just skin-deep, Mr. Cavanagh and others say.

Wellinghoff started his energy career as a consumer advocate for utility customers in Nevada before being appointed by President Bush in 2005 as a FERC commissioner. He was a key author of “renewable portfolio standards” that require Nevada’s utilities to incorporate more renewable power in their energy mix. Now he’s the nation’s top energy regulator.

It’s clear that FERC has a mandate to speed change to the nation’s power infrastructure, Wellinghoff says.

When it comes to the extra work and complexity FERC will encounter if Congress appoints FERC to administer a mammoth carbon-emissions cap-and-trade program, Wellinghoff is eager, yet circumspect.

“We believe we are fully capable of fulfilling that role with respect to physical trading [of carbon allowances],” he says during an interview in Washington. “We’ve demonstrated our ability to respond efficiently and effectively to undertake those duties Congress has given to us. Unfortunately, the result of that is they give you more to do.”

While the US Department of Energy controls long-term energy investment decisions, FERC’s four commissioners (a fifth seat is vacant) appear determined to ensure that wind, solar, geothermal, and ocean power get equal access to the grid.

The commissioners are also biased against coal and nuclear power on at least one key factor: cost.

Many in the power industry believe that renewable energy still costs too much. Not Wellinghoff, who says: “I see these distributed resources [solar, wind, natural-gas microturbines, and others] coming on right now as being generally less expensive.”

That might sound surprising. Yet, with coal and nuclear power plants costing billions of dollars – and raising environmental issues such as climate change and radioactive waste – others also see renewable power as the low-cost option.

Wellinghoff’s outspoken views have irritated some since his March selection as chairman.

Last month, for instance, he drew fire from nuclear-energy boosters in Congress after he characterized as “an anachronism” the idea of meeting future US power demand by building large new coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

“You don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear [plants] that run all the time,” Wellinghoff told reporters at a US Energy Association Forum last month. Then he added: “We may not need any, ever.”

That set off a salvo from Sen. Lind sey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a staunch nuclear-power advocate. “The public is ill-served when someone in such a prominent position suggests alternative-energy programs are developed and in such a state that we should abandon our plans to build more plants,” he said in a statement.

But to others, Wellinghoff is the epitome of what the US needs: a public servant zeroed in on energy security, the environment, efficiency, and keeping energy costs down.

“Wellinghoff has been a longtime supporter of efficiency and consumer interests,” says Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, an energy advocacy group. “I would call him a visionary. He’s not just content with the status quo.”

In Wellinghoff’s vision of the future, where the cost of carbon dioxide emissions is added to the price of coal-fired power plants and natural-gas turbines, it may be less expensive for consumers to set their appliances to avoid buying power at peak times. Or they may choose to buy power from a collection of microturbines, fuel cell, wind, solar, biomass, and ocean power systems.

“We’re going to see more distributed generation – and we’re already starting to see that happen,” Wellinghoff says. “Not only renewable generation like photovoltaic [panels] that people put on their homes and businesses, but also fossil-fuel systems like combined heat and power,” called cogeneration units.

To coordinate and harmonize this fluctuating phalanx of power sources, customers will need to know and be able to respond to the price of power, Wellinghoff says. They will also need a new generation of appliances that switch off automatically to balance power supply and demand peaks.

But there are huge challenges with a power grid that provides energy from a mix of wind, solar, and other renewable power.

“You’re going to have to upgrade this whole grid [along the East Coast], he says. “You can’t just move [wind and wave power] from offshore to load centers onshore without looking at the effect on reliability – Florida to Maine.”

As the percentage of renewable power rises toward 20 to 25% of grid power from around 3% today, there must be a backup to fill gaps when intermittent winds stop blowing or the sun doesn’t shine.

In a decade or more from now, Wellinghoff, says millions of all-electric or plug-in electric-gas hybrid vehicles could plug into the grid and supply spurts of power to fill in for dipping wind and solar output.

“There are new technologies,” he says, “that in the next three to five years will advance the grid to a new level.”

Gesturing to a drawing board on the wall, he hops up from his chair, his hands flicking across a sketch of the eastern half of the US with power lines fanning out from the Plains states to the East Coast.

“This is another grid option that would take a lot of power that’s now constrained in the Midwest, that can be developed – wind energy there – and move it to all the load centers [cities] on the East Coast,” he says.

Similarly, lines could be built across the Rockies to connect wind power in Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast. Instead of building power lines from the Midwest to the East Coast, “a lot of people would say, ‘No, no, let’s look first look at the wind offshore,’ ” he says.

Whether it’s wind from the Plains or the ocean, the resulting variability will have an impact on grid reliability if action isn’t taken, Wellinghoff says.

“You’re going to have to upgrade this whole grid here,” he says, gesturing to the East Coast. “You can’t just move [power] from offshore to load centers onshore without looking at the effect on reliability.”

Reliability of the grid remains paramount – Job No. 1 for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But if boosting renewable power to 25% by 2025 – the Obama administration’s goal – means spreading Internet-connected controllers across substations and transmission networks, then cybersecurity to protect them from increasing Internet-based threats is critical.

Yet a recent review by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation overseen by FERC found more than two-thirds of power generating companies denied they had any “critical assets” potentially vulnerable to cyberattack. Those denials concern Wellinghoff.

“We are asking the responding utilities to go back and reveal what are the number of critical assets and redetermine that for us,” he says. “We want to be sure that we have fully identify all the critical assets that need to be protected.”

It would be especially troubling if, as was recently reported by The Wall Street Journal, Russian and Chinese entities have hacked into the US power grid and left behind malware that could be activated at a later time to disable the grid.

But Wellinghoff says he has checked on the type of intrusion referred to in the article and denies successful grid hacks by foreign nations that have left dangerous malware behind.

While acknowledging that individuals overseas have tried to hack the grid frequently, he says, “I’m not aware of any successful hacks that have implanted into the grid any kinds of malware or other code that could later be activated.”

But others say there is a problem. In remarks at the University of Texas at Austin in April, Joel Brenner, the national counterintelligence executive, the nation’s most senior counterintelligence coordinator, indicated there are threats to the grid.

“We have seen Chinese network operations inside certain of our electricity grids,” he said in prepared remarks. “Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do.”

In an e-mailed statement, Wellinghoff’s press secretary, Mary O’Driscoll, says the chairman defers to senior intelligence officials on some questions concerning grid vulnerability to cyberattack: “The Commission isn’t in the intelligence gathering business and therefore can’t comment on that type of information.”

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LES BLUMENTHAL, The Bellingham Herald, May 30, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThe Obama administration has proposed a 25% cut in the research and development budget for one of the most promising renewable energy sources in the Northwest – wave and tidal energy. At the same time the White House sought an 82% increase in solar power research funding, a 36% increase in wind power funding and a 14% increase in geothermal funding. But it looked to cut wave and tidal research funding from $40 million to $30 million.

The decision to cut funding came only weeks after the Interior Department suggested that wave power could emerge as the leading offshore energy source in the Northwest and at a time when efforts to develop tidal power in Puget Sound are attracting national and international attention. By some estimates, wave and tidal power could eventually meet 10% of the nation’s electricity demand, about the same as hydropower currently delivers.

Some experts have estimated that if only 0.2% of energy in ocean waves could be harnessed, the power produced would be enough to supply the entire world. In addition to Puget Sound and the Northwest coast, tidal and wave generators have been installed, planned or talked about in New York’s East River, in Maine, Alaska, off Atlantic City, N.J., and Hawaii. However, they’d generate only small amounts of power.

The Europeans are leaders when it comes to tidal and wave energy, with projects considered, planned or installed in Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland and Norway. There have also been discussions about projects in South Korea, the Philippines, India and Canada’s Maritime provinces.

The proposed cut, part of the president’s budget submitted to Congress, has disappointed Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Wave and tidal power holds great promise in helping to meet America’s long-term energy needs,” Murray said, adding that Washington state is a leader in its development. “It’s time for the Department of Energy to focus on this potential. But playing budget games won’t get the work done.” Murray’s staff said that while $16.8 billion in the recently passed stimulus bill is reserved for renewable energy and energy efficiency, none of it is earmarked for wave and tidal power.

Energy Department spokesman Tom Welch, however, said the Obama administration is asking for 10 times more for tidal and wave power than the Bush administration did. “The trend line is up,” Welch said. “The department is collaborating with industry, regulators and other stakeholders to develop water resources, including conventional hydro.”

Murray sees it differently. Congress appropriated $40 million for the current year, so the Obama administration proposal actually would cut funding by a fourth. Utility officials involved in developing tidal energy sources said the administration’s approach was shortsighted. “We need all the tools in the tool belt,” said Steve Klein, general manager of the Snohomish County Public Utility District. “It’s dangerous to anoint certain sources and ignore others.”

The Snohomish PUD could have a pilot plant using three tidal generators installed on a seabed in Puget Sound in 2011. The tidal generators, built by an Irish company, are 50 feet tall and can spin either way depending on the direction of the tides. The units will be submerged, with 80 feet of clearance from their tops to the water’s surface. They’ll be placed outside of shipping channels and ferry routes. The pilot plant is expected to produce one megawatt of electricity, or enough to power about 700 homes. If the pilot plant proves successful, the utility would consider installing a project that powered 10,000 homes.

“A lot of people are watching us,” Klein said. The Navy, under pressure from Congress to generate 25% of its power from renewable sources by 2025, will install a pilot tidal generating project in Puget Sound near Port Townsend next year.

In Washington state, law requires that the larger utilities obtain 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The law sets up interim targets of 3% by 2012 and 9% by 2016. Most of the attention so far has focused on developing large wind farms east of the Cascade Mountains. Because wind blows intermittently, however, the region also needs a more reliable source of alternative energy.

Tidal and wave fit that need. Also, at least with tidal, the generators would be closer to population centers than the wind turbines in eastern Washington. “The potential is significant and (tidal and wave) could accomplish a large fraction of the renewable energy portfolio for the state,” said Charles Brandt, director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s marine sciences lab in Sequim.

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The mineral is a key part of a Santa Monica firm’s proposed alternative energy project in the desert. The technology was proven workable in a pilot project near Barstow in the 1990s.
PETER PAE, The Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2009

47183323Just past Barstow on Interstate 15, Las Vegas-bound travelers can eye a tower resembling a lighthouse rising out of the desert encircled by more than 1,800 mirrors the size of billboards.

The complex is often mistaken for a science fiction movie set, but it is actually a power plant that once used molten salt, water and the sun’s heat to produce electricity.

Now a storied rocket maker in Canoga Park and a renewable energy company in Santa Monica are hoping to take what they learned at the long-closed desert facility to build a much larger plant that could power 100,000 homes — all from a mix of sun, salt and rocket science once believed too futuristic to succeed.

The Santa Monica-based energy firm SolarReserve has licensed the technology, developed by engineers at Rocketdyne.

“Molten salt is the secret sauce,” said SolarReserve President Terry Murphy.

It is one of at least 80 large solar projects on the drawing board in California, but the molten salt technology is considered one of the more unusual and — to some energy analysts — one of the more promising in the latest rush to build clean electricity generation.

“It’s actually something we’ll likely see in a few years,” said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar energy analyst with New Energy Finance in Alexandria, Va. “It’s moving along in a nice way, and they have good capital behind it.”

SolarReserve, which is financing and marketing the project, said it is working on agreements with several utilities to buy electricity generated from the plant. It hopes to have several announcements in a few months that could help jump-start construction of the first plant, which would probably be on private land in the Southwest, Murphy said.

The company last fall secured $140 million in venture capital.

The plant could begin operating by early 2013. It would use an array of 15,000 heliostats, or large tilting mirrors about 25 feet wide, to direct sunlight to a solar collector atop a 600-foot-tall tower — somewhat like a lighthouse in reverse.

The mirrors would heat up molten salt flowing through the receiver to more than 1,000 degrees, hot enough to turn water into powerful steam in a device called a heat exchanger. The steam, like that coming out of a nozzle of a boiling tea kettle, would drive a turbine to create electricity.

The molten salt, once cooled, would then be pumped back through the solar collector to start the process all over again. “The plant has no emissions, and if you have a leak or something, you can just shovel it up and take it home with you to use for your barbecue,” Murphy said.

The molten salt can be stored for days if not weeks and then used to generate electricity at any time. Many other solar technologies work only when the sun is shining. Storing electricity in a battery works for cars and homes but not on a massive scale that would be needed to power thousands of homes.

