Should the United States consider a defined national policy to increase renewable energy usage?

June 14th, 2015

Investment in renewable energy. Business metaphor.
Renewable energy refers to a source of energy that is not depleted when used. In 2013, energy from renewable sources accounted for 12.9 percent or 9.29 quadrillion Btu of the United States’ 72.01 quadrillion Btu total output.This may seem like the United States is pulling its weight, but consider that many European countries receive over 30 percent of their energy from sources other than fossil fuels. Norway for example produced over 60 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources and Sweden nearly 50 percent.[ii] So, why isn’t the most powerful country in the world closer to the top of the list of enviro-friendly countries?


The issue is not a lack of knowledge.


In 1955, William G. Cobb of General Motors Corp. completed and demonstrated the world’s first solar-powered automobile. It was a great feat at the time when the gasoline-powered cars flooded the industry. Even then, the knowledge that there was a finite supply of fossil fuels loomed threateningly on the American people. Despite that, 60 years later we still do not have a mass-produced solar car.[iii]

Harvard chemist Dan Nocera, a leading mind in the field of renewable energy, states in an interview with Public Radio International that a large part of the slow scientific progression problem in the US is based in a lack of confidence from the market as a whole. He also explains that “looking at renewable energy or ‘clean energy’ on paper will always seem more expensive,” Nocera says. “That’s because we already have the railroads and the piping and the ways to transport fossil fuels. In order to use clean energy we are up against a 100 year old infrastructure that must be rebuilt.”[iv]


A lack of funding, a lack of confidence, and soon to be, a lack of time.


Perhaps the government should, in fact, consider a national policy with a deadline to increase renewable energy usage. In the past, government policies have proven to be an effective catalyst in scientific research. The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 is one example. This policy provided funds to government research teams in finding effective ways to reduce air pollution which, in turn, lead to the discovery of many harmful pollutants and ways of prevention. However, it wasn’t until the various markets embraced the research that it became very effective. Cars were soon required to meet emissions standards, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were banned from use in aerosols and as refrigerants, and heavily industrialized areas were required to meet ambient air quality criteria. A similar situation must be realized in the area of increasing the use of renewable energy.

We could take a look at how the situation is being handled across the pond. The European Commission called for a plan of action from each of the European countries regarding increasing renewable energy use. This included detailed steps they were to take as well as legally binding statistical targets for expected progress in the year 2020.[v] A similar course of political action may prove to be the only way we will see any progress at all.


Something must be done sooner rather than later.


Consider that globally humans use over 11 billion tonnes of fossil fuels per year. Scientists predict that, given the current amount of known oil, oil fields and reserves will be depleted by the year 2052 and fossil fuels altogether will be depleted by 2088. Of course, there will be new sources discovered, but that will only prove to extend this date slightly.[vi] As Hugo Chaves said, “Oil is a very valuable resource for life. We must have to transition ourselves to a post-oil era. And that’s what we must discuss: searching and developing new sources of energy. And that requires scientific research. That requires investment. And the developed countries must be the ones to assume this responsibility first.”[vii]


i. Encyclopedia Entry “Renewable Energy”
Data from July 2014. Accessed 04/08/2015

ii. European Renewable Energy Statistics
Data from March 2014. Accessed 04/08/2015

iii. “This Day In History”
Published 08/31/2014. Accessed 04/08/2015

iv. “How a century of infrastructure is holding back renewable energy supplies”
Published 10/15/2014. Accessed 04/08/2015

v. European National Action Plans
Updated 04/07/2015. Accessed 04/08/2015

vi. “The End of Fossil Fuels”
Data from CIA World Factbook. Accessed 04/08/2015


Renewable Energy

New Thermal Power Plant Fails to Deliver

June 14th, 2015


The Future of America’s Solar Industry Could Be Very Bright

March 29th, 2015

Green Jobs on the Rise!

February 23rd, 2015

Think “green jobs” are a myth? More Americans now work in solar power than coal mining: …


Obama Brings Solar Power Back To White House

August 26th, 2013

It’s official. The White House is getting solar panels. If it seems like you have heard this all before, you have — nearly three years ago when the Obama administration made the promise, and 37 years ago when the Carter administration had solar panels installed for the first time.

