solar, energy, power

Nanosolar of Palo Alto, California is emerging as the world leader in solar energy technology. The companies solar electricity panel production utilizing a unique printing technique, delivers cost efficiency, enabling applications to deliver green power on an expanded basis.

The offset printing press combined with a proprietary Nanoparticle ink (which Nanosolar owns the processes and designs to) produce the world’s most cost-efficient solar cells and deliver them in many versatile product forms. Solar cells can now be printed on flexible sheets of metal or plastic, and fabrics in rolls which can be applied to large surfaces.

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are among the prominent investors in the companies Thin-film solar cell technology. Other noted investors in Nanosolar include Mohr Davidow Ventures and Benchmark Capital. Nanosolar holds at least 42 patents on the technology. Contributers from the scientific community include Stanford professor Michael McGehee, a leading expert on photovoltaic technology, and the University of California at Berkeley.

U.N Renovation may HINT of Green, but it’s really all Red.

When we read the news, “Renovating the U.N., with Hints of Green,” we were prepared to be excited about the idea of the U.N. doing some sort of Green retrofit that would reduce energy use, lower carbon footprint…. SOME hint of positive direction. The truth was disappointingly different. While the U.N. building IS undergoing a renovation (which will mean five years of that mammoth structure standing unused while alternative offices are occupied,) the only hint of Green is both color and money. How much? Two BILLION dollars.

Let’s make sure we’re getting this right. The United Nations, which is funded by taxpayers, us going to redecorate and spend 2 BILLION dollars and five years to do so? What could the engineers of this plot possibly be thinking of? The world’s economy is on a runaway downhill slide, and you want to displace 5000 U.N. workers, spend money to rent some OTHER place for them, while you leave that structure unused during a 5-year 2 BILLION dollar renovation of the existing structure — because you don’t like the wall colors and paintings?

It’s possible one of us isn’t thinking clearly, or has lost the plot altogether. The Powers That Be don’t seem to mind spending that money to “green” things up in terms of ambiance. Here’s a novel thought: How about a much more worthy and justifiable pursuit?

What else might that same two BILLION dollars do? How about purchasing wind turbines that would provide Green electricity for something like 250-500 THOUSAND homes? Seems that would be a lot more Green than a couple coats of paint in the U.N. house.

To be fair, some of the renovation may be in order. Increasing security features for the structure, for example. After all, we’re in a war on Terrorists, right? Then again, if we were paying more attention to Going Green, maybe the terrorists would be busy leaving us alone, and we wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked for our politics and philosophical persuasions. Just a thought — a truly Green thought.

Obama’s E.P.A. To Re-examine Bush’s Coal Policies

As most people know, in his final hours, ex-President GW Bush’s administration threw a few extra wrenches in the protecting of the natural resources of the nation.  From unlikely oil leases near some of the most pristine parts  of the nation, to carte blanche for coal mining operations and extremely suspect orders that give the USFWS nearly unlimited and  broad-reaching power over what to deem safe to molest.

Recent orders from President Obama’s administration put these last minute actions on hold, while they’re examined and appraised.  If it is determined that they were not acting in the best interest of the People of the United States, it’s likely they’ll be countermanded altogether.  That President Obama would make such an order demonstrates that the U.S. is clearly in much safer, more responsible hands. 

What’s at risk?  Polar bears,  land near National Parks, and now this latest examination of Bush’s instructions that the E.P.A. should NOT consider the effects of pollution when deciding on regulations regarding coal-generated power plants.   Go ahead and blink along with the rest of us as we reread it.  Bush did that?  Yes, he did. 

The past eight years have been hell on the environment.  The previous President clearly held the extremely unscientific view that it doesn’t matter what we do. Lisa Smith, the incoming E.P.A. Administrator, is a breath of fresh air, in that she will have the government looking at the facts and realities, rather than rubber-stamping anything that stands to make money. Obviously, we’re glad to see this. The toll of using carbon-based fuels is clearly unacceptable as well as unnecessary. Some say that the coal and oil industries will take a hit in such circumstances. It’s hard to imagine any other result, but that changes nothing. Plantation owners took a hit, per se, as well, when their ability to own other human beings was revoked as well.

Investing in Green energy sources will make this issue all the more obsolete. It is important that Green energy supporters continue to be outspoken. So long as President Obama continues to have support for this change of direction, he is able to continue to carry us into a new energy age.

Going Green – UPDATE: Disasterous TVA Plant Has History of Spills

Many of you are probably already aware of the recent massive and devastating coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant in eastern Tennessee. That spill, which poured some five million cubic yards of toxic coal ash out, flooding the nearby area and spreading into the nearby river, is considered the largest ecological disaster of its kind. The flood of toxic sludge destroyed three homes and damaged several dozen properties. There were no immediate injuries or deaths, but at least one nearby resident is complaining of headaches and chronic sore throat.