“You can put that into a storage tank that would look much like a tank at an oil refinery,” Murphy said. “We can store that energy almost indefinitely.”

While there are high hopes for the technology, some environmentalists have criticized solar-thermal plants for requiring vast tracts of land as well as precious water for generating steam and for cooling the turbines.

The array of the mirrored heliostats for the SolarReserve plant would take up about two square miles. Transmission lines would also be needed to transport the power where it’s needed. With dozens of solar, wind and geothermal projects planned for California’s deserts, some fear that this unique habitat will be destroyed.

But SolarReserve officials said that the plant would use one-tenth the amount of water required by a conventional plant and that mirrors will be “benign” to the environment.

The technology, with the exception of using salt, is similar to those that Rocketdyne engineers developed for the nation’s more notable space programs.

At the sprawling Canoga Park facility, the engineers who came up with the SolarReserve technology also developed the power system for the International Space Station, the rocket engine for the space shuttle, and the propulsion system for the Apollo lunar module.

Rocketdyne’s aerospace heritage stretches back to the earliest years of rocket development, when it was founded shortly after World War II to study German V-2 rocket technology. After becoming part of Rockwell International in the late 1960s, the company was sold to Boeing Co. in 1996.

United Technologies bought the Rocketdyne unit from Boeing for $700 million in 2005 primarily for its expertise in rocket engines. It didn’t know about the solar project until after the acquisition.

Now Rocketdyne believes it can generate $1 billion in revenue from making the components for the plant, including the tower that would collect the sun’s concentrated heat from thousands of mirrors.

The solar collector in many ways is similar to the inside of a rocket nozzle that has to withstand thousands of degrees of heat, said Rick Howerton, Rocketdyne’s program manager for concentrated solar power who previously worked on the space station program.

The solar-thermal technology was proved workable more than a decade ago at the Barstow pilot plant. But the complex was shuttered in 1999 when the cost of natural gas fell to one-tenth of what it is today.

Also there wasn’t as much concern for the environment then, Murphy said. “It was ahead of its time. The market hadn’t caught up to it.”

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OurGreenJourney, May 20, 2009

AB-811-Sonoma-1st-InstallSonoma County has funded its first clean energy loan secured by a lien on property taxes. As we have posted before, the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program is California’s first county wide energy efficiency financing district, authorized by AB 811.

The loan of $25,500 went to homeowners and paid for a 5 kilowatt photovoltaic system, net of an $8,200 California Solar Initiative rebate, and 30% tax credit on the remaining system cost. And it’s reported that there is already $6 million worth of applications for more loans from the programs.

During the Urban Land Institute’s Developing Green Conference last week, the participants talked seriously about the critical milestones that would affect the success of this funding mechanism:

The additional property tax liens created by these loans might disturb some commercial real estate lenders who might see them as a threat to the priority of their loan.

Several folks felt that lenders might become more relaxed about this when they compared the actual loan size to their own mortgage loans (very small), as well as the fact that the loan might accomplish energy efficiency retrofits which upgrade the property – and possibly even its cash flow and value. Note that Sonoma County’s program tells commercial property owners to get the approval of their lenders before applying for their loans.

We’re all still waiting to see that the bond markets will buy paper based on these types of loans, their terms, pricing and conditions. That acceptance is needed to bring increased secondary market liquidity to these funding mechanisms. Without it, these size programs will remain too limited to have much environmental impact and potentially just wither on the vine.

Homebuilders and homeowners should think for a second –> what does it mean for home prices in those areas where homeowners have direct access to easy credit for clean energy systems, energy efficiency retrofits, not to mention some pretty good rebates and tax credits?

Do you think that easy access to this type of green financing (and the benefits of the retrofits that it enables) makes it harder for other property owners to sell their unretrofitted properties at market rates? Will more homebuilders have to build green homes to compete?

Yes, AB 811’s gonna keep things interesting — and good — for a while.

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MendoCoastCurrent, May 20, 2009

Mendocino-Energy-Mill-SiteAt 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, utilities 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.

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TRACY SEIPEL, MercuryNews.com, May 15, 2009

brightsourceDeclaring it a record total, PG&E on Wednesday announced an expansion of solar-power contracts with Oakland’s BrightSource Energy for a total of 1,310 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 530,000 California homes.

The power purchase agreements, which will now include seven power plants, add to a previous contract the two companies struck in April 2008 for up to 900 megawatts of solar thermal power.

BrightSource called it the largest solar deal ever. The company now has 2,610 megawatts under contract, which it said is more than any other solar thermal company and represents more than 40 percent of all large-scale solar thermal contracts in the United States.

“The solar thermal projects announced today exemplify PG&E’s commitment to increasing the amount of renewable energy we provide to our customers throughout Northern and central California,” John Conway, senior vice president of energy supply for PG&E, said in a statement. “Through these agreements with BrightSource, we can harness the sun’s energy to meet our customers’ power requirements when they need it most — during hot summer days.”

John Woolard, chief executive of BrightSource Energy, said the additional contracts came about after BrightSource demonstrated its technology in Israel with results that were “at or above all the specifications. It proved to them that our technology works,” Woolard said. “They saw us executing and delivering” efficient production of solar energy.

BrightSource, which designs, builds and operates solar thermal plants, will construct the plants at a cost of at least $3 billion in the southwestern deserts of California, Nevada and Arizona. The company anticipates the first plant, a 110-megawatt facility at Ivanpah in eastern San Bernardino County, to begin operation by 2012.

Its technology uses sunlight reflected from thousands of movable mirrors to boil water to make steam. The steam then drives a turbine to generate electricity. BrightSource founder and Chairman Arnold Goldman’s previous company, Luz International, built nine solar plants in the Mojave Desert between 1984 and 1990, all of which are still operating.

In March, BrightSource reached an agreement with Southern California Edison to purchase 1,300 megawatts, then the largest solar contract ever, BrightSource said.

Investor-owned California utilities such as PG&E are required to get 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010, or to by then have contracts for power from projects that go online by 2013. PG&E already has contracts in hand that exceed that 20% goal.  PG&E generates 12% of its energy from renewable sources now, and expects that to increase to 14% by the end of the year.

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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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Cherry Creek News Staff, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – In a joint statement issued today Secretary of the Interior (DOI), Ken Salazar and Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Jon Wellinghoff announced that the two agencies have confirmed their intent to work together to facilitate the permitting of renewable energy in offshore waters.

“Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress. I am proud that we have reached an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding our respective roles in approving offshore renewable energy projects. This agreement will help sweep aside red tape so that our country can capture the great power of wave, tidal, wind and solar power off our coasts,” Secretary Salazar said.

“FERC is pleased to be working with the Department of the Interior and Secretary Salazar on a procedure that will help get renewable energy projects off the drawing board and onto the Outer Continental Shelf,” Acting FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

Below is the joint Statement between DOI and FERC signed by Secretary Salazar and Acting Chairmain Wellinghoff:

JOINT STATEMENT BY THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR AND THE ACTING CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES ON THE OUTER CONTINENTAL SHELF

The United States has significant renewable energy resources in offshore waters, including wind energy, solar energy, and wave and ocean current energy.

Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Minerals Management Service, has the authority to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way on the outer continental shelf for the development of oil and gas resources. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 amended the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to provide the Interior Department with parallel permitting authority with regard to the production, transportation, or transmission of energy from additional sources of energy on the outer continental shelf, including renewable energy sources.

The Interior Department’s responsibility for the permitting and development of renewable energy resources on the outer continental shelf is broad. In particular, the Department of the Interior has permitting and development authority over wind power projects that use offshore resources beyond state waters.

Interior’s authority does not diminish existing responsibilities that other agencies have with regard to the outer continental shelf. In that regard, under the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the statutory responsibility to oversee the development of hydropower resources in navigable waters of the United States. “Hydrokinetic” power potentially can be developed offshore through new technologies that seek to convert wave, tidal and ocean current energy to electricity. FERC will have the primary responsibility to manage the licensing of such projects in offshore waters pursuant to the Federal Power Act, using procedures developed for hydropower licenses, and with the active involvement of relevant federal land and resource agencies, including the Department of the Interior.

We have requested our staffs to prepare a short Memorandum of Understanding that sets forth these principles, and which describes the process by which permits and licenses related to renewable energy resources in offshore waters will be developed.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2009

17transition2-6001Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he has just signed his first order establishing renewable energy generation as the top priority of the Department of the Interior. Following President Obama’s lead in steering the United States into this new energy path, he said this agenda would create jobs and grow investment and innovation at home. Also noted was that the DOI will focus mostly in western states for generation of electricity through renewable energy (solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass).

Secretary Salazar illustrated this opportunity with the Bureau of Land Management backlog over 200 solar energy projects and over 20 wind projects in western states alone. There have yet been any permits or jobs created for these renewable energy projects to be fast-tracked in consideration, evaluated in terms of environmental impact and anticipating the acceptable projects will move forward swiftly.

Starting today, renewable energy projects in solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biomass will benefit in priority treatment to generate electricity and renewable energy. And Secretary Salazar stated that a newly-formed energy and climate change task force is already working hard, nights and weekend to develop these plans (since January 20th) for presentation to a Dept. of Energy committee soon. 

In tandem, Secretary Salazar indicated that through cross-departmental effort (BLM, EPA, Dept. of Energy, MMS, FERC and others), his goal is to rapidly and responsibly move forward with Obama’s renewable energy agenda to develop and upgrade the United States electric transmission grid.  

When asked about Cape Wind off Cape Cod, Mr. Salazar indicate that “after we hold our hearings around the country [for MMS rulemaking] the jurisdictional issues between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Minerals Management Service shall be accomplished within this year.” Many projects are being inhibited and we are actively clearing the path to move forward.

The roadshow planned by Secretary Salazar shall help identify renewable energy zones (solar energy in western states minus ecological sensitivity (reduction). He explained that today, through solar energy in the western states alone, we may produce 88% of all of the energy needs and adding wind takes it over 100%. This also fuels the need for a national transmission system as a high priority.

Salazar also called for the need to finalize and renew offshore renewable energy rules that protect the United States landscapes, wildlife and environment as we serve as steward of our lands.

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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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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, February 4, 2009

imagesWind and solar energy have been growing at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate under the green-minded Obama administration. But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: installation of wind and solar power is plummeting.

Factories building parts for these industries have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 – 50% declines this year in installation of new equipment, barring more help from the government.

Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.

“I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry,” said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, N.D., where DMI Industries of Fargo operates a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20% of its work force because of falling sales.

Much of the problem stems from the credit crisis that has left Wall Street banks reeling. Once, as many as 18 big banks and financial institutions were willing to help finance installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, taking advantage of generous federal tax incentives. But with the banks in so much trouble, that number has dropped to four, according to Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

Wind and solar developers have been left starved for capital. “It’s absolutely frozen,” said Craig Mataczynski, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, a wind developer. He projected his company would build just under half as much this year as it did last year.

The two industries are hopeful that President Obama’s economic stimulus package will help. But it will take time, and in the interim they are making plans for a dry spell.

Solar energy companies like OptiSolar, Ausra, Heliovolt and Sun Power, once darlings of investors, have all had to lay off workers. So have a handful of companies that make wind turbine blades or towers in the Midwest, including Clipper Windpower, LM Glasfiber and DMI.

Some big wind developers, like NextEra Energy Resources and even the Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a promoter of wind power, have cut back or delayed their wind farm plans.

Renewable energy sources like biomass, which involves making electricity from wood chips, and geothermal, which harnesses underground heat for power, have also been slowed by the financial crisis, but the effects have been more pronounced on once fast-growing wind and solar.

Because of their need for space to accommodate giant wind turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project’s costs. For example, JPMorgan Chase, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the firm’s managing director for energy investments.

In the solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25% in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10% by midsummer. (For homeowners, however, the savings will not be as substantial, partly because panels account for only about 60% of total installation costs.)

After years when installers had to badger manufacturers to ensure they would receive enough panels, the situation has reversed. Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, said that manufacturers were now calling to say, “Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?”

The turnaround reflects reduced demand for solar panels, and also an increase in supply of panels and of polysilicon, a crucial material in many panels.

On the wind side, turbines that once had to be ordered far in advance are suddenly becoming available.

“At least one vendor has said that they have equipment for delivery in 2009, where nine months ago they wouldn’t have been able to take new orders until 2011,” Mr. Mataczynski of Renewable Energy wrote in an e-mail message. As he has scaled back his company’s plans, he has been forced to cancel some orders for wind turbines, forfeiting the deposit.

