Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Solar Energy’

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

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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).

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »