Posts Tagged ‘solar energy’
Thursday, February 17th, 2011
February 17, 2011
From the Editors
After three years of inflating a solar bubble and playing brinkmanship with its nuclear fleet, Spain has come down to earth and decided it needs its nuclear reactors after all.â€¨
Only a month away from closing its Cofrentes nuclear power station, the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council relented this week and granted the reactor a ten-year license extension.
â€¨“The regulator said the plant in Valencia had been shown to be running well and safely enough to continue operating for another decade, with modifications made or planned making the plant fully compliant with increasingly strict operating rules,” reports Reuters. â€¨
â€¨Less than a year ago, Spain was billing itself as the “solar capital of the world,” giving away ridiculous amounts of money in “feed-in tariffs” and encouraging the construction of huge new solar-panel assembly plants surrounded by spanking new factory villages. But the money soon ran out, industries were fleeing to France in search of cheaper nuclear power and the villages now stand abandoned. â€¨
The decision will not be final until approved by Spain’s Industry Minister. A vote is expected after the plant undergoes an independent audit of its radiation protection program.
â€¨Greenpeace activists did their usual publicity stunt, climbing the cooling tower on Tuesday and hanging a banner for news photographers. Their efforts had no immediate impact but who knows what they will cook up to try to influence the Industrial Ministry – an armed commando raid perhaps?â€¨
â€¨Spain has eight reactors that supply 20 percent of its electricity. Seven are now licensed through 2020 but the government has plans to close down the Garona reactor in 2013. Stay tuned for another round of brinkmanship.
Read more about it at Reuters
Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
January 19, 2011
From the Editorsâ€¨
Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, California’s indefatigable apostles of renewable energy, have convinced yet another national magazine that the U.S. can completely depend on wind, water and solar power by 2030. Scientific American ran this claim as their cover story in October 2009.â€¨
This time it’s National Geographic that falls for the bait, publishing the same claims in its special series, “The Great Energy Challenge.” The Jacobson and Delucchi plan calls for 4 million windmills – not the 45-story, 3.5-megawatt structures being built today but a larger version rated at 5 MW. Next to that would come 90,000 large-scale solar farms – both thermal and photovoltaic – each of them rated at 300 MW. “At present,” the Geographic editors admit, “fewer than three dozen such utility-scale solar plants are in operation worldwide; most are far smaller.” In fact, there is only one solar plant in the entire world rated at 300 MW, the Luz plant built in the 1990s. Most current solar thermal installations are rated at 10 MW and cover 1/5th of a square mile. Jacobson and Delucchi do not include estimates of land coverage in their plans.
â€¨Interestingly, these utopian schemes now leave out biofuels, which are falling out of favor now that renewable enthusiasts realize that they produce – well, smoke. “Due to the undesirable air pollution and land-use impacts of ethanol and biodiesel, they built their vision for a 100 percent renewable future without them,” says Geographic. This is ironic since biofuels are already the most commonly used – and heavily mandated – form of renewable energy.
â€¨The two Californians are breezily confident that problems such as intermittency can be easily overcome. "Wind and solar are very complementary," says Jacobson. "When the wind isn’t blowing, you usually have a clear, sunny day. And vice versa, when there’s less sunlight on a cloudy day, it’s usually windy." Not exactly what you’d call “quantitative analysis.”â€¨
Such pipe dreams make good entertainment and will probably have copies of National Geographic dancing off the shelves. But with nary a word on the greatest generator of clean energy – nuclear — it leaves the general public woefully unprepared for the coming energy realities.
