Wednesday, June 27, 2012

U.S. partners with China on new nuclear | SmartPlanet

U.S. partners with China on new nuclear | SmartPlanet:

Among the claimed benefits: thorium waste cannot be easily shaped into a bomb; the waste lasts only hundreds of years rather than tens of thousands for uranium; thorium in liquid form burns more efficiently than solid uranium; liquid thorium reactors do not operate at dangerous high pressure; liquid thorium reactors cannot melt down.
The U.S. under President Richard Nixon chose uranium over thorium in part because uranium reactors provided the weapons grade waste that was desirable during the Cold War. That set the stage for a uranium-based nuclear industry. Today, solid uranium fuel powers almost all of the world’s 434 commercial reactors.
Co-chair Jiang Mianheng's father, Jiang Zemin, was president of the People's Republic of China from 1993 to 2003. Pictured above with President Bill Clinton in 1999.
The CAS presentation describes a China that’s keenly interested in thorium as a future CO2-free source of power in a country choking on the emissions of its coal fired power plants.
One reason for China’s interest in thorium: It has an ample supply of the substance, which occurs in monazite, a mineral that also contains rare earths, the metals that are vital across industries ranging from missiles to wind turbines to iPods. China, which dominates the world’s rare earth market, is believed to be sitting on substantial stockpiles of thorium that it has already extracted from the rare earths that it has mined and processed.
The CAS presentation also points out that China has far more thorium than uranium. It notes that China imported 95 percent of the uranium ore it used in 2010. To address its uranium shortfall, China has been buying up foreign uranium mines, including taking control of Namibia’s Husab mine in March.
Nuclear currently provides less than 2 percent of China’s electricity. But as SmartPlanet has noted,its share will surge as China builds as many as 100 new reactors - nearly a quarter of the world’s current total - over the next 20 years.
Those will include conventional uranium reactors as well as alternative designs such as thorium MSRs and fast neutron reactors. (Bill Gates’ TerraPower is developing a type of FNR known as a traveling wave reactor. Gates has also discussed a possible Chinese co-operation, with China National Nuclear Corp).  FNRs are expected to play a big role in China by 2050.
China is developing at least two thorium reactors, and is looking at molten salt technology as well as at another approach that triggers a thorium reaction by using a particle accelerator - a technique pioneered by Nobel Prize winning physicist and former CERN director Carlo Rubbia.
Cecil Parks (top left) of DOE's Oak Ridge National Lab and Charles Forsberg of MIT join Xu Hongjie and Huang Weiguang in the molten coolant systems group.
It is now linking up with DOE in an effort to better understand the workings of the molten salt variety. The collaboration is also investigating “nuclear fuel resources” and “nuclear hybrid energy systems,” according to anorganization chart (see below) included in the CAS presentation. The DOE’s Stephen Kung and CAS’ Zhu Zhiyuan serve as “technical co-ordination co-chairs,” supporting their bosses Lyons and Jiang, who co-chair the “MOU Executive Committee.”
Scientists from ORNL, MIT, the University of California Berkeley, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and several branches of CAS including the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) and Shanghai Advanced Research Institute are on the MOU committee (again, see chart below). Two of the U.S. labs - ORNL and INL - are co-managed by Battelle Memorial Institute, the Columbus, Ohio non-profit science and technology group.
What’s not clear is what, exactly, the U.S. will get from the collaboration.
While China has declared an interest in building thorium reactors - including CAS’ January 2011 approval of a TMSR project - the U.S. has not. The partnership with China suggests that the U.S. acknowledges a possible role for thorium in its energy future.
But some skeptics worry that the U.S. is foolishly abetting Chinese efforts to advance a crucial energy technology that China could soon control, and thus give China hegemony in two vital areas: rare earths and energy. ORNL, the 1960s thorium molten salt pioneer,  has no clear path to commercialization given the U.S. government’s lack of commitment to the technology.
Phil Britt (top left) from ORNL and John Arnold from UC Berkeley work with China's Dai Zhimin and Jiang Biao on nuclear fuel resources.
Outside of the DOE, at least three companies in the West are privately developing thorium reactors: Flibe Energy, Huntsville, Ala, which has dusted off 1960s ORNL technology; Thorenco, San Francisco: and Ottawa Valley Research, Ottawa. Baroness Bryony Worthington of the UK House of Lordshas emerged as the West’s political champion for thorium. India, home to huge reserves of thorium, also has ambitious plans. Japanese utility Chubu Electric is considering it. And thorium is picking up attention with the recent publication of the book SuperFuel, by author Richard Martin.
Many of those supporters urge the use of thorium reactors not only for generating electricity, but also for providing carbon-free heat to power industrial processes such as extracting oil from tar sands, or in the metals, chemicals or cement sectors, among others.
They also point out that the reactors could power water desalination, and that they have valuable byproducts that could be used as fertilizers and for medical applications.
China clearly sees many of those benefits as well.
The CAS presentation describes the possible use of thorium reactors as a heat source for various applications, including hydrogen and methanol production.
CAS also points out that molten salt, germane to liquid thorium reactors, can also serve as heat storage in solar thermal power plants in which parabolic mirror warm a fluid that eventually drives a turbine. By storing the fluid’s heat, molten salt technology can potentially answer one of the main criticisms of solar power: that it cannot generate electricity at night.
Like thorium nuclear, that would be a development that should equally interest either country. Let’s see if technology truly flows in both directions in this new partnership.

