Power Progress

Elon Musk of the Tesla car fame is leveraging the battery technology for the car into much bigger stuff — wall batteries for home storage of solar power.

Calling it the “missing piece” in the renewable power revolution, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on Thursday unveiled the electric automaker’s latest products — batteries big enough to power homes, businesses or communities.

Paired with rooftop solar panels, Tesla batteries promise the ability to tap the sun’s energy, day or night. They could upend the way we produce and use electricity. And at a nighttime ceremony powered entirely by stored sunlight, Musk cast the batteries as essential to ending the reign of fossil fuels and fighting global warming.

“It’s the only path I know that can do this,” Musk told a crowd gathered at Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne (Los Angeles County). “It’s something we must do, and we can do, and we will do.”

SFChron: David Baker

And even better, he is not alone.  Baker cites several others working on similar small scale power storage technology:

Oakland solar company Sungevity announced its battery offering on Wednesday, teaming up with Germany’s Sonnenbatterie to supply the equipment. Petaluma’s Enphase Energy, which makes microinverters for solar arrays, is testing a battery system that it plans to release next year. SunEdison, in Belmont, bought solar-battery startup Solar Grid Storage last month. And SolarCity, whose corporate board Musk chairs, has installed Tesla’s battery packs in a handful of its customers’ homes.

Of course one wants to know the full cradle-to-grave cost of such batteries, and what by products and unintended consequences might ensue.  If the numbers and the first models all work out, all I can say is that public power companies will have to re-think their business models.  The service of distributing power will remain, and some power generation, but far less in the next 50 years than in the previous 50.


And, some of the energy pumped into those batteries could well come from food waste – a 34 million ton per year problem in the U.S.  We’re glad to see the Cleveland Indians out in front on this one.

At Progressive Field, Mr. Gholston and the other dishwashers feed loads of food waste into the InSinkErator grinder, which is about 13 to 20 times as powerful as home models. The milkshake-consistency slurry that results from the discarded fruit and vegetable peelings, uneaten pasta, used cooking grease or leftover hot dogs that cannot go to a food bank is then pumped into a 3,000-gallon tank.

Once the tank signals to Grind2Energy that it is full, Quasar is alerted to send a truck to take the mass to its plant, where it is put into giant anaerobic digesters full of bacteria that break down the slurry. The system captures the released gas, which is then converted into electricity for the grid or transportation fuel. The leftover solids become fertilizer.

There is also a similar, pilot program being run by East Bay MUD 

Unloading Food Waste at EBMUD

Unloading Food Waste at EBMUD

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.”

Kelptomaniacs to the Energy Rescue

More interesting news about new forms of biofuels:

“Scientists in a cluttered Berkeley laboratory are working a bit of biochemical wizardry to transform ordinary seaweed into biofuels that promise a new source of energy for this oil-dependent nation.

The lab’s research has already fueled a startup company whose workers in southern Chile are farming nearly 200 acres of kelp offshore and building a pilot plant that aims to demonstrate it can scale up production rapidly to produce a major source of ethanol and essential chemicals in the very near future.

The raw material is the same waving kelp species that sea otters love in Monterey Bay, but its tough fronds have long proved impossible for common bacteria to digest…
SF Gate:

Solar Windows

Windows are, by their nature, solar devices, as the Romans discovered when glass was first used, and as cats and humans know who bask in their warmth. Driven by the world wide energy crisis, science is taking the contribution of window glass to whole new heat.

General Electric singled out Pythagoras Solar this week for a $100,000 award for its innovative embedded solar-cell window design

The idea is that the window lets in less light, while still being transparent, so buildings get needed shade during hot sunny hours, reducing their air conditioning use and making the building more energy-efficient. At the same time, the panels produce solar power, which the building can use for electricity. The company is currently targeting architects and commercial building owners. Reuters

This is not the only idea at work, however:

…the Norweigan solar power company EnSol has patented a thin film solar cell technology designed to be sprayed on to just such surfaces. Unlike traditional silicon-based solar cells, the film is composed of metal nanoparticles embedded in a transparent composite matrix, and operates on a different principle. EnSol is now developing the product with help from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“One of the key advantages is that it is a transparent thin film that can be coated onto window glass so that windows in buildings can also become power generators,” gizmag

In Queensland a dye infusion method is being developed, also to turn glass into electricity generators.

Treehugger reports on XsunX effort to develop a thin film application that could be used on windows as well as other surfaces. A quick slide show with some tech details is here.

MIT wants to use windows as solar concentrators, gathering the energy along the edges at the frames.

And for a quick discussion of some of the technologies as reflected in stocks, try this.

Some project that virtually the entire world could be powered from the sun in less than 20 years — if the good guys win. One of the brakes on this possibility is that attention is still being turned to “clean” coal. Bad idea, as most of you know. Here’s a recent Union of Concerned Scientists report on how bad.

A Risky Proposition: The Financial Hazards of New Investments in Coal Plants

So no single silver bullet, but lots of smaller ones with some promise. Down with stupidity! Up with innovation!


Wind Power News

The government could issue leases for four new East Coast wind farms by year’s end as part of a streamlined approval process designed to quickly identify the nation’s most promising areas for offshore wind energy, theU.S. Department of the Interior said Monday.

The U.S. Department of Energy also said it intends to spend more than $50 million over the next five years to speed development of the farms and help meet President BarackObama’s goal of generating 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

SF Gate

Fossil Fuels – Defeated by War?

Strange as it may sound, the urgency and capacity to rapidly reduce the dependency on fossil fuels, and thereby save future generations from permanent climate wars may be provided by the needs of present wars.

