Energy and Global Warming News for June 16th — A car charging infrastructure takes shape; Siemens, Munich Re study $555 Billion, 100 GW concentrated solar project in the Sahara

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"Energy and Global Warming News for June 16th — A car charging infrastructure takes shape; Siemens, Munich Re study $555 Billion, 100 GW concentrated solar project in the Sahara"

A Car Charging Infrastructure Takes Shape

Having shipped hundreds of electric vehicle charging stations, and with repeat orders now coming in from Europe, Coulomb Technologies, a privately-held Silicon Valley company, expects to be profitable by the 2010 introduction of the Chevy Volt, according to its chief executive, Richard Lowenthal.

(Mr. Lowenthal appears in the video above, explaining the company’s ChargePoint Network.)

“Our plan was to sell a thousand stations, but we will probably double that,” he told Green Inc. last week after the company secured its third Bay Area order this year. “Our company is structured to be profitable based on early adopters.”

Founded in 2007, Coulomb is looking to crack the chicken-and-egg riddle that bedeviled the hydrogen fuel cell industry. Without a refueling infrastructure, consumers won’t buy vehicles. But no one invested in refueling stations without potential customers on the road.

I’ll be doing a long post on the chicken-and-egg problem soon.

Siemens, Munich Re Study $555 Billion Solar Project

Siemens AG, Germany’s biggest engineering company, and Munich Re are holding talks with utilities on developing solar plants in the Sahara desert to supply 15 percent of Europe’s power needs by mid-century.The discussions, which include German power companies RWE AG and E.ON AG, as well as Deutsche Bank AG, are in the early stages, Siemens spokesman Marc Langendorf said today. Turbines built by the Munich-based manufacturer may be used, he said.

The German companies want to harness a free fuel source that’s plentiful in one of the world’s poorest regions and sell the power to industrialized Europe. The plants may cost 400 billion euros ($555 billion) through 2050 and stretch across 130 square kilometers (50 square miles) of the North African desert, Munich Re said in a document published on its Web site today.

Note:  That Munich Re document is well worth reading for those interested in renewable energy and potential European actions.

Memo to Bloomberg News:  You appear to have a picture of a PV panel for your solar thermal story.

Reuters also has a good story on this here:

“We have approached Munich Re to get industrial companies on board and Munich Re organised the meeting with the other companies,” said a spokesman for the Desertec foundation, which is fostering the idea to generate solar power in Africa.

The 20 companies and Desertec aim to sign a memorandum of understanding to found the Desertec Industrial Initiative which would commission studies on possible projects, he said.

A first power station with a capacity of 2 gigawatts in Tunisia with power lines to Italy would take five years to build once it gets regulatory approval, the spokesman said.

A possible long-term project could be a 100 gigawatt solar thermal power station in northern Africa and the Middle East. It could be finalised by 2050 with power lines connecting it to central Europe and would cost an estimated 400 billion euros ($555.8 billion), he said.

As Iraq runs dry, a plague of snakes is unleashed

Swarms of snakes are attacking people and cattle in southern Iraq as the Euphrates and Tigris rivers dry up and the reptiles lose their natural habitat among the reed beds.

“People are terrified and are leaving their homes,” says Jabar Mustafa, a medical administrator, who works in a hospital in the southern province of Dhi Qar. “We knew these snakes before, but now they are coming in huge numbers. They are attacking buffalo and cattle as well as people.” Doctors in the area say six people have been killed and 13 poisoned.

Germany’s ‘clunkers’ scheme boosts sales of foreign-made cars

Germany’s plan to encourage car owners to ditch their gas-guzzlers to purchase newer, more fuel-efficient models was intended to lower pollution, boost the economy and put German car manufacturers back to work.

But so far, most of the government-issued $3,500 vouchers for new automobiles have been used to purchase foreign cars. One of the clear winners has been Skoda’s compact, fuel-efficient Fabia, manufactured in neighboring Czech Republic.

To be sure, Germans car dealers are selling more cars: Registrations for new vehicles in Germany were up 40 percent last month compared with the same period last year. But only 24 percent of the bonus money has been spent on German-made vehicles.

Agency joins ‘sustainable communities’ initiative

U.S. EPA has teamed up with other federal agencies to create “sustainable communities” by linking transportation planning with housing development and environmental protection in communities nationwide.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced today that the agency has entered the initiative announced earlier this year by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

“The partnership recognizes that the work of our agencies is interconnected,” Jackson told a Senate panel today. “In designing or improving our communities to be sustainable for the long term, mobility, housing and environmental issues are entirely interconnected.”