Last week Tom Kilgore, CEO of the TVA, admitted to the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee that the plant had suffered two less severe leaks over the past five years, but that the breaches had not been properly or adequately repaired. The confession was made to the Senate’s Environment & Public Works Committee, and was referred to as “noticeable seepage”. Those events occurred in 2003 and 2005, making the problem appear to be regular and cyclic.

Mr. Kilgore begged off that heavy rains and freezing temperatures had probably contributed to the breach. The explanation offered does nothing to explain or justify why such conditions weren’t anticipated and provided for. The TVA plant’s holding ponds are not lined either. While this is not illegal (yet,) it is unwise, takes an unhealthy risk. Concerns remain as to what affect the ash will have once the water dries out, leaving the toxic substances to become airborne where it will be breathed and settle in people’s homes.

Committee chairwoman, Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA,) was outspokenly critical of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to declare coal ash a hazardous waste and for refusing to set national standards for its storage and disposal. She cites this disaster as proof of a need for closer oversight and better precautions regarding such toxic wastes. Senator Boxer also claimed to a portion of responsibility for the spill, admiting that she had been chairwoman of the environment panel since 2007 but had paid no attention to the T.V.A.’s hazardous byproducts.

Senator Boxer and other members of the Environment and Public Works Committee said they would press for new coal ash regulations, including a requirement that it be stored in lined pits and dried, rather than just being dropped into the waste pond, to prevent the toxic substances from pouring into towns and rivers as it did in December of 2008.

There are over thirteen-hundred waste ponds in the U.S., amounting to billions of gallons of fly ash. This byproduct of coal-generated electricity contains heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury. which are known to cause cancer, respiratory disease, crippling nervous system disorders and reproductive problems.

All of this serves as further proof that we MUST put aside fossil-fuel based energy technologies and embrace alternative energy sources — the sooner, the better.

Off The Grid-On The Grid-Grid Tied

bulb.jpgOn-Grid energy storage allows producers of electric energy to send their excess electricity to the transmission grid, or to a temporary electricity storage site which can be used as a producer of energy if the demand ever becomes great.  This is a stellar method of storing off-peak power which can be used during peak electricity usage times.  This can also make it unnecessary for photovoltaic or wind turbine users to keep battery storage, because connecting themselves to the grid makes what is essentially a giant battery available to them.  Grid energy storage is generally very closely related to the concept of distributed generation, which only functions correctly when arrangements like vehicle-to-grid systems and net metering are put into place.  Additionally, regulatory support is often needed.

Off-grid renewable energy sources and systems tend to offer users a greater amount of support.  Off-grid systems offer renewable energy which is captured by solar panels, water turbine systems and wind which is friendly to the environment as it serves as an energy source which is completely free of pollution.  Off-grid systems also provide complete freedom from utility bills, as well as freedom from a power supply which can be interrupted.  Why allow yourself to be connected to an energy line when instead, you can store and utilize energy that you created all on your own?  Off-grid renewable energy systems utilize energy that is gathered from the wind, the sun and the water.  Numerous sources of renewable energy are needed in order to provide the power that you need, and an energy storage site is required so that energy can be used even when the river is calm, the wind is not blowing or when the sun has set for the evening.

Grid-tied electrical systems, which are also called ‘tied to grid’ or ‘grid tie’ systems, are grid energy storage systems which feed excess capacities back to the local main electric grid.  This means that when insufficient amounts of energy are being generated, or when batteries are not fully charged, the electricity can be drawn from this mains grid in order to make up for the short fall.  If a battery is being used to store electricity, the system is typically called battery-to-grid or B2G, or vehicle-to-grid or V2G.  Essentially DC or Direct Current electricity is passed to a grid-tied inverter which creates the alternating current and generates phrase-matched electricity.

Wrong Tool, Dull Tool, or No Tool?

The Obama administration, which promised to be the most outspoken defender of wildlife and wild spaces since Teddy Roosevelt, seems to be falling far short of the mark at the hands of Secretary Salizar.  Though they started off strong by rescinding the last-minute oil leases the Bush administration had rubber-stamped, the track record since then hasn’t been terribly favorable.  In fact, it could be said to be unconcerned.

The latest in this trend is Salizar’s statement that the Endangered Species Act’s protections are the wrong tools to be using against global warming.  He said this in response to concerns about the polar bears.  The problem, Mr. Salizar, is that the bears themselves need something done NOW, not when you get around to curing global warming.    In fact, they’re one of the reasons we care about global warming.  So get a tool, any tool, and get at doing SOMEthing.  I’ll take the ESA as one. Or are you too dull a tool yourself?

