Tag Archives: Solar Energy

Rebecca Otto’s Clean Energy Plan for Minnesota

Earlier today, Minnesota Gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto released her energy transition plan. It an ambitious plan that puts together several elements widely considered necessary to make any such plan work, then puts them on steroids to make it work faster. To my knowledge, this is the first major plan to be proposed since the recent dual revelations that a) the world is going to have to act faster than we had previously assumed* and b) the US Federal government will not be helping.

Here’s the elevator speech version: Minnesota residents get around five thousand dollars cash (over several years), monetary incentives to upgrade all their energy using devices from furnaces to cars, some 80,000 new, high paying jobs, and in the end, the state is essentially fossil fuel free.

About half of that fossil fuel free goal comes directly from Continue reading Rebecca Otto’s Clean Energy Plan for Minnesota

Australia Solar Thermal Plant: Messed up reporting

SolarReserve will build, for the South Australia government, a solar thermal plant rated at 150 MW, which is about 25 MW more than that government uses currently. Over time, assuming Australia goes all on clean and green, the amount of electricity used by South Australia will increase substantially, but for now, this plant will provide the extra to the regional grid.

A solar plant is a way of making the use of solar more full time. Instead of just producing electricity by sunlight, perhaps storing some in batteries, it uses sunlight to produce heat, which is then used to run a turbine all day and all night, and across periods of cloudiness (which are rare in the case of this particular plant’s location).

Putting it another way, this kind of plant solves the problem that clean energy tends to be intermittent. Putting it still another way, this kind of plant reduces the need to store electricity that may be overproduced or produced irregularly by photovoltaic solar or wind plants.

But the reporting of this story sadly demonstrates counterproductive lousy anti-clean energy commentary delivered in an envelope of crap reporting (because the reporter did not understand the story enough to ask the right questions). Here is a quote from the story in The Guardian

<blockquoteWasim Saman, professor of sustainable ernergy engineering at the University of South Australia, said solar thermal was a more economical way of storing energy than using batteries.

“The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand,” he said.

But Dr Matthew Stocks, a research fellow in the research school of engineering at the Australian National University, said solar thermal also had limits.

“One of the big challenges for solar thermal as a storage tool is that it can only store heat. If there is an excess of electricity in the system because the wind is blowing strong, it cannot efficiently use it to store electrical power to shift the energy to times of shortage, unlike batteries and pumped hydro,” he said..

No. Investing in this kind of plant is a move to reduce the problem of storage.

Show me an article about a new nuclear power plant, an upgrade to a coal plant, or a new natural gas plant, that mentions that these technologies are not batteries. This is nothing other than a senseless contrary opinion pulled out of the nether regions of a reporter’s notebook. The search for false balance continues even at the Guardian, which really should know better.

Why is the US Government turning back to petroleum when clean energy means JOBS JOBS JOBS?

The solar energy field now produces the larest share of jobs in US Power generation. There are 374,000 jobs i Solar right now, compared to fewer than 190,00 in coal, gas, and oil.

This corresponds to shifts in the amount of electricity produced by these various sources, as indicated in the Department of Energy graph shown above.

The biggest states for this job growth are California followed distantly by Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.

Given current trends inside the beltway, I expect the Department of Energy to make this report disappear so 2017 US Energy and Jobs Report_0.

Giant Solar Power Plants Don’t Need To Vaporize Birds

We often hope, even assume, that technology will fix our problems. We also know that sometimes technology creates a problem. In this case, technology can help us fix the problem of needing to keep the fossil carbon in the ground by making use of the sun, but created the problem of vaporizing birds with intensely focused solar energy. But then, the engineers applied adjustment to the technology to save the birds!

I wrote it up here on 10,000 Birds, where I write a monthly installment on birds and stuff: Solar Plant Stopped Killing Birds: One Weird Trick!

Patriot Panels and Freedom Volts: Don’t Tread On Me!

The Nevada state government has just ruined solar energy in their state. From here,

Although Nevada is one of the sunniest places in the world, there has recently been a dark cloud hovering over the rooftop solar industry in the state. Just before Christmas, Nevada’s public utility commission (PUC) gave the state’s only power company, NV Energy, permission to charge higher rates and fees to solar panel users – a move that immediately shattered the rooftop solar industry’s business model.

In addition to the new monthly fee, … customers … will get less back from the utility for energy their solar panels capture and feed into the main power grid. Whereas previously they received full retail value for their surplus electricity, soon NV Energy will only pay a third of that price for exported electricity.

Now, if you live in one of the sunniest states in the US, it is no longer worth it to put solar panels on your roof.

