Energywise iconEnergywise

Green Mountain Power Goes Green, Saves Green

At a time when some forecasts for the future of electrical utilities see gloom—volatile fossil fuel prices hiking rates and killing profits while customers wean themselves from the grid in favor of renewables, distributed storage, and smart micro grids—it’s no surprise that some of the 3300 electric utilities in the United States have dug in their heels. Florida’s top electrical utilities, for instance, have reportedly strongly resisted the rise of solar power in the sun-drenched state.

Yet a few utilities are actively bucking the industry trend of rising rates and resistance to clean energy. In 2014 alone, for instance, Vermont’s top electric provider, Green Mountain Power (GMP), has announced a 2.46-percent rate cut while also receiving the advocacy group Vote Solar’s 2014 Solar Champion award—the only utility to be so honored.

Read More

GE Claims Fuel Cell Breakthrough, Starts Pilot Production

General Electric has developed a way to convert natural gas using a combination of fuel cell and an engine, an approach it hopes will finally result in broad adoption of stationary fuel cells.

The industrial giant's research arm on Tuesday disclosed details on its solid-oxide fuel cell research efforts and said it has started a pilot line at a factory in upstate New York to manufacture the generators. As first reported here last year, GE has achieved relatively high efficiency by coupling two generators and hopes to bring down costs by using cheaper materials.

Read More

Survey: Climate Experts Favor Retiring Coal, Keeping Nuclear

If you were the scientific advisor to a $200-billion venture capital fund that aims to limit global warming over the next 20 years, what investment would you recommend as having the single biggest impact? A survey of climate experts found that a majority listed the retirement of coal power—or the sequestering of their emissions—as the top priority for investment.

Read More

Wind Farm Fires Far More Common Than Reported, Study Finds

Fires in wind turbines are happening ten times more often than they are reported, according to new research from Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

The incidence of fire is still far less than in fossil fuel-based energy industries, such as oil and gas, which suffer thousands of fire accidents per year. The wind industry reports about 11 fires per year, but the researchers found there are more likely about 117 wind turbine fires annually across more than 200,000 turbines. For the wind industry, the fires are the second leading cause of accidents after blade failure.

Inside of the turbine’s nacelle, hydraulic oil and plastics share the same tight space as machinery and electrical wires. When there is overheating or faulty wiring it can catch fire. The nacelles are perched behind the turbines so high winds often fuel the flames.

Because the turbines are so tall and are often in remote areas, they are usually destroyed before the fire can be suppressed. In 90 percent of the cases, the fire leads to substantial downtime or a total loss of the wind turbine.

“Worryingly our report shows that fire may be a bigger problem than what is currently reported,” Guillermo Rein, from the department of mechanical engineering at Imperial College London, said in a statement. “Our research outlines a number of strategies that can be adopted by the industry to make these turbines safer and more fire resistant in the future."

The researchers looked at data from the past 30 years and found that fire accounted for 10 to 30 percent of the reported turbine accidents, with reports increasing. The leading cause of the fires was lightening strikes. That was followed by electrical malfunction, mechanical failure, and errors with maintenance.

One industry group, RenewableUK, welcomed the report overall but questioned the data sources used by the researchers. “Wind turbines are designed to international standards to meet mandatory health and safety standards including fire safety risks. State of the art monitoring systems ensure that the vast majority of turbine fires can be dealt with quickly and effectively,” Chris Streatfeild, director of health and safety for RenewableUK, said in a statement. “This is supported by an HSE-commissioned report in 2013, which concluded that the safety risks associated with wind turbines are well below all other comparable societal risks.”

Some of the strategies the researchers suggest to prevent ignition include passive fire protections, such as lightning protection systems and switching to non-combustible oils and insulating materials. Smoke alarms and fire suppression systems could also help minimize the extant of fire damage.

The researchers also plan to evaluate the frequency and impact of fire on solar panels in the future.

India Pledges $250 Million to Grid Improvements, Solar Power

India recently committed millions of dollars to solar power and grid improvements in an effort to provide electricity to more homes, according to Bloomberg.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will spend 15 billion rupees (US$ 250 million) to increase solar power across the country and also to improve power delivery. Nearly 40 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people have no access to reliable electricity.

Two-thirds of the funds would go to various types of solar power projects. About $83 million would go to large solar power plants, and another $67 million would go towards 100,000 solar-powered irrigation pumps.

The investment in the pumps is just a fraction of the 26 million groundwater pumps that the Indian government wants to replace with more efficient solar-powered pumps. The power used for pumping irrigation water is also one of the largest strains on the Indian power grid. Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported the cost of 200 000 pumps would be $1.6 billion.

The government also recommitted to providing 24/7 power supply to all homes with an $83 million investment in feeder systems to bring electricity to rural areas. The program would mirror one that Modi instituted in its home state of Gujarat, according to Bloomberg.

In Gujarat, power feeder lines for farmers, which have substantial power needs, were separated from those that go to homes and villages. That allowed the state to provide more reliable electricity to most areas while also limiting the amount of subsidized power provided to farmers.

Some industry analysts question whether the budget allocation for this project would make a significant impact. Kameswara Rao, head of energy, utilities, and mining in India for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP told Bloomberg that the funding needed to split off rural electricity supply was far larger than budgeted.