If that seems overly harsh, realize that Mr. Salizar’s administration has also actively thwarted the efforts of several falconers to propagate species of eagles nad falcons.  These well-intended raptor enthusiasts want to spend their own money to import and breed the birds in captivity, ensuring their genetic survival.  But the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s CITES office prefers to respond by harassing them, burying them in paperwork for well  over 6 months, when that same CITES paperwork is routinely completed by other countries in a matter of minutes.   That’s just one of the many flaws and holes emerging in the Salizar story.

They say “The buck stops here.”  In Mr. Salizar’s case, we’re left to wonder if he knows what the buck is, or even where it starts… and this writer begins to worry that perhaps we didn’t get the change we voted for after all.

Going Green – Oil Giants Invest in Green Energy

A place where people pay 45 cents a gallon for gasoline seems like an unlikely spot to find proponents of alternative energy — especially when that place’s vast wealth comes from selling oil.  Yet the Arabian Gulf countries, with their huge unbridled energy consumption, have a firm grasp on the fact that their oil is going to run out one day; They know that they, too, will need renewable energy sources one day in the not too distant future, and they’re making good use of their current wealth to see to it that they’re at the forefront of the next energy supply. 

That’s a really good thing for them, because their people burn fossil-fuel generated energy like none other.  Public transport is almost non-existent, and when it’s 130 degrees F. outside, it’s understandable that everyone lives in air conditioned housing and drives to air-conditioned shops in air-conditioned Mercedes Benz cars.  They’re going to need alternative energy more than nearly anyone else on the planet, so they’re taking the steps now to procure it. The United Arab Emirates (UAE,) Qatar and Saudi Arabia are working together to be at the heart of solar power.  Their abuntant sun is almost as seemingly limitless as their oil was, so it’s a good idea.  

Billions have flowed from these most wealthy people into Green technologies.  They’re funding research projects at universities all over the world and building research parkes there in the deserts of the Middle-East.  These oil producers aren’t taking any chances.  They’ve invited the world, from pure research to businessmen, to the second annual World Future Energy Summit.  It’s a Who’s Who, and the world is attending.  Tony Blair, Andris Piebalgs, the EU Energy Commissioner, leaders from other desert nations, and executives of hundreds of companies, large and small, will all be there. While other markets flounder, Going Green continues to be steady business.  But the West may not always be in the forefront of alternative energy development.  “The leadership in these breakthrough technologies is a title the U.S. can lose easily,” said Peter Barker-Homek, chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s national energy company.  Citing advantages of low taxes, an educated and youthful population, abundant natural resources and a willingness to invest, he points out that the Gulf nations could easily take the lead, and that they’re planning to do so.  

Mr. Awad of Masdar shares that they’re already involved in field-testing many solar panels, and adds “We know we can’t continue with this carbon footprint,” he said. “We have to change. This is why Abu Dhabi must develop new models — for the planet, of course, but also so as not to jeopardize Abu Dhabi.” The world is now consuming 80 million barrels of oil a day, a figure expected to rise sharply as the population increases.  

Even oil producing nations can’t keep up with anywhere near that demand, and so they’re working feverishly to replace the supply with clean energy sources.  Masdar, a model city designed to generate zero carbon emissions, is but one of the projects being funded with tens of billions of dollars in oil money being reaped now.  Often these plans include working with the best and brightest on the planet, M.I.T., the Imperial College of London, Stanford, Berkeley, Caltech, Cambridge, Cornell, Imperial, La Sapienza, Oxford and Utrecht amongst them.  Qatar invested £150 million, ($220 million) in a low-carbon technology fund within the UK —  far more than the UK itself has afforded for the research. 

In a place where the sun shines intensely literally every day of the year, this may make both dollars and sense, but it’s also showing nobility of intent that some may not have realized the Arab nations were capable of.  The futuristic city of Masdar, for example, is expected to present a model for renewable resource cities all over the world.  The new materials and technologies that will allow 50,000 inhabitants to live and make no carbon footprint will certainly be an inspiring example.  

Masdar will be using a system of subterrainian public transport and no cars, use only 1/4 of the energy of most cities that size, and will generate all of that energy itself, from the sun.  While the rest of the world drags their feet, worrying about cost-effectiveness of Green technologies, the Arab nations have jumped right in, and are providing the much needed impetus, the seed money to make 100% renewable energy sources a solid reality within the next decade.   If this is what they’re doing with the wealth they’ve gained from selling oil the world wants, they may prove to be the Angels that the planet has needed all along.  Meanwhile, it’s time for the West to jump in with both feet as well, in going Green.

Pickens Plan Leads in A Direction – Going Green?

For the past year or so, the site has been gathering alternate energy enthusiasts into the fold.  The brainchild of a former oil baron who has since turned to natural gas and wind turbines, the first order of business with Pickens is to get the U.S. free of dependence on foreign oil, and to stop sending hundreds of billions of dollars out of the country when we could be keeping that money here in the States simply by switching to a much cleaner domestic fuel.