Read more about it at The Hill
Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
January 19, 2011
EDF’s plans to spend $35 billion to upgrade its aging nuclear fleet are suddenly being threatened by a runaway subsidy for solar energy. “This is a time bomb EDF needs to defuse as soon as possible,” Bertrand Lecourt, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG, told Bloomberg News. â€¨
The program began two years ago when France established a “feed-in tariff” – a fancy name for a price support – that required the national utility to buy solar electricity at ten times the price of other sources. Payments grew tenfold in two short years as shopping centers and other buildings all over France threw up solar panels. Some farmers even built new barns just to take advantage of the program. With money gushing out the door, the government cut the subsidy twice during 2010 but was finally forced to impose a three-month suspension in December. “We just didn’t see it coming,” French lawmaker Francois- Michel Gonnot told Bloomberg. “What’s in the pipeline this year is unimaginable. Farmers were being told they could put panels on hangars and get rid of their cows.”â€¨
â€¨The fiasco – similar to other government-led solar bubbles in Spain and the Czech Republic – has seriously impacted EDF’s finances. Shares dropped 20 percent in 2010, compared with a 3.7 percent decline in Europe’s Stoxx 600 Utilities Index. The Paris-based company now has a debt of $57 billion euros. â€¨
It’s not hard to see why. The law requires EDF to pay 546 euros per megawatt-hour in 2011, almost ten times the spot price of 55 euros. Unlike Spain, which had visions of growing a solar industry, France’s solar bubble seems to have been created for purely altruistic purposes. “Most panels installed in France were made in China with a highly questionable carbon footprint,” Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told parliament last month, according to Bloomberg. He said public policy must “create jobs in France, not subsidize Chinese industry.”â€¨
Meanwhile, in the real world of energy production, EDF announced this week it has hooked up all 58 of its reactors to the French grid to deal with a 5 percent increase in demand over last year. Many reactors had been down for prolonged periods of maintenance. It marked the first time the utility had been at full strength since 2004.
Read more about it at Bloomberg News
Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
Probably no technology is more essential to the development of “clean, renewable energy” than pumped storage. It is the only known way of storing large amounts of electricity. It emits no carbon. It can modulate wind and solar’s unpredictability and turn them into reliable sources of electricity.
So what happens when someone proposes a pumped storage plant along a major transmission line in a remoter corner of Idaho? Why, government officials turn it down, of course.
Gridflex Energy, of Boise, announced over the weekend that it is withdrawing plans to build a 300-megawatt pumped storage plant on the Iron Mask property in the Elkhorn Mountains.
“Matthew Shapiro, chief executive officer of Gridflex Energy . ., said on Saturday that the feedback they’ve received from various local, state and federal agencies made his company realize that the project is in a sensitive area that’s probably not appropriate for this kind of development,” reports the Helena Independent Record.
The project was to consist of two 5,000-acre-foot reservoirs joined by an underground tunnel. Using nighttime electricity, water would be pumped to the upper reservoir and then released again during periods of high daytime demand. The project was to connect to the Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI), which runs from Idaho Falls to Helena. The United States has more than a dozen pumped storage plants with a total capacity of 21,000 megawatts.
Shapiro said the project had encountered little initial resistance form the Bureau of Land Management. “But in written comments to FERC, representatives of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Elkhorn Working Group, the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service all noted that the project probably isn’t appropriate for the proposed site,” writes Politico. “They wrote that the reservoirs would be in the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit, which is a unique designation in which the land is managed specifically for the benefit of the elk, bighorn sheep, deer and other animals that inhabit the area.”
Gridflex said it would look for another suitable site in the region but was not optimistic about finding one.
Read more at the Helena Independent Record
Friday, November 5th, 2010
Only a year ago, Solyndra, a California solar energy company, was riding high on the wave of federal stimulus dollars. Now it has crashed back to earth.
Yesterday Solyndra announced it is canceling plans to build a new 1,000-employee manufacturing facility in Fremont, California and will also close down an existing factory in Oakland. That will leave only one 1000-employee manufacturing plant in Fremont, but Solyndra plants to cut 150 jobs there as well. An IPO has also been cancelled.
It’s been a rapid descent. Only a year ago Solyndra received $535 million in government loans as part of the “clean-tech” revolution. Vice President Biden made the announcement by satellite and President Obama later visited the plant. Last December the company scheduled a $300 million IPO. Things fell apart after that. The IPO was cancelled in June and CEO Chris Gronet quit a month later.
Solyndra’s problems seem to be related to costs. It has a thin-film design that purports to be more efficient than conventional solar panels but is also more expensive. Competing against lower-cost Chinese and American manufacturers, it has been at a disadvantage. Sales are actually expected to double this year from $70 million to $140 million but still not as much as originally anticipated.
On the whole, the solar industry is still expanding, impelled by the huge impetus of federal money and state renewable mandates. But Solyndra won’t be keeping pace. Maybe all that federal attention just went to their heads.
Read more at Inside the Bay Area
Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
Solar energy falls upon the earth at an average intensity of about 400 watts per square meter. That’s enough to illuminate four 100-watt light bulbs on the space of a card table.
