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Archive for the ‘Technical Issues’ Category

Globe.Net, October 27, 2009

President Barack Obama has announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will create tens of thousands of jobs, save energy and allow consumers to cut their electric bills.

Speaking at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation’s transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system.

The $3.4 billion in grant awards – part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act – will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion. Full listings of the grant awards by category and state are available here and a map of the awards is available here.

An analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates that the implementation of smart grid technologies could reduce electricity use by more than 4% by 2030.  That would mean a savings of $20.4 billion for businesses and consumers around the country. One-hundred private companies, utilities, manufacturers, cities and other partners received Smart Grid Investment Grant awards today, including FPL, which will use its $200 million in funding to install over 2.5 million smart meters and other technologies that will cut energy costs for its customers.

The awards announced represent the largest group of Recovery Act awards ever made in a single day and the largest batch of Recovery Act clean energy grant awards to-date. The announcements include:

  • Empowering Consumers to Save Energy and Cut Utility Bills — $1 billion. These investments will create the infrastructure and expand access to smart meters and customer systems so that consumers will be able to access dynamic pricing information and have the ability to save money by programming smart appliances and equipment to run when rates are lowest.
  • Making Electricity Distribution and Transmission More Efficient — $400 million. The Administration is funding several grid modernization projects across the country that will significantly reduce the amount of power that is wasted from the time it is produced at a power plant to the time it gets to your house.  By deploying digital monitoring devices and increasing grid automation, these awards will increase the efficiency, reliability and security of the system, and will help link up renewable energy resources with the electric grid.
  • Integrating and Crosscutting Across Different “Smart” Components of a Smart Grid — $2 billion. Much like electronic banking, the Smart Grid is not the sum total of its components but how those components work together.  The range of projects funded will incorporate various components into one system – including smart meters, smart thermostats and appliances, syncrophasors, automated substations, plug in hybrid electric vehicles, renewable energy sources, etc.
  • Building a Smart Grid Manufacturing Industry — $25 million. These investments will help expand our manufacturing base of companies that can produce the smart meters, smart appliances, synchrophasors, smart transformers, and other components for smart grid systems in the United States and around the world – representing a significant and growing export opportunity for our country and new jobs for American workers.

More details on the proposed projects are available here. Click here for the full test of remarks by President Obama on Recovery Act Funding for Smart Grid Technology.

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MARSHA W. JOHNSTON, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, March 2009

One hundred and forty-one years ago, the relentless sea off Scotland’s coast inspired the following observation from native son and author George MacDonald:

I climbed the heights above the village, and looked abroad over the Atlantic. What a waste of aimless tossing to and fro! Gray mist above, full of falling rain; gray, wrathful waters underneath, foaming and bursting as billow broke upon billow…they burst on the rocks at the end of it, and rushed in shattered spouts and clouds of spray far into the air over their heads. “Will the time ever come,” I thought, when man shall be able to store up even this force for his own ends? Who can tell.”

In the United States, permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting.

Today, we can certainly say, “Yes, the time will come.” The only question remaining is how long it will be before humankind routinely and widely uses electricity generated from the kinetic power of ocean tides, currents and waves.

If one defines “commercial ocean energy” as several tens of megawatts, the world cannot yet boast a commercial ocean energy installation. Indeed, only two installations of either wave, tidal or in-stream current devices are grid-connected and can generate over 1 megawatt (MW) of power. One is Pelamis Wave Power’s 2.25-MW Aguçadoura project off of Portugal’s northern coast and the other is Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines’ (MCT) SeaGen, a US $20-million commercial-scale tidal-energy project under development in Northern Ireland’s turbulent Strangford Narrows. In December, SeaGen boasted the first tidal turbine to hit a capacity of 1.2 MW.

(The biggest exception to commercial ocean energy production is the world’s longest running tidal power plant, the 240-MW La Rance, in France. But the plant’s barrage technology, which traps water behind a dam and releases it at low tide, has fallen out of favor due to its perceived higher environmental impact than underwater turbines. Nova Scotia has also been operating a 20-MW barrage Tidal Generating Station in the tidal-rich Bay of Fundy since 1984.)

The rest of the world’s wave, tidal and current installations, some of which have been in the water as far back as the 1990s, are experimental and prototype units ranging in size from 35 kilowatts (kW) to 400 kW. Because these units operate only intermittently and are not typically connected to any grid, it is not possible to determine their total power generation.

Many of these units are prototype demonstration units for the much bigger installations that are under development and that will begin to realize significant exploitation of the world’s ocean energy resource. For example, Ocean Power Technologies Inc. will use the 150-kW PowerBuoy it has been testing since the mid-90s as the “workhorse” for the 270-MW, four-site wave energy plant off California and Oregon coasts that it has partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop, says CEO George Taylor.

