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!

Renewable Energy Savings Bonds?

His isn’t a new idea.  Rather, it’s back to the future again. The notion: U.S. Treasury Savings Bonds earmarked for Renewable Energy  projects.  Michael Shawn Kendall, (an Electronic Technician Chief with 27 years of overseas service in the U.S. Navy,/u== and long-time alternative energy guy, wrote to share what sounds like a good idea pretty much all the way around.

Normally purchased in $25 increments, they’d provide us with a way of putting some money away safely and with a good return on the investment, while providing funds to support a renewable energy project.  They can even be designated for specific purposes (buy a RE-W bond for Wind Turbines, a RE-S bond for Solar, RE-I bond to help fund                                                                                                                                                                        infrastructure, RE-T for bullet trains,  RE-C co-op bonds for small communities needing a few wind turbines, etc.  The bond certificates would have their designation and and an artist’s depiction of that project printed on them, along with the American flag. Great idea, huh?

As one might expect of any sensible idea, government’s bureaucracy is staunchly planted in the way.   How could that be?  After all, U.S. Savings Bonds were sold during WWII, and earmarked to fund a tank, etc.   contacted the US treasury department and was told that the marketing department for savings bonds closed several years ago.  Why would this be a problem now?  The Chief Technician inquired at the Treasury Department, but was told there would be problems because savings bonds are at the federal level while the projects will be at the state and local level.  Such concerns can easily be addressed.  The US RE bonds could fund grants to the state and local level, earmarked for those specific projects.

If given the tools to participate directly, the power of the citizens of the United States to help achieve energy independance is undeniable.  Americans mean well and the Energy Independance Savings bond program will give citizens the power to make it happen. If marketed through a web page, commercials, and to federal employees the word would get out and participation would very likely spread like wildfire.

Especially in these tough economic times where banks are seen as questionable and other investments are shaky, while the Obama administration and Congress struggle to find funds to prime the pump and restart our economy, these bonds could provide a very welcome investment opportunity, while making U.S. energy independence a reality much more rapidly than the government could afford to do by itself.

We applaud this veteran’s ingenuity and efforts, and support the idea. This is a prime example of the kind of involvement and self-help that President Obama was talking about in his inauguration speech.  Now all we need is the Congress to remove the roadblocks and put it in action.

Please voice your support by commenting here, and by writing to Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman and Speaker of the House, at

Thank you!

Rising Oil Prices make Going Green Affordable

oil1.gifThe per-barrel Oil price hit near record levels of $110 dollars in the market, propped up by the declining US dollar.

The movement of investors into the commodities market looking for a safe place to hedge against inflation and the weakening US dollar was also contributing to the rise in crude prices.

In early morning trading, the New York Stock Exchanges main contract, light sweet crude for April delivery reached trading levels at 110.12 US dollars per barrel before ending trading at $109.85 dollars per barrel.

London’s Brent North Sea crude oil prices for April delivery eased 22 cents to $106.05 US dollars.

“Fundamentals are well and truly out of the window when it comes to oil prices,” said Jan Lambregts, head of regional research at Rabobank in Hong Kong.

“A lot of money’s obviously looking for a place to park and crude oil appears to be one popular destination among commodities in general,” he noted, and then added “the weak dollar doesn’t help one bit at this stage.”

The failing US dollar has also fueled a jump in world oil prices because crude that is priced in US dollars and has become cheaper to buy for purchasers holding stronger currencies abroad.

The US dollar dropped to a new low with an exchange rate of 1.5570 dollars to one Euro on Wednesday.

Note – 1 Barrel of oil = 159 Liters or 42 Gallons

Russia Cuts NG Pipeline, Leaving Millions To Freeze in Ukraine

About 60 percent of Russia’s budget comes from exporting natural gas westward, through the Ukraine and on to Western Europe. The pipeline has long been a risk, protected only by the potential of Russia to retaliate, and by Russia’s ability to turn the gas off at its source. Earlier today, Russia reduced the flow by about 90 million cubic meters, which is the allocation for the Ukraine’s 46 million people. The issue? Money, of course. Money and control.

Preface: Ukraine ceased importing electricity from Russia on December 1, 2008, after repairs to one of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors were completed.

The Ukraine delivered 1.5 billion dollars on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, and considered their bill settled. Russia’s Gazprom now claims that Ukraine must also pay $600 million in late fees before they will restore the flow of natural gas to the nation, which is in the midst of their coldest months of winter now.

Furthermore, Gazprom is demanding that Ukraine pay $250  $450 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2009, 40% 250 percent (2.5 times as much) more than the $179 price paid in 2008.*  Ukraine says they cannot pay that price unless Russia offsets the increase by paying Ukraine that same amount more for exporting Russia’s gas through their country on to Europe. Russia has promised that they will continue to export gas to Europe without interruption. Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladamir Putin, said that any interference with Russia’s gas exports to Europe would carry “serious consequences for the transit country itself.”

Russia is putting the Ukraine, a former Soviet Union country which has angered Russia by applying for membership in NATO, in the cruel position of having to surrender to the 40% increase or continue to pump gas on through their country to Europe, while they themselves are freezing but taking none of that gas for themselves.