Skyonic’s twist on carbon capture turns CO2 into baking soda | SmartPlanet

Skyonic’s twist on carbon capture turns CO2 into baking soda | SmartPlanet:

Skyonic developed its so-called Skymine technology, which can be retrofitted onto power plants or other industrial factories that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. The technology captures the CO2 from the exhaust stream and turns it into solids instead of a gas. It can then be processed into food-grade bicarbonate (baking soda) and hydrochloric acid, both of which can be sold to generate revenue and offset the carbon capture and conversion process.
The Skymine also cleans sulfur oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions from the flue gas and removes heavy metals such as mercury.
Skyonic designed and built a pilot project at Capitol Aggregates that captures under 1,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year, Jones said. The $125 million project will build the technology out to a commercial scale capable of capturing 83,000 short tons of CO2 a year and converting 157,000 tons of bicarbonate.
It costs about $45 a ton to capture and convert the carbon emissions into bicarbonate, Jones said. Those costs should be greatly offset and even eliminated with the sale of the bicarbonate and other chemicals, he added. Once the commercial-scale project at Capitol Aggregates is complete, it will be able to produce $45 million in chemicals each year, Jones said.
The business model of the endeavor hinges on a couple of factors, including the bicarbonate market and the cost of capturing the carbon. What happens, for example, if hundreds of plants outfitted with Skymine start to produce bicarbonate and HCL?
The market can absorb any additional bicarbonate or HCL production, Jones said. “HCL is in great demand right now because of the oil and gas activity here,” he said. “And we’re making it at a 30 percent lower cost than the traditional method.” He added that Skyonic’s process can produce other chemicals as well such as bleach, chlorine and hydrogen.
As for the cost of the technology, Jones said continued research and development could help drive down the cost below $20 per ton.
Photo: Skyonic

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Solar Insights: How to build utility-scale solar with no subsidies - : Renew Economy

Solar Insights: How to build utility-scale solar with no subsidies - : Renew Economy:

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German firm Solaria has released more details about how it plans to build a subsidy-free, 60MW solar PV facility in Spain – one of the first of almost 1800MW of such projects in a country that cut all subsidies earlier this year. Solaria says the plant, to be built in 2013, will cost €60 million ($A75 million), or around $1.25/watt – that compares to $2.80 a watt for Australia’s planned Solar Flagships project (to be built in 2015).
Solaria estimates that it will be able to sell the electricity at €55-€60/MWh ($68-$75/MW), which will deliver an internal rate of return of 8-9 per cent. If it can tap into large electricity users – the self-consumption market – it could get up to twice the price. “We will build it in the second half of 2013 because we think the cost of PV will have dropped enough by then and, given the irradiation in Spain, will be totally competitive (with fossil fuels),” a company spokesperson said last week.
The emergence of solar PV as a “mature energy” technology that can compete with traditional energy sources without help is, of course, a game changer for the entire energy industry. Gehrlicher, another German company that plans similar projects in Spain, says solar PV will target the “self-consumption” market, for both small and large businesses and installations, while large-scale facilities will be built only by large, deep pocketed corporations – be they industrial or mining users, or banks and pension funds. Robert Kroni, the head of Swiss engineering company Jendra Power, says solar will be produced in Europe at a cost of 6c-7c/kWh – cheaper than gas and most new-build coal.
The merit order impact in Texas
A new report analysing the state of Texas – where extreme weather conditions and a water shortage have turned its grid into one of the most vulnerable in the US – has concluded that the addition of solar PV would have reduced electricity costs, and helped avoid a series of outages that plagued the state in the crippling summer heat of 2011.
The report by consultants The Battle Group is one of the first to consider the merit order impact of solar in the US. It concluded that the addition of solar PV to the Texas grid would have reduced wholesale electricity costs by up to $520 million, by delivering electricity at times of peak demand and avoiding costly infrastructure investment.
The analysis canvassed a range of scenarios from 1000MW to 5000MW. Like a similar study conducted by the Melbourne Energy Institute in Australia, along with Beyond Zero Emissions, it noted that the scale of “merit order benefits” declined with more solar added, but it concluded that solar could save customers an average $155-$281/MWh, because it would offset demand from the grid when more expensive peaking plant would normally be deployed. Adding in the benefit of avoided emissions, the savings rise to $216-$343/MWh. “This suggests that, at least during the summer months when solar PV production and energy prices are highest, the short-term benefits of increased solar PV production approach or exceed the likely cost of incremental solar PV generation,” the report concluded.
Pat Wood, a former chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, said solar is attractive because it “delivers on peak, it doesn’t use water and it doesn’t create any smog pollution. It is increasingly affordable, competing favorably with other peak-of-the-day resources.” Last year, the Texas market operator was forced to curb demand on six different occasions because of record electricity use caused by soaring summer temperatures. Similar events are anticipated this summer.
The Solar Energy Industries Association said the double benefit of lower electricity costs and increased reliability makes solar a clear choice for the state. Wood also noted that the solar was “quick to market, meaning capacity could be built quickly, saved water, and reduced costs.
Can I have a hair curler with that PV system please?
One reader sent through this interesting item, showing that solar PV is now emerging as a commodity product, with deals being offered on installation, just as they might for a kayaking trip, a shampoo treatment or a meal at a restaurant. This one offered a 1.5kW system for $89, representing savings of $3,999 over 10 years. We don’t offer any commentary on whether that’s a good deal or not, but it’s possibly timely that the Clean Energy Council has produced this document on tips on buying solar.
Big deals in big solar
Last week we reported on Toshiba’s plans to build a 100MW solar PV plant near the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant. Since then, coal company Mitsui Matsushima has said it will enter the solar energy business, planning to build a solar PV manufacturing facility and a 2MW solar PV plant in Fukushima.
US wind and solar giant NextEra has reportedly won the auction to buy the 1,000MW Blythe solar project in California, while solar tower developer BrightSource has won the bidding for the 500MW Palen Solar project, also in California. These and other projects are for sale following the collapse of Solar Trust of America.
Campbell Soup has inaugurated a 9.8MW solar PV plant at its production facility in Oregon. It was built by SunPower.