This is part of a national fight over solar energy. In some states, nefarious forces are working toward making it a bad idea to put solar panels on your home or business. In other states, forces for the good are working to make home or business rooftop solar a good idea.

There is a larger scale political divide in this country, with Republicans, Libertarians, and Tea Partiers (overlapping groups) on one side and Democrats and environmentalists on the other. The former is against shifting to clean energy and addressing global climate disruption. The latter is working towards shifting away from fossil fuels and addressing climate disruption.

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Current and recommended books on climate change.
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But a big part of this makes no sense. Those solar panels you may choose, as in individual or small business owner, to put on your roof constitute your way of utilizing your sun. Yes, that sun that falls on your house is not the property of the government, or big corporations, or politicians bought and paid for by big corporations. That is your sunlight, and THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT INTERFERE WITH YOUR USE OF IT TO POWER YOUR OWN HOME.

Public utilities are there to serve the public, and you are part of the public. Those entities, and the state government agencies that regulate them, should not be conspiring to take away your volts. Your Freedom Volts. They should not be stopping you from installing your solar panels … your Patriot Panels … on your own roof.

So why have the Libertarians and their kin not been fighting this? Why have self described “Patriots” not taken up arms, figuratively one would hope, against the nefarious forces that seek to control YOUR access to your OWN ENERGY?

I suspect that eventually they will. Among those who do put up solar panels there must be some who do so to for their own sensible financial reasons. There must be some people who benefit from rooftop solar who are not Democrats or environmentalists, but rather, sensible Republicans or Libertarians who are in it for the FREEDOM, the financial savings, and also, just because it is cool to make your own energy. Perhaps we will see the KINDLING OF FREEDOM among these self sufficient patriots. Perhaps we will see a demand from the right, not just the left, to LEAVE OUR FREEDOM VOLTS ALONE!

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Clean Energy: The State of the States

One of the problems we have in making a quick transition to clean energy in the US is the fact that energy production and distribution is typically regulated by states, and some states are not as smart as other states. Or, if they are smart, they are controlled by political forces intent on maintaining fossil carbon based fuels as our primary energy source, which of course, is a totally bone-headed policy.

When it comes to the transition to clean energy, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. The easy way is to encourage the picking of low hanging fruit, such as solar panels on flat spots, at the same time we work towards tackling some of the more expensive projects that require more up front investment but that will eventually pay off. The hard way, of course, is the total collapse of civilization. Most imaginable post apocalyptic worlds don’t use to much fossil fuel!

And, whether the hard way or the easy way is the most likely path at any moment in time is often a matter of what is happening on the state level. Here are a few examples of what is going on right now around the US.

In Maryland, a state commission is calling for the state to pledge slashing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. That sounds like a large amount, but it is actually a modest and easily attainable goal. They should probably be going for more.

The goal — which if passed into law would be one of the most ambitious set so far by a state — drew unanimous support of the 26-member panel, which includes lawmakers, environmentalists, representatives of business and labor, and top officials in the Hogan administration.

The recommendation is likely to lead to legislation in the General Assembly, which must decide next year whether to stick with the goal it set in 2009 of reducing climate-warming emissions 25 percent by 2020.

Meanwhile, Texas and California are leading the nation in carbon emissions. The overall pattern of carbon emissions by state (using two year old data because for some reason those who keep track of these things haven’t discovered twitter and spreadsheets) is largely a matter of population size and similar factors.

But while we might expect California to be high on the list, Texas is way way higher, to the point one wonders what they are up to down in the Lone Star State.

Data released this week by the administration shows each state’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2013. Texas doesn’t just top the list, its emissions — 641 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — are almost double those of California, the nation’s second largest carbon emitter, which spewed 353 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

On a per-capita basis, Wyoming leads all the other states in greenhouse gas pollution.

In New Mexico, Santa Fe has an interesting program in mind. There, The Heath Foundation, a private 501c(3) representing the community interests of Jim Heath, has a plan. Here’s part of it:

  • HeathSUN will provide a complete rooftop photovoltaic solar system for homeowners in Santa Fe County at no charge to the customer. HeathSUN owns and maintains each rooftop solar system, and the ancillary metering and control equipment, and there’s no lien on the house.
  • Under HeathSUN’s set-up, customers will continue to have access to electricity from PNM when needed. For solar energy from the rooftop system, the customer pays HeathSUN 80 percent of the going PNM rate, so the solar power’s cost would rise and fall with how much PNM is charging. The customer gets separate bills from HeathSUN and PNM.
  • In a new twist, HeathSUN says there will be no “net metering” in this model, meaning no HeathSUN solar power would flow through a PNM meter, the standard way to provide a seamless household electrical system. When someone turns on an appliance in a HeathSUN house, technology in the home’s own electrical control box decides whether to pull from the rooftop solar system or from PNM…
  • In Hawaii, there is a plan to charge up some big batteries with a big solar array, for use to meet evening/nighttime demands.

