Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dr. Chu Brings Some Serious Coin to NREL

Dr. Chu goes to Golden, Colorado and sets up the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), big time. I thought he was just going to focus on wind and that was it. Not only is NREL getting $93 million for the wind program, but they are also getting $100 million for, "NREL facility and infrastructure improvements," which includes solar and biofuels. Unbelievable. That's almost $200 million in funding which will be put to good use by the bright minds at NREL. Finally, an energy secretary who is supportive of the renewable community. Read all about the groovy details in the DOE press release. I look forward to seeing more funding next year.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Energy Secretary Brings Money to NREL

U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Chu is coming to Colorado tomorrow to bring some money to National Renewable Energy Lab's (NREL) wind program. Now this is great, great news for the wind program, but I am also wondering if the solar and biofuel programs are going to feel the love from the good doctor. With his recent embrace of clean coal investments, I'm not exactly sure those other critical programs will receive the same reception. Come on Dr. Chu, do the right thing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Updating Vintage Homes Is Recycling at Its Best

Great article in the Denver Post about renovating old homes and what you can do to make your home energy efficient. Remember it is important to have an energy audit before you augment your home with renewable energy generation (such as solar thermal or PV). In other words your ROI is greater on your PV or solar thermal system if you weatherize your home.

Tequila Fuels Cars

Correction: A reader pointed out a few errors in my post on agave. First agave is not a cactus, but rather a succulent plant with narrow spiny leaves. And the worm reference in the headline is technically incorrect. The worm can be found in mescal, not tequila. I stand corrected.
The discoveries are coming fast and furious these days. Looks like agave (the cactus used to make tequila) might be an effective biomass that could be turned into a biofuel. Other good qualities of the agave plant is efficient use of water and more gallons of the fuel per acre (even more that sugar cane). Plus agave is grown in the desert and not on precious farmland. Cool.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jones Soda Goes Off the Grid for Earth Day

Even though it is off the grid for just one day, I like the concept here. Jones Soda is showing the world that they can use nine bikes (pedaled continuously of course) to power their computers and servers for the day. They will also turn the lights off in their building (they will have enough natural light from skylights and windows) to save some more energy. There are two important points here. One, that buildings can be designed to be energy efficient and use the natural light of the sun during normal business hours. Two, that there is a way to provide your own energy through physical exercise to turn a turbine which will create electricity. Imagine what types of energy loads we could offset by using our own energy after work or on the weekends to create some electricity? Also, throw in the use of hydrogen fuel cells for the home or business and we all might be able to be off the grid someday with localized renewable energy production. The future is looking bright.

Yamaha Motor Test-Drives Golf Cart Fuelled by Cow Dung

Nice. Yamaha invents a golf-cart that runs on biofuel from cow poop, then they test it in a town in Japan that actually promotes the use of biofuels at every turn. Now I'm not sure of the value a golf cart that runs on methane has. Is the carbon footprint of a methane gas golf cart smaller than that of charging a battery with a coal fired electricity plant? Or what about charging the batteries using a solar array or wind power? Or a small turbine that is powered by methane gas from cow poop? I'm not sure. Perhaps it is just the imagination that kicked in and Yamaha wanted to see if it was scalable. But I would rather see them put some brain power behind a hydrogen fuel cell that burns clean.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spam E-mails Killing the Environment, McAfee Report Says

Interesting. Calculating the carbon footprint of spam. Here's the money quote:

"The McAfee report, which was written by consulting company ICF International, said the estimated 62 trillion spam e-mail that get sent each year consume 33 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power 2.4 million homes. In addition, spam e-mail releases as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 3.1 million cars consuming 2 billion gallons of gasoline."

Save the planet. Ban spam.

Florida Announces World’s First Solar-Powered City

What a cool concept. With over 300 sunny days a year, I wish Colorado would do something like this. And what about Arizona, New Mexico, and California? Urban planners unite!

Algae Could 'Supply Entire World with Aviation Fuel'

Hmm. A Total oil executive says that there needs to be a tax on airlines for the fuel they use and that we need to save our precious supply of oil. Now an airline exec from Boeing says that algae based biofuels could supply airlines with all of the fuel they need. Now let's see. Where should we invest our money and time? In traditional finite, petroleum-based fuels or in organic based biofuels that are renewable? Hmm. Reason number 1,345,054 to take the word of oil executives with a grain of salt.

