Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Energy Challenge: Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits

It certainly is a challenge. We must not forget about transmission when on this renewable energy bender. Our grid is composed of one hundred year old technology. If we want to start transmitting power from the windy plains or the sunny west to the coasts then we will have to build new transmission lines. No question about it. A sobering statement from the article,

"The windiest sites have not been built, because there is no way to move that electricity from there to the load centers."

We have a lot of work to do. But a possible solution may be in the concept of localization. Or in other words our communities and neighborhoods are going to have to start producing power locally as opposed to getting the power from a utility miles away. Local power production, local food production, and local manufacturing would help to solve a lot of problems, no?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The End of Suburbia - Gulp!

In my Intro to Energy class this week, we eased into the semester by watching the movie, "End of Suburbia." In addition to scaring the hell out of me, that movie was a clear demonstration of how finite fossil fuels really are and at the same time how dependent upon them we are. Our American lives are completely wrapped up in oil (of which about 60% comes from the Middle East) and coal for electricity. An interesting point in the movie was that the American way of life was in some respect guided by the consumption of fossil fuel (think the suburbs, roads, commutes, transporting food in trucks and cars, instead of increasing density urban development, rails and trains, walking and localized food production). Fossil fuels are our masters, but according to this documentary not for long.

The documentary also discusses the theory (now fact?) of peak oil and explains the growing consensus of belief in that theory by policy makers and scientists around the planet. Most are beginning to realize that peak oil is occurring now (the sweet light crude oil has been pumped already, and the Middle Eastern nations are spending extra money and energy extracting the heavier, harder to refine crude oil at the bottom of the wells. This all leads to an extended refining process, a gradual dwindling of supply and of course higher prices for everything). Simply put, our economy can't grow at a regular rate without reliable and cheap fossil fuels. What happens if it becomes cost prohibitive to ship goods from China to our shores? Well for one, we will have to start creating the goods locally. In addition, we will begin to see the end of big-box retailers and the rise of local mom and pop stores.

So get the movie for a good dose of reality and let's start to think about life after oil. You may think that I am crazy for even suggesting that oil will run out. Life without oil! It's just not possible. Well, we can't burn our way into oblivion (whether it be coal or oil) because the supply is finite. We can't burn our way into oblivion because the environment of the planet and the health of humans and animals can't handle the carbon emissions. We can't burn our way into oblivion because the global demand is outpacing supply, oil output has peaked, and an economy can't continue grow without reliable electricity and transportation means.

It is time for us to make short and long-term plans to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, in addition to retrofitting suburbia into localized, urban-like units where we can walk to the store, we can grow our own food for our local neighborhood instead of driving to the grocery to get food trucked in from out of state, and were we can start to get to know our neighbors so that ideas on how to confront this crisis will flourish.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Inside the Future of Electric Cars, Hydrogen and Next-Gen Biofuels

Informative article on what our future could look like with respect to fuel. My money's on plug-in electric vehicles and more light rail transportation (for longer journeys). We will have to start getting serious about our modes of transportation to and from work. We will either have to move closer to our jobs, work from home more often, create more public transportation, and/or creating electric/hydrogen/biofuel cars. Or how about all of the above!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vestas Launches $100 Million Consumer Ad Campaign In U.S.

Vestas is putting up a lot of dough for a wind marketing campaign to educate the U.S. public about this "modern energy" and clean technology. We are going to need all of the education on this topic that we can get.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Plane that Flies on Solar Power

This is a crazy and beautiful expression of human imagination and ambition. The inventors (Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg) have built a solar-powered plane and hope to circumnavigate the globe one day soon. One their reasons for trying this was that they simply wanted to fly without fuel. Cool. I wish I could go with them while they fly that thing around the planet. And we wish those gents the best of luck.

Vestas Pursues 'Modern Energy'

Nice article on the Vestas Wind Systems in The Pueblo Chieftain. It gives you a little history about the company. Vestas is the Danish wind turbine company building a couple of plants here in Colorado. These new plants will employ a thousands of people around the state. And it also looks like Vestas is building a plant in Pueblo as well.

Ag Secretary: Biofuels Good for Farmers, Security

What a hack. Not to mention a fabricator. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer decided to blow smoke up the yin yang's of South Dakotan farmers the other day, by saying that biofuels are going to bring them riches and improved national security. You'll be rich! I'm sure that those farmer's have smelled enough cow manure in their day...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bloomberg Calls for Alternative Energy

In addition to businesses speaking up about renewable energy, we also need mayor's and governor's engaging their constituents on the issue. Renewable energy doesn't just have to be for the suburban or rural folks. We can start thinking about how to transfer our urban areas into renewable energy power plants.