The NY Times is reporting a major push for non-fossil fuel energy sources for the wars going on in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Even as Congress has struggled unsuccessfully to pass an energy bill and many states have put renewable energy on hold because of the recession, the military this year has pushed rapidly forward. After a decade of waging wars in remote corners of the globe where fuel is not readily available, senior commanders have come to see overdependence on fossil fuel as a big liability, and renewable technologies — which have become more reliable and less expensive over the past few years — as providing a potential answer.

Fossil fuel accounts for 30 to 80 percent of the load in convoys into Afghanistan, bringing costs as well as risk. While the military buys gas for just over $1 a gallon, getting that gallon to some forward operating bases costs $400.

Last year, the Navy introduced its first hybrid vessel, a Wasp class amphibious assault ship called the U.S.S. Makin Island, which at speeds under 10 knots runs on electricity rather than on fossil fuel, a shift resulting in greater efficiency that saved 900,000 gallons of fuel on its maiden voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, compared with a conventional ship its size, the Navy said.

The Air Force will have its entire fleet certified to fly on biofuels by 2011 and has already flown test flights using a 50-50 mix of plant-based biofuel and jet fuel; the Navy took its first delivery of fuel made from algae this summer. Biofuels can in theory be produced wherever the raw materials, like plants, are available, and could ultimately be made near battlefields.

Concerns about the military’s dependence on fossil fuels in far-flung battlefields began in 2006 in Iraq, where Richard Zilmer, then a major general and the top American commander in western Iraq, sent an urgent cable to Washington suggesting that renewable technology could prevent loss of life. That request catalyzed new research, but the pressure for immediate results magnified as the military shifted its focus to Afghanistan, a country with little available native fossil fuel and scarce electricity outside cities.

NY Times

Oh how Senator McCain’s military stamped soul must be at war with his climate change denying mouth….

Sahara Solar Power?

We’ve been hearing more and more about desert solar arrays as one, of the many, essential technologies to back off of CO2 production and end our dependence on Middle-East oil.  California, Arizona, China, Australia all have projects going, or in the works.  How about the biggest desert in the world, the Sahara?  Is it feasible to generate enough solar power there, and transmit it to population centers to make it a viable hope?  Some big investors think so.

“The Sahara gets twice as much sunshine annually as most of Europe. The European Union wants to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within a decade. So why not build solar power plants across North Africa and ship the electricity north via power lines under the Mediterranean?

Over the past year, more than 30 European companies have joined the Desertec Industrial Initiative, a consortium that seeks a $560 billion investment in North African solar and wind installations over the next 40 years. The group is completing a feasibility study and hopes to be building its first power plant by 2013.

A separate group of companies called Transgreen, formed in July, is working on plans for the thousands of miles of high-voltage lines needed. The challenge is immense: Winning agreement from very different countries on two continents to carry out one of the biggest infrastructure projects in history.

Read more at SF Gate:

It’s true there is a lot sunshine in the Sahara.  Is it enough, after transmission loss, the threat of disruption of a few “backbone” transmission lines, the still sticky Euro-Afro relationships to be better than solar panels on every available horizontal surface large cities have to offer?  It is there, after all, the energy has to be, before it is consumed.  Would a million small solar panels be more resistant to disruption — weather, earthquake, switch failure, terror attack– than several large, industrial size plants in the deserts of Libya, Egypt, Algeria?

Do we have a choice, given the speed of approach of climate change and the inability of governing bodies to make decisions?  We may be throwing mud in a fast moving river and anything to hand will be important.

Fresh Squeeze Solar

We usually have to plow deep for good news these days; here’s some just off the vine.

…[a solar power] invention that uses dye squeezed from berries. The dye acts as the chlorophyll in green leaves that allows the “Graetzel cell,” a layer of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, to absorb sunlight.

The invention is cheaper than the standard silicon photovoltaics in conventional solar power cells, making it a cheaper solution to the world’s energy problems, according to the Technology Academy of Finland.

The Graetzel cell can be used to power street lamps.

Read more:

Wind Assisted Ferry Boats

In the pretty cool idea category this week we have a Napa, CA based outfit with an idea for carbon-fiber sails on ferry boats to help cut fuel costs / CO2 release.

“They wouldn’t eliminate the need for an engine.

They could, however, cut each ferry’s fuel use by at least 40 percent, said Gardner, with Wind+Wing Technologies.”

Read more:

But beyond the cool factor is the actuality of companies beginning to take seriously sun, wind, conservation and costs.

In San Francisco, Hornblower Cruises & Events started shuttling tourists to Alcatraz last year aboard its Hornblower Hybrid, which uses solar panels and two small, vertical wind turbines to generate electricity.

Hornblower considered using sails but decided the solar panels and wind turbines would be more useful. Unlike a sail, they provide power even when the ferry isn’t moving, said Cameron Clark, the company’s director of environmental affairs.

“With a ferryboat, you spend the majority of your time sitting at the dock,” he said. “You sit for 30 minutes and sail for 15.”

Together, the panels and wind turbines generate about 5 kilowatts of electricity, enough to run the ship’s electrical systems. When tied up at dock, the engines shut off, saving fuel. Before Hornblower retrofitted the ferry, burned 20 to 26 gallons of diesel per hour, Clark said. Now it burns six.

Read more:

Vertical Windtowers at Adobe

Adobe Systems in San Jose announced it had installed 20 vertical wind towers from Windspire to help its push towards more use of sustainable energy.

The towers won’t add a significant amount towards Adobe energy needs — four of them would just about power an average US home– but as a statement of recognition of the problem at hand, and as helping to encourage new ideas it will be a help. In the ultra-marathon facing us we can feel OK about cheering as runners round the first quarter mile. No one is thinking the race has anything but just begun. On! On!

SFGate article.

NBC report on YouTube