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How crowdfunding could revolutionize solar — Cleantech News and Analysis

How crowdfunding could revolutionize solar — Cleantech News and Analysis:

The idea behind this emerging sector is that investing in the construction of putting solar panels on rooftops can provide a relatively low risk return on the upfront investment. Building owners generally lease solar equipment and enter into a contract to pay a fixed, low, electricity rate, commonly over about two decades. Over the past several years solar financing companies — like Clean Power Finance, Sungevity and Solar City — have emerged to provide the upfront capital, which can generally deliver around a 12 percent return.
But now new startups have emerged that want to leverage crowdfunding to provide that solar project finance capital. Solar Mosaic is the most well known of these companies, and the startup recently raised $2.5 million from venture capitalists and received a $2 million grant from the Department of Energy. Other startups named in Bloomberg’s paper includeAbundance Generation in the UK, and SunFunder in the U.S.
Solar Mosaic, when it launches its financial products as soon as this Summer, could offer one- to three-year notes with something like a six-percent return, one of the company’s investors told me last year. The company is in a quiet period right now, but in April filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to offer “Solar Power Notes to the public, with proceeds going to fund solar power projects,” notes the Bloomberg paper.
Beyond the financial return, crowdfunding and solar have other reasons to fit together. Kickstarter has exploded as a way for crowds to fund projects that they connect with from art to technology to videos. The experience is largely an emotional one, where people donate generally small sums of money because they feel compelled to support the project. Solar roofs — with their carbon-free energy potential — could use crowdfunding to benefit from this same emotional connection.
As the Bloomberg paper points out, these crowd funding solar startups will need to build that type of emotional relationship with their potential investors, keeping investors up to date on their projects, clean power produced and communities affected. I bought into Solar Mosaic’s beta solar program last year and helped fund a project in Oakland, and I can report that they were already doing this type of outreach.
The Bloomberg paper also makes a good point about how crowdfunding and solar could work well for solar debt, which is somewhat low risk, but that investors should probably shy away from crowdfunding via equity. Having unsavvy investors buying into high risk technology startups, could be a really bad idea.
Yet despite the risks, the paper concludes:
Crowdfunding commitments to clean energy would become meaningful for clean energy in an absolute sense, even if they still remain a tiny relative proportion of all retail funds available for investment.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

celebrate the summer solstice, mama nature has so much to enjoy!


Greener Cleaner | Natural Laundry Detergent -

Greener Cleaner | Natural Laundry Detergent -

Here are just some of the toxins and potential carcinogens found in typical
detergent …
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – Chemical foaming agent known as a surfactant. Studies have linked use of this chemical to a variety of health issues from skin irritation to organ toxicity to even cancer.
Dioxane (1,4-dioxane) – The majority of top laundry detergent brands contain this synthetic petrochemical known as a carcinogen. This is a by-product contaminant of the manufacturing process and is not required to be listed on product labels.
Linear Alky Benzene Sulfonates (LAS) – Synthetic petrochemicals that biodegrade slowly making them an environmental hazard. Benzene may cause cancer in humans and animals.
Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE) – Petrochemical surfactant banned in the EU and Canada. May cause liver and kidney damage. Biodegradable, but biodegrades into more toxic substances.
Petroleum distillates (aka napthas) – Derived from synthetic crude oil, linked to cancer, lung and mucous membrane damage.
Phenols – Can cause toxicity throughout the entire body.
Optical brighteners – Can be toxic to fish and cause allergic reactions in humans.
Artificial fragrances – Linked to various toxic effects on fish and mammals, and can cause allergies, skin and eye irritation to humans.
Phosphates – Used to prevent dirt from settling back into clothes after being washed. Can stimulate growth of marine plants that trigger unbalanced ecosystems.
Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) – Group of compounds used as an alternative to phosphates. Found to cause reproductive and developmental effects in lab animals and does not readily biodegrade.
Sodium Hypochlorite (household bleach) – Chemical precursor to chlorine, which is extremely toxic. Skin contact can produce caustic irritation or burns. Mixing with other cleaning products can create hazardous and sometimes carcinogenic fumes.