Study maps best spots for harnessing high-altitude winds

Jet streams have enough wind to power the entire planet, so some far-sighted researchers are working on technologies — high-flying kites and floating turbines — that just might harness that power.

“High-altitude winds represent the largest highly concentrated form of renewable energy available on Earth, and if we could learn how to extract energy from winds and distribute it globally, we could potentially power all of civilization,” said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist with Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution.

Best suited for high-altitude wind development are population centers in the eastern United States and East Asia, according to research by Caldeira and Cristina Archer at California State University, Chico.

In a study published recently in the journal Energies, Archer and Caldeira report using historical data to conduct the first global assessment of high-altitude wind power.

How To Get Wind Turbines To Work Harder

How much usable energy do wind turbines produce? It is a question that perplexes engineers and frustrates potential users, especially on windless days. A study published this month in the International Journal of Exergy provides a formula for answering this vexing question.

Abolfazl Ahmadi and Mehdi Ali Ehyaei of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, at Iran University of Science and Technology-Arak Branch, in Arak, have investigated the “exergy” of wind power. Exergy is a term from thermodynamics that measures that the energy a system that is available to do work.

The next ‘moon landing?’ Norway plans deep-sea CO2 storage.

At a high-level conference in Bergen last month, the oil-rich Nordic nation announced that it will work with Britain to study how the base of the North Sea could be used for carbon dioxide storage for European countries. It will also allocate nearly $200 million toward carbon capture and storage projects in the European Union.

Although some environmentalists aren’t yet convinced of the long-term prospects of sequestering carbon dioxide emissions deep under the ocean, the idea has become something of a holy grail in the effort to stop global warming.

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25 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for June 16th — A car charging infrastructure takes shape; Siemens, Munich Re study $555 Billion, 100 GW concentrated solar project in the Sahara

  1. David B. Benson says:

    All looks encouraging today.

  2. Omega Centauri says:

    David says encouraging I conclude the opposite. $555B for 100GW sounds pretty pricy. The Sandia study had claimed CSP would get considerably cheaper once the industry scaled, this number doesn’t seem to reflect that. Is this because of the cost of transmission from a remote area? Or is it just a very conservative estimate? Current PV panels are already less than that -although they may not have as high a capacity factor.
    So I’m hoping you’ll jump in and say the 100GW is not peak, but average (over say 24hours)!

  3. How much would it increase demand for electricity if the entire fleet of American cars shifted from gasoline to electricity? That is a key fact that I never hear mentioned in articles about electric cars.

    My guess, of the top of my head, is that it would increase demand by 50% – making it much harder to phase out dirty power plants.

    [JR: It gets mentioned all the time — it’s a major benefit of all electric cars. There are lots of zero carbon electric generation technologies, including wind which is perfect for charging at night and the batteries solve the storage/intermittency problem. But there are essentially no zero carbon liquid transportation fuels.]

  4. Dano says:

    The interesting thing that Charles brings up is that the Great Plains has lots of night wind, exactly when we’d be charging our cars. And the SW has 300+ days of sun.

    If we want to continue with transport that requires a ton of steel and lots of energy to move a single person, well, great, let us tap new sources!!! We have to figger out the ‘lektrick part if we want to go down the same loser path we are going now.

    Best,

    D

  5. John Mashey says:

    RE: Richard Lowenthal of Coulomb Technologies

    Very good guy, very strong technically and entrepreneurially, and interestingly, was mayor of Cupertino, i.e., has experience on the local government side of things. [I used to work with him in early 1980s]. I don’t know how all this will work out, but it’s good to see *very* strong people working on it.

  6. Craig says:

    The Independent article on Iraq is a major eye opener. Anyone who wants a glimpse into future water conflicts should read it. A similar situation could easily play out in dozens of regions around the world. The most worrying being the Indus watershed because both sides are nuclear armed.

    The short-term implications for US security are bleak as well. As reported in this UPI article,

    http://www.upi.com/Energy_Resources/2009/06/15/Iraq-faces-summer-water-shortage-disaster/UPI-67901245089714/

    Iraq faces intense water shortages this summer that could lead to an “agricultural disaster.” That would not bode well for maintaining the fragile peace in the country. And last time I checked, the US still had around 180,000 soliders there.