In 1981, the Reagan administration had removed from the White House the solar panels installed under President Carter’s watch. (Granted, it started as roof maintenance, but the solar panels were never re-installed.) But in 2010, President Obama announced his attention to bring solar power back. In the years since, one delay after another has raised some doubt as to whether it was ever actually going to happen, but suffice it to say, those doubts can finally be put to rest.

Reuters reports that the Obama administration has officially begun its installation of solar panels on the White House!

While President Carter gets credit for being the first to install solar at the White House, the Obama administration has a solar first of its own. This latest round of solar panels will power the first family’s living quarters. (It’s also worth noting that President George W. Bush had solar panels installed on a maintenance shed that evidently is still operational).

We’re still waiting to hear when the Obama family’s solar panels will be operational and just how much energy they’ll save. However, we do know the American-made solar panels will be used to power two other energy-saving initiatives — the use of temperature controls and variable fan speeds.

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Renewable Energy Losing to the Limits of an Aging Grid

August 16th, 2013

A recent post on The White House blog points to the damage done by the increasing severity of weather (think climate change) on the country’s aging grid. The damage is in the form of outages that not only cause inconvenience to utility customers, but also cost the economy billions of dollars a year. Add to that the century-old grid’s challenge to handle the unpredictable nature of renewable energy, and it’s pretty clear. The grid needs an upgrade.

From 2003 through 2012, the average economic cost of storm-related power outages was $18 to $33 billion a year. When the power’s out, businesses shut down, meaning lost income for them and their employees. Perishable inventory goes bad. And damage done to the grid itself can result in costly repairs.

Yet the grid has trouble even on days with the clearest of skies.

As states increasingly adopt Renewable Portfolio Standards, utilities are tasked with making sure a mandated percentage of electricity comes from renewable sources. Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against them as our electric grid can’t always handle renewable energy output.

The grid was built to transmit energy produced by fossil fuels, the provision of which is relatively controllable. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is unpredictable. Wind farms, for example, fluctuate greatly in energy output, the surge of which can be strong enough to knock the grid offline.

To help prevent outages caused by too much renewable energy, grid operators frequently instruct utility companies to limit its output. This is a practice known as curtailing, essentially suppressing the transmission of electricity fueled by renewables in favor fossil fuels — another costly result of the aging grid.

Curtailing not is not only costly to utility customers, who are forced to pay more for electricity, but it’s costly to renewable energy providers as well.  The New York Times reports that a wind farm in Vermont at full operating capacity can lose $1,000 an hour if the electricity is not sold.

Thankfully, the Obama administration has a plan — the Climate Action Plan, aimed at upgrading the electric grid to “help make electricity more reliable, save consumers money on their energy bills, and promote clean energy sources.”

Now let’s just hope it’s a plan that really can be put into action. It’s a shame to see available renewable energy go to all that waste.

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The 4 Most Important Products To Green Your Home & Body

August 9th, 2013

What’s more important to everyday living than immersing yourself in a healthy environment? This means being mindful of the products you choose to use in your home and on your body. The most eco-conscious of choices have yet to make the mainstream, so you’ve got your work cut out for you. It’s well worth the effort, though, considering the short- and long-term impact on your health and that of the planet.

1) Beauty products. If it’s not good for the earth, it’s not good for your body. Pay attention to the ingredients listed in hair products, soaps, gels, lotions, and the like. Avoid beauty products that include:

  • 1, 4-Dioxane
  • antibacterials
  • coal tar
  • Diethanolamine (DEA)
  • dioxin
  • formaldehyde
  • fragrance
  • lead
  • mercury
  • nanoparticles
  • parabens
  • petroleum distillates
  • P-Phenylenediamine (PPD)
  • Pthalates
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
  • Toluene
  • Triethanolamine (TEA)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)

Instead, look for natural ingredients, and labels like:

  • Preservative- free
  • Paraben-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Phthalate-free
  • PCB-free
  • Toluene-free
  • Lead-free
  • USDA Organic Certified
  • IOS Natural & Organic Cosmetic Standard
  • BDIH Certified Natural Cosmetics
  • Biodynamic
  • Whole Foods Premium Body Care Seal

2) Clothing. Why clothe yourself in chemicals when there are so many natural, healthier alternatives, better for you and the planet? Avoid clothing made of:

  • acetate
  • acrylic
  • nylon
  • polyester
  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • rayon
  • triacetate

Instead, look for natural fabrics like:

  • cotton
  • bamboo
  • hemp
  • ingeo (fermented plant sugars)
  • linen
  • lyocell (wood pulp)

3) Food. The only thing more important than what you put on your body is what you put in it. So the last thing you want to eat are fruits and vegetables that have been saturated in pesticides, or meat, eggs and dairy products from factory farms where the practices are questionable, at best.