That’s a fair amount of energy but not a tremendous amount. The best conversion rate achievable by converting sunlight directly into electricity through photovoltaic panels or aligning huge mirrors to boil a fluid is about 25 percent. This means if we covered every square inch of rooftop in the country we could probably get enough electricity to provide our indoor lighting plus run a few basic appliances, which constitute about 15 percent of our electrical usage. Any improvements on that can only be marginal. If we get 10 percent better conversion, that means we could provide 16.5 percent of our electricity instead of 15 percent. When it comes to running the rest of our industrial society, however, we need more robust sources such as fossil fuels or nuclear.
Solar is a fashionable dream, however, and so the grant money keeps flowing and the researchers keep researching. The latest news – which is sure to make headlines – comes out of MIT, where researchers have rediscovered a technology for storing solar energy in chemical form rather than converting it to heat or electricity. “According to Jeffrey Grossman, Associate Professor of Power Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the molecule – fulvalene diruthenium – absorbs solar energy, it goes into a higher-energy state where it can remain stable indefinitely,” says this report on Energy Matters. “Then, triggered by a small addition of heat or a catalyst, it snaps back to its original shape, releasing heat in the process.” The result would be that solar electricity would not disappear the moment the sun goes behind a cloud but could be stored in a molecule – like coal – and released at will.
Big news? Think this will rev up the clamor for more solar subsidies? Well, don’t get too excited. “Unfortunately, the essential element needed to allow the thermo-chemical to both absorb sunlight and release it – ruthenium – [is] too rare to ever be cost effective. But the MIT research team say they have uncovered exactly how the essential molecule responsible for absorbing, storing, and releasing solar energy works. And this understanding, they said, should make it possible to find similar chemicals based on more abundant, less expensive materials than ruthenium.”
True enough. But remember, if we ever discover that material, it will still take 25 square miles of collectors to equal the output of one nuclear reactor.
Read more at Energy Matters
Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
Spain was supposed to be the poster child of how to grow a green economy. It is now a poster child in how government attempts to manipulate the economy can leave investors holding the bag.
Bloomberg Markets tells the long, sad story of how a Spanish farm family is about get stiffed as the Socialist government backs away from its commitment to pay "feed-in tariffs" (fixed prices) at ten times the market value to rural property owners who agreed to put solar collectors on their land.
The government was trying to generate 400 megawatts of electricity. It miscalculated, however, and ended up incentivizing construction of 3500 MW and found itself on the hook for $139 billion. Now the government is considering dropping the subsidies and leaving investors stranded.
As the chairman of Spain’s largest solar panel maker puts it: "I’ve developed a bit of a motto: If the Socialist government says they’re going to help you, run!"
Are there any implications for the U.S.? You don’t have to look far. When Prime Minister Zapatero visited the White House last year, President Obama praised him as a "worldwide leader" in renewable energy and pledged to "work diligently" with him. The U.S. stimulus package included $67 billion in loans, loan guarantees, grants and tax credits for so-called "renewable energy.
Read more at Bloomberg News
Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
Caught between a rock and a hard place, President Obama has chosen the rock.â€¨
â€¨According to a report in Bloomberg News, Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu told a Washington conference yesterday that the President will re-install the solar panels put atop the White House thirty years ago by President Jimmy Carter and rescued from a museum recently by global warming activists.
“The White House will lead by example,” Chu said. The panels only produce hot water. Chu said a set of photovoltaic panels to generate electricity would also be installed by next June. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had them up there,” he said. President Ronald Reagan took down the panels after taking office in 1981. Ironically, President George Bush, Jr. had solar panels installed to heat some of the residence plus maintenance building but received neither credit nor opprobrium for the effort.â€¨
Unfortunately, environmental activists have called the President’s hand at the exact moment when he is being widely compared to Carter’s “failed Presidency.” Several magazines and cartoonists have recently offered illustrations of Obama looking in the mirror and seeing his Democratic predecessor from the 1970s. To his opponents, the solar panels could very well become a symbol of the continuity between the two administrations.â€¨
Obama has been put on the spot by global warming crusader Bill McKibben, a former New Yorker staffer and author of The End of Nature and Eaarth, which argues that climate change has already altered things so much that the earth has become “a tough new planet.” McKibben lives for years in the remote Adirondacks before “returning to civilization” three years ago by taking a teaching job at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is the originator of 350.org and is now leading the “10.10.10” effort – a worldwide Internet-oriented day of recognition of global warming that will take place on October 10th.