And Inverness, Scotland-based WaveGen expects to use 40 units of the 100-kw turbine it just installed off the Island of Islay for a 4-MW farm off of Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. Meanwhile, Pelamis says if its 750-kw “sea snake” devices, which were installed last year, make it through the winter, it will put 37 more of them in the water, generating 30 MW.

All of the wave, tidal, ocean and river current power around North America that can be practically extracted could together provide 10% of today’s electrical consumption in the U.S., says Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, CA. He adds that the total water resource could, it is sometimes said, possibly power the world twice over, but a lot of it is out of reach. “Hudson’s Bay, off the Arctic Circle, has HUGE tidal power, but it is thousands of miles from where anyone lives. We have HUGE wave resources off Aleutian Islands, but the same problem,” he says.  See EPRI’s U.S. Offshore Wave Energy Resource Map, below.

What will be the “magic” year for large-scale ocean energy deployment? Most developers indicate 2011-2012. Trey Taylor, co-founder and president of Verdant Power, which is moving into the commercial development phase of its 7-year-old Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project, says the firm aims to have “at least 35 MW” in the water by the end of 2011.

Bedard is more circumspect. “I think it will be 2015 in Europe and 2025 in U.S. for big deployment,” he says, adding that the year cited depends entirely on the definition of “big” and “commercial,” which he defines as “many tens of megawatts.”

Verdant’s Taylor expects greater initial success in Canada. “The fundamental difference between Canada and the U.S. is that the underpinning of processes in Canada is collaborative and in the U.S. it is adversarial. It’s just the nature of Canadians, collaborating for community good, whereas in the U.S. people are afraid of being sued,” he said.

Bedard says the U.S. could catch up to Europe earlier, if the Obama Administration walks its big renewable energy infrastructure investment talk. “But if it’s business as usual, it could be later, depending on the economy,” he says.

Since the global economy began to melt down last September, many ocean energy companies have had to refocus their investment plans. With venture capital and institutional monies drying or dried up, firms are turning to public funds, strategic partners such as utilities and big engineering firms, and angel investors.

In November, MCT retained London-based Cavendish Corp Finance to seek new financing. Raymond Fagan, the Cavendish partner charged with MCT, said although tidal energy is not as advanced as wind or solar, he has seen a “strong level of interest so far from large engineering-type firms in MCT’s leading position.” Because MCT holds patents and is delivering power to the grid ahead of its competitors, Fagan thinks Cavendish can bring it together with such strategic partners.

In addition to the economic climate, he notes that the drop in oil and gas prices is further slowing renewable energy investment decisions. “Six to 12 months ago, people were leaping into renewable energy opportunities,” he says, adding that the UK government’s recent call for marine energy proposals for the enormous Pentland Firth zone north of Scotland will improve Cavendish’s chances of getting financing. Though it has yet to make a public announcement, MCT is widely viewed as a prime operator for the zone.

Monies are still available. Witness Pelamis Wave Power’s infusion of 5 million pounds sterling in November, which it says it will use for ongoing investment in core R&D and continuing development of its manufacturing processes and facilities.

In the U.S., permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting. Bedard notes however, that streamlining the process in the U.S. may have begun with the recent opening of a new six-month process for licensing pilot marine energy plants.

Marine energy experts agree that there are more opportunities for wave power than for tidal, as there are simply fewer exploitable tidal sites. In technology terms, however, tidal turbines have benefited from a quarter century of wind turbine development, says Virginia Tech professor George Hagerman. Despite more widely available wave resource, wave energy developers face the challenge of needing many more devices than do tidal energy developers, and have a higher cabling cost to export the power.

As Christopher Barry, co-chair of the Ocean Renewable Energy panel at the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, explains: “The major challenge [to ocean energy] is not pure technology, but the side issues of power export and making the technology affordable and survivable.”

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PATRICK BLUM, International Herald Tribune, March 15, 2009

LISBON: Projects for wind and wave energy beset by technical snags and dwindling investment

mj_newsletter_12-2-09_pelamisIn July, a Pelamis wave power generator, an articulated steel machine like a giant semi-submerged sausage, was towed into the deep Atlantic, off the coast of Aguçadoura in northern Portugal, and attached to a floating mooring.

By September, two more Pelamis units, each capable of generating 750 kilowatts of electricity, had joined the first, about three miles, or five kilometers, off shore, and the Portuguese power utility Energias de Portugal was able to announce proudly that “the world’s first commercial wave power project,” was transmitting electricity to the national grid.

Costing about €9 million, or $11.5 million, the three machines were the first phase of a plan intended ultimately to be expanded to 28 units, with a total generating capacity of 21 megawatts — enough to power more than 15,000 homes and save more than 60,000 tons a year of carbon dioxide from being spewed into the skies by conventional power plants.

In mid-November all three were disconnected and towed back to land, where they now lie in Leixões harbor, near the city of Porto, with no date set for their return to operation.

So what went wrong?

First, there was a buoyancy problem, said Max Carcas, a spokesman for Pelamis Wave Power, the British company that designed and built the units and retained a 23% stake in the project. According to a report on ocean energy systems published by the International Energy Agency, foam-filled buoyancy tanks for the mooring installation leaked and needed to be replaced, delaying startup.