Business Leaders: Make Renewable Energy Cheaper

I am glad businesses are speaking up on renewable energy because that's the way Congress will listen (they certainly don't listen to us). In this case Google and G.E. say that renewable energy needs to be cheaper. I agree. One of the ways to begin to make it cheaper is to take subsidies away from oil companies and give it to the renewable energy industry and individuals in the form of tax credits. But since the Republicans in Congress have repeatedly blocked the extension of renewable energy tax credits we are at this impasse, with an entire clean tech industry waiting to take off.

Google Digs into Wallet for Geothermal Energy

Google's philanthropic arm dumps a cool $10 million (pocket change for them) into an enhanced geothermal method. I also like Google's goal to generate 1 gigawatt of energy from renewable sources. Go Google (and I am not just saying that because they provide the platform for this blog).

Nation's Most Visible Solar Array Dedicated at Denver International Airport

Cool. A 2 megawatt solar array was dedicated at Denver International Airport. How many solar panels can generate 2 megawatts? 9,200. Wow. I have to get myself out there to take a gander.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Let's Invest in Clean Energy

It's really this simple. Representative Hoyer lays it out nice and clear - invest in clean energy to get away from the stranglehold the "petroregimes" in the Middle East have over us.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wind Turbines across Oregon Stir up Health Scare

I have some reservations about this article, but I will let it ride to see what you think. Apparently the doctor in this article has done some scientific studies that demonstrate/show/prove (?) health problems when living near wind turbines. Much ado about nothing? Or valid concern? I'll keep an eye on this one to see if the health concerns pan out.

Vestas Profit Jumps 27% on Higher Turbine Prices

Good news for Vestas Wind (which is building two more plants here in Colorado). I hope they continue their growth into the next decade. Now if we can just get some solar companies to grow like Vestas.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sen. Reid's Energy Summit to begin Monday

Senator Reid of Nevada is having a "National Clean Energy Summit" in Vegas. Wish I could go. Looks like there are going to be some big wigs there as well.

McCain's Tilting at Wind Turbines

Sorry for the heavy dose of politics, but 'tis the season. Looks like McCain talks out of both sides of his mouth. Missing votes on key energy legislation, eight times? I wonder if all that lobbyist money is clouding his brain. So sad.

Franken Touts Energy Proposals

Al Franken is running for Senate in Minnesota. This article on Franken's energy proposals from the Bemidji Pioneer has a bit more information than the article I posted on Rep. Mark Udall Saturday. But I think that it shows how a campaign for a Senate seat doesn't have to move to the middle. With respect to drilling (and to be fair to my prior criticism of Udall), Franken does say that he thinks we should drill now and is pushing for drilling on areas where oil companies already have leases. However he follows up right away with the following bit of common sense:

“But we need to get off of this technology (oil), because we know that we’ve either reached or about to reach peak oil.”

Then towards the end of the article he says something that I believe every politican should have the integrity and strength to say to the face of all the oil executives and to all of those "drill now and drill often folks" that believe that the United States should continue to stay on this oil bender:

“We’re not going to drill our way out of this. … It won’t bring down oil prices, it simply won’t.”

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Udall, Schaffer Stake out Moderate Ground on Energy

I'm not sure what Representative Mark Udall is afraid of by playing this moderate game on energy. I'm becoming increasingly disgruntled with politicians who adopt moderate positions thinking that's the road to an elected seat in the Federal government. I know, I know, I shouldn't be so naive. But I am guessing that Udall is being disingenuous here. He knows full well that more drilling will not help reduce gas prices or reduce our consumption of Middle Eastern oil. The drilling myth has already been debunked and by anyone saying that we need more domestic drilling will only look like a fool later when we still will be sucking on Middle Eastern oil while paying 5,6,7,8 bucks a gallon. And don't even get me started on the environmental damage of the world's increased consumption.

We are addicted to a finite fossil fuel that pollutes our air, water, and land. Instead of trying to placate the "moderates" in Colorado, Udall should be putting all of his energy into making Colorado the renewable energy hub of the world, which will create jobs and generate revenue for this state. Even Senator Salazar is working towards it. Come on Mr. Udall find your soul and find your spine. Stop addressing the oil addicts and start addressing a cleantech future with renewable energy for Colorado.

NREL Says Solar Cell Sets Record for Efficiency

Congrats NREL. I love this race (at least in my mind) to solar cell efficiency. In this latest record, NREL converted 40.8% of the sun's light into electricity using an amalgamation of elements that I've never heard of (I need to brush up on the Periodic Table of Elements). The previous record was was 40.7%. What's the line in Vegas on 41%!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wind Turbine That Imitates Flippers Could Increase Efficiency

Speaking of wind, check this article out in Discover magazine. A new design that mimics the fin of a humpback whale, may help slow down the inevitable "stall" that happens when the wind stops blowing. Cool.