Obama: High-Speed Rail System Needed

Ahhhhhhh. Let's say it again. "High-speed rail." Pure poetry. I love taking the train. There is something peaceful about it. I know that sounds weird, but when you compare a train ride to a plane ride it really is night and day. The only issue is the amount of time the train takes (think Amtrak). Hopefully a faster train line across the U.S. will alleviate the time issue.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Energy Secretary Backs Clean-Coal Investments

Umm. Well, I hope this is only the political side of Dr. Chu talking and it's a chess match where he is five moves ahead. Perhaps the Obama administration needs to acknowledge the coal industry so that they don't freak out with all of this renewable energy talk. I hope. As I've discussed before, there is no such thing as clean coal and carbon sequestration is a pipe-dream. Using the arguement that we need to invest in the technology to make coal cleaner or bury the CO2 underground and then export it to China and India is a bit weak. Perhaps we need to invest more heavily in renewable technology and the export that to China and India so that they don't have to burn coal? I know my arguement is extremely simple, but it is no more simple than Dr. Chu's.

Op-Ed: NREL’s History of Fickle Funding

Anne Butterfield nails it in her op-ed in the Daily Camera. If the Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, believes what his boss says about renewable energy then he needs to allocate reliable funding for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) now. Those hard-working scientists at NREL have been working diligently, quietly, and on a shoe-string budget for the last 30 years. They've lasted through the tragic energy policy myopia of Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. The time is now. No more lip-speak.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Governor Ritter Celebrates New Energy Economy Jobs and Opportunities for Colorado

A press release from the governor's office says that the grand opening of the Abound Solar and GE Energy Control Solutions factories occurred today. These companies will employ about 600 people! What we are seeing here is an investment in a new energy economy in Colorado, in addition to demonstrating that Colorado can be the renewable energy thought leader of the world. These are good times indeed.

Update: More info from 9News on Abound Solar and their low cost manufacturing process.

Energy Executive on the End of Oil

Interesting interview with a Total oil exec from over the pond. He mentions that oil production will stagnate over the next 20 years. I wonder if all oil execs believe this to be true but refuse to admit this publicly. If this is indeed true, would the best business strategy be to just sit on the oil that is left in the form of "saving it," or is the smart money on finding new ways of producing energy? Hmmm.

The Total oil exec in the interview is advocating a "save the oil" mentality as a first means of easing the stagnating oil production problem. This is of course opposed to investing in the advancement of renewable energy sources. Yes, I think we should save oil and reduce our consumption. But the ultimate goal is to find other sources of energy that are renewable, won't hurt the planet, and where money can be made. Right? Why is it so hard for these oil execs to break out of the petroleum paradigm?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Salazar Calls for Bold Steps Toward Energy Independence

I'm pleased that renewable energy and energy independence is consistently in the Secretary of the Interior's national dialogue. One of the problems with the dialogue of prior administrations (Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan) was that energy independence was perhaps spoken about, but there were no solutions or policies put in place to get us there. Consistently I hear Secretary Salazar talk about the need to supplement our energy options with renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels. He realizes that we cannot continue to solely rely on the internal combustion engine or coal-fired electricity plants. There needs to be other choices in order for us to become energy independent. But what are the options and solutions? Read the synopsis of Secretary Salazar's latest speech. There are some good ideas in there.

Diatoms Could Triple Solar Cell Efficiency

I pondered out loud recently at the seemingly numerous technological advancements in the RE sector. They appear to be coming fast and furious these days. Now there is another one, where solar cell efficiency can be tripled with microscopic algae called diatoms. The diatoms trap the light and suggest that more photons are then captured and converted to electricity. I'm constantly amazed at the ingenuity of the human mind. Check out the article.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Anti-renewable IREA Says Conservation Bill Violates Its ‘Right to Dissent'

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) is out to lunch and taking a nap. There are several issues in this article by the Colorado Independent where IREA seems like they have an agenda that isn't in the interest of their consumers, nor the communities that surround their coal-fired electricity plants. They're agenda seems to me to be a little too much of "don't tread on me" when they need a little more, "do the right thing."