For fruits and veggies, look for an organic option. And if you do not practice a vegan lifestyle, always limit your meat, eggs and/or dairy consumption to free-range organic, as such certification comes with stricter requirements for humane animal treatment.

Organic also addresses the GMO issue, as certified organic products cannot be labeled as such of they were genetically modified.

It’s important to understand, however, that all “organic” labels are not created equal. Note the difference:

  • “100% Organic” is the ideal, meaning every ingredient in the product meets USDA Certified Organic standards.
  • “Organic” is second best, meaning at least 95 percent of the ingredients are technically organic.
  • “Made With Organic Ingredients” is the least-favorable of labels, as it need only contain 70 percent organic ingredients. Still, it’s preferable to any non-organic alternative.

4) Cleaning products. How clean can it be if you’re coating your home in chemicals? Avoid cleaning products that contain:

  • APE’s (alkylphenol ethoxylates)
  • phosphates
  • petroleum
  • active ingredients chlorine ammonia

Look instead for labels like:

  • Chlorine-free
  • Ammonia-free
  • Phosphate-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Plant-based
  • Biodegradable in 3 to 5 days

While there are plenty of eco-friendly cleaning products to choose from these days, you may prefer cheaper — and often equally effective — options in the form of common household staples, like baking soda, vinegar, tea tree oil, borax, lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide.

For more insights into greening your life, see our comprehensive Green Living Checklist, including articles on eco-friendly landscaping, construction, travel, and more.

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Threats to Habitat Hamper Obama Push for Renewable Energy Expansion

July 30th, 2013

To meet its goal of doubling U.S. solar, wind, and geothermal energy output by 2020, the Obama administration is pushing for approval of an additional 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy development and production on public lands. While the space and conditions may be ideal for such development, conservationists warn of the threat to ecosystems and wildlife.

Specifically, the administration’s expansion plans include:

  • 25 utility-scale solar facilities
  • 9 wind farms
  • 11 geothermal plants

It’s estimated the completed projects would generate an additional 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy — enough to power 4.4 million homes.

National Geographic reports that permits have been approved, or environmental reviews are being conducted, for solar, wind, and geothermal projects covering about 310,000 acres: ”Many projects require that electric transmission lines be built over miles of open space to connect the remote renewable generating plants to the grid that serves population centers.”

Unfortunately, existing projects have proven problematic by conservationist standards. For example….

At one site near Joshua Tree National Park, migratory birds have been found dead on the property in recent weeks. While it’s yet to be determined with any certainty what’s causing the deaths, it’s suspected the birds are mistaking reflective solar panels for bodies of water.

At another site in Ivanpah Valley at the California-Nevada border near Mojave National Preserve, the project has encroached on the local desert tortoise population. Though the developers have spent years and millions of dollars relocating them, millions more is expected to be spent in the continuing effort to minimize impact on this habitat.

According to the latest numbers released for 2012, just 2 percent of primary energy consumption in the U.S. is generated by solar, wind, or geothermal power. But as helpful as this expansion may prove to U..S. renewable energy growth, is it worth the potential harm to our natural habitats?

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Does the Future of Solar Depend On Building-Integrated Photovoltaics?

July 26th, 2013

With solar lagging behind in the renewable energy market, those in the BIPV business are hopeful they have the answer to the future of solar power.

BIPV is building-integrated photovoltaics. The idea is this: Instead of tacking solar panels onto existing buildings, BIPV incorporates solar technology into building materials. This approach shows considerable promise, as the market has tripled over two years time.

Considering the enormous potential of solar, those in the business have flooded the market with solar panels in recent years. However, the interest and/or action on the part of consumers hasn’t kept pace. As reported by Bloomberg News, the oversupply has resulted in a 90 percent drop in solar panel prices since 2008 and, in turn, a drop in profits for solar companies. BIPV is seen as the solution to all that, as it is a product sold at a premium.