Banks have invested in renewable energy, lured by the tax credits. But with banks tightly controlling their money and profits, the main task for the companies is to find new sources of investment capital.

Wind and solar companies have urged Congress to adopt measures that could help revive the market. But even if a favorable stimulus bill passes, nobody is predicting a swift recovery.

“Nothing Congress does in the stimulus bill can put the market back where it was in 2007 and 2008, before it was broken,” said Mr. Martin, the tax lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke. “But it can help at the margins.”

The solar and wind tax credits are structured slightly differently, but the House version of the stimulus bill would help both industries by providing more immediate tax incentives, alleviating some of their dependency on banks.

Both House and Senate would also extend an important tax credit for wind energy, called the production tax credit, for three years; previously the industry had complained of boom-and-bust cycles with the credit having to be renewed nearly every year.

Over the long term, with Mr. Obama focused on a concerted push toward greener energy, the industry remains optimistic.

“You drive across the countryside and there’s more and more wind farms going up,” said Mr. Mattern of West Fargo. “I still have big hopes.”

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SCOTT DUKE HARRIS and MATT NAUMAN, San Jose Mercury News, January 27, 2009

obama-hope2As President Barack Obama and Congress hammer out an economic stimulus package expected to be in the $825 billion range, Silicon Valley clean tech leaders are heartened by an energy agenda that starts with an emphasis on “smart grid” technologies that encourage energy conservation.That agenda will add jobs and bring dollars to several Silicon Valley companies, they say, especially those making smart grid components, solar panels, electric cars and green building materials.

It’s “a good start,” said venture capitalist Pascal Levensohn, whose portfolio includes clean tech investments. “There is a lot of optimism.”

Details of the new stimulus package are still being worked out, but talks suggest that about $60 billion will be applied toward promoting clean, efficient “energy independence” and creating jobs in the process.

Billions of dollars are expected to be applied to weatherizing government buildings, schools and homes. Billions more would go to loans and grants to promote renewable energy such as solar and wind. And still more billions would be spent upgrading the infrastructure of America’s power grids.

Bringing the power grid into the Internet age is a priority. The bill presented by House Democrats includes $11 billion to boost the IQ of electrical grids by employing sensors to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. An alternative bill introduced in the Senate would raise that sum to $16 billion.

“We’ve been swimming upstream,” said Peter Sharer, chief executive of Agilewaves, a Menlo Park maker of a product that monitors electricity, gas and water use in homes and businesses. “We’re finally swimming with the current. That’s what federal support means to us.” 

While initiatives like solar power have cosmic cachet, upgrading the power infrastructure is the logical place to start, some clean tech investors say. “We know that efficiency is the low-hanging fruit,” explained Levensohn, of Levensohn Venture Partners in San Francisco. 

America’s aging power grids now waste 10 to 30 percent of electricity from the generator to the plug, industry experts say. Foundation Capital partner Steve Vassallo likened the grid to a leaky bucket. Instead of simply putting more energy into the system, “the first thing you should do is fix the bucket,” he said.

The weaknesses in California’s energy grid and marketplace were starkly exposed in 2000 and 2001. Then, as Californians were hit by brownouts and ballooning electricity bills, President George W. Bush refused to support temporary price caps and blamed the energy crisis on environmental rules and a shortage of power plants. Only later was it discovered that energy dealers including Enron, a major supporter of Bush and adviser on Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, were gaming California’s dysfunctional energy market, profiteering with schemes nicknamed “Death Star” and “Get Shorty.” Enron would later implode from its own culture of corruption.

The energy crisis inspired Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to seek solutions. Menlo Park’s Foundation started investing in clean tech in 2002, including smart grid companies Silver Spring Networks, based in Redwood City; eMeter, based in San Mateo; and EnerNOC, based in Boston.

The “smart grid” approach employs real-time monitoring and sensors to minimize waste and help identify parts of the grid that are leaking energy and need repairs. In an age of Internet connectivity, utilities typically remain unaware of outages until consumers call with problems, Vassallo said, and still rely on human meter readers walking door-to-door to check energy use “30 days in arrears.”

Pacific Gas & Electric plans to spend more than $2 billion to install 10.3 million smart electric and gas meters. Installations started in Bakersfield in late 2006, and are scheduled to reach the Bay Area by the end of this year.

This digital, wireless device will allow PG&E to get quicker notification of power outages, and also allow it to cut or reduce power during periods of high demand, if a customer agrees. Eventually, PG&E says, smart meters will allow it to better tap into energy that is put into the grid from solar panels installed on homes and businesses.

While California’s grid is “getting smarter,” Vassallo said, most states are served by power grids without the benefit of any information technology and, unlike California, have pricing structures that do not encourage conservation.

Valley companies are keenly scrutinizing the potentially devilish details. SunPower, the San Jose maker of solar modules, is pleased with the “wide, broad, deep effort” to promote cleaner energy as part of the stimulus, said Julie Blunden, a vice president. But she doesn’t think the effort will generate jobs until the second half of 2009.

SunPower, Blunden said, is ready to ramp up work in areas where it has expertise, such as putting solar systems on government buildings, as well as “beefing up areas where we don’t have strong, established channels.”

Weatherizing buildings and promoting new “green” development might benefit companies such as Serious Materials, a Sunnyvale maker of energy-saving building materials, such as heavily insulated windows and greener drywall.

Kevin Surace, the company’s chief executive, sees a lucrative market — 1 million to 2 million homes a year plus tens of thousands of government buildings. His company just bought two window factories, and Surace expects to grow his head count from 150 to 250 or 300 by year’s end.

Project Frog, a San Francisco company that builds green school buildings, is also encouraged. “We’re ready to help schools make use of these funds,” said Adam Tibbs, the company’s president.

Government support may help stimulate more private-sector investments in energy, says Agilewaves’ Sharer and other clean tech executives. But Lyndon Rive, chief executive of Solar City, which was expanding rapidly until the credit crunch hit, said the most important thing for clean tech is for financing to flow again.

“We want to get banks back into buying solar, wind and other renewable” energy assets, Rive said.

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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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NANEA KALANI, Pacific Business News, January 12, 2009

217835-0-0-1Honolulu-based Sopogy announced last week that it will build a 50-megawatt system in Toledo, Spain, using its proprietary technology in partnership with a German energy financier and a Spanish project developer. The system could generate enough electricity to power 15,000 homes.

Sopogy founder and CEO Darren Kimura said the Spanish project, expected to be completed by the end of 2010 and cost about $300 million, is part of the company’s plans to expand its presence abroad as the U.S. financial market wanes.

“For about a year now, Sopogy has felt that it’s necessary to diversify and become more global,” Kimura told PBN. “Because our technology offers higher production and lower capital costs, we’re looking for sites where our technology has the best value, and the best value today lies in the European market.”

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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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XAVIER NAVARRO, AutoBlogGreen.com, December 30, 2008

projekt_goldfischSolar energy and submarines might seem like two things that just don’t go together very well.

A new Swiss project is set to prove that nothing is impossible with a good set of batteries and a solar platform.

Project Goldfish aims to build a submarine powered with electricity obtained from solar power. The energy is captured and stored on a floating platform. This energy is then used to fill the submarine’s batteries, which has enough juice to go dive down to 200 meters in the waters of a Swiss lake. The submarine is set to start operations in 2012.

The project is sponsored by Swiss utility company BKW and they say that such a platform can and should be used to power houses and all sort of electric vehicles.

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MARIA DICKERSON, the Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2008

7nov07_solarAt a time when many investors are sticking money in their mattresses, Californians are putting it on their roofs.

Applications for state rebates to install solar panels hit their highest level ever in December, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy economy.

Residents filed a record 1,215 applications seeking solar subsidies this month, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. That’s the best showing in the program’s 24-month history, and December isn’t even finished. More than 18,000 California homeowners and businesses have applied for rebates over the last two years. Although not everyone who files this paperwork actually ends up installing solar, the figures are viewed as a reliable barometer of future demand.

A record 133 megawatts of solar photovoltaics have been installed in California so far this year, even as the state’s economy has stumbled.

Michelle Gerdes of Long Beach just lost her job as a designer for a dinnerware manufacturer. Her husband, Steve, works for an air-conditioning company whose business is slowing. But that didn’t stop the couple from buying $32,000 worth of photovoltaic panels that went up on their roof this month. The state rebate and a federal tax credit will reduce their out-of-pocket costs to about $17,000 — a substantial saving but still a big chunk of change. “We decided to just go for it,” said Michelle Gerdes, 44. “It’s the right thing to do for the environment . . . and it will definitely increase the value of our house.”

Coming in the midst of a deep recession, continued strong demand for solar has thrilled — and puzzled — officials who oversee the California Solar Initiative, which seeks to put panels on 1 million roofs in California within a decade. Consumers nationwide are in a serious spending funk. Even with California’s generous incentives, photovoltaic systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

New federal tax breaks have persuaded some homeowners to take the plunge, said Molly Sterkel, who manages rooftop solar efforts for the utilities commission.

Others are being enticed by new financing models pioneered in California that allow them to go solar for little or no money down. Add rising electricity rates in many parts of the state and turmoil in the financial markets, and some consumers are concluding that sunshine is their safest investment.

California is by far the nation’s leader in rooftop solar, with well over half the installed capacity.

“In an economic downturn, people are looking for ways to save money on things that they are going to do anyway,” said Nat Kreamer, founder of SunRun Inc., a San Francisco residential solar energy company. “Electricity is one of those fundamentals.”

Launched in January 2007, the California Solar Initiative is an attempt to push photovoltaics on a mass scale in California to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and shore up the state’s energy supply.

The goal is 3,000 megawatts installed by 2018, enough to displace five good-sized power plants.

Funded by utility ratepayers across the state, the $3-billion program offers rebates to Californians who install panels on their homes and businesses. Incentives vary. But refunds typically range from 20% to 50% of a system’s cost.

The incentives are structured to decline over time as demand grows, meaning Californians who act sooner will get the biggest refunds.

Rooftop solar will get even more attractive in January. Congress recently expanded federal investment tax credits for residential solar arrays. Starting next year, homeowners will be eligible for tax breaks of up to 30% of the entire cost of their projects. Those benefits had previously been capped at $2,000 per system.

“That has really spurred the market,” said Lyndon Rive, chief executive of SolarCity, a Foster City, Calif.-based solar installer. “Our cash sales have increased dramatically.”

For consumers who still can’t afford to purchase, SolarCity has a residential leasing option. It lets them put solar on their roofs without the hefty upfront costs. Customers cut their power bills while the rebates and tax credits flow to SolarCity, which maintains ownership of the panels.

The deal has proved so popular that it has turned SolarCity into the state’s largest installer of residential rooftop photovoltaics.

Kreamer’s SunRun offers a similar program known as a power purchase agreement. His company installs, maintains and owns the systems. Homeowners sign a long-term contract with SunRun for solar energy that’s priced below what they pay for conventional power.

Californians pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Rates in many parts of the state are rising.

The Gerdeses’ utility, Southern California Edison, is asking state regulators to allow it to collect more than $700 million extra from its ratepayers next year.

It won’t be coming from the Gerdeses. With solar panels now snug on their roof, the couple needn’t worry about rising electricity bills as the recession deepens.

“We can think about turning the hot tub back on now,” Michelle Gerdes said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, December 22, 2008

solar_184x138Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced today that it has entered into a long-term agreement with El Dorado Energy, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sempra Generation, to purchase 10 megawatts of renewable, photovoltaic solar energy from Sempra Generation’s new El Dorado Energy Solar facility in Nevada. 

“Solar energy is a reliable and environmentally-friendly way to help meet California’s peak energy demands,” said Jack Keenan, chief operating officer for PG&E. “Through our partnership with Sempra Generation, we will significantly increase the amount of solar energy we provide to our customers in 2009.” 

The El Dorado Energy solar facility is located on 80 acres adjacent to Sempra Generation’s existing gas-fired power plant in Boulder City, Nevada. Power deliveries to PG&E are expected to begin by January 1, 2009. The project will generate up to 23.2 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy annually. That is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to serve more than 3,360 residential homes annually. 

”We commend Pacific Gas and Electric Company and its decision to encourage and sustain new renewable energy installations such as El Dorado Energy Solar,” said Michael W. Allman, president and chief executive officer of Sempra Generation. “Our mutual, long-term commitment to solar energy will benefit western U.S. power customers for generations to come.”