These are just some of the toxic and potential cancer-causing chemicals found in typical laundry detergents that can not only cause you harm, but raise havoc in the environment as well. These harsh chemicals can build up in your clothes and eventually penetrate your skin.

Detergent makers are not required by law to list these ingredients.

Well, I’m going to focus on four of the most toxic detergent chemicals… so you can keep a closer eye out for them and learn how to best avoid them altogether. I consider the four worst offenders in laundry detergent to be sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), 1,4-dioxane, nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), and phosphates.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – Anything But Natural!

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant, detergent, and emulsifier used in thousands of industrial cleaners and cosmetic products.

SLS is pervasive in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundations, liquid hand soaps, and yes… laundry detergents.


Because SLS is a very inexpensive foaming agent.

Although SLS originates from coconuts, the chemical is anything but natural.

SLS is the sodium salt of lauryl sulfate and is classified by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Cosmetics Database as a "denaturant, surfactant cleansing agent, emulsifier and foamer," rated "moderate hazard."

Similar to SLS is sodium laureth sulfate (short for sodium lauryl ether sulfate, or SLES), a yellow detergent with higher foaming ability. SLES is considered to be slightly less irritating than SLS.

One of the most confusing and deceptive issues with SLS is how it goes by many other names, including…
Sodium dodecyl sulfate
Sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt
Sodium salt sulfuric acid

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Earthships, the future of self-sustainable living

Earthships, the future of self-sustainable living:

Imagine living in a house that produces its own energy, generates its own water supply, grows and sustains its own food supply, and continuously maintains interior climate conditions at proper and desirable temperatures. Such a house might seem like some kind of science fiction dwelling place of the future, but it might surprise you to know that this type of sustainable living system actually exists right now, and is probably a lot more accessible and less expensive than you might think.

"Earthships" are a lot different from the types of homes that most Americans live in today. Rather than rely on public utilities and centralized grids for obtaining human necessities like water and electricity, earthships are designed to produce these and other vital resources independently, on site. By incorporating the various elements of a completely functional and self-sustaining living environment into a single, uniform structure, earthships truly are the self-sustaining wave of the future.

A pioneer of the earthship concept, Taos, New Mexico-based Earthship Biotecture has been teaching the world for years about self-sustaining living systems which begin, of course, at home. A house that naturally collects rainwater and utilizes it for drinking, washing, and irrigating, will fare much better during the coming crisis than a house connected to the municipal water system, which can fail in an instant.

"Humans need comfortable temperatures, light, electricity, hot water, food, sewage treatment, etc. These necessities are all available within the framework of a certain 'rhythm' in the Earthship," says the Earthship website.

"The more we are able to align our priorities and needs with the prevailing rhythms of the planet, the easier and less expensive (both in terms of economics and ecology) they will be to obtain. If our lifestyles can conform more to the patterns of the planet than to our socioeconomic system, we can reduce the stress on both ourselves and the planet."

How earthships work

So how exactly does the earthship system work to align human living with the "prevailing rhythms of the planet?" Structurally, earthships are built entirely out of natural and recycled building materials that are easily obtained and relatively inexpensive. The outer walls, for instance, are typically composed of old tires filled with natural earth, a composition that creates a natural thermal mass capable of keeping an earthship cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Building upon this concept, the inner walls of an earthship are built using dirt, sand, chopped straw, and other natural materials that are formed into a natural, earthen plaster material that is structurally sound and thermally strong. The entire structure is also built into the side of a hill, berm, or bank, with the back nestled inside the earth facing north, and the glass-covered front facing south towards the sun.

It is this glass-covered front that collects natural solar energy and radiates it throughout the earthship structure in a passive solar system, which maintains a year round temperature suitable for living and growing food. The side walls can also be composed partially of glass bottles and other translucent materials, as can the roof of the structure, for improving indoor lighting conditions. A combination of windmills and photovoltaic solar cells are also used to generate electricity for powering modern appliances and light fixtures.

Earthships also come equipped with gutters and other water-collection features that channel rain and snowmelt through filters and into underground collection cisterns. These cisterns are designed to utilize water four different times, beginning with the bathing, washing, and consumption cycle. After clean water is used for these functions, it is filtered and reused for watering indoor plants that produce both food and clean air. After being used for indoor plants, this water is then used to flush toilets, where it proceeds through a final filter that dispenses it for final use on outdoor plants and crops.

This four-stage watering cycle not only conserves water, but also provides ample amounts of it for growing food both inside and outside the earthship structure. Because the passive solar system maintains warm temperature year round inside earthships, a variety of food plants and trees can be grown indoors, while other crops, depending on the unique climate in which a particular earthship is located, can be grown outdoors.

According to Earthship Biotecture, earthships can be built anywhere in the world, and far exceed LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) architecture and other "green" building standards commonly used in the design of modern building structures.

To learn more about earthships, and to see what they look like, be sure to visit:

Also, be sure to check out the Earthship Biotecture Academy, a comprehensive training program that involves 62 hours of classroom study, and two months of in-depth, hands-on field work building and learning about earthship structures:

Sources for this article include:

Learn more:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Geothermal Energy: Pros and Cons

Geothermal Energy: Pros and Cons:

There is no perfect energy source. Each and every one has its own advantages and compromises. This series will explore the pros and cons of various energy sources.  Learn about other forms of energy generation here.
The core of the Earth, some 4,000 miles beneath its surface, is a fiery morass of superheated gas and molten rock which exists at roughly 7200 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature is maintained by the decay of radioactive particles located within the Earth’s core. Technically, one could say that geothermal power is a form of nuclear power, though with far different implications from nuclear power as we know it, since these reactions occur in a containment vessel with walls thousands of miles thick. Even so, we still get things like uranium and radon gas, seeping up to the surface.
Moving away from the core, the temperature cools down to the point where it might be 1500 degrees, fifty miles down and 3-400 degrees, three to four miles below the surface. Since the Earth is not at all uniform, these results will vary. There will be some places where the crust is thinner than others, which means the hotter temperatures will be closer to the surface. Hot springs, geysers and, of course, volcanoes can often be found in these places. The Earth’s crust varies from roughly 20 to 40 miles thick as measured from the surface. (It is thinner beneath the sea.)
The amount of thermal energy contained in the Earth’s crust is enormous. Experts estimate it at an equivalent of 79 million billion barrels of oil, or roughly 15,000 times more than estimated worldwide oil reserves. And unlike oil, much of that heat is continually replenished. The hydrothermal resource base (found in hot springs, etc.) has been estimated at 100,000 MW or more.
Geothermal resources vary from location to location, but as new technologies emerge that are capable of utilizing lower temperatures, geothermal power will become more widespread. Iceland, already generates more than 25 percent of its energy from geothermal.
A major new project was recently announced in Kenya.
So how do you produce electricity from this abundant source? It actually almost as simple as drilling a hole in the ground, sending water down, having steam come up and running that steam through a turbine. There are of course many nuances. You can see a nice presentation here.
Geothermal power, like solar thermal power, can also be harnessed for low intensity heat at shallower depths, which can be used for space and water heating and cooling.
So what are some of the pros and cons?
  • Almost entirely emission free
  • Zero carbon
  • The process can scrub out sulfur that might have otherwise been released
  • No fuel required (no mining or transportation)
  • Not subject to the same fluctuations as solar or wind
  • Smallest land footprint of any major power source
  • Virtually limitless supply
  • Inherently simple and reliable
  • Can provide base load or peak power
  • Already cost competitive in some areas
  • Could be built underground
  • Some level of geothermal energy available most places
  • New technologies show promise to utilize lower temperatures
  • Prime sites are very location-specific
  • Prime sites are often far from population centers
  • Losses due to long distance transmission of electricity
  • Water usage
  • Sulfur dioxide and silica emissions
  • High construction costs
  • Drilling into heated rock is very difficult
  • Minimum temperature of 350F+  generally required
  • Care must be taken to manage heat and not overuse it
All in all, this is a very positive balance. There is certainly a lot of potential here and one would expect to see a growing number of systems emerging around the world in places where the resource is abundant.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Peveril Solar House | Active House

Peveril Solar House | Active House:

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The Peveril Solar House is solar heated all year round - using summer time storage of electricity in the grid and thermal energy underground in boreholes - making it better than carbon zero.
David Nicholson-Cole
David Nicholson-Cole
Contact details
David Nicholson-Cole (DNC)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Living In The Future - Shop

Living In The Future - Shop:

Ecological owner-built housing guides for owner-builders

Building a Little Solar-powered House on the Prairie: Off-the-grid or Grid-tied? | dan-thiede

Building a Little Solar-powered House on the Prairie: Off-the-grid or Grid-tied? | dan-thiede:

Off-grid or not off-grid—that is the question. Indeed, that was a HUGE question Locusarchitect Paul Neseth posed to Linda and I as we sat down to yet another design session. Like “paper or plastic,” but a lot lot harder.
We’d still be designing if not for our one guiding principle, the principle by which all our design decisions were judged. Though on paper, our house was turning out to be “green, sustainable, earth-hugged, solar powered, masonry heated, humanure composting, rainwater harvesting,” we never told Paul that’s what we wanted. Instead, we asked Paul to design us a house that does one thing for us—enables the Connection.
The Connection
First, connect us to the Land, our 62 beloved ridge-top acres overlooking Whitewater State Park. Second, connect us to our friends, family, neighbors and community. Third—if we dare admit such a wild proclivity—connect us to the Divine, the great mystery that flows through and binds all of these. That’s it Paul, just this little Connection; can you do that for us? Can any house do that for us? It is, after all, just a house.
Now, one month after moving into the house, it’s too early to say we did it. But, thanks to Paul, at least we attempted it, one decision at a time. And no decision was tougher than off-grid versus grid-tie (or not off-grid).
Grid-tied versus Off-the-grid
There was never any debate about solar electric. After all, what could connect us more to the Land than harvesting sunlight to produce electricity, not unlike the Indian grass on our 40 acres of newly planted prairie. The only debate was storage. Where do we store excess electricity so we can still “plug-in” when the sun isn’t shining?
The house during constructionThere are definitely upsides to a grid-tied home—and we almost went that direction. By storing excess electricity on the grid, a grid-tied system would directly connect us to our neighbors and community. We’d become one of their electricity suppliers, potentially (and perhaps sneakily) reducing their reliance on fossil-fuel generated power. We’d also earn income by selling power to the electric company, hopefully offsetting the cost of power we purchased from the grid when the sun isn’t shining. And lower total cost means less hours employed means more time on the Land.
But for many reasons, we decided to go off the grid. Our first (and most valuable) step in going off-grid was touring four homes. By generously opening their off-grid homes to us, these pioneers gave us our first big “Aha!” There are as many good ways to go off-grid as there are good reasons to do it. And beyond all the good reasons for a grid-tied system, we discovered what draws some to off-grid. We knew about independence and self-reliance. But tinkerer? One guy had so much excess electricity that he not only drove an electric tractor, but he gutted a Jaguar to build his own electric car. Another recovered methane from cows to power his generator.
While we saw (and found online) much useful how-to information on batteries (for storing the electricity), charge controllers (for charging the batteries) and backup generators (for when the batteries get low), we didn’t anticipate the big problem—lack of local off-grid solar installers. Many installers do grid-tie. But few, we painfully discovered, have experience installing off-grid electric.
Powered by the Sun
Solar PV powers the entire houseSo when we hired Curt Shellum of Solar Connection, we knew (because he was so forthcoming) we were buying his grid-tie skills and hoping that he’d close the gap to off-grid. And he did: He installed 12 ground-mount photovoltaic panels producing 2.9kW max, 16 batteries designed to store 4 days of typical electricity usage, 1 invertor for charging batteries (from solar panels or generator), inverting battery DC to usable AC and displaying performance (red means I better start the generator) and 1 generator (powered by our tractor’s PTO).
And the results never cease to amaze me. Since coming on line, our off-grid system has powered the remainder of the construction project: 3 inch drills, miter saw and attached vacuum, and fans blowing all night to dry the sheetrock mud. And now that we’ve moved into our home, the system has done all we need powering lights, 5 pumps, 2 fridges, freezer, computer, and phone. I was so relieved when I heard the roaring whir of the Vita-mix blender as it turned frozen strawberries into summer-tasting smoothies. Only once in 4 months, fearing the battery charge level would drop below the 50% spec. limit, did I start the backup generator. And it turned out I didn’t need to—the next day was plenty sunny.
The Off-grid Journey
And what of our highest value—the ultimate purpose for our house—the Connection? Today is the seventh consecutive day of low-slung clouds and gully-ripping rain. The batteries remain 82% charged. At 11am the solar panels are producing zero watts of electricity. Nothing. So I feel a little anxious. Will my batteries get overly-depleted? Will I need to hook up the generator? And this slight anxiety—or better put: this heightened awareness of real solar energy—connects me to the Land in a way I never knew possible. I feel perhaps like the summer-loving Indian grass. “Where’s the sun?” And when, indeed, the sun’s rays finally strike the PV, replenishing the batteries, powering our house and our lives, I too feel replenished.
Indigo blooming outside the houseI need to make a confession about our brief grid-tie experience. The moment we started exploring grid-tie, we started designing our house differently, to suck more juice. Bigger fridge? Why not? The grid is always there. The moment we went back to the off-grid, the big fridge disappeared. So did any light that is not LED. Off-grid drove a behavior change for us that grid-tie never induced. And I liked the change.
Unlike the steady, always-as-much-as-we-want grid-tied system, off-grid follows the cycle of abundance and scarcity. This cycle connects me to the Land because it’s how I’m coming to perceive the Land: life, death and life-renewed. Lately, as I watch the dance of the wind-whipped grass, I’ve even thought of adding a small wind turbine. Yes, it will help keep the batteries full. Better yet, perhaps I’ll learn to feel more thrilled as the wind stings my face. Who knows what we’ll do? Off-grid isn’t a destination. Off-grid is a journey.
What do you think about grid-tied versus off-the grid homes? Let us know in the comments!
You can follow all of Mike and Linda’s adventures in sustainable living and the house the land built at Mike’s blog, Rah-dur. This was originally posted on the MN Energy Stories blog from the Clean Energy Resource Teams.