If all goes according to plan, BIPV will grow into a $7.5 billion industry by 2015. That’s an ambitious prediction, considering it would represent a greater than $5 billion jump from its current $2.1 billion.

BIPV is already prevalent in the U.S., in the form of solar shingles. BIPV technology can also be incorporated into facades and windows. A high-profile application of BIPV can be seen in architect Norman Foster’s stadium hosting the 2014 FIFI World Cup football in Brazil.

There’s no way of knowing if and when BIPV will catch on, but it’s exciting to imagine a future in which building-integrated photovoltaics is the standard. A future in which consumers no longer need to make a decision about adding solar to their homes, as the decision has been made for them.

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French President Won’t Stand for Shale Gas Exploration On His Watch

July 18th, 2013

While France could most assuredly use a boost to its economy, French President Francois Hollande refuses to go the route of exploiting the country’s abundance of shale deposits. In fact, as reported by BBC News, Hollande has stated in no uncertain terms there will be zero shale gas exploration on his watch.

Shale gas is emitted via the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” process that has been so controversial here in the U.S. That said, proponents of shale gas exploration in France point to the U.S. as an example of what it can do to boost an economy, having helped drive down the cost of gas for American consumers. Opponents, on the other hand, have the same concerns as environmentalists here in the U.S. Fracking has the potential for contaminating ground water and, some studies show, causing earth tremors.

Hydraulic fracturing pumps water, sand, and chemicals down into the earth, breaking apart rocks so as to release natural gas trapped inside — gas that is then pumped up to the surface.

With fracking ongoing and growing in the U.S., the EPA has stated plans to propose standards on wastewater from gas wells by 2014. Unfortunately, as I blogged in January, these proposed fracking standards will reportedly be based on results from a study reliant on computer simulations rather than real-world situations.

As for France, shale gas exploration has been banned since 2011. President Hollande’s most recent comments on the matter comes the same week the country’s highest court was set to reconsider the ban at the objection of an energy company that wants to see its two cancelled exploration permits reinstated.

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Stephen Chu On the Future of Solar

July 11th, 2013

Though he no longer holds the title of U.S. Energy Secretary, Stephen Chu’s words carry plenty of weight in the renewable energy world. At this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Germany, the Nobel Prize winner shared some encouraging thoughts on renewables in general, and solar power in particular.

Chu told The Economic Times, “My dream is to make renewable more affordable.” In fact, he says it was his interest in getting back to research that compelled him to leave his post as President Obama’s energy secretary, getting back to his roots at Stanford University.

On the subject of solar, Chu is confident the key to its growth is a business model that embraces the involvement of utility companies rather than seeking to make them obsolete. Instead of consumers buying and installing solar panels on their own, he speaks to the benefit of relying on utility companies to do all the work. Let them buy and install the panels, and provide for their maintenance. In exchange, consumers would sign a 5- to 10-year contract, keep batteries on the property for solar power storage, and pay only for the cost of electricity. While the cost of electricity varies dependent on geography, Chu says in the sunny South, U.S. consumers may expect to pay as little as 8 cents an hour for electricity in just 10 years time.

A push toward a more practical application of solar power is more than welcome at a time when the House is considering cutting renewable energy spending in half next year. Currently, of the renewable energy generated for electricity in the U.S., only 3.5 percent comes from solar.

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UK To Miss 2020 Renewable Energy Target [REPORT]

July 3rd, 2013

Despite reports to the contrary just six months ago, the UK is evidently not on track to meet its renewable energy goal by 2020.

The UK’s target is for 15 percent of energy to come from renewable sources — such as solar and wind — by 2020. This is part of the larger European Union target of 20 percent by 2020. However, as reported by The Guardian, an annual update by the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) finds that current growth in the UK will not provide the necessary support to meet the goal:

Following the results, the REA, which provides the EREC with data for the UK, called on the government to confirm its commitment to achieving the UK’s 2020 target and ‘to end the mixed policy signals that have dominated the airwaves in recent times.’