    The nation’s leading residential installer is building the project near Lihu’e on Kaua’i’s southeast corner. The project includes a 13 MW photovoltaic solar array, but is unique in that it includes its own solution to the intermittency problem that solar power faces.

    The power generated by the PV cells will be used solely to charge a 13 MW battery array capable of providing 52 MWh to customers of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), the island’s sole electricity provider. That means the solar cells will charge the batteries during the height of the day, and the batteries will discharge the stored power to customers during the evening peak between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.

    “Anyone that’s been out to Kauai will notice that they have a lot of solar on the island and really don’t have any appetite at all for solar at midday,” Rudd said. “If anything, they were already in a bit of a curtailment state during certain days. So, they love solar, they want more because it’s cheaper than what they otherwise would realize, but they don’t need it during the day.”

    New York State is working out the details of how to deploy meters to allow the grid to become smart.

    There is a big waste-to-energy project in the works in Oregon.

    And that is a sampling of the news that came across my desk just today.

    Mojave Solar Project Grand Opening!

    5970-fullThis is an important step in keeping the Carbon in the ground.

    The Mojave Solar Project has been online and fully operational since December, but today, a grand opening ceremony celebrates this massive achievement. The plant uses advanced parabolic trough technology that has made the 280 MegaWatt plant one of the most innovative projects in the country and the second-largest plant of its kind in the world. Abengoa, owner of the Mojave Solar Project, is hosting a celebration

    Read the rest here.

    Saint Paul Saints Building With Solar Power

    You all know about the Saint Paul Aints. No, wait, I mean Saint Paul Saints. This is a local baseball team here in the Twin Cities. They are building a new stadium (much needed) right in the middle of Saint Paul to replace their old stadium out by the railroad tracks.

    What you may not know is that the Saints Stadium is going to be one of the greener sports stadiums built. Other people building stadiums should take note. From MPR News:

    St. Paul Saints stadium builders aim to make it a ‘green’ field

    … When the $62 million stadium opens in May, the home of the city’s minor league baseball team will take a major step forward as an environmentally friendly sports facility.

    A canopy of photovoltaic solar panels next to the baseball field will generate 103 kilowatts of power for Minnesota’s newest sports complex, a 7,000-seat facility owned by the city of St. Paul.

    “We think it’s going to be the third largest solar array at a sports facility in the U.S,” project manager Paul Johnson said.

    That’s only about a tenth of the power needed to run the lights and meet the energy needs for the rest of the stadium. But it will be a high-profile alternative to conventional electric power. The baseball scoreboard is expected to tout the solar power generated along with the score. Its panels also will shade a group dining area.

    Other features will include a storm water filtration system that will take drainage from the nearby Metro Transit maintenance facility roof and use it to irrigate the turf at CHS Field. Rain water also will be diverted to flush 10 percent of the toilets in the restrooms.

    Making the stadium environmentally friendly came with a cost. The solar project added an additional $600,000 to the project, and the storm water system added an estimated $450,000. But grants are covering the extra cost.

    Still, the price tag on the solar project has drawn skepticism even from some environmentalists.

    Eric Jensen, senior energy associate for the Izaak Walton League of the Midwest, is encouraged that solar energy will receive such a high-profile installation and that more people will see a practical use for it. But he said the funding from Xcel Energy would have gone further on other projects.

    “This is the highest dollar per watt,” Jensen said. “It’s the most expensive dollar per watt project.”

    But Gerken, the project architect, thinks even seasonal use of environmentally-friendly facilities can inspire the public to think differently. He cites light rail service at Target Field.

    “Many people’s first experience with Metro Transit and the light rail was ‘hey, let’s go to a Twins Game,'” he said. “And now they’re used to it, they know about it. … It’s an option to go to the airport; it’s an option to go to the Mall of America.”

    Ann Hunt, environmental policy director for the city of St. Paul, said the innovative stadium features aren’t just demonstration projects but part of a larger effort across the city’s public sector. Another example of the city’s environmental focus, she said, is the solar hot water system for the RiverCentre convention center. Hunt said it’s one of the biggest in the Midwest.

    “This installation heats hot water to help heat the RiverCentre complex and the Xcel Energy complex and provide domestic hot water for that facility,” she said.

    Build a solar power plant to help run a water treatment plant!

    RMU Announces Solar Plant Completion

    Rochelle Municipal Utilities, in Rochelle, Illinois, has. started operation of a large Photovoltaic Solar Plant providing power to their water treatment facility. This is a great example of a project that should be done in more places.