Since 2002, PG&E has entered into contracts for more than 20% of its future electric power deliveries from renewable sources. On average, more than 50% of the electricity PG&E delivers to its customers comes from generating sources that emit no carbon dioxide, making the company’s energy among the cleanest in the nation.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation, is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the United States. Based in San Francisco, with 20,000 employees, the company delivers some of the nation’s cleanest energy to 15 million people in northern and central California.

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Redwood Times, December 17, 2008

cudrefin_switzerlandashxCalifornia State Senator Patricia Wiggins has introduced new legislation to encourage more production of solar power by compensating smaller producers for all of the solar power that they generate.

Currently, residential electric customers can participate in the state’s solar program, known as the California Solar Initiative, and receive subsidies for the installation of photovoltaic panels to produce solar power. They may also participate in “net-energy metering,” a program that gives customers credits for the amount of solar power they produce against their electric bills. However, power produced beyond their own use is returned to their electric provider for free.

SB 7 would not only allow residential utility customers to continue to receive credits for the solar power they produce for their own use, it would also allow them to contribute more solar-based power to the electrical grid and be compensated for it at the same rate a utility provider would pay.

The state already has legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by getting 33% of its power from renewable sources.

SB7 “offers a fair and reasonable path to increased production of solar power, and it contributes a win-win for solar power producers, utility providers and our environment,” Wiggins said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, December 14, 2008

kevinruddAustralian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called for a “solar revolution” on Sunday as he unveiled plans to bring forward a A$500 million (US$329 million) fund promoting renewable energy in a bid to stimulate the economy.

Speaking just a day before a key announcement on Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, Rudd said the fund’s timescale would be brought forward from the original six-year plan to the next 18 months.

“It’s good for jobs. It’s good for stimulus. It’s good for acting on climate change,” Rudd said of the move. “It’s time for Australia to begin a solar revolution, a renewable energy revolution and we’ve got to fund it for the future.”

Rudd made the announcement at the Queensland town of Windorah, where a new solar energy plant is expected to produce around 360,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year and provide the town’s daytime power needs.

The prime minister said A$100 million would be released by June 30 next year, with the remaining A$400 million to be released in the following 12 months.

The only condition, he said in an accompanying statement, was “availability of suitable demonstration projects.” Guidelines would be released early in 2009, the statement said.

The Renewable Energy Fund, which also includes work on biofuels development and geothermal drilling, was set up to help cut the cost of developing technologies that might play a key role in energy supply and security over the next few decades.

The fund was an election commitment by the ruling Labor party in last year’s election, in which Rudd defeated conservative predecessor John Howard. During the campaign Rudd set a target that 20% of Australia’s energy should be from renewable sources by 2020.

A key ‘white paper’ policy document is due on Monday setting out Australia’s official targets for emissions cuts and plans for carbon trading. Australia is widely expected to adopt a target of a 10% cut from 2000 levels by 2020.

Although Rudd has been applauded by environmentalists for his decision for Australia to join the Kyoto protocol, they also say Canberra’s actions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions have so far been inadequate.

(A$1=US$0.66)

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Giles Tremlett, The Guardian UK, December 2, 2008

portugalwind1Europe’s biggest onshore wind farm plugged itself into the grid today to provide enough electricity for up to a million people in northern Portugal.

A total of 120 windmills are dotted across the highlands of the Upper Minho region of Portugal as one of western Europe’s poorer nations continues to forge its reputation as a renewables champion.

“Europe’s largest onshore wind farm is now fully operational,” a spokeswoman for France’s EDF Energies Nouvelles, which co-owns the farm, announced this morning.

The two megawatt turbines on each windmill deliver electricity to a single connection point with the electricity grid and should supply around 1% of Portugal’s total energy needs.

A second, smaller wind farm is already functioning nearby, giving a combined output of 650 gigawatt hours per year. “That is above 1% of national consumption,” said Nuno Ribeiro da Silva, head of the VentoMinho company that runs the farm.

That would provide enough energy for 300,000 homes, or most of the northern city of Viana do Castelo and its surrounding districts, he told the Publico newspaper.

Portugal’s mixture of government enthusiasm, subsidies and special tariffs has turned it into one of the focal points of renewables development in Europe over the past five years.

The world’s largest solar photovoltaic farm is being built near the southern town of Moura. The Moura solar farm, which will include a research centre, should be twice the size of any other in the world when it is fully up and running in two years time.

Portugal also recently inaugurated the world’s first commercial wave power plant in the Atlantic Ocean off Aguçadoura, using technology developed in Scotland.

The country is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels and has set a target of obtaining 31% of energy needs from renewables by the year 2020. That is more than twice the UK target. It also uses its subsidies policy to insist that manufacturers of turbines and solar panels set up production plants.

“By 2010 we will have 5,000MW of wind energy installed, meaning we will have increased it tenfold in just five years,” economy minister Manuel Pinho said. “This is another step towards putting our country in the vanguard of what is being done with renewable energy.”

Portugal, which claims to be one of the world’s top five renewable energy countries, provides subsidies of up to 40% for new projects.

The world’s largest onshore wind farms are in the United States, with the Horse Hollow farm in Texas providing more than 700MW.

These will soon be dwarfed by proposed offshore wind farms of up to 5,000MW each.

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PAUL GIPE, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, December 4, 2008

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced to much fanfare on November 24 that the city’s municipal utility would launch one of the continent’s largest solar power programs. The mayor’s plan would direct the city’s municipal utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), to build or purchase 1,300 MW of solar energy by 2020.

Interestingly, it was a municipal utility that launched the modern version of Germany’s famed feed-in tariffs.

Among provisions of the plan is a feed-in tariff for 150 MW of solar photovoltaics by 2016. This is the first official announcement of a feed-in tariff proposal by a California city, but it is not the first in the United States. Gainesville, Florida previously announced that it was formally considering a feed-in tariff to replace its solar rebate program.

Recently, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported that Palm Desert, California was also considering solar feed-in tariffs after city officials toured Spain, one of the world’s leading developers of solar energy. Spain uses feed-in tariffs.

LADWP is the continent’s largest municipal utility. It was briefly at the forefront of solar energy development in California from 1999 to 2003, before inexplicably abandoning its program.

The city and LADWP provided no details on the solar feed-in tariff or on the other renewable energy proposals that were part of the mayor’s press release. There were no further details on LADWP’s web site. Photos of wind turbines on the web site were standard stock photos and all were of wind turbines outside the utility’s service area.

LADWP claims that 8.5% of its electricity currently comes from renewables and that the utility is on track to meet its 20% target by 2010. The last report on the utility’s web site about its renewable energy program, however, is dated 2003, the year the utility canceled its successful solar program.

Los Angeles’ 120 MW Pine Tree wind project is slated to come on line in 2009. The project also is outside of the Los Angeles Basin, just north of the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area.

Interestingly, it was a municipal utility that launched the modern version of Germany’s famed feed-in tariffs. Aachen introduced the first solar-specific feed-in tariff in the mid-1990s. Subsequently other German cities followed suit. In 2000 Germany’s parliament incorporated the concept behind Aachen’s policy in its groundbreaking system of Advanced Renewable Tariffs.

Municipal utilities in the Americas may be able to emulate Aachen and be the first to launch true feed-in tariffs. Because municipal utilities are governed by city officials, they can be more responsive to public demands for action on renewable energy than the often more distant state or provincial legislatures.

Tortonto Hydro, North America’s second largest and Canada’s largest municipal utility, briefly considered a solar PV feed-in tariff in 2007, but took no action. The proposal before Toronto Hydro employed a differentiated feed-in tariff that was intended to work with the province of Ontario’s Standard Offer Contract Program.

The proposal of Gainsville Regional Utilities (GRU) is the most advanced in the United States. GRU’s commission has ordered preparation of a tariff.

In contrast to Gainesville’s approach, LADWP made public little or no information on the details of its proposal. GRU prepared a detailed report which it presented to Gainesville’s utility commission when the utility went public with its proposal.

Los Angeles incorporates Hollywood within its city boundaries and there’s always an element of showmanship in its pronouncements. The city’s proposal is aggressive, more than one-third of the California Solar Initiative’s 3,000 MW of solar PV, if it is more than simply aspirational.

The portion of the plan devoted to a feed-in tariff is about one-tenth of the entire program. Countries that have been the most successful at rapidly developing renewable energy (Germany, France, and Spain) use feed-in tariffs as the principal if not only policy mechanism.

Despite the uncritical media accounts of the “world’s most ambitious solar plan,” attention has focused not only on the targets, but also on the various mechanisms that may be used to reach those targets, including feed-in tariffs.

Regardless of how or even whether it follows through, Los Angeles, as one of North America’s largest cities, has put feed-in tariffs, at least for solar, on the continent’s public policy map.

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Wind-Works.org, November 17, 2008

The French Minister for Energy and the Environment announced that the government was launching an aggressive new program to propel the country to the forefront of solar energy development.

The announcement by Minister Jean-Louis Borloo was made at the annual Grenelle meeting of French environmental stakeholders. Minister Borloo outlined 50 actions the Sarkozy government would take to substantially increase the role of renewable energy in France.

As part of its commitment to the European Union, Borloo said that France will supply 23% of its energy with renewables by 2020.

Most dramatically, Borloo said that France intends to become one of the world’s leaders in the development of solar photovoltaic technology and will increase the supply of solar-generated electricity 400 times by 2020.

To do that, France will create a new tariff category for commercial buildings of €0.45/kWh ($0.57 USD/kWh). This is intended to aid businesses, factories, and farmers to take profitable advantage of their large rooftops. As a measure of the government’s seriousness, there will be no limit on the size of commercial rooftop projects that qualify for the tariff. For comparison, the French commercial tariff for 2009 is higher than that for Germany, the current world leader in solar PV development.

France has been a solar energy laggard in Europe. By mid 2008 there was only 18 MW of solar PV installed on the mainland. (France still maintains several overseas territories.) However, changes to the country’s system of Advanced Renewable Tariffs (Tarife Equitable) in 2006 resulted in a flood of new projects. There is a huge backlog of some 12,000 systems representing 400 MW that are awaiting connection.

The government attributes the rapid growth to changes made to the tariffs for solar PV in 2006 when the government doubled the base feed-in tariff from €0.15 to €0.30 /kWh, the addition of another €0.25 /kWh for façade cladding, and the inclusion of a 50% tax credit for residential installations.

The residential market accounts for 40% of French installations. The typical project is about 3 kW.

Even with the backlog, France’s development of solar PV is well behind Germany, Spain, and Italy and Borloo wants to change that.

The objective, Borloo said, is to install 5,400 MW by 2020, an increase of 400 times that of present installations.

There will be no change to the base tariff of €0.30/kWh ($0.38 USD/kWh) for ground-mounted projects and France continue the €0.55/kWh ($0.70 USD/kWh) tariff for building integrated systems.

Borloo suggested that France may also apply a feed-in tariff to concentrating solar power stations.

These tariffs will remain in effect until 2012 when they will be revisited as part of the normal review process.

To simplify interconnection of solar PV and reduce future backlogs with the quasi privatized state utility, Electricité de France, the government will implement an internet registration process for projects up to 450 kW.

Small solar PV systems less than 3 kW will also be exempted from certain taxes and fees as well.

Tariffs for wind energy will remain the same, though wind projects will have to undergo new siting requirements..

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TODD WOODY, Green Wombat @ Fortune Magazine, November 13, 2008

The wind, solar and geothermal industries have wasted no time pressing the incoming Obama administration to implement an alternative energy agenda to spur investment and create jobs.

During a conference call Thursday, the leaders of the Solar Energy Industries Association, American Wind Energy Association and other trade groups lobbied for a plethora of legislation and policy initiatives. None of these proposals are new, but given Barack Obama’s campaign promises to promote alternative energy and the strengthened Democratic majority in Congress, the industry has the best chance in many years of seeing this wish list made real.

  • A five-year extension of the production tax credit for the wind industry (it currently has to be renewed every year) to remove uncertainty for investors.
  • A major infrastructure program to upgrade the transmission grid so wind, solar and geothermal energy can be transmitted from the remote areas where it is produced to major cities. Obama advisor Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, recently joined with General Electric chief Jeff Immelt to launch a joint initiative to develop such smart grid technology as well as push for policy changes in Washington to allow the widespread deployment of renewable energy by rebuilding the nation’s transmission system.
  • Impose a national “renewable portfolio standard” that would mandate that utilities obtain a minimum 10% of their electricity from green sources by 2012 and at least 25% by 2020. Two-thirds of the states currently impose variations of such requirements.
  • Mandate that the federal government – the nation’s single largest consumer of electricity – obtain more energy from renewable sources.
  • Enact a cap-and-trade carbon market.