All of this comes in spite of a government report last year stating that 10 percent of its energy was already coming from renewables. On the contrary, the EREC finds that the UK didn’t even meet its first interim target under the directive by the end of 2011 (4.04% for 2011 to 2012).

According to the same EREC update, other countries expected to miss the 2020 goal include Belgium, Poland and Spain. And there are serious doubts about Bulgaria, Germany, Greece and Portugal. On the flip side, the other 21 European countries involved in the project are right on target, each of which met their 2012 targets in 2011.

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First Solar-Powered Boat To Circle Globe Cruises Into Gulf Stream Research

June 25th, 2013

It’s not enough these days for a solar-powered boat to rest on its laurels as the first of its kind to circumnavigate the globe. The Turanor Planetsolar is now a one-of-a-kind research vessel spending the summer in the Gulf Stream.

As you may recall, Planetsolar finished its record-breaking trip around the world last May after spending 19 months at sea.  Its 5,500 square feet of photovoltaic cells charged batteries that provided the necessary power to turn the boat’s twin propellers for a record-breaking 37,000 solar-powered miles around the globe. It’s this same technology that is powering its new mission of studying the role of atmospheric aerosols and phytoplankton in regulating climate.

The $17 million Planetsolar watercraft wasn’t originally conceived as a vessel for research, so there was quite a bit of revamping necessary to fit the bill for its latest endeavor.

As reported by The New York Times:

The catamaran had to be outfitted with research equipment, including a ‘ferrybox,’ originally developed for ferries in the Baltic Sea, that constantly records the temperature, salinity and other characteristics of the water the boat is passing through. It also has a ‘biobox,’ developed by the university’s applied physics department, which uses a laser to analyze the number and type of aerosols in air samples.

As many as nine people are traveling aboard the 100-foot vessel, including five crew members and four researchers. Traveling at an average speed of five knots, Planetsolar’s current mission began in Miami in May and is scheduled to end in Norway in August.

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50 Percent of Renewable Energy Spending Gets the Axe In Proposed Bill

June 19th, 2013

To accommodate cuts required by automatic sequestration in 2014, House appropriators plan to put forth a bill in which renewable energy pays the price.

If this Energy and Water appropriations bill passes, renewable energy spending in 2014 will see a significant cut — nearly half that of 2013. If it passes, then next year federal government investments in renewable energy will be $1 billion, which is $911 million less than allotted this year.

Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for the future of solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal energy. It’s especially concerning in light of what’s happening on the nuclear power front.

Just last week I questioned, Will San Onofre Closure Escalate New, ‘Improved’ Nuclear Power Plants? Now I can’t help but wonder if this cut in renewable energy spending will do the same.

As you may know, most of the nation’s more than 100 nuclear power plants are over 30 years old. We could either retire them (case in point, San Onofre), or we could build a whole new generation of power plants to take their place. And it’s pretty clear what the federal government has in mind.

Last year the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the first new nuke power reactors since 1978 – two of them, in fact, at Georgia’s Plant Voglte. It’s a $14 billion project backed by a federal loan guarantee.

That combined with this proposed fifty percent cut in renewable energy spending in 2014 suggests to a nuke-fueled future. Already nuclear power generates 20 percent of U.S. electricity. Meanwhile, renewable energy accounts for just right around 13 percent. And only 3.5 percent of that 13 percent represents solar, a clear indication to me of how much we desperately need to increase renewable energy spending as we have barely pricked the surface of a power source that has the potential to power the world.

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Will San Onofre Closure Escalate New, ‘Improved’ Nuclear Power Plants?

June 12th, 2013

A year-and-a-half after what was presumed to be a temporary shut-down, the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California is reportedly closing for good. Evidently the regulatory process for garnering approval for a restart was going to prove a lengthy process and, in turn, an expense California utility company Edison International isn’t interested in dealing with.

As reported by The Los Angeles Times: “Edison has been paying for the plant’s ongoing operation and maintenance costs as well as the cost of replacement power — a bill that has soared to more than half a billion dollars — while the plant remained idle.”

It was January 2012 when San Onofre first went offline due to a radioactive leak traced to a problem with the facility’s steam generators. Though the tubes within the generators were less than two years old, an investigation found that they showed signs of premature wear-and-tear, and with no plausible explanation as to why.

In response, the plant was shut down. Though believed to be only temporary, this was welcome news for those opposed to nuclear power (myself included). Now knowing the plant won’t re-open at all seems a solid cause for major celebration. That said, 1,100 people are losing their jobs, plus there is the matter of replacing the energy that once powered 1.4 million homes.

The San Onofre nuclear power plant sits on the San Diego beach about midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. With its permanent shut-down, California is now home to just one operable nuclear power plant, the other being Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo.

While it’s certainly my hope the San Onofre shut-down represents a pivotal move away from dependence on nuclear power in the U.S. — and subsequent embrace of renewable energy alternatives like solar and wind — it’s a hope tempered by two sobering facts:

1) Last year the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the first new nuke power reactors since 1978 – two of them, in fact, at Georgia’s Plant Voglte. It’s a $14 billion project backed by a federal loan guarantee.

2) Nuclear power currently provides one-fifth of the nation’s electricity.

In other words, as good as it feels knowing there’s one less nuclear facility generating radioactive waste in my state, the San Onofre plant closing could very well escalate plans for the new and “improved” generation of nuclear power plants.


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Automakers Sweeten Deal On Electric Car Leases

June 5th, 2013

If you’re in the market for a car, automakers are sweetening the deal on vehicles you may have thought too impractical or expensive — electric cars. As reported by The Los Angeles Times, to keep up with regulatory requirements, automakers have to do something to increase consumer interest in these alternative vehicles.

Influenced by California’s stipulation that 15 percent of new vehicle sales be of the zero emissions variety by 2025, automakers are making today’s electric car leases practically irresistible.

Though they’re losing money on these deals, automakers reason that it will help drive the kind of consumer interest the industry needs to fuel research and development necessary to make electric vehicles a truly more affordable option for all.

For consumers, it’s a win-win. You can get a car for the same (or lower) price as any old gas-guzzler. And leasing it means you’re not tied down to elements understandably questioned by consumers, like maintenance on electric vehicles and future resale values.

Just how good are these deals? Both Honda and and Ford are both now offering electric car leases for well under $300 a month. And Nissan has lease deals on multiple vehicles for as little as $199 a month.

An electric car is a vehicle which uses one or more electric motors for propulsion. This is in contrast to a hybrid vehicle which uses a combination of electric (in the form of rechargeable batteries) and gas to power the drivetrain. An electric car is the ultimate in producing zero emissions and emitting absolutely no green house gasses or pollution.

What do you think? Would you be willing to lease an electric vehicle that’s just as cheap as, if not cheaper than, the gas-powered or hybrid variety? Why or why not?

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Google Invests Millions In South African Solar Plant

May 31st, 2013

With a new multi-million-dollar investment in a South African solar photovoltaic plant, Google continues greening the world over with renewable energy projects.

As reported by National Journal, South Africa aims to install 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy before 2030. Here’s how it works:

South Africa offers no subsidies for renewable energy. Developers must have their permits, suppliers and financing lined up, and then submit bids to the South African Department of Energy (DOE), which decides whether to pay the requested rates. Once a bid has been accepted, the developer must start construction in six months.

Evidently they’re on the right track, as Google’s Director of Energy and Sustainability Rick Needham says South Africa had ”the highest growth in clean energy investment in the world last year.”

Looking to throw its hat in the ring, reports that Google’s latest green endeavor invests $12 million into 325,000 solar modules on 450 acres of land in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Once complete, the 96 megawatt Jasper Power Project will generate enough energy to power 3o,000 homes.

Of course, Google’s investment represents just a share of the total $$260 million need to make the project happen. Other major investors include SolarReserve, Intikion Energy, and the Kensani Group. However, this does bring Google’s worldwide renewable energy investment to 12 projects, totaling more than $1 billion. This includes one other overseas investment in a German photovoltaic plant, as well as the $94 million solar project I blogged about in December 2011, funding four solar power plants near Sacramento, California, where the generated power will be sent straight to the grid, providing enough energy to power 13,000 homes.

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Washington Uses Hydropower to Lead Nation in Renewable Energy Use

May 18th, 2013

Solar and wind energy may get the most attention, but the use of hydropower far exceeds that of any other renewable energy nationwide. So it’s no surprise that, as reported by, Washington state leads the country in renewable energy use, where hydroelectric dams provide more than 60 percent of the state’s total energy.