  7. Florifulgurator says:

    Q: Are the Chevy Volt batteries exchangeable?
    That would speed up refuelling considerably. A crucial detail…

    …You could e.g. keep a spare battery at home, for recharging plus perhaps electricity trade. Or, the expensive batteries could be owned by the electricity trade post (formerly gas station) and rented to vehicle users. That could make the vehicle a whole lot cheaper. Moreover, batteries could be distributed by service trucks to customers waiting by the road (e.g. on German Autobahn Pannenstreifen, dunno if you have that on U.S. highways).

    If the batteries can’t be exchanged quickly the whole thing would be yet another classic piece of tech junk.

  8. BBHY says:

    “Charles Siegel Says:
    June 16th, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    How much would it increase demand for electricity if the entire fleet of American cars shifted from gasoline to electricity? That is a key fact that I never hear mentioned in articles about electric cars.

    My guess, of the top of my head, is that it would increase demand by 50% – making it much harder to phase out dirty power plants.”

    Charles, America spent $700 Billion on importing oil last year. That is just one year, so let’s consider $7 Trillion over the next 10 years.

    How many solar, wind and geo-thermal electric plants would that buy? Enough to replace every dirty fossil fuel plant, with plenty of money left over to fund health care, education, public transportation, and finance the creation of new innovative industries to create a millions of jobs, a thriving economy and higher standard of living. As a side benefit, we get cleaner air and put a stop to global warming.

    But I suppose you prefer that all that money goes to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela instead? I hear some Saudi oil sheiks still have yachts that are under 300 ft long, so they certainly need our help!

  9. SamB says:

    “Our plan was to sell a thousand stations, but we will probably double that,” he told Green Inc. last week after the company secured its third Bay Area order this year. “Our company is structured to be profitable based on early adopters.”

    My education tells me to stay with gasolene. I can fill the car, pay for fuel, have my kids take a potty break and buy candy and be good to go for 500 miles in 5 minute turn around. E Mini sys 2 hours for a fast charge that runs 2 hours?

    More facts. 150 mile range and 2.5 hour charge with special high amperage wall box.
    Now that means with 75 mph speed limit, I can’t run an average ground speed including charging of 35 miles per hour. My educated decision says no.

    [JR: These are plug in hybrids! The electricity is for commuting. The gasoline is for longer distances and rapid refueling.]

  10. BBHY says:

    SamB, you are not one of the early adopters. Most people don’t regularly drive for 500 miles, stop for 5 minutes and go another 500 miles. I haven’t made a trip like that in 10 years. Once in 10 years I could just rent a gasoline car for the trip. More likely, I would just fly instead.

    Electrics will work fine for most people in most situations. They are steadily getting better. The Tesla Model S will be able to go 300 miles, and recharge in 45 minutes. There will be even better ones after that. Eventually they will be good enough even for you “late adopters”.

    BTW, if most people buy electrics and greatly reduce demand for oil, folks like you will benefit from the resulting lower prices. If electrics catch on, you still win even without buying one!

  11. paulm says:

    In Japan, it’s raining tadpoles …

    … and fish and frogs. Downpours that deposit dead creatures from Hiroshima to Iwate bewilder meteorologists
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/17/japan-rain-tadpoles

  12. Scatter says:

    Joe I’d be very interested to hear your views on high altitude wind. Is this an area you might look at in the future?

  13. paulm says:

    Coal plants have to phase out CO2 emissions now if we are really going to have any impact on worst case scenarios….

    letter to UK minister:
    Miliband must end coal emissions
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jun/17/letters-coal-enviroment

    ….
    Daleep Mukarji
    Director, Christian Aid
    Andy Atkins
    Executive director, Friends of the Earth
    John Sauven
    Executive director, Greenpeace
    Barbara Stocking
    Director, Oxfam
    Graham Wynne
    Chief executive, RSPB
    Deborah Doane
    Director, World Development Movement
    David Nussbaum
    Chief executive, Officer, WWF UK

  14. Marcus says:

    Just a quick note on the German scrappage scheme story. Skoda, despite being a czech firm, are actually owned by Volkswagen-Audi Group, so the situation is more complex than the article presents.

    however, here in the UK, it has been estimated that the biggest gainers from our recently introduced scrappage scheme are Kia, a south Korean firm, which backs up the German unease over such schemes, which is mentioned in the article.