    In the Spring of 2014, RMU was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to fund construction of the Solar Plant. ICECF provides grants for up to $2/watt or 60% of the system and its installation costs, whichever is less. As a result of the competitive bidding process, Eagle Point Solar was awarded the project.

    “Rochelle’s 312 kW Solar Photovoltaic plant is one of the larger Public Power Utility owned plants in Illinois. This plant will provide renewable energy to the water treatment plant” stated Business & Financial Analyst Dan Westin. “Treatment plants require a lot of energy to make clean water. Rochelle will continue to explore financially sound projects in the area of renewable energy.”

    As a result of this project, Rochelle Municipal Utilities has been selected as a recipient of this year’s Northern Illinois Renewable Energy Summit & Expo’s “Leadership by Example” award.

    You can view the plant’s output real time here.

    The water treatment plant has a peak energy demand of about 420 kW and the PV system can cover over half of that. During summer months, when the Sun’s energy is maximally available, the sun will provide about 45% of the plant’s energy requirements. It helps that the plant operates mainly during daylight hours, so this is a good fit for a solar installation.

    According to Dan Westin, of Rochelle Municipal Utilities, “the unique part of Rochelle is that as a Muni owned utility it can include the grid capacity cost savings in the business case as well the solar energy credits marketed in the Pennsylvania market. The payback is less than five years that way. So 15 years of free solar energy. The cost of producing clean water goes down.”

    Dan also told me that there are similar projects in Galena and Rockford Illinois.

    Thinking Big About Clean Energy

    I want to put a solar panel on my roof so that I am releasing less greenhouse gas into the environment. But then I hear that manufacturing solar panels causes the release of greenhouse gasses, so I have to subtract that from the good I think I’m doing. But then I realize that the people who are making the solar panels have to change their method so they release less greenhouse gas into the environment.

    We hear this argument all the time (for example, here). You think you are doing something “green” but it really isn’t green because yadayadayada. I am suspicious of these arguments because they often (though not always) come from people who want us all to keep using fossil Carbon based fuels, for some (unsupportable) reason or another. One might think that these arguments have to be addressed in order to do a rational and well thought out analysis of the decisions you make.

    But that is simply not true for three reasons.

    Reason One: So what? Nobody tells me I have to make a rational decision about buying the 72 inch wide TV to replace my 64 inch wide TV, but suddenly I’m a bad person if I don’t do a detailed Carbon-based cost benefit analysis when I want to do something EVEN COOLER than having a bigger TV, like putting a freakin’ cool solar panel on my roof? Excuse me, but STFU with our rational argument yammering.

    Reason Two: You can’t count. If I put a solar panel on my roof, almost no one is going to discount the value of my house because it gets some free electricity, but a significant number of people are going to pay more for it when I sell it because it is cool. See reason one.

    So when I put these together, my personal cost benefit analysis leans towards doing it more than the nay sayers might say. But still, if putting up a solar panel kills more polar bears than not putting up a solar panel, because the manufacturers of solar panels use thousand of tons of coal per square inch of solar panel, I’ve got to consider not doing it. Except for reason three.

    Reason Three: If we all refuse to act until everyone else acts than we will not act. I will buy whatever solar panel I want, and the people who make solar panels can compete for my business by getting the energy to make their solar panels from … solar panels! Or not. Eventually they will because we ALL have to stop using ALL of the Carbon. Driving an electric car in a region where more coal is used to make electricity, would have to be MUCH less efficient than not driving the electric car (in terms of carbon release) to make me think twice about it. I’ll drive my electric car and at the same time we’ll watch the electricity companies make more and more of their electricity from wind and solar, and they will have a bigger market to sell that in because we are locally replacing gas with electricity. Of course, I will need the electric car to get cheaper before I can get one, but if I had one, that is what I would be thinking.

    I’ve had conversations about this issue with a lot of people and these conversations have made me realize that the structural argument against clean energy is wrong for the reasons stated above. It turns out that A. Siegel has had similar arguments and he has had similar thought. It is possible that he and I have even talked about this and are pretty much on the same page. Go read To solar carport or not to carport, that is the (or at least a) question … and see what you think!

    The naysayers want you to think small, but they make it look like thinking big. Instead of just calculating the immediate costs, consider also the distant polar bears crushed by the wheels of industry because you want a solar panel, they advise! But no, think even bigger. Think not only along dimensions of production and supply, but also, time and socioeconomic change. In order to address the climate crisis, we have to keep the Carbon in the ground. In order to keep the Carbon in the ground, everybody has to do everything they can do all the time, and not sit on their hands waiting for some other guy to change a value in our spreadsheet. Think big.