Hydropower harnesses the kinetic energy inherent in the power of flowing water. As I blogged a couple of years back, it’s a 7-step process, wonderfully outlined by Discovery’s HowStuffWorks:

1) A dam holds water back to create a reservoir.

2) Intake gates on the dam open and gravity pulls the water through the penstock, a pipeline that leads to the turbine. Water builds up pressure as it flows through this pipe.

3) The water strikes and turns the large blades of a turbine, which is attached to a generator above it by way of a shaft.

4) As the turbine blades turn, so do a series of magnets inside the generator. Giant magnets rotate past copper coils, producing alternating current (AC) by moving electrons.

5) The transformer inside the powerhouse takes the AC and converts it to higher-voltage current.

6) Out of every power plant come four wires: the three phases of power being produced simultaneously plus a neutral or ground common to all three.

7) Used water is carried through pipelines, called tailraces, and re-enters the river downstream.

Just how much more hydropower is used by Americans than other renewables? Here’s the breakdown:

  • 67 percent hydropower
  • 25 percent wind energy
  • 4.5 percent geothermal
  • 3.5 percent solar power

Washington is one of 33 states and territories with Renewable Portfolio Standards, meaning they mandate that utility companies must provide a certain percentage of renewable energy by a certain date. Unfortunately, more than half of these standards are being challenged, with the toughest fights expected in Kansas, North Carolina, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio and Connecticut.

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New Forecasting Technology to Improve Wind, Solar Power Generation

May 15th, 2013

When we think about improvements to renewable energy systems, technology that captures more of it comes readily to mind. Flying under the radar, though, is a type of technology that could prove equally important — forecasting technology. Improved prediction systems for wind and solar can enable utility companies to make existing technology work better.

As reported by, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has announced a 2-year plan to develop forecasting technology that will enable utility companies to better predict:

  • How much energy wind farms are likely to generate so they can more effectively ramp up or down reliance on other energy sources.
  • Predict extreme temperature swings as well as the impact of freezing rain and fog on wind turbines.
  • When customers with rooftop solar will supply their own demand, when they’ll be contributing excess electricity to the grid, and when they’ll need to pull power from utility sources.

This news comes at a time when the U.S. is seeing record growth in wind power generation and solar panel installations.

In 2012:

  • The U.S. added a record 13,000 megawatts of new wind power. That’s now a total of 60,000 megawatts of electricity being generated by wind in America, which is enough to power 14 million homes.
  • Solar panel installations in the U.S. rose 76 percent over the previous year, significantly exceeding the prediction pf a 30 to 50 percent jump.

The NCAR will deploy the new forecasting technology at the Xcel Energy regional control centers in Denver, Minneapolis and Amarillo.

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Solar Plane Flies Day-and-Night in Record Trek Across America

May 6th, 2013

In the first journey of its kind across America, the Solar Impulse is the first plane fueled by solar energy alone — and capable of flying both day and night — to attempt the trip. The Swiss pilots began the trek in San Francisco on Friday, May 3, completed the first leg in Phoenix on Saturday, May 4 and, in 10 days time, will continue on in this five-leg journey, until reaching its final destination at New York’s JFK International Airport.

Though two pilots are manning the journey, only one at a time, as that’s as many as the cock-pit can seat. They will presumably take turns back and forth on this five-leg journey:

  • San Francisco to Phoenix (complete)
  • Phoenix to Dallas-Fort Worth
  • Dallas-Fort Worth to St. Louis
  • St. Louis to Washington D.C.
  • Washington D.C. to New York

As reported by USA Today, the Solar Impulse is considered the most advanced solar plane in the world:

  • Collecting solar energy via 12,000 solar cells
  • Storing the energy in 4 batteries attached to the wings
  • Flying up to 24 hours (i.e., round-the-clock, night and day)

Of course, there are obstacles. The plane weighs about as much as a car, which isn’t much flying 40 mph in the sky. So the pilots must be especially sensitive to heavy winds, bad weather and even passing through clouds!

If you live in any of the destination cities, try to make the most of this historic opportunity. The pilots are spending 10 days in each city, making the rounds about town, so check your local goings-on for where and when you can meet them and see the plane in person.

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