What has happened since is something nigh unto amazing.  The sheer volume of interest and support, the levels and degrees to which people have become involved, would be extraordinary in any other time.  It’s still leadership, even in this unusual and historic election year.  But in what direction?

Boone Pickens would have us all switch over to natural gas for the interum, while we devise other functional alternatives.  But that would require massive infrastructure changes, and at least some of the economic advantage would be lost as demand on natural gas increased.  To be sure, it’s better than the status quo, but is it a broad enough vision?  Some within the Pickens Plan fold are clear in their vision of a world which no longer uses the combustion engine at all.  Their wisdom is that we must disallow any fossil fuel, and focus all of our considerable intellect on optimizing passive energy sources such as tide, wind, and sun’s energies.  In focusing upon these totally clean technologies, they insist, we will be doing more than putting a band-aid on oil by merely switching to natural gas.  This is still within the Pickens Plan fold, but goes at a different angle than Boone suggested.

What direction do you suggest we take with our alternatives to foreign oil?

Recycling Slams to a Sudden Stop

All across the nation, recycling has hit an abrupt and solid brick wall. The economy has fallen off sharply and China, the largest buyer for recycled materials, just isn’t buying. With prices so low that they’re not worth handling, recycling centers all across the nation are at a loss as to what to do with what has suddenly become just so much trash.

How bad is it, really? Tin was at $327 a ton earlier this year. Now? Five bucks. That’s it. Collect, compact, contain, warehouse, and handle it, and you get $5 for a 2,000 pounds of vegetable cans. Even at the lower gas prices, it doesn’t pay to start up the heavy equipment to load it onto a truck in the first place. And it’s not just tin either. West coast prices for mixed paper are down to $20 a ton, less than a fifth of the $105 of earlier this year. Gas prices haven’t fallen that far.

Some recycling centers are warehousing it… and warehousing it… and warehousing even more, in hopes that the prices will come back up. They don’t have much choice. It cost them more to gain it in the first place than the buyers are paying now. Some have government contracts to keep collecting it, but the market just doesn’t justify the costs.

The single exception is glass. It seems there’s still a domestic demand for that. But all that paper and plastic that we’ve been so conscientiously separating and hauling to the colored bins and dumpsters? It’s likely that it’s headed for landfill… or worse. While you may have been recycling because it’s good for the planet, THEY were doing so because it made money.

Two questions remain:

1) Why do recycled products cost so much more than new materials when we’re giving it to them, (only to have it sold at a profit,) and we then buy it back as other products?

2) Are we still supposed to be separating and recycling this stuff?

Sooner or later, the falling economy was bound to affect recycling. Perhaps the better idea these days is to use less in the first place.

Here’s a thought: Just because they’re not accepting it at the recycling bins doesn’t mean you can’t still recycle, right there at home. Do you buy bottled water? Start refilling them, reuse them instead of throwing them out. Do you ship things? Take that paper, those egg crates and other clean recyclable products, and use them for packing. Tin cans? What about craft projects, pencil holders, robot toys? If push comes to shove, smash ‘em down and warehouse ‘em yourself.

Times are changing. We’ll adapt, and figure things like this out. Local solutions may be developed.

Meanwhile, use less, and keep on recycling right there at home.

Refineries claim a Loss? What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Valero Energy announced today that it is closing down an entire US refinery this quarter.reducing capital spending to manage the economic slowdown. (It’s just coincidental, I suppose, that this also reduces production, which brings prices back up.) Reportedly the biggest U.S. refiner in the country, Valero would reasonably be expected to be doing very well, yet they’re crying the blues, claiming billions in losses, less than a year after Exxon reported huge profits.

Valero yesterday reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $3.3 billion. What is that based on? Are they counting as a loss all the money they’re not charging, writing it off as advertising and good will gestures?

They’re not stupid. The oil companies see us getting serious about alternative energy. Suddenly, dramatically and drastically, the prices crash from nearly $150 a barrel to $40, and that’s because of supply and demand, too? There’s something wrong with this whole ugly picture. The only thing that’s clear is that we must not be distracted by this dog & pony show. We need to keep on pushing for non-combustion fuel sources. It does’t matter if they start giving the gas away or buying everyone cars to burn the fossil fuel in, we still can’t afford to be at the mercy of these companies any longer, and we definitely cannot afford to be forgetful of the raking over the coals that they gave us less than a year ago.

The great thing about statistics is that they can often be twisted around to fit whatever spin their author wants them to. When gas refineries claim they’re losing billions selling gas, it’s time to get out the hip boots and head for high ground, because the dark smelly loose stuff is getting deep.

As Bush was so fond of suggesting, stay the course, Alternative Energy folk. We’ve got ‘em on the run!