“If the administration and Congress can quickly implement these policies, renewable energy growth will help turn around the economic decline while at the same time addressing some of our most pressing national security and environmental problems,” the green energy trade groups said in a joint statement.

No doubt those measures are crucial to spurring development of renewable energy and creating green collar jobs. But the major obstacle confronting the alt energy industry right now is the credit crunch that is choking off financing for big wind and solar projects and scaring away investors from more cutting-edge but potentially promising green technologies.

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MARCEL HAWIGER, SFGate, November 19, 2008

California’s regulators are exploring whether or not California should follow the German model to promote rooftop solar power by adopting a “feed-in tariff” for solar energy. This tariff sets a price for any and all electric power that the solar installation feeds into the electric grid, even relatively small amounts. Rooftop photovoltaic installations on both homes and businesses have blossomed in Germany due to the use of this incentive.

So we know that this policy can convince building owners to invest in more solar installations. But it is not the only way to develop solar power – or the best way. In Ontario, Canada, a feed-in tariff that paid four times the normal price for electricity failed to stimulate small-scale projects. The Ontario Power Authority has been unwilling to up the ante, because it would raise electric rates for consumers – the biggest problem with high feed-in tariffs is that they result in higher utility bills, because ratepayers pay top dollar for every single kilowatt produced. Here in California, we are already subsidizing solar through higher utility bills. Thus a high feed-in tariff is unnecessary, and unfair.

PG&E, Edison and SDG&E now pay a homeowner or business full price rather than the wholesale rate other electric generators receive for their solar output up to the amount of electricity they use annually. Solar advocates want utility companies to purchase excess solar output from homeowners and businesses, and want the utility to pay an inflated price per kilowatt hour. But overpaying for rooftop solar would actually buy us less renewable power in the end by spending consumers’ money on the most expensive renewable technology – photovoltaic solar energy – which is more than twice as expensive as solar thermal, wind, geothermal or biomass.

There are better ways to maximize our state’s investment in solar energy. My organization, TURN, was instrumental in passing legislation that requires the California utilities to use renewable energy to meet at least 20% of their energy need in 2010. That law included important consumer protections to insure that renewables are purchased at the best possible price for consumers.

In contrast, a high feed-in tariff, like other programs funded through utility bills, burdens small consumers with higher bills that have limited returns.

The California Solar Initiative is one such program, already providing ample financial incentives for starting small solar, and already a burden on working Californians. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has claimed the environmental mantle by pushing for a “million solar roofs” without raising any income taxes, but he instead raised utility rates, thus forcing ordinary Californians to subsidize a program that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, who are receiving the majority of the funding. More than 80% of the projects funded under the initiative are being put on commercial rooftops, bringing huge benefits to large businesses like Wal-Mart and Macy’s. Under a feed-in tariff, wealthy businesses and individuals can double-dip – building their systems with generous subsidies, enjoying free electricity and higher home values, and then selling the excess power back to the consumers for hugely inflated prices.

The goal of the feed-in tariff promoters cannot be faulted – promoting renewable power. But that can be done without harming utility ratepayers. The City of Berkeley has developed an innovative pilot program to provide homeowners with special tax financing for the cost of a solar installation. And in the recent bailout bill, Congress finally extended the generous tax benefits available to commercial solar installations to residential projects, a long-overdue change.

Will we ever catch up with Germany by making these changes? Perhaps not. But we’re behind on social programs too, including programs that provide a safety net for hard economic times. After we address those, then I won’t worry so much about using utility bills to fund those solar panels I see all over my Berkeley neighborhood.

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RYAN RANDAZZO, The Arizona Republic, November 12, 2008

tboonepickensBillionaire T. Boone Pickens said that his Texas wind farm is on hold because natural gas prices have dropped but that his plan for wind power and natural gas vehicles is still viable to reduce foreign oil imports.

The Texas oil tycoon spoke Tuesday to about 650 utility and investment officials gathered in Phoenix for the Edison Electric Institute Financial Conference.

Pickens launched an advertising campaign last summer to promote wind farms to generate electricity and to use natural gas to power vehicles. “I’m the only person in the United States that has a plan,” he said. “Senator Obama and his people have been in touch with mine. They see the merits of what we are doing.”

Pickens said the U.S. needs to exploit all its resources, from solar power in Arizona to coal and nuclear energy, but that few things could cut foreign oil imports quickly.

He said neither Obama’s plans for 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles nor John McCain’s plans for 45 more nuclear plants would make a dent in oil imports, but semitrucks fueled by natural gas could reduce oil demand for the next 20 years before better transportation technology is available.

“It’s a bridge to the next generation, which will probably be the battery, the fuel cell,” he said. “It won’t be the hydrocarbon.”

But the current drop in oil and natural-gas prices is slowing things down.

Until natural gas prices rise, Pickens said his wind farm and most others in the country will not go forward because electricity from gas plants will be more economical. Still, he was confident prices would rise.

He said Americans haven’t understood the nation’s energy challenges because prices have been low, until last summer when oil hit a record $147 a barrel.

“You haven’t had the leadership in Washington to tell us what the problem was,” he said. “The American people did not realize where we were. When oil went to $100, I had a story to tell.”

Steven Dreyer, managing director at Standard and Poor’s, credited Pickens for raising awareness.

“Arguably, for the first time, ordinary people were able to connect the dots between carbon reduction and energy,” Dreyer said.

Ron Insana, managing director of SAC Capital Advisors and former CNBC commentator, questioned Pickens about how he will benefit financially by such a plan through his wind farm and large stake in Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas, vehicle fueling company.

Pickens described his potential to profit from wind and natural gas but said his motivations are patriotic.

“I’d rather be playing golf at the Del Mar Country Club this afternoon,” Pickens said. “But I truly believe this is good for the country.”

Pickens believes that global oil production has already “peaked” and that it will continue to become scarcer and more expensive, despite the current lull in gas prices.

He is founder and chairman of energy-investment company BP Capital and founded Mesa Petroleum, a natural gas and oil producer. He is a geologist by training.

“When I launched my plan July 8, gas prices were $4.11 a gallon, and now they’re half that. I think I’ve done a pretty good job,” he said to chuckles from the audience.

He predicted oil, which closed Tuesday at $59, to be $100 a barrel within a year, and could be $300 a barrel by 2018.

Pickens supports domestic drilling but said that can’t come close to meeting daily U.S. oil demand.

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TERRY MACALISTER, The Guardian/UK, November 7, 2008

BP has dropped all plans to build wind farms and other renewable schemes in Britain and is instead concentrating the bulk of its $8bn (£5bn) renewables spending programme on the US, where government incentives for clean energy projects can provide a convenient tax shelter for oil and gas revenues.

The decision is a major blow to the prime minister, Gordon Brown, who has promised to sweep away all impediments to ensure Britain is at the forefront of the green energy revolution. BP and Shell – which has also pulled out of renewables in Britain – are heavily influential among investors.

BP has advertised its green credentials widely in the UK and has a representative on the ruling board of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). But it said difficulty in getting planning permission and lower economies of scale made the UK wind sector far less attractive than that of the US.

“The best place to get a strong rate of return for wind is the US,” said a BP spokesman, who confirmed the group had shelved ideas of building an onshore wind farm at the Isle of Grain, in Kent, and would not bid for any offshore licences.

BP has enormous financial firepower as a result of recent very high crude oil prices. Its move away from wind power in Britain follows a decision by Shell to sell off its stake in the London Array project off Kent, potentially the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

Shell gave the same reasons as BP for that move, saying the economics of UK wind were poor compared to those onshore across the Atlantic, where incoming president Barack Obama has promised to spend $150bn over 10 years to kick start a renewable energy revolution .

BP said about $1.5bn would be spent next year on US wind projects and the company expected to spend the $8bn up to the year 2015.

BP is still proceeding with some limited solar, biofuels and other schemes, but the vast majority of its time and energy is now being concentrated on wind. By the end of 2008, BP expects to have one gigawatt of US wind power installed and plans to have trebled this by 2010.

The BWEA shrugged off BP’s decision. “The offshore wind market is evolving and getting stronger. Different investors will come and go at different stages of the development cycle. But whoever the players are, we know that the offshore industry will be generating massive amounts of electricity for the UK market in the next few years,” said a spokesman.

Britain is not the only country to miss out on BP’s largesse. The company said yesterday it was also pulling out of China, India and Turkey, where it had also been looking at projects.

BP had formed a joint venture with Beijing Tianrun New Energy Investment Company, a subsidiary of Goldwind, China’s largest turbine maker. The two companies had signed a deal in January under which they planned 148.4MW of wind capacity in Inner Mongolia, China’s main wind power region. BP had also started building two wind farms in India and was considering schemes in Turkey. It is now expecting to sell off the Indian facilities and halt work in Turkey.

Green campaigners have been highly sceptical about BP’s plans to go “beyond petroleum” and feared that the company’s new chief executive, Tony Hayward, would drop this commitment, started under his predecessor, John Browne.

The company has always insisted it remained keen to look at green energy solutions and has been investing in biofuels operations in Brazil. BP is also in the middle of a major marketing campaign, with huge posters on the London Underground boasting of its moves to diversify into wind and other energy sources.

The Carbon Trust, a government-funded organisation established to help Britain move from carbon to clean energy, recently published a major report warning ministers that the costs of building wind farms offshore was too high. There was speculation that BP was a major influence on that study, which proposed that turbines should be allowed to be placed much nearer to the shore.

The Crown Estate, which has responsibility for UK inshore waters, is still confident that a long-awaited third offshore wind licensing round in the North Sea will attract a record number of bidders. It has already registered 96 companies, although it has not released names and BP and Shell will clearly be absent.

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MARTIN LAMONICA, CNET, November 5, 2008

Energy and environmental policy is poised for dramatic change under an Obama administration even with a slumping economy.

With the incoming administration and Congress, renewable energy advocates and environmentalists said they anticipate a comprehensive national energy plan focused on fostering clean-energy technologies.

“The election is over. Now the hard work begins,” wrote Dan Farber, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of the lobbying group Cleantech & Green Business for Obama. “Change is on the way.”

Obama’s energy plan, detailed fully earlier this year, is ambitious. It calls for a $150 billion investment in clean technologies over 10 years, aggressive targets for greenhouse emission reductions, and programs to promote energy efficiency, low-carbon biofuels, and renewable energies.

But a troubled economy–among other barriers–means that bold, new energy legislation, notably caps on greenhouse gas emissions, is unlikely to pass in the first years of an Obama administration, according to experts.

Instead, the Obama presidency is expected to first push for smaller yet significant measures, such as efficiency and renewable energy mandates, and then lay the groundwork for far-reaching climate initiatives, they said.

“One of the biggest setbacks is trying to find the money to pay for all of this. This isn’t free,” said David Kurzman, managing director of Kurzman CleanTech Research. “Reality will set in and trying to find money…is really going to temper the possibilities over the next 12 months.”

Winners and losers
Cleantech company executives note that during the campaign, Obama articulated his belief that environmental protection and economic development can be closely related. During Obama’s acceptance speech Tuesday night, his reference to “new energy to harness and new jobs to be created” could be read in two ways–a call for political involvement or for alternative-energy sources.

In an interview with Time magazine in October 2008, he said, “From a purely economic perspective, finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.”

Cleantech professionals expect that energy and the environment, which were hot-button issues during the campaign, to continue to command the attention of politicians and the electorate. And the combination of a Democratic-controlled Congress and Obama administration means that government stimulus spending targeted at the energy business is a strong possibility.

“There’s a growing sense that investing in infrastructure, even if it means more deficit spending, is a good thing because it will help economic growth in the short and long term,” said Ethan Zindler of research firm New Energy Finance. “And green energy has come to be regarded as a 21st-century infrastructure play.”

Some technologies stand to benefit more than others if Obama’s administration is successful in implementing its proposals.

Renewable energies. Obama has called for a national renewable portfolio standard to mandate that utilities get 10% of electricity from renewable sources–wind, solar, and geothermal–by 2012, and 25% by 2025. “That’s the backbone the country needs to invest in,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Although more than half the states already have renewable portfolio standards, many southern states have balked at national standards because they say they do not have sufficient renewable energy resources.