Wind Turbine Maker Vestas Adding 1,350 Colorado Jobs

Excellent news from Vestas in Brighton, Colorado. It looks like wind turbine demand is starting to surge. Vestas will be building two plants in Brighton to help meet the extra orders.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beware the Wind Energy Hot Air

Interesting editorial that points a critical eye towards T. Boone Pickens plan for accelerated wind power and natural gas to ween us off Mideast oil. I have to say that the author makes an interesting case against Mr. Pickens plan. I also must say that it's a little hard to trust a man who made billions off of that same oil he now wants us to say adios to. There is no altruism within a staunch capitalist. Personally I'm not a fan of the natural gas route because of what it does to the air and the ground when you pump it out. Plus it's not renewable and as Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Anyway, check the editorial out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lab Makes Renewable Diesel Fuel from E. Coli Poop

I just had to post this because I love the headline. I can't remember a time when a headline had the word, "poop" in it. Kidding aside this is an interesting development by LS9, Inc. They have been feeding sugar to genetically altered bacteria and these bacteria have been pooping diesel fuel. Cool eh?

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Wind Farmers of East 11th Street

Groovy little article about an urban band of rogue idealists who put up a windmill on an East Village apartment building back in the 70s. It was the wild wild West with respect to renewable energy generation. People thought they were crazy for propping up this wind mill on an old building, but they did it and it offset some of their energy consumption with localized power production. Localized energy production can be done, it's just not in the collective pysche yet. Yet.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Big Win for Biofuels

Looks like the EPA denied Texas' request for a waiver from the mandate to add more ethanol to the fuel supply. We spoke about this in a post entitled, "Ethanol Industry Braces for EPA Decision on Its Future." We'll have to see how this plays out over the next year or so, but so far we've seen an unpleasant increase in corn prices, which has caused an unpleasant increase in food prices. I wonder when we will learn.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Loans for Renewable Energy to Make Fall Ballot

Boulder, Colorado has a renewable energy ballot initiative for voters this fall. Essentially they will vote on whether they will be able to take out loans (backed by $40 million in bonds) for energy efficient upgrades, to be paid back through a property lien over time. If they sell the house then the loan stays with the house. This is a great way to ease the upfront cost of a solar installation (for instance) on a typical home*. We'll see what Boulder voters do this fall.

*Remember, always get an energy audit first before you plunk down the coin to put PV or a solar thermal installation on your home.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Namaste Solar Electric Installs Solar Panels and Hope for Clean Energy

Great interview on Namaste Solar, a progressive solar company in Boulder, Colorado. Progressive values tied to a profitable business. What more can we ask for? Here's a line about the company to peak your interest: 

"Namaste's impressive growth has been accomplished with some of the most innovative, progressive corporate policies around, including six weeks of paid vacation for all employees, a uniform pay scale, decisions by consensus and a culture of openness and honesty - not to mention generous donations of solar systems to nonprofits."

Excellent job Namaste Solar.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ritter Energized about Removing Oil, Gas Tax Credit

Another reason to admire Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. He's right. Taking on the oil and gas industry in Colorado is no easy feat. But this sums up what I've been saying about providing tax credits to help support the renewable energy industry:

"These are times when you provide a tax incentive to grow an industry. This is not the time for oil and gas."


Monday, August 4, 2008

Kids, Don't Write Disinformation Like This In Your Newspaper

I don't know why I am even posting this on my blog, but I was looking for a contrarian position on renewable energy today. I post a lot of pro-RE stuff and tend to avoid opposite viewpoints. But this opinion piece is typical of the reason why I can't find any well-thought and factually supported opposing viewpoints. And it's from a professor in the department of chemical and petroleum engineering at Kansas University who just cherry picked certain things to prove his point. The article is sort of like listening to your grandpa provide black and white solutions to current gray problems. Anyway, I could pick the opinion piece apart line by line, but I'll leave it up to you to sift through the sludge. Oh and by the way check out the comments at the bottom of the article.

First Wind Files for Public Offering

Ahhh initial public offerings (IPOs). Follow the money and you will find the next big thing. First Wind filed for an IPO and wants to trade on the NASDAQ under the symbol "WNDY." It appears that venture capital firms are starting to bet the farm that renewable energy companies are the next big thing. Excellent. These are exciting times indeed.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Unsettled Tax Credits Stymie Renewable Laws

As we wait for the renewable energy tax credits to get extended by Congress, the industry remains in a precarious limbo, with skittish investors and consumers tightening the belt in this sluggish economy. I personally am not pining away for tax credits from the Feds, even though I have and will continue to advocate for those tax credits. I just think that the polarization in Congress and unwillingness to come to a bipartisan compromise on renewable energy for our future is pathetic, myopic, and a sure sign that the palms of our reps are being thoroughly greased by the coal and petroleum industries. You can help wake up your rep by writing or calling them. They won't do anything progressive or new without a gigantic nudge by their constituents.

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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