  15. paulm says:

    The latest uptick in CO2 concentration is worrying.
    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/webdata/ccgg/trends/co2_trend_gl.png

    This could be the signal that the tipping action is about to flip us in to the next climate state.

    Its probably caused by a few things in concert:
    – the escalation and geographical spread of forest fires which are burning for longer;
    – increasing of methane levels;
    – a reduction absorption of CO2 by the oceans

  16. Col says:

    On first pass, a Sahara-powered Europe strikes me as a security problem. A new target to attack so as to socio-politically destabilise. Although obiously attacking it wouldn’t have some of the consequences of attacking a nuclear plant.

    A massive project like that isn’t in line with with the direction of the industry either towards distributed power generation.

    Too simple? What am I not thinking about here?

  17. BBHY writes: “I suppose you prefer that all that money goes to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela instead?”

    No, I would prefer that people drive less. The average Americans drives twice as much now as in the 1960s, and I don’t think we are any better off because we put in all those extra miles on the freeway.

    No matter how quickly we build wind and solar power plants, we clearly will not be able to phase out dirty power plants as quickly if we have this major new source of demand for electricity. So, I think we should and inevitably will shift to plug-in hybrids, but I think we should be aware of how much electricity this would demand if we keep our current driving habits, so we realize that we should try to reduce the amount we drive at the same time as we shift to cleaner cars. To draw attention to this point, I would like to see that elusive number that is never mentioned: how much would it increase our demand for electricity if we shifted to electric cars?

    I myself have not owned a car for many, many years. I bicycle as my main form of transportation. I presume that you have sent lots of money to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela by buying gasoline over the last decade, Mr. BBHY, but I have sent very little.

    Dano, it is good to hear from you. The idea that cars could be charged at night is a common defense of our current loser path, as you say. Of course, the obvious response is that, rather than storing that energy generated at night in our car batteries and using it to power cars during the day, if we drove less, we could store that energy in some other way and use it for less destructive purposes.

  18. Icarus says:

    How about this claimed solution to the hydrogen fuel cell ‘chicken and egg’ problem?:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8103106.stm

    It might not suit individuals but perhaps businesses could consider it for their company car fleets.

  19. [JR: It gets mentioned all the time — it’s a major benefit of all electric cars. There are lots of zero carbon electric generation technologies, including wind which is perfect for charging at night and the batteries solve the storage/intermittency problem. But there are essentially no zero carbon liquid transportation fuels.]

    Joe, I still have not seen a number. If it gets mentioned all the time, please pass it on to me: what percent of our current electrical generating capacity would it take to power electric cars, assuming people keep driving as much as they now do?

    There are lots of zero-carbon electric generation technologies, but there are economic limits to how quickly we can deploy them. To avoid the worst effects of global warming, we clearly need to reduce the amount of energy we consume as well as shifting to clean energy.

    If we can store energy in car batteries and use it to drive, we can also store that energy in batteries and use it to meet peak electrical demand during the day.

    Saying that we should shift to electric cars and not mentioning that we should also reduce the amount we drive is like saying that we should use electric heaters in our homes and not mentioning that we should also insulate so we need less heating.

    Let me repeat that I think the shift to plug-in hybrids is both beneficial and inevitable – but we also need to reduce the amount we drive. The numbers would emphasize this point: how much added electricity would we need to keep driving as much as we do today?

  20. Grady says:

    Charles Siegel wrote:
    “…rather than storing that energy generated at night in our car batteries and using it to power cars during the day, if we drove less, we could store that energy in some other way and use it for less destructive purposes…If we can store energy in car batteries and use it to drive, we can also store that energy in batteries and use it to meet peak electrical demand during the day.”

    Where are the millions of batteries going to come from to store all this energy? Currently, energy storage is so expensive that most utilities simply dump the electricity at night because they can’t find anything profitable to do with it. Electric vehicles would solve this problem in two ways, first by storing this energy to release some at peak times while plugged in during the day: V2G (vehicle-to-grid). Also by actually providing millions of high capacity batteries to utilities at the end of their useful lifetime as car batteries they can further facilitate adoption of wind and solar energy (they still typically have 80% of their capacity left.)

    I am glad to hear that like me, you cycle instead of driving, but unlike me you don’t seem to be a realist about driving habits. The average Joe is not going to stop driving so the sooner we can offer carbon free options the better.