The buoyancy problem was resolved, Mr. Carcas said during a telephone interview this month, but other technical issues emerged, as could be expected in a prototype project. “Like all things new, you have niggles to work through, and we continue to do that.”

Then, the financial crisis kicked in.

The Aguçadoura wave farm was announced in September as a joint venture between Pelamis and a group of three promoters including EDP, the Portuguese electrical engineering company Efacec, and the asset manager Babcock & Brown, an Australia-based specialist in power and other infrastructure investments.

But, by November, as the global credit crunch and falling share markets took a deepening toll of highly leveraged investors, Babcock & Brown announced a major program of asset sales to pay down its debt: and the Portuguese partners pulled back from the venture.

“Babcock & Brown are in process of winding down and we’re looking at offers for all our assets,” Anthony Kennaway, a Babcock & Brown spokesman, said from London. “Pelamis is part of that. All our assets are for sale. We are not putting any more money into the project.”

Against that background, Mr. Carcas, of Pelamis, said that there was no timetable for returning the generators to sea.

“As soon as things are resolved,” he said. “Could be next week. Could be anything.”

Harnessing ocean power for energy seemed an ideal option for Portugal, a small country with no oil and limited resources, and a long Atlantic coastline south of the Bay of Biscay, famed for its fierce waves and storms.

Portugal now imports more than 80% of its energy supplies, far above the European Union average. Domestic power generation is heavily dependent on hydroelectric projects, which are vulnerable to big fluctuations in output, depending on seasonal weather conditions.

Ambitious government plans still aim for a radical transformation of Portugal’s energy profile, with as much as 60% of the country’s electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2020. That compares with an EU target of 20% for the union as a whole.

But the Aguçadoura project points up the risks of a strategy relying on cutting-edge, and potentially costly, technology. Whether or not the target is achievable, particularly in current economic conditions, is a subject of debate among the country’s renewable energy specialists.

“We assumed there would be no critical technical issues,” to hinder deployment of offshore generators, said Antonio Sarmento, director of the Wave Energy Center, WavEC, a Portuguese nonprofit organization that promotes ocean wave power generation.

“Also we assumed there would be no environmental impact and that the energy would be relatively cheap. So we were optimistic,” Mr. Sarmento said. “It’s an educated guess. We are still guessing. When you pick up a new technology and look at the future it’s difficult to say what will be.”

On the cost side, investments in ocean-based technologies “are very high and operating costs are not entirely negligible because you have the problem of corrosion from salt water,” said Colette Lewiner, head of the global energy and utilities sector at the French consultancy and services company Capgemini.

While the Aguçadoura partners put the cost of the first phase at a relatively modest €9 million, the true cost of such developments is difficult to calculate, said Hugo Chandler, a renewable energy analyst at the International Energy Agency in Paris.

“Part of the problem is the absence of data,” he said. “Countries are still at an early stage and don’t want to reveal real costs.”

It’s a very young technology, Mr. Chandler said, but “the indications are that it is considerably more expensive than other technologies.”

Still, the Aguçadoura experience has not discouraged EDP from pursuing other high-tech ocean solutions. Last month it signed an agreement with Principle Power of the United States to develop and install a floating offshore wind farm off the Portuguese coast, one of the first projects of its kind in Europe.

The project would use proprietary Principle Power technology designed to allow wind turbines to be set in high-wind but previously inaccessible ocean locations where water depth exceeds 50 meters, or 164 feet. The agreement foresees commercial deployment in three phases, but sets no timetable.

Offshore wind power generation currently costs 50% to 100% more than equivalent onshore wind farms, according to a recent Capgemini report on clean technologies in Europe. But Portugal is eager to press ahead with the new technology. “Offshore wind is one of our key innovation priorities,” said the chief executive of EDP, António Mexia.

“The development of floating foundations for wind turbines is a prerequisite to the development of offshore wind farms world-wide, as areas in which the sea bed is less than 50 meters deep are scarce and fixed structures in deeper waters are economically not feasible,” he said.

Still, he noted, the agreement with Principle Power “is not a binding contract; there are a number of prerequisites, technical and financial, that need to be met.”

A €30 million first phase, covering development and infrastructure construction, could see a small, five megawatt floating generator in operation by the second half of 2012. But for that to happen, full funding would need to be in place “by the end of this semester,” Mr. Mexia said.

WavEC, meanwhile, has several wave power projects in the pipeline, including tests of prototype systems from three companies — WaveRoller, of Finland; Ocean Power Technologies of the United States; and Wavebob, of Ireland.

For sure, the economic recession and financial crisis are adding to the challenges facing such projects, as investors pull back. “There will be a pause, a slowdown, in renewable energy investment until we see the recovery,” said Ms. Lewiner, of Capgemini. But “these investments take time and you can’t sleep through the recession. These plants are needed.”

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