In this case, having an activist federal government, as Obama’s proposals suggest, may meet resistance from the states because electric utilities are regulated by a mix state and federal agencies. “It’s not just a question of money. It’s also a question of governance and public policy,” said Jim Owen, a representative for the Edison Electrical Institute.

In the recently passed financial bailout package, solar energy received an eight-year extension of federal tax credits, while wind received only a one-year extension. The election increases the chances that wind energy will be extended further.

Efficiency and smart grid technology. Obama’s plan calls for a power grid modernization program and stricter building efficiency codes in federal buildings. That means efficiency products such as demand response, advanced metering and sensors to monitor usage should further benefit from government incentives, said Kurzman.

A federal initiative to establish interconnection standards and bulk up interstate transmission lines would make power generation of all kinds more efficient and allow utilities to use more renewable sources. “A 50-state role to transmission just doesn’t get the job done. You need a federal planning and facilitation,” said Rob Church, vice president of research and industry analysis at the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).

Biofuels. Hailing from the corn-producing state of Illinois, Obama is expected to continue supporting ethanol. However, Brooke Coleman, executive director of the New Fuels Alliance, noted that Obama appears to understand that the biofuels industry needs to transition to nonfood feedstocks, such as wood chips or algae, in order to be sustainable.

Coleman said that strong federal policies are required for biofuels to crack into the fossil fuel industry.

“There is not a free market in the fuel sector. There’s no real competition in the wholesale supply chain–it’s completely owned by oil,” Coleman said. “You have to be pretty heavy-handed to fundamentally correct this market.”

Auto. Obama has called for increasing fuel efficiency, tax credits for plug-in hybrid cars, and loan guarantees so that automakers can “retool.”

But struggling auto makers–said to be running dangerously low on cash–will need government aid in the coming months to prevent larger harm to the economy, argued David Cole, the chairman for the Center for Automotive Research. For that reason, he expects government leaders of all kinds to be supportive.

“Politically, the issue here is pretty stark and cost of keeping the auto industry in game is whole lot less than of a major failure,” Cole said.

Fossil fuels and nuclear. During the campaign, Obama said he would allow increased domestic oil and gas drilling as well as investments in so-called clean coal technology where carbon emissions are stored underground. Companies that have coal gasification technologies stand to benefit because they are cleaner source of electricity, said Kurzman.

In the campaign, Obama voiced caution on storing nuclear waste. But during the second presidential debate, Obama said he backs nuclear power “as one component of our overall energy mix.”

Skip Bowman, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said Tuesday he expects the new Congress and administration to continue its support of nuclear because it addresses energy and climate change.

Counting carbon
Longer term, the broadest policy change on energy and environment will be climate-change regulations. Obama has called for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 through a federal cap and trade system. Pollution rights would be auctioned, at least partially, which would create a fund for clean technology programs.

Large polluters, like chemical companies and utilities that rely heavily on coal, are the ones that will be most affected. But given that there is stronger political will to tackle energy security than climate change, policies to promote domestic energy production and efficiency are likely to take precedence over cap and trade, said New Energy Finance’s Zindler.

Still, the new administration can accomplish a great deal on renewable energy without having to pass multibillion-dollar legislation, said Scott Sklar, a renewable energy lobbyist and president of the Stella Group. Using only the federal government’s purchasing power to integrate green building technologies and addressing grid interconnection issues, for example, can be done without passing laws.

“Existing programs can be tweaked to accommodate the new vision,” Sklar said. “Depending on how you structure things, you could have a quick and profound impact on new technologies.”

New Fuel Alliance’s Coleman said that the biggest danger to the Obama administration and new Congress is not “overplaying their hand” and pushing more extreme environmental policies.

“I firmly believe that the linchpin to this entire game is allowing agriculture to play a role in diversifying our energy, whether it be wind, solar, using rural areas for geothermal or wind corridors,” he said. “More extreme positions like trying to end coal result in failure and missed opportunities.”

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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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Editors Note:  New posting at HB-SIA website:

“At the end of the day there is a big reward, mixed with awe and the intense satisfaction of seeing what one has dreamed up actually takes shape.” After five years of hard work, Solar Impulse will proudly present the prototype “Solar Impulse HB-SIA”, on June 26, 2009.

MendoCoastCurrent, Solar Impulse Newsletter, September 2, 2008

In a hangars that once housed fighters of the Swiss aerial reconnaissance squadron at the Dübendorf (Zurich) airfield, the first Solar Impulse prototype is beginning to look like an aircraft.

Parts have been arriving in large numbers since early summer. Small or large, each plays a vital role and is of fundamental importance. Tail or engines, wing panel or horizontal stabiliser, all have in common that they have been manufactured at least once. These elements are the fruit of years of research, calculations, simulations, and real scale tests, leading to products that are both the lightest and the most resistant possible. In their final form they are all “ready to fly” once validated. “At this stage of realisation we have no more doubts about the technologies and the construction techniques”, comments Solar Impulse CEO André Borschberg.

Manufactured by the ETEL company, the four motors (plus two in reserve) have been assembled and tested. Special attention has been paid to their cooling system to make sure that they will still continue to function properly in the thermal zones foreseen. In comparison with the initial prototypes, they have improved in both weight and efficiency. One of the gondolas in which they will be podded has been assembled around its chassis. The lithium batteries and the cabling have been tested. Mounted on a vehicle, this gondola with its engine and propeller have undergone trial runs at flight speed.

The final-form tail and cockpit have been assembled and have undergone major load testing: one 900kg block of lead at cockpit level and three 300kg blocks, one for each axis, at the aircraft’s tail. As employees all held their breath, you could have heard a pin drop as loading was done successively, first 20%, then 50, 70 and finally 100%. There was great satisfaction – and relief – when the structure passed the final test. And when the fuselage passed its final validation test, giving the green light needed to continue the programme, there was a huge round of applause.

During last May’s simulated flight, the pilots noticed that the flight controls were no way as stiff as they would be when actually flying. As a result they have been re-sized on the simulator, their effectiveness tested and the strength needed to move them re-evaluated. To avoid any superfluous power requirement, the controls will be direct and unassisted. “The pilots will need brawny arms and muscles of steel to work them”, joked Bertrand Piccard.

André Borschberg went one step further: “We already know that the aircraft will be difficult to pilot. It will need a great amount of attention to get it to fly, taking care to avoid any departure from the neutral horizontal position.” Two special devices will be assisting the pilot in this tricky task:

  • the Omega instrument, a flight control instrument supplementing the artificial horizon giving the pilot a more precise indication of the aircraft’s bank angle and flight vector,
  • the man-machine interface, capable of transmitting vibrations to the pilot to warn him aware of potentially dangerous situations.

The next stage will involve the main wing with its 61m span. Made up of three 20m “box” beams, it is due for delivery in November. Following assembly, it too will undergo vibration tests in explore the aircraft’s aero-elasticity. At the same time, the wing’s subsystems, like the landing gear and the flight controls (flaps, spoilers, elevators, transmission rods and bars) will be put together and similarly subjected to final evaluation. Once tested, these elements will be integrated one by one. HB-SIA, our first prototype, will slowly take the shape we have planned for it.

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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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CAROL CAMPBELL & RODRICK MUKUMBIRA, Science & Development Network, August 11, 2008

A huge solar energy tower has been proposed to boost the electricity grid in Namibia, South Africa.

At one and a half kilometres high and 280 metres wide — bigger than two soccer fields back-to-back — the tower could provide electricity for the whole of the Namibian capital Windhoek.

But neither a date nor a site for the proposed tower has been confirmed, though it is expected to be close to Windhoek, says South African mechanical engineer Alan Dunlop from the pan-African intellectual property firm Hahn & Hahn, which is involved in the project.

The operation of a solar tower involves heating air inside a vast transparent tent, several kilometres in diameter, at the base of the tower. This hot air rises inside a tall concrete chimney, driving wind turbines linked to generators. The tent can also be used to grow crops.

The proposed tower is about three times larger than anything similar on earth and though its running costs would be low, construction would cost at least US$900 million.

“One of the main reasons why commercial solar chimney power plants have not been built is that they have to be very large to be economically viable,” says Theo von Backström from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

Engineers at the university say their research — including a dozen journal papers and 14 conference papers — indicates that a large-scale tower is possible.

It has also been shown that solar chimney power plants can produce power at night. The water used for crops is heated during sunny weather and this heat is released back into the air during the night or during cloudy weather to keep the turbines going. No extra water is required — an important issue for a desert country such as Namibia.

Pretoria-based physicist Wolf-Walter Stinnes, the brains behind the Namibian tower, worked on a pre-feasibility study for a similar solar chimney in South Africa’s Kalahari desert up until 2000.

Stinnes said the project was dropped because its power was too expensive compared with coal power.

But given the price of oil and the issues raised by climate change, there has been renewed interest in solar chimneys in countries such as Australia, Egypt, India and Morocco.

According to a report in Engineering News, the Namibian government has agreed to cover half the costs of the US$780,000 pre-feasibility report once private funding has been obtained.

But Joseph Iita, Namibia’s permanent secretary for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, warns: “We are only prepared to work with serious investors and, despite so many investors showing interest in the field of energy generation, we haven’t seen any project taking off.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 18, 2008

EnviroMission’s Solar Tower technology is focused on large-scale, clean, green renewable energy generation from the world’s first 200MW solar thermal power station.

One 200MW power station will provide enough electricity to around 200,000 typical Australian households and abates over 900,000 tonnes of greenhouse producing gases from entering the environment annually.

The monolithic scale of the project may also add value to the construction of the power station through tourism and associated economic benefits.

The prototype Solar Tower has been tested and proven with a small-scale pilot project in Manzanares, Spain, as a result of collaboration between the Spanish government and German designers, Schlaich Bergermann and Partner.

It even operated for seven years between 1982 and 1989, and consistently generated 50kW output of green energy, proving the concepts works as well as providing data for design modifications to achieve greater commercial and economic benefits associated with an increased scale of economy.

Where Next?

After an extensive search, EnviroMission selected the site for the world’s first Solar Tower power station to be built in the Buronga district of the Wentworth Shire in NSW and 25km NE of Mildura in Victoria, Australia.  The proposed site shows EnviroMission’s commitment to the Australia’s Sunraysia Region of NSW and Victoria. The project still requires planning approval codes, regulations and legislation from Australia’s State and Local Governments.

Background on the Solar Tower and the Market in Australia

Formerly referred to as Solar Chimney technology in academic literature – the Solar Tower is now marketed without the reference to chimney (to avoid confusion with the pollution associated with chimneys – this technology is emission free) – the Solar Tower has had in excess of A$35 million and 20 years of research and development invested in it.  EnviroMission believe that now, more than ever before, the time is ideal to apply this technology.

For more than 100 years it has been relatively cheap, environmentally unaccountable and simple to dig up coal as a fuel source to produce electricity. With concerns over climate change and increasing need for clean, renewable energy solutions account for still less than 10% of all electricity generated in Australia.

Community concern about Australia’s over reliance on coal-based ‘black’ and ‘brown’ energy and the negative impact on the environment has helped to drive political change. There is now a legislated market for clean, green renewable energy, legislated as a Mandated Renewable Energy Target (9500 gWh annual renewable energy target by 2010) has opened the way for investment in new approaches to renewable energy generation.  This recent incentive is important to the growth of renewable energy development including Solar Tower technology.

A further political incentive in the form of the Renewable Energy Credit (REC) developed by the Australian Government in 2001 has encouraged new investment in renewable energy development, with the purpose of reducing greenhouse gases and increasing the amount of renewable energy output.

As new materials, construction methods and government policy are now available to the extent that there is environmental, social and commercial advantage in the development of Solar Tower technology.

EnviroMission claims that each 200MW solar thermal power station will abate over 900,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the environment annually. The Solar Tower technology will help Australia meet its Kyoto obligations, provide a bonus to the environment, and will be a major producer of scaleable renewable energy with flow on benefits to the community and our investors.

Terms of Recent Deal with SMT

Following the mutual termination of the 2007 merger proposal between EnviroMission Limited with SolarMission Technologies, Inc (SMT), EnviroMission and SMT have continued to explore alternative corporate actions and structures to facilitate the shared ambition and vision for the long-term Solar Tower development.

