Two Huge New Solar Projects on Public Land

“The Obama administration on Wednesday announced that it has given final approval to two sizable solar projects on public lands near the Nevada-California border, which when operational are expected to provide a combined 550 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power about 170,000 homes and create 700 jobs.

The announcement represents a milestone for President Obama’s renewable energy efforts. With the approval of both projects, there now are currently 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects either currently generating energy or slated to be generating energy on public lands. This is a huge number compared to the amount of renewable energy projects had been approved on public lands before Obama took office.

There were none.”

Climate Progress

More more more….

As of 2012, public lands and waters housed approximately 43 percent of all the coal and 20 percent of the natural gas produced in the United States, according to a report from the Center for American Progress. Conversely, only 1 percent of the country’s wind and practically none of its solar power were derived from federal lands at the time.

New Biomass to Electricity Conversion

All I can say about these new technologies of energy is, they’d better hurry!

… researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new type of low-temperature fuel cell that directly converts biomass to electricity with assistance from a catalyst activated by solar or thermal energy. The hybrid fuel cell can use a wide variety of biomass sources, including starch, cellulose, lignin — and even switchgrass, powdered wood, algae and waste from poultry processing.

The device could be used in small-scale units to provide electricity for developing nations, as well as for larger facilities to provide power where significant quantities of biomass are available.

Divestment from Fossil Fuel Companies Increases

Seventeen foundations controlling nearly $1.8 billion in investments have united to commit to pulling their money out of companies that do business in fossil fuels, the group announced on Thursday.

In addition to the foundations, 22 cities, two counties, 20 religious organizations, nine colleges and universities and six other institutions had signed up to rid themselves of investments in fossil fuel companies, frequently defined as the top 200 coal-, oil- and gas-producing companies identified in a report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative based in London.

NY Times

Energy Markets at Turning Point?

Several new developments in battery technology may mean that solar, wind and hydro are more useable and competitive than ever.  The Economist thinks so

Until now, the idea that unsubsidised solar power could make enough financial sense to be competitive with conventional electricity has been largely confined to the realms of environmental campaigners and renewable energy advocates.

However, as solar panels become more efficient and vastly cheaper, and household power bills keep rising, analysts at some of the world’s largest financial institutions say such a prospect is indeed possible – and likely to cause profound disruption in the energy industry.

“We’re at a point now where demand starts to be driven by cold, hard economics rather than by subsidies and that is a game changer,” says Jason Channell of Citigroup.

As to the batteries:

Researchers at Harvard have developed an inexpensive, high capacity, organic battery that uses carbon-based materials as electrolytes rather than metals. The researchers say the technology stands to be a game-changer in renewable energy storage by solving the intermittent generation problems faced by renewable sources, such as wind and solar. The battery offers large volume electricity storage not possible with solid-state batteries and at a fraction of the cost of existing flow battery technology.

Solar Installations Booming

The number of solar installations – both large and small-scale – is booming. In 2013, the United States added enough new photovoltaic panels to generate a maximum of 4.2 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the output of four nuclear reactors. Over the past five years, the number of residential installations has grown at an average annual rate of 70 percent, according to the NPD Solarbuzz market information firm.

This article by David R Baker in the SF Chronicle, focuses on the business side of solar — who has failed and who has prospered– but one nugget is the fast increase in its use.  It would be good to see projections, especially how fast and how much fossil-fuel sources could be retired.  On a recent landing in Albuquerque I was stunned by how few roof solar installations I saw — in that land of perpetuals sunshine.


On the other hand:

In 2013, the Edison Electric Institute issued a paper warning that electric utilities face “disruptive challenges”, including the rise of distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar.  In recent months, we have seen a building move by utilities to place roadblocks in the way of solar energy deployment, making it more difficult and expensive for businesses and homeowners to self generate electricity.

Now more confirmation. This will be a fight.

San Diego Union Tribune:

After resigning for health reasons, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission has warned of intense pressure by utilities to protect against the incursion of rooftop solar energy.

Commissioner Mark Ferron announced Wednesday that he could no longer perform his duties as commissioner after two years of treatment for prostate cancer. In a jocular parting report, he praised California for its leading role on energy and climate policy, while warning that its utilities “would still dearly like to strangle rooftop solar if they could.”

Electrical Power Use Declining

Some good news for the new year….

NEW YORK (AP) — The average amount of electricity consumed in U.S. homes has fallen to levels last seen more than a decade ago, back when the smartest device in people’s pockets was a Palm pilot and anyone talking about a tablet was probably an archaeologist or a preacher.

Because of more energy-efficient housing, appliances and gadgets, power usage is on track to decline in 2013 for the third year in a row, to 10,819 kilowatt-hours per household, according to the Energy Information Administration.

That’s the lowest level since 2001, when households averaged 10,535 kwh. And the drop has occurred even though our lives are more electrified.

See more

Moving Oil by Rail

“The fiery derailment of a 106-car oil train in North Dakota on Monday is the latest manifestation of the perils that come with expanding shipments of the country’s Bakken oil bounty by rail. The Wall Street Journal has a good update, as does NPR. An Associated Press report included this context:

Government regulators defended their record on moving hazardous materials by rail, noting that 2012 was the safest year in the industry’s history. But oil trains have bucked that trend, thanks in part to the massive amount of oil being moved out of western North Dakota, where the industry’s rapid growth is far outpacing pipeline development.

DotEarth in NYTimes

Fights have begun in Washington state and Oregon over rail shipments of tar-sands and other crude.  Here Jacques Leslie reviews the growth of train traffic.

 a 2009 shipment is now considered a bellwether event, marking the first significant movement of U.S. crude oil by rail in many decades. Less than four years later, railroads have shipped as much as 600,000 barrels a day from the Bakken and are transporting crude not just from North Dakota but from oil-fracking sites in Montana, Texas, Utah, Ohio, Wyoming, Colorado, and southern Canada. Across North America, trains are now moving nearly a million barrels of crude a day, and that number will continue to grow rapidly.

13 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs Of 2013

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down.

2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.

3. The next generation of wind turbines is a gamechanger.

4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal.

5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves.

6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.

7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records.

8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power.

9. New age offshore wind turbines that float.

10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power

11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here.

12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people.

13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels.

Read full article at Think Progress


And then there are the 45 Fossil Fuel Disasters the Industry Doesn’t Want you to Know About.

Solar + Storage: The Road Away from Fossil Fuel Improves

SolarCity, Tesla roll out energy storage service was the inside headline in the SF Chronicle last week.  Good news that serioius effort is going into energy storage, a vital part of making solar, wind and water viable options for taking over more and more of the world’s energy load.  Both Solar City and Tesla are already major players.  Their partnership will be worth watching….

Big Energy Shift in Progress

1) The price of renewable energy is plummeting.

2) U.S. renewable investment is skyrocketing.

3) Renewables are nearly in a position to start edging out fossil fuels on electricity generation.

4) China is moving very aggressively on climate.


Read all