The efforts “are directionally correct but involve relatively small steps or lack specifics to support a meaningful improvement in the short-term,” credit rating agency Fitch Ratings said of the investment for India’s power sector. “There are entrenched structural issues affecting the performance of the power sector of India and the solution would require a sustained and disciplined policy focus.”

While India’s power sector suffers from an inadequate grid, there are also generation shortfalls that will not be helped by the funds committed to solar power and distribution upgrades. Fitch Ratings notes that there is a domestic shortfall for both coal and gas for power plants.

“The entire ecosystem of the power sector - from generation to distribution - needs to be strengthened,” Fitch analysts wrote.

Environmentalists were not pleased with the budget, calling for more distributed generation, rather than investment in large-scale solar plants and a continued reliance on coal that is fed into an inefficient grid.

"The steps on renewable energy and energy efficiency are not transformational,” Vinuta Gopal, head of climate and energy at Greenpeace India, told Reuters, “and the attempt to force fit coal production to clear the irrational power proposals is a signal that the reality of climate change has far from been recognized by this government.”

Australia Repeals Carbon Tax as Renewable Energy Industry Stagnates

The Australian Senate voted to repeal the country's carbon tax, which since 2012 had charged the biggest polluters for each metric ton of CO2 they emitted. The tax has been a source of political controversy since its inception, and Prime Minister Tony Abbot cited economic hardships as the driving force for this repeal.

"Scrapping the carbon tax is a foundation of the government's economic action strategy," Abbot said according to the BBC. "We are honoring our commitments to you and building a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia." Instead of charging emitters in an effort to reduce carbon pollution, the Prime Minister wants a system, funded by taxpayers, that would pay industry to use renewable energy.

The Australia Greens leader Christine Milne called this an "appalling day for Australia."

Read More

Mining Big Data to Make a Point about Solar

When Australian activists conducted a spoof solar energy installation assessment for their climate change-doubting Prime Minister Tony Abbot's residence (“The Lodge”) last month, the intent may have been satirical, but the software they used is anything but. In fact, virtually simulating solar energy installations from afar has quietly become a commonplace in the solar industry, which is rapidly embracing big data. 

So-called “solar analytics” has in recent years gone from an internet-era curio to nearly a competitive necessity, says Murray Hogarth, sustainable energy blogger and director of community energy networks for the Australian company Wattwatchers.

“That sort of use of data to decide what the system should be before installation occurs—before anyone even goes to the site—is now widespread,” he says.

So in the case of Prime Minister Abbott—whose climate-change denial has earned him international opprobrium—Australian climate activist group 1 Million Women consulted with the Chinese PV company Suntech Power and Australian company Solar Analytics to virtually outfit The Lodge in Canberra with 81 PV panels.

Read More

Construction Starts on World's Largest Post-Combustion Carbon Capture Project

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) has made more headlines over the years for steps back than for steps forward. There have been a number of high profile projects that have been shelved or scaled down; American Electric Power, for example, cancelled big plans for a US $668 million facility in West Virginia, and the flagship FutureGen plant has now taken the form of a much diminished retrofit in Meredosia, Illinois. So news that what will be the biggest post-combustion carbon capture plant in the world has actually started construction is quite the anomaly.

Read More

How Much Energy Storage Do You Need to Back Up the London Array?

Storing electricity underwater in the form of compressed air is a tantalizing notion that could, if it works, help solve the intermittency problem of wind, solar, and other renewable sources. That “if” is a big one, though, because there are many details engineers have yet to nail down for underwater compressed-air energy storage (UW-CAES). One company that’s been trying to nail down those details is the Canadian start-up Hydrostor. I recently wrote about its plans to deploy the world’s first commercial UW-CAES system in Lake Ontario.

The Hydrostor system will use electricity from the Toronto Hydro power grid to run a compressor; the compressed air will then be stored in flexible energy bags submerged at a depth of about 80 meters. Later, the air will be run through a turbine when the energy is needed.

For all that effort, the system will be able to supply just a megawatt of electricity for up to three hours. Eventually, the company is aiming for a capacity of 20 to 30 megawatts that can be discharged over 10 to 20 hours. But a big wind or solar farm would require a lot more storage than that. How much? Well, the offshore wind farm known as the London Array has 175 turbines and an installed capacity of 630 megawatts. To compensate for a one-day lull would require up to 812,000 cubic meters of compressed air, according to an analysis by Maxim de Jong. He’s the design engineer and CEO of Thin Red Line Aerospace, which makes energy bags and also inflatable space structures. 

Read More

How Far Can Crowd-funded Nuclear Fusion Go?

The inventors of a new, proprietary approach to purportedly low-cost nuclear fusion wrapped a largely successful crowd-funding campaign on 5 July. The campaign, which raised $180,279 of its $200,000 goal, will fund a next-generation experimental reactor with the aim of achieving a working device by 2020.

The so-called “Focus Fusion” device harnesses the alternate proton-boron nuclear fusion reaction—one that generates comparatively fewer neutrons than traditional multi-billion-dollar deuterium-tritium reactors. There are at least two other companies, in addition to the “Z-machine” at Sandia National Laboratory, pursuing similar avenues to the ultimate goal everyone in fusion research seeks: sustained, clean, and radiation-free fusion reactions that produce more energy than they consume.

Read More
Advertisement

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the EnergyWise newsletter and get biweekly news on the power & energy industry, green technology, and conservation delivered directly to your inbox.

Advertisement
Load More