I had a gander at IREA's website and lo and behold right on their homepage towards the bottom is a bit of revealing information. They attack global warming and climate change with the title, "Is Earth Entering Another Cooling Cycle?" We can debate the semantics and science of whether the Earth is warming, cooling, or doing nothing at all. Whatever the case may be (and we will see), you cannot deny the fact that electricity created by coal-fired power plants is horrible for the air we breathe and water we drink. It is a fact. Coal is dirty. And even though we can't see the particulates in the air or coal slurry that is seeping into our water supplies, it is still affecting our bodies. I bet IREA would deny that as well.

Now as I've said before we cannot just turn off the coal-burning power plants. I've discussed it in my recent post, "There Is No Such Thing As Clean Coal". The need for base load power is critical. But this is not an excuse to refuse the implementation of other options in energy generation. To attempt to appeal to IREA's base instincts, implementing renewable energy to supplement the power supply makes good business sense for a few reasons. It's sustainable, it comes from a renewable resource (sun and wind), it's good for our health, there is an infinite supply (all fossil fuels are finite), sun and wind are easier to harvest (as opposed to digging mines or removing from mountain tops), renewables will become cheaper than coal, and due to the great technological minds in this country, renewable sources will eventually produce more output power than coal.

This article and the attitude of IREA makes me think that they are more interested in putting a stick in the eye of environmentalists/climate change advocates rather than exploring ways of supplementing their customer's energy supply with renewable energy.

Oh and one more thing. Smoking was once acceptable and even advocated by doctors and nurses in magazine advertisements. We now know that smoking kills, not to mention all of the horrible side-effects from diseases such as arteriosclerosis, emphysema, and lung or throat cancer. So just as smoking was once acceptable and then found to be horrible for the human body, I predict that one day we will look at burning coal to provide us with electricity as brutal and depraved.

Wake up IREA, your actions lead us to believe that you've been sleeping since the 1930s.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New Solar Power Plant in San Luis Valley

I know it's only a press release from the Governor Ritter's office, but there is exciting news in the San Luis Valley. Xcel Energy and SunPower Corp. are going to build what is North America's second-largest high-efficiency photovoltaic solar plant. It'll be 17 megawatts of pure photovoltaic love. And there is already a solar thermal plant down there. Good work Xcel and SunPower.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lawyers Urge Caution in Wind Turbine Deals

This article actually gives some good advice if you are contemplating having a private company put up wind turbines on your property. Many people see dollar signs up front but there are also lease options to consider. The takeaway? Get a lawyer whenever a contract is involved.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Turbine Plan Whips Up Protests in Quiet, Rural Area West of Chicago

I read this article in the Chicago Tribune this past week and I must say that I am puzzled by the "not in my backyard attitude" that is beginning to flourish whenever someone wants to put up a wind turbine farm. I can understand this attitude with nuclear waste, but wind turbines?

While I was driving along I-80 this past week I noticed that there were numerous (50?) wind turbines in western Iowa (which is the 2nd highest wind-producing state). These light colored windmills were majestic and peaceful dotting the landscape on both the north and south side of the interstate as far as the eye could see. One of the wind mills wasn't moving and I noticed that there were two trucks parked at the bottom of the turbine. I wondered how long it took for the mechanics to climb the tower up to the turbine. I mused at what kind of view the workers had at the top. I also thought about how these workers were probably sipping coffee with their families or sleeping when they received a notification that this turbine was offline. I thought about all of the jobs that were created for this wind farm project and all of the jobs that will be needed to maintain these turbines. I also thought about the positive impact that these wind turbines will have on the air quality of the surrounding communities due to the reduced need for electricity from burning coal.

My reason for mentioning this anecdote is that the synchronicity was too hard to ignore. I think the folks mentioned in the article that aren't too terribly enamored with wind turbines are missing the big picture. These wind farms are a clean supply of electricity that will have a positive benefit to their families, their communities, and future generations. They will also create jobs for construction and for maintenance. Now, I didn't stand underneath one of the wind turbines and listen to how much noise they were making, but when the wind is blowing, how much can one hear anyway? I wonder how the wind companies are addressing these concerns.

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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