Last year McKibben tracked down one of the original solar panels atop a cafeteria at Colby College in Maine, loaded them onto a trailer and made a much-heralded progression down the coast, headed for the White House. On the way he appeared on the David Letterman Show. When he arrived in D.C. last month, White House met with him but declined to accept the panels. Now the administration has changed its mind – obviously stung by recent restlessness in the environmental ranks.
Ironically, McKibben is one of those rare environmentalists who is willing to admit that nuclear must play a part in preventing global warming. Interviewed last July at the SolarFest in Tinmouth, Vermont, where he was the keynote speaker, McKibben said he knew nuclear was essential to reducing carbon emissions but didn’t like to say so in public. “It would split this movement in half,” he said, gesturing to the youthful crowd, many of whom had camped on a hillside farm for three days.
He was right. Half the gathering was there to celebrate solar energy while the other half was campaigning to close down Vermont Yankee, the state’s principal source of power.
Read more about it at Business Week and Politico
Tuesday, October 5th, 2010
In a story that might be seen as jumping the gun, the New York Times announced in a front page story this morning that the U.S. Army is on the way to operating on solar energy.
“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,” reports the Times. “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.”
The occasion for the story is recent attacks on oil supply lines in Pakistan, plus the arrival of some solar equipment at a Marine base in the remote Helmand Province of Afghanistan. The equipment included “portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; [and] solar chargers for computers and communications equipment.” Other devices on the way include a truck-based biofuel digester that could turn the local poppy crop into diesel fuel.
The Times waxes enthusiastic about how solar electricity could replace diesel generators and gushes over how such military uses could quickly transport into the commercial economy. “Because the military has moved into renewable energy so rapidly, much of the technology currently being used is commercially available or has been adapted for the battlefield from readily available civilian models.”
It does not make any effort to estimate the scale that would be required to make such installations useful. For instance, it would solar panels covering take 1/5th of a square mile to generate 10 megawatts – enough to power a small factory.
What is completely omitted from the Times story is another technology that since the 1950s has carried military operations into even more remote locations – the nuclear reactors that have carried Navy submarines to the bottom of the sea. A small modular reactor the size of a shower stall could provide 70 MW of electricity – enough to recharge an entire fleet of electric vehicles and support a whole army base. We anticipate another story on this subject from The Times in the near future.
Read more at the New York Times
Monday, August 9th, 2010
If you want to follow what happened to the banking system and Wall Street in 2008, you have to go way back to the days in the 1970s when the federal government was urging banks to open up the housing market and the banks were complying.
It took the better part of two decades for the whole thing to come home to roost. So it may be with the renewable energy meltdown. But you can see it taking shape in its early stages right at this moment in The St. Petersburg Times.
In a long, front-pate analysis, the Times laments the “cloudy times for solar energy’s future.” The premise is that it is being held up by politics – or rather the failure of politicians to push it fast enough. Governor Charlie Crist is promoting solar as the solution to the problems raised by the Gulf oil spill. He is being opposed by a state legislature reluctant to commit the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to get the revolution started.
The most revealing fact in the article is this. California (which has been at this since the 1980s) leads the nation by producing 768 megawatts of direct current through solar electricity. New Jersey is in second place with 127.5 MW. Florida, for all its efforts so far, generate only 38.7 MW. Even these dimension have been achieved only by making consumers pay three and four times as much for solar electricity – or finding some way to subsidize it.
More than half the states have renewable portfolio standards that have mandated huge amounts of investment into renewable projects. But 90 percent of what has been built is windmills – which has made wind the fastest growing form of generation in the country. Even with a legislative mandate, solar is far too expensive and land consuming, so that many states are now adding a separate solar mandate as well. But none of this takes into account whether all this investment is producing any useful electricity. Solar and wind will require extensive backup – almost certainly from expensive natural gas turbines.
Where does nuclear fit into all this? The article does take one swipe, criticizing the state legislature for allowing Florida Power & Light to incorporate construction costs into its rate base for two new reactors at Turkey Point. But it somehow fails to mention that the incorporation was rejected by the Florida Public Service Commission in January and FP&L has since suspended work on the project.
One day this will all come crashing down and the country will be stuck with not enough electricity and huge misinvestment in useless renewable projects. It’s inevitable when politics completely overrides economics.
Read more at the St. Petersburg Times