As a result, EnviroMission implemented an acquisition model to leverage off the advantage of its public listing, providing the inducement of listing liquidity to SMT common share and warrant holders under the terms of a Stock Exchange Offer, with the aim of securing at least majority control of SMT.

In the weeks leading up to the close of the Stock Exchange Offer (August 1, 2008), EnviroMission negotiated a license agreement with SMT to confirm the strategic intent of the acquisition and ensure the licence also contained sufficient commercial terms to provide equity to all SMT security holders, including security holders that may decline the EnviroMission Stock Exchange Offer. EnviroMission’s license agreement with SMT takes effect from July 31, 2008 to secure the global SolarTower development license in all markets, excluding China.

EnviroMission will issue 5,000,000 (five million) ordinary free trading shares to SMT as an equity consideration for the global Solar Tower license (excluding China), with additional ‘commercial in confidence’ provisions to satisfy the immediate and equitable assignment of the Solar Tower license to EnviroMission; subject also to EnviroMission shareholder approval of the Stock Exchange Offer to SMT.

Commercial terms are based on development milestones to provide an ongoing equity opportunity to SMT (EnviroMission anticipates owning 58.92% of SMT subject to shareholder approval). On this basis, EnviroMission has negotiated an agreement assigning the global Solar Tower license to EnviroMission.

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MendoCoastCurrent, John Podesta, September 9, 2008

ctr-4-american-progressOn September 9, 2008, the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank headed by John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to U.S. President Bill Clinton, published a report by entitled “Green Recovery: A New Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy.” This report may serve as a road map for the new President, Barack Obama. Podesta now heads President-Elect Obama’s transition team. As such, it may be instructive to review its contents as a guide to the Obama Administration’s energy policy.

The signs are clear: Our economy is in trouble. Falling home prices, foreclosures, bank failures, a weaker dollar, rising prices for gas, food, and steel, and layoffs in banking, construction, and manufacturing sectors are all indicators of serious economic strain-following a long period in which the middle class went nowhere even while the economy grew as a whole. What’s more, evidence suggests the current downturn will continue for at least another year.

At the same time, we face a growing climate crisis that will require us to rapidly invest in new energy infrastructure, cleaner sources of power, and more efficient use of electricity and fuels in order to cut global warming pollution. There is much work to be done in building smart solutions at a scale and speed that is bold enough to meet this gathering challenge.

It is time for a new vision for the economic revitalization of the nation and a restoration of American leadership in the world. We must seize this precious opportunity to mobilize the country and the international community toward a brighter, more prosperous future. At the heart of this opportunity is clean energy, remaking the vast energy systems that power the nation and the world. We must fundamentally change the way we produce and consume energy and dramatically reduce our dependence on oil. The economic opportunities provided by such a transformation are vast, not to mention the national security benefits of reducing oil dependence and the pressing need to fight global warming. The time for action is now.

Today, the Center for American Progress releases a new report by Dr. Robert Pollin and University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute economists. This report demonstrates how a new Green Recovery program that spends $100 billion over two years would create 2 million new jobs, with a significant proportion in the struggling construction and manufacturing sectors. It is clear from this research that a strategy to invest in the greening of our economy will create more jobs, and better jobs, compared to continuing to pursue a path of inaction marked by rising dependence on energy imports alongside billowing pollution.

The $100 billion fiscal expansion that we examined in this study provides the infrastructure to jumpstart a comprehensive clean energy transformation for our nation, such as the strategy described in CAP’s 2007 report, “Capturing the Energy Opportunity: Creating a Low-Carbon Economy.” This paper shows the impact of a swift initial investment in climate solutions that would direct funding toward six energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies:

  • Retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency
  • Expanding mass transit and freight rail
  • Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems
  • Wind power
  • Solar power
  • Advanced biofuels

This green recovery and infrastructure investment program would:

  • Create 2 million new jobs nationwide over two years
  • Create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.
  • Create roughly triple the number of good jobs-paying at least $16 dollars an hour-as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.
  • Reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4% from 5.7%(calculated within the framework of U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).
  • Bolster employment especially in construction and manufacturing. Construction employment has fallen from 8 million to 7.2 million over the past two years due to the housing bubble collapse. The Green Recovery program can, at the least, bring back these lost 800,000 construction jobs.
  • Provide opportunities to rebuild career ladders through training and workforce development that if properly implemented can provide pathways out of poverty to those who need jobs most. (Because green investment not only creates more good jobs with higher wages, but more jobs overall, distributed broadly across the economy, this program can bring more people into good jobs over time.)
  • Help lower oil prices. Moderating domestic energy demand will have greater price effects than modest new domestic supply increases.
  • Begin the reconstruction of local communities and public infrastructure all across America, setting us on a course for a long-term transition to a low-carbon economy that increases our energy independence and helps fight global warming. Currently, about 22% of total household expenditures go to imports. With a green infrastructure investment program, only about 9% of purchases flow to imports since so much of the investment is rooted in communities and the built environment, keeping more of the resources within the domestic economy.

Our report looked at investments that were funded through an increase in near-term government spending, which could ultimately be repaid by future carbon cap-and-trade revenues. These sources of new investment included the following funding mechanisms:

  • $50 billion for tax credits. This would assist private businesses and homeowners to finance both commercial and residential building retrofits, as well as investments in renewable energy systems.
  • $46 billion in direct government spending. This would support public building retrofits, the expansion of mass transit, freight rail, smart electrical grid systems, and new investments in renewable energy
  • $4 billion for federal loan guarantees. This would underwrite private credit that would be extended to finance building retrofits and investments in renewable energy.

A comprehensive clean energy agenda is essential to the future of our country. The green recovery and infrastructure investment described here is doable in the early days of a new administration. It would enable our country to take significant steps, through energy efficiency and renewable energy development, to move toward a low-carbon economy, while Congress and the next administration move toward the swiftest possible implementation of an economy-wide greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

The next president and lawmakers can pledge to repay the Treasury the cost of the green infrastructure recovery program from cap-and-trade auction revenue. The plan increases public spending in the short term when a near-recession economy needs greater impetus to growth; but it remains consistent with fiscally responsible long-term plan to reduce the debt as a share of GDP, after the economy recovers.

CAP looks forward to continuing to work on the shared mission to reap all of the benefits provided by the transition to a low-carbon economy and discussing this work in greater detail.

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DAVID EHRLICH, Cleantech Group, August 20, 2008

The Big Apple is looking for offshore wind, as well as bridge- and building-mounted turbines, and tidal, solar, geothermal, and landfill gas projects.

New York City has launched a request for renewable energy projects that could see the city’s skyline altered by wind turbines, solar panels and other clean technologies.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation released a Request for Expressions of Interest for projects including offshore wind farms, bridge- and building-mounted wind turbines, and tidal, solar, geothermal, and landfill gas power.

“Such projects might, for example, be designed to draw power from the tides of the Hudson and East Rivers — something we’re already doing on a pilot basis,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

Last year, New York-based Verdant Power installed underwater turbines in the East River.

“They might call for dramatically increasing rooftop solar power production, which we’ve estimated could meet nearly 20% of the city’s need for electricity,” said Bloomberg. “They could tap into geothermal energy. In fact, some private home and building owners have already drilled their own heat wells.”

The mayor said companies may also want to target the potential of offshore wind in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Wind farms located far off our shores, some evidence shows, could meet 10% of our city’s electricity needs within a decade,” he said. “I think it would be a thing of beauty if, when Lady Liberty looks out on the horizon, she not only welcomes new immigrants, but lights their way with a torch powered by an ocean wind farm.”

But there could be significant hurdles to that vision, with an offshore wind project just outside of the city getting killed last year after the cost of the project spiraled upward.

The Long Island Power Authority, which would’ve footed the bill for the 140 megawatt wind farm, released an independent report which estimated costs of over $800 million, including the pricetag for the transmission cable to bring the power to shore. First proposed in 2003, original estimates for the Long Island wind farm were between $150 million and $200 million.

New York City hasn’t set an overall megawatt capacity that it hopes to pull in with its request for renewables, but it said the projects can include demonstrations, small scale installations of less than 50 MW, and large scale installations of 50 MW or greater.

Earlier this year, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority unveiled preliminary plans for a wide range of cleantech initiatives in its system, including solar and wind power, green roofs, water management, and regenerative braking for subway cars.

The MTA, which has an average peak demand in the city of about 600 MW, currently gets about 80% of its power from the New York Power Authority.

Last month, Bloomberg announced plans to spend $2.3 billion to cut greenhouse gas emissions in municipal buildings and operations over the next 30 years.

The mayor said the city is aiming to cut 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents a year from 2006 levels by 2017, lowering emissions by 30% in 30 years.

That plan includes making city buildings more efficient, improving preventative maintenance, and capturing energy potential at wastewater treatment plants.

The city is also reportedly set to announce an LED street lamp demonstration project with the Office for Visual Interaction, a New York-based lighting design group. The project just covers six street lamps, with the company redesigning the entire unit, including the pole, and putting up to four LEDs on each pole to light up different areas of the street and sidewalk.

Getting renewable projects up and running for the city could end up being just half the battle, as Bloomberg pointed out that the U.S. transmission grid needs an upgrade. He said that for more than 20 years through to the late 1990s, as demand for power increased, the amount invested in transmission lines fell by half.

“The blackout that hit New York and the Northeast five years ago was a wake-up call that it was time to change course and fast,” he said. “The good news is that investment in transmission lines is up.”

“And it will have to keep going up if we’re going to keep pace with a peak demand for power that some have estimated will grow by more than 17% over the next ten years.”

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SAM AOLA OOKO, EcoWorldly, August 15, 2008

Watch this space: Africa is fast becoming an important player in cleaner energy sources. If only 0.3% of sunlight falling on the Sahara and Middle Eastern deserts can potentially provide all of Europe’s energy needs because of its intensity, according to a report, how about everything else?

How much wind blows from Nouakchott to Natal, and how much of this is ever utilized as an alternative energy source? How much water flowing in the Zambezi is used to power villages in Zambia and Zimbabwe; and how much more of the great Nile waters that flow into the Mediterranean can sustainably be harnessed to run corn mills in Nakuru and cotton ginneries in Jinja and Khartoum or fisheries in Cairo?

And now some bold African should emulate John McCain. He may be better known for his tenacity inside the muddle of US politics than for his expertise on the quest for cleaner energy sources. But many surely gaped at the figures he offered for a battery to power America’s engines in the wake of the oil price burst recently.

McCain’s proposal of a federally funded $300 million prize for a car battery innovation that is 30% cheaper than current technology and that would help Americans (all 300 million of them, and that translates to another $1 for each!) decrease their reliance on oil should make Africa ponder for better, cheaper energy for herself, not just to drive cars alone but to catapult Africa’s social and economic revolutions.

Perhaps the African Union should come in, and this could be the first important test for a Africa-wide government as championed by Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade – let Africa define her own race towards a more sustainable continent less dependent on oil. How much does Africa spend on oil annually?

Bio-fuels are nice sounding but are a clever diversion from Africa’s pursuit of all abundant power of the sun. Ester Nyiru, a respected African economist, argues that it is now essential to make the most of alternative energy sources, such as solar, tidal and wind power. “African countries are not using alternative power supplies since international combines do not encourage the switch; indeed, the use of such technologies may damage their business.”

No less authority than the UN Environment Programme recently advised African countries to plan an energy future around alternative sources. The relevance of such options against the backdrop of rising oil prices grows by the day hence the need to fast track an alternative energy revolution for Africa.

If Africa’s 800 million population was any consideration to peg a figure on how much the continent should invest, then, perhaps, a $800m prize for the most viable innovation to power each of Africa’s villages should keep her ahead of McCain’s American dream. And Africa has the advantage of the abundance of the sun.

Just consider this: if only 0.3% of the African sun can power all of Europe, what then can she do with with the 99.7% “surplus”? Imagine what the fisherman on the shores of Lake Victoria could do with the sun to protect his catch and deliver it unspoilt to the market in Europe. Or what a mango farmer in Xai Xai, Mozambique could do with the sun to preserve his fruit and ensure its delivery as a value added product to a Walmart store in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Or what a sculptor in KwaZulu could do with wind energy to produce a green gadget that will be an art lover’s prized possession in Winnipeg!

It can be possible. Every single village in Africa can have cheaper, cleaner, sustainable energy and we can re-write every book that proclaims the end of poverty. Forget oil, alternative energy is the way to go for Africa.