This isn’t the first time Russia has acted against the Ukraine in this fashion. In 2006, Russia halted supplies to Ukraine for three days, in a similar disagreement over prices. When the pressure in the pipeline dropped by that allotment, the decrease was felt all the way to Italy, because the Ukraine continued to draw gas from the pipeline for their winter needs. Apparently they learned from the experience. Ukrainian authorities say they have stockpiled enough gas to hold out for three months, if the weather holds as anticipated.

Russia has perpetual negotiations with nations they supply energy to. Serbia was also in negotiations earlier this year, and Finland managed a stay of prices on wood purchased from Russia, but only after last year’s increases in Russian Export Tariffs caused Finland to reduce their demand by more than half. At the same time, Russia claims they would like to work with NATO (disagreements aside, of course.) It’s hard to avoid comparisons to a national mafia, friendly with speech, brutal and murderous in dealings with those who defy them.

Threatening millions of people in this fashion demonstrates that Russia cannot be trusted. In a time of global financial crisis, to strongarm the Ukraine for a 40% increase is clearly retaliatory and inhumane. It also demonstrates the importance of removing ourselves from dependency upon fossil fuels of all kinds. It was wise of Ukrainian authorities to stockpile the gas against this sort of threat, but their reserves will run out by very early spring, leaving nearly 50 million people freezing and without gas for cooking, heating or hot water, and electric generation. (Ukraine produces about 45% of its electricity via nuclear reactors, but relies upon fossil fuels to generate the remaining 55%, so their electric may be diminished as well.)

Germany, Italy and Turkey were amongst nations which lowered their demand for natural gas after prices were raised to $460-$520 per thousand cubic meters beginning in October of 2008. Despite that decrease in sales, Gazprom reports record revenues of $75 billion to $77 billion this year.

Energy independence is essential for all nations’ people.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: We were previously misinformed.  Russia is actually demanding $450 per 1,000 cubic meters, an increase of two and a half times the price paid last year – 250% increase.

Silver zinc battery – silver zinc batteries – ZPower rechargeable batteries

Lithium Ion batteries, several varieties of them, are the mainstream these days, for everything from cameras and laptops to the latest electric cars. They’re good on many levels, but not without dangers. IT’s not common, but sometimes they overheat — VERY abruptly, and catch fire or explode. This puts them into the Danger Zone category, meaning that we still need to be working on something newer, better.

Or do we? Silver-Zinc is the new best thing. It’s not really new, though. The military and aerospace industries have been using silver-zinc batteries for some time now, with tremendous success, but they were never made to be rechargeable.

Whereas a Lithium battery has a cobalt core and uses a highly flammable liquid as their electrolyte, the Silver-Zinc batteries have something far more safe, less volatile, in their center: Pure, simple water. What makes the technology even better is that they can produce about 40 percent more power at the same size. But that’s still not the best part.

ZPower, a California company, is developing a Silver-Zinc battery — with a very responsible twist. They promise to be the first battery manufacturer to buy back the batteries after they’ve been depleted, to recycle the silver. How much? Ross Duebner, CEO of ZPower, isn’t promising, but says it’ll be in the tens of dollars. They can do it, because they find that their battery is about 95% recyclable by weight. Lithium Ion batteries may be recycled as well, but it’s only technically true. What happens with them is that they’re melted down for their lithium and cobalt, and the other parts of the battery help fuel the fires that do it, so TECHNICALLY they’re being recycled… kinda…sorta… right? Meanwhile, Silver-Zinc batteries have no toxic chemicals in them, and no dangerous heavy metals. Moreover, once the silver is mined, by recycling it, silver-zinc batteries become a closed loop, a renewable source of rechargeable batteries.

Their new laptop battery should extend at least two hours beyond a 5 hour Lithium battery’s useable time; ZPower’s Silver-Zinc laptop batteries are expected to run your computer for at least seven hours on a charge.

That’s a pretty big boast. Considering their backers, ZPower may just be able to back it up. Intel and OnPoint Technologies, which is a venture capital fund of the U.S. Army, are amongst those on board with ZPower.

At least at first, these batteries won’t be any cheaper than Lithium. Silver isn’t inexpensive, and they do deliver more power, but we’re hoping that the price will come down. Maybe silver-zinc technology will end up being the standard for all sorts of batteries, a welcome solution for storing alternative energy sources.

A key part of the Green nature of the silver-zinc battery remains that it’s truly able to be recycled, not just burnt to a crisp and then having a few key elements floated back out in a smelting pot. Despite claims to the contrary, that’s pretty much exactly what happens when Lithium Ion batteries are supposedly “recycled.”

But will people do so? Will they return their silver-zinc batteries, or just toss them in the trash? With the buyback program in place and financially viable, it should be a no-brainer that people will turn them in. ZPower cites that large bulky lead batteries are recycled at least 90 percent of the time. Then again, they’re in your car already, and your car’s at the shop so, to the consumer, Recycling amounts to disposing at the same time. There’s minor room for concern, but the buy-back program should ensure that the metals are recycled.

It seems like silver-zinc technology could very well be our next Green thing.