Repair Café (English)

Repair Café (English):

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About Repair Café

What do you do with a chair when the leg has come loose? With a toaster that no longer works? Or a woollen jumper with moth holes? Toss it? No way!
You can repair it at the Repair Café
Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need. On clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, et cetera. You will also find repair specialists such as electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and bicycle mechanics.
Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It’s an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table – by leafing through books on repairs and DIY.

Why a Repair Café?

We throw away vast amounts of stuff in Europe. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.
Repair Café is changing all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. It cuts CO2 emissions, for example, because manufacturing new products and recycling old ones causes CO2 to be released.
Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light. And, once again, to appreciate their value. Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society.
But most of all, Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is. Why don’t you give it a go?

Not competing with professional repair specialists

The Repair Café Foundation sometimes gets asked whether access to free repair get-togethers is competing with professional repair specialists. The answer is; quite the opposite. Organisers want to use Repair Cafés across the whole country to focus attention on the possibility of getting things repaired. Visitors are frequently advised to go to the few professionals still around.
Furthermore, people who visit Repair Cafés are not usually customers of repair specialists. They say that they normally throw away broken items because paying to have them repaired is, in general, too expensive. In Repair Café they learn that you don’t have to throw things away; there are alternatives.

Who thought up the idea?

Repair Café was initiated by Martine Postma. It is based on the repair studio from the project Platform21=Repairing, held in Amsterdam in the spring of 2009.

Geothermal Heat Pumps: The Next Generation | Renewable Energy News Article

Geothermal Heat Pumps: The Next Generation | Renewable Energy News Article:

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Substantial improvements in energy efficiency is now on the market, a 30% increase in EER, similar improvements in COP!

Climatemaster is not moving into 40 EER territory unchallenged.  On GHP manufacturer Waterfurnace Renewable Energy’s (TSX:WFI, OTC:WFIFF) first quarter conference call, an analyst asked CEO Tom Huntington if Waterfurnace had an answer to efficiency breakthroughs at “a competitor.”  It does.  Huntington believes Waterfurnace’s new 7-Series GHP’s will be even more efficient than Climatemaster’s Trilogy.  Variable speed compressors (see below) are available from a number of vendors, and Huntington believes that the compressor used in the Trilogy is less efficient than the on Waterfurnace has selected for the 7-Series.
The Technology
How did they achieve these efficiency breakthroughs?  Both companies speak of “variable speed technology.”  According to Lankhorst, what they mean is variable speed compressors.  Current GHP models use two stage scroll compressors.  Variable speed blower motors and pump fields have been available for some time, although they often require the special controllers.
Variable speed compressors are new.  According to Williams, “there has been a huge amount of innovation in air source heat pumps,” and the innovations are now being applied to ground source technology.
Climatemaster’s Q-Mode a control system that integrates the GHP and components with the hot water tank, enabling the heat pump to deliver hot water year round.  Previously, year round hot water required additional components, or a back up heating source.  Q-Mode is patent pending, so it may be that it will give Climatemaster a competitive advantage if competitors like Waterfurnace are unable to duplicate the functionality without infringing patents.
The integration of components and jump in efficiency should make these new systems attractive to installers in the field.  According to Lankhorst, the Trilogy may be especially cost effective in high-end residential applications, where the integrated system will eliminate several separate components.  Year round hot water is less of an advantage in commercial applications, since commercial installations operate nearly all the time in cooling mode, when free hot water is produced as a byproduct of cooling the building.
On the other hand, the spot efficiency ratings of a GHP are far from the only factor in determining the effectiveness of a GHP system.  According to Williams, proper ground loop, distribution, and system design can potentially have a greater impact on system efficiency.
Competitive Advantage
When contractors select a GHP, technology tends to be more important in commercial operations than in residential ones.  The cost of the heat pump is a small fraction of the cost of drilling the loop field, so residential installers are more interested in the level of technical support offered by the distributor, so these competitive advantages will vary from region to region.
On the other hand, if Q-Mode makes for much simpler installations, Climatemaster stands to gain residential market share unless its competitors can offer similar integration without infringing its intellectual property.
The next generation of efficient ground source heat pumps are a significant step forward in energy efficient climate control.  Nevertheless, for the next few years, I’d expect that these variable speed compressor pumps will only be used in a small fractions of installation.  Geothermal heat pumps are already so efficient that the additional savings may not be enough to justify the higher up-front cost.  Additionally, Waterfurnace introduced their new 5-Series line of GHPs with two stage compression in March, at a slightly lower price point than the Envision product it replaces.
Either way, the cost of saving energy continues to fall, and the potential customer base for geothermal heat pumps will grow as higher efficiency and lower prices make them an even more economical approach to climate control.
Disclosure: Long LXU,WFI.
This article was first published on the author's blog, Green Stocks and AltEnergy Stocks and was republished with permission.