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MICHAEL BARBARO, The New York Times, August 20, 2008

In a plan that would drastically remake New York City’s skyline and shores, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is seeking to put wind turbines on the city’s bridges and skyscrapers and in its waters as part of a wide-ranging push to develop renewable energy.

The plan, while still in its early stages, appears to be the boldest environmental proposal to date from the mayor, who has made energy efficiency a cornerstone of his administration.

Mr. Bloomberg said he would ask private companies and investors to study how windmills can be built across the city, with the aim of weaning it off the nation’s overtaxed power grid, which has produced several crippling blackouts in New York over the last decade.

Mr. Bloomberg did not specify which skyscrapers and bridges would be candidates for windmills, and city officials would need to work with property owners to identify the buildings that would best be able to hold the equipment.

But aides said that for offshore locations, the city was eyeing the generally windy coast off Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island for turbines that could generate 10 percent of the city’s electricity needs within 10 years.

“When it comes to producing clean power, we’re determined to make New York the No. 1 city in the nation,” Mr. Bloomberg said as he outlined his plans in a speech Tuesday night in Las Vegas, where a major conference on alternative energy is under way.

He later evoked the image of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, saying he imagined it one day “powered by an ocean wind farm.”

But the mayor’s proposal for wind power faces several serious obstacles: People are likely to oppose technologies that alter the appearance of their neighborhoods; wind-harnessing technology can be exceedingly expensive; and Mr. Bloomberg has less than 18 months left in office to put a plan into place.

Turning New York City into a major source of wind power would likely take years, if not decades, and could require a thicket of permits from state and federal agencies. Parts of New York’s coastline, for example, are controlled by the federal government, from which private companies must lease access.

Mr. Bloomberg is known for introducing ambitious proposals that later collapse, as did his congestion-pricing plan for Manhattan.

But aides said he was committed to developing alternative energy sources in the city, and wanted to jump-start the discussion now.

“In New York,” he said in his speech, “we don’t think of alternative power as something that we just import from other parts of the nation.”

Asserting the seriousness of his intentions, aides said, Mr. Bloomberg met privately with T. Boone Pickens, the oil baron who is trying to build the world’s largest wind farm in Texas, to discuss possibilities for such technology in New York.

And on Tuesday afternoon the city issued a formal request to companies around the country for proposals to build wind-, solar- and water-based energy sources in New York. “We want their best ideas for creating both small- and large-scale projects serving New Yorkers,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

Rohit Aggarwala, the director of the city’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, said that turbines on buildings would likely be much smaller than offshore ones. Several companies are experimenting with models that look like eggbeaters, which the Bloomberg administration says could be integrated into the spires atop the city’s tall buildings. “”You can make them so small that people think they are part of the design,” Mr. Aggarwala said.

“If rooftop wind can make it anywhere, this is a great city,” he said. “We have a lot of tall buildings.”

Creating an offshore wind farm, he said, requires “pretty much the same level of difficulty as drilling an oil rig, but you don’t have to pump oil.”

“You could imagine going as much as 15, 20, 25 miles offshore, where it’s virtually invisible to land,” he said.

Mr. Aggarwala said that developing renewable energy for New York would take considerable time. “Nobody is going to see a wind farm off the coast of Queens in the next year,” he said.

But “the idea of renewable power in and around New York City is very realistic,” he said. “The question is what type makes the most sense and in what time frame. That is what we are trying to figure out.”

The city has experimented with wind power before. It put a turbine on city-owned land at 34th Street and the East River several years ago, but found that the technology was not efficient enough to expand.

The mayor’s plan includes the widespread use of solar panels, possibly on the roofs of public and private buildings. One proposal is to allow companies to rent roofs for solar panels and sell the energy they harvest to residents.

The city is already using tidal turbines under the East River that provide energy to Roosevelt Island. That technology could be widely expanded under the mayor’s proposal.

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ANNE TRAFTON, MIT NEWS, July 31, 2008

Scientists mimic essence of plants’ energy storage system

In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today’s announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” said MIT’s Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon.”

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

The key component in Nocera and Kanan’s new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity – whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source – runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.

The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it’s easy to set up, Nocera said. “That’s why I know this is going to work. It’s so easy to implement,” he said.

Giant Leap for Clean Energy

Sunlight has the greatest potential of any power source to solve the world’s energy problems, said Nocera. In one hour, enough sunlight strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet’s energy needs for one year.

James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis who was not involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a “giant leap” toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.

“This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind,” said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. “The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem.”

Just the Beginning

Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require a highly basic (non-benign) environment that has little to do with the conditions under which photosynthesis operates.

More engineering work needs to be done to integrate the new scientific discovery into existing photovoltaic systems, but Nocera said he is confident that such systems will become a reality.

“This is just the beginning,” said Nocera, principal investigator for the Solar Revolution Project funded by the Chesonis Family Foundation and co-Director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center. “The scientific community is really going to run with this.”

Nocera hopes that within 10 years, homeowners will be able to power their homes in daylight through photovoltaic cells, while using excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen to power their own household fuel cell. Electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past.

The project is part of the MIT Energy Initiative, a program designed to help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the future and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today’s energy systems. MITEI Director Ernest Moniz, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, noted that “this discovery in the Nocera lab demonstrates that moving up the transformation of our energy supply system to one based on renewables will depend heavily on frontier basic science.”

The success of the Nocera lab shows the impact of a mixture of funding sources – governments, philanthropy, and industry. This project was funded by the National Science Foundation and by the Chesonis Family Foundation, which gave MIT $10 million this spring to launch the Solar Revolution Project, with a goal to make the large scale deployment of solar energy within 10 years.

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EuroWeekly News, July 24, 2008

The results of a study by business analysts DBK, which have just been released, show that the use of renewable energy resources is increasing rapidly here in Spain.

The energy generated from wind in 2007 rose to 13.8 Megawatts, with a projected increase to15.9 MW by the end of the year. The power generated from solar energy in 2007 totaled 623 MW, with a projection of 1,200 MW, an almost 100% increase, by the end of this year. A town of 10,000 people needs around 6.5 MW.

At the end of 2007, there were 574 wind farms in Spain and the number of solar generation installations has risen form just five at the end of the last decade to 19,000 at the end of last year, meaning the government’s objectives for power generated from the sun by 2010, have already been reached. Power generation from renewable sources formed a little over 10% of the electricity sold in Spain in 2007. Wind generated electricity sales were worth 2.100 million euros and those from solar energy came to 209 million euros – four times the amount made the previous year – and the projection for 2008 rises to 470 million euros.

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MendoCoastCurrent, June 30, 2008

Publisher’s Note: Here’s a recent success story from a Wisconsin-based, grassroots organization supporting the creation of renewable energy options for Wisconsin businesses and residents alike.

Madison, Wisconsin – Focus on Energy’s Renewable Energy Program honored John Hippensteel, of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin based Lake Michigan Wind & Sun Ltd., with the 2008 Market Provider of the Year Award.

The Market Provider of the Year Award was conceived as a way to recognize renewable energy contractors who exemplify the goals and expectations of the Focus on Energy Renewable Energy Program. The award provides the opportunity to honor one such contractor each year for their commitment and dedication to excellent customer service and quality renewable energy systems installation. Contractors who receive this award are exceptional in their passion, intelligence and dedication when it comes to providing renewable energy services.

“For more than a decade John has been installing solar electric, solar hot water and wind electric systems for satisfied customers,” said Don Wichert, renewable energy director for Focus on Energy. “Wisconsin truly benefits from having well qualified businesses like Lake Michigan Wind & Sun Ltd. grow our renewable energy markets.”

Hippensteel has consistently had a strong presence at many events throughout the state and is always willing to share information, photos and his innovative models. His professionalism and workmanship keep existing customers coming back for more projects, and his creativity continues to attract new customers. Hippensteel is the only North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Certified Solar Electric and Solar Thermal Installer in Wisconsin. He has installed more than 50 solar and wind power systems with support from Focus on Energy.

Focus on Energy’s Renewable Energy Program strives to make renewable energy an attainable option in Wisconsin by encouraging Wisconsin residents and businesses to investigate and take advantage of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. It seeks to raise awareness, provide training and financing, enhance marketing, promote technical assistance and support the installation of renewable energy technologies across Wisconsin. The program also offers technical assistance and site assessments and helps businesses and residents locate renewable energy contractors, like Lake Michigan Wind & Sun Ltd., when they are interested in installing a renewable energy system.

About Focus on Energy

Focus on Energy works with eligible Wisconsin residents and businesses to install cost effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Focus information, resources and financial incentives help to implement projects that otherwise would not be completed, or to complete projects sooner than scheduled. Its efforts help Wisconsin residents and businesses manage rising energy costs, promote in-state economic development, protect our environment and control the state’s growing demand for electricity and natural gas. For more information call (800) 762-7077 or visit www.focusonenergy.com.

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THOMAS O’KILL, Education Business Mgr, HP-UK, July 7, 2008

I am the education business manager for the Personal Systems Group (PSG) at HP United Kingdom and I would like to tell you about a great project we are supporting: Solar Powered Cars.

Although a worldwide sponsorship (with solar races across the globe), given the group running and designing the car are UK based, I am the main liaison point for HP with the team and ensured the sponsorship got off the ground.

HP has recently announced that it is sponsoring the Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) team, including providing its latest technology that will be used to enhance the design, build and operation of the solar racing vehicle as it prepares to race in the 2009 World Solar Challenge.

CUER’s first big test took place in June 2008 when their inaugural car, “Affinity”, drove from Land’s End in Cornwall, UK to John O’Groats in Northern Scotland, using only the power of the sun’s energy. Admittedly, some bad weather along the way – it is British summertime after all – meant that there were a few sections when the car had to be put on a trailer. But all in all, it was a great success.

HP mobile workstations, handhelds and business notebooks were used to manage and analyse solar power consumption, mechanical performance and environmental data. Enabling the support team to tell the driver how to adjust his driving style in order to get the most efficient power consumption and keep driving.

They will be entering the same car in the Zero Rally Africathat travels 4,000 km (2,485 miles) from Victoria Falls in Zambia, via Namibia to Cape Town in South Africa, during 10 days in January 2009, followed by a completely newly designed and built car for the World Solar Challenge on 18-25 October 2009 in Australia. The World Solar Challenge goes from Darwin in the Northern Territories to Adelaide, in South Australia, covering a distance of 3,000 km (1,865 miles). HP’s powerful xw8600 workstations will be used to design the new car, which they hope will be a good challenger for solar honours.

I am closely following the team’s progress and am looking forward to the next big test – Zero Rally Africa. At least the weather will be less wet (and somewhat warmer) than during the test drive in the UK.

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ED PILKINGTON, The Guardian, June 23, 2008

James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Hansen will use the symbolically charged 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking speech to the US Congress – in which he was among the first to sound the alarm over the reality of global warming – to argue that radical steps need to be taken immediately if the “perfect storm” of irreversible climate change is not to become inevitable.

Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading.

In an interview with the Guardian he said: “When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that’s a crime.”

He is also considering personally targeting members of Congress who have a poor track record on climate change in the coming November elections. He will campaign to have several of them unseated. Hansen’s speech to Congress on June 23 1988 is seen as a seminal moment in bringing the threat of global warming to the public’s attention. At a time when most scientists were still hesitant to speak out, he said the evidence of the greenhouse gas effect was 99% certain, adding “it is time to stop waffling”.

He will tell the House select committee on energy independence and global warming this afternoon that he is now 99% certain that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already risen beyond the safe level.

The current concentration is 385 parts per million and is rising by 2ppm a year. Hansen, who heads Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says 2009 will be a crucial year, with a new US president and talks on how to follow the Kyoto agreement.

He wants to see a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, coupled with the creation of a huge grid of low-loss electric power lines buried under ground and spread across America, in order to give wind and solar power a chance of competing. “The new US president would have to take the initiative analogous to Kennedy’s decision to go to the moon.”

His sharpest words are reserved for the special interests he blames for public confusion about the nature of the global warming threat. “The problem is not political will, it’s the alligator shoes – the lobbyists. It’s the fact that money talks in Washington, and that democracy is not working the way it’s intended to work.”

A group seeking to increase pressure on international leaders is launching a campaign today called 350.org. It is taking out full-page adverts in papers such as the New York Times and the Swedish Falukuriren calling for the target level of CO2 to be lowered to 350ppm. The advert has been backed by 150 signatories, including Hansen.

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