Reliable, 24/7 power and heat from deep geothermal

Geothermal Power to The People: Forget Iceland, Hot Rocks Are Everywhere | Renewable Energy News Article:

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tesla's Gift Box: Inefficiency Wrapped In Hype - Seeking Alpha

Tesla's Gift Box: Inefficiency Wrapped In Hype - Seeking Alpha

Where lies the truth, i have read it takes as much electricity to refine gasoline to run a dynosaur car as it takes to run an EV over the same distance, but here the story plays out differently!

The depressing financial stats on alternative enrgy hogh flyers is familiar, i think back to Ballard Energy, Solyndra, here is a long history of tech hype and disillusion, but is the underlying math deceptive?

You have two competing proposals on your desk. The first is from Self Sufficient Motors, which wants to build a fleet of thirty HEVs using high-power batteries from the factory. The second is from Tesla Motors (TSLA), which wants to build one Model S using high-energy batteries from the factory. There is only enough capacity for one of the alternatives.

It you accept the proposal from Self Sufficient Motors, each of the HEVs will save 160 gallons of gasoline a year. So the combined fleet will reduce imports by 4,800 gallons a year and reduce CO2 emissions by 55 metric tons a year.

If you accept the proposal from Tesla Motors, the Model S will save one owner 400 gallons of gasoline a year and reduce CO2 emissions by 5 metric tons, but it will increase CO2 emissions from power generation by 2 metric tons, resulting in a net emissions reduction of 3 metric tons a year.

At first you're confused by the numbers because everyone knows that grid-powered electric vehicles are way cleaner than normal cars. Then your research assistant finds the following graph from the Union of Concerned Scientists that explains it all by showing that less costly HEVs fall nicely into the middle of the emissions range for grid-powered electric vehicles.

A grid-powered electric vehicle might make one driver feel warm and fuzzy about himself, but from a public policy and resource conservation perspective it's the most wasteful plan in history.

There is no room for rational intellectual debate.

At March 31st, Tesla had $123 million of working capital and $154 million of equity. It lost $89 million during the first quarter and burned $50 million of cash in operations. Its remaining DOE loan facility can only be used to buy equipment. Those funds cannot be used to buy parts, materials or labor to build cars, or to pay the overhead associated with running a company. At Friday's close, the market value of Tesla's outstanding shares was $2.96 billion, or 19.2 times book value.

I've heard the breathless claims that Tesla is the next Apple (AAPL) and Mr. Musk is a younger and far smarter version of Steve Jobs. That may be the case, but it can't change the reality that Apple trades at 5.2 times book value after a decade of extraordinary growth and profitability that consistently outperforms market expectations while Tesla is a rank startup with a long history of losses.

Many individual investors don't understand the Hype Cycle, the most dangerous dynamic in the stock market, until after they've been victimized at least once. Some investors never learn and they keep doing the same thing expecting different results. This graph from the Gartner Group conveys enough information to help sensible investors avoid Wall Street's version of a buffalo jump were the herd is sent stampeding over a cliff and the hunters feast on broken carcasses.

Then i turn to the Union of Concerned Scientists page on EV's and i get a much different story:

State of Charge: Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-Cost Savings Across the United States

Electric cars produce lower global warming emissions and cost significantly less to fuel than the average compact gasoline-powered vehicle.
Download: State of Charge--Executive Summary | State of Charge--Full Report | State of Charge--Technical Appendix
Electric Vehicles and Global Warming Emissions

Electric vehicles (EVs) burn no gasoline and have no tailpipe emissions, but producing the electricity used to charge them does generate global warming emissions. The amount of these emissions, however, varies significantly based on the mix of energy sources used to power a region's electricity grid.

For example, coal-fired power plants produce nearly twice the global warming emissions of natural gas-fired power plants, while renewable sources like wind and solar power produce virtually no emissions at all.

The UCS report, State of Charge: Electric Vehicles' Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-Cost Savings Across the United States, compares the global warming emissions from EVs with those from gasoline-powered vehicles and finds that:
Nationwide, EVs charged from the electricity grid produce lower global warming emissions than the average compact gasoline-powered vehicle (with a fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon)—even when the electricity is produced primarily from coal in regions with the “dirtiest” electricity grids.
In regions with the “cleanest” electricity grids, EVs produce lower global warming emissions than even the most fuel-efficient hybrids.
EVs charged entirely from renewable sources like wind and solar power produce virtually no global warming emissions.

Infographic: Learn more about the range of global warming emissions from electric vehicles.

Charging Up: How Clean is Your Electricity Grid?

The report evaluates regional electricity grids across the United States based on the global warming emissions produced from electricity generation, and then compares the emissions generated by charging an EV with those produced by gasoline-powered vehicles.

The report finds that:
Nearly half of Americans (45%) live in the “best” regions where EVs produce lower global warming emissions than even the most fuel-efficient gasoline hybrids on the market today (greater than 50 mpg).
Another third (37%) live in “better” areas where EVs produce emissions comparable to the best gasoline hybrid vehicles (41 – 50 mpg).
A minority (18%) reside in “good” regions where emissions from EVs are comparable to the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid gasoline vehicles (31 – 40 mpg).

How clean is an electric vehicle powered by your regional electricity grid?

Who do you believe, i ask?

I will go with a science based attitude!