  21. Grady:
    You ask: where are the millions of batteries going to come from to store that energy? It is obviously cheaper just to produce the batteries without producing the cars along with them. If we can produce millions of plug-in hybrid cars to store energy generated at night, then we can more easily produce millions of batteries without the cars wrapped around them.

    I am also realistic about driving habits. The average person is not going to stop driving but could reduce driving. Have you been following the debate in congress over the reauthorization of TEA legislation? For the first time ever, Democratic leadership is talking about passing a bill whose goal is to reduce VMT in order to deal with global warming.

    I think the Democratic leadership is more realistic that you are. They are realistic enough to see that, in order to control global warming, we need to reduce the amount Americans drive.

  22. Grady says:

    Charles:
    Yes, we can produce millions of batteries but who is paying for them? When they are produced with “cars wrapped around them” you have people buying them instead of buying gas guzzlers at no extra cost to anyone. You get all of the benefit of energy storage, grid management, load levelling and (eventually) full use by the utilities. In addition you have vehicles that are at least three times more efficient than the best ICE vehicles so it is like people driving three times less!

    Also, instead of attempting to limit emissions from millions of tailpipes (nearly impossible) you at least have a chance in the medium to long term of capturing emissions from power plants. So even if all our electricity were produced by coal plants, the situation is far superior to continuing with business as usual. We need to start large scale production of electric vehicles immediately in order to allow economies of scale to reduce costs and start to replace our worldwide fleet of gas guzzlers.

    BTW, your demands for “that elusive number” are unlikely to be met unless you are specific about energy demand. Are you interested in the increase at peak demand time, because that is likely to be a negative % for the reasons mentioned earlier. Are you assuming 10%, 50% or 100% replacement of the transportation fleet? On the whole, I don’t think the number even matters because our total energy use will decrease, our portion of renewables can be increased and every analysis of electrification agrees that it will decrease greenhouse gas emissions substantially.

  23. Well, clearly everyone read the article. Some misunderstood some of the details but that does not matter.
    One detail, one thought the distance too far.
    Evidently, more reading on American High Voltage lines would help.
    In California, we have 1,000 mile (or so) Million volt DC lines, transformers bought from Sweden, long ago, they have higher now.

    Re: Batteries, the charge is so cheap, that some may do it for free, like certain parlors in Las Vegas, Safeway in California and others that expect to benefit from your stay in their store or barber shop, or movie theatre, their overly cooled and overly lit stores.

    Batteries: China will sell cars that go 100 miles between recharges, companies may provide free recharge to their workers and avoid the bookiping expense, call it VoltPerk.
    GM’s car is said to have a 40 mile range, how long before the 2 Battery version comes out? Two days?
    How about replacing batteries like we replace empty Natural Gas tanks for fulled ones for BBQ and cooking? Well, “I take good care of my battery, why should I ….” What?

    Sequestration: Seems like a pipe dream but history teaches that the same was said of the airplane, so I will not call it that for the next 10 years, then I will call it the worst I know at that time in life beginning with “You know what they….”

  24. “Yes, we can produce millions of batteries but who is paying for them? When they are produced with “cars wrapped around them” you have people buying them instead of buying gas guzzlers at no extra cost to anyone.”
    “Also, instead of attempting to limit emissions from millions of tailpipes (nearly impossible) you at least have a chance in the medium to long term of capturing emissions from power plants.”

    Unfortunately, in both of these comments, you are assuming that I want people to keep buying gasoline cars. As I said clearly above (quoting the second time I said it): “Let me repeat that I think the shift to plug-in hybrids is both beneficial and inevitable – but we also need to reduce the amount we drive.”

    Assuming that we both reduce the amount we drive and shift to plug-in cars, the same people could pay as utility rate payers instead of paying as car buyers. It is cheaper to live in a neighborhood where a family only needs one car instead of two, and to buy one plug-in hybrid and pay the utility to buy one battery pack, rather than buying two plug-in hybrids.

    “your demands for “that elusive number” are unlikely to be met unless you are specific about energy demand. … On the whole, I don’t think the number even matters because our total energy use will decrease

    As a start, I would like to see the total amount of kilowatt hours that would be used to replace 100% of our current VMT with electric cars. I think this would show that we would need to reduce VMT as well as shifting to electric. Needless to say, our total energy use would decrease even more if we also reduced VMT.

    Would you reason in the same way about China and India? Do you think it would be fine for the Chinese and Indians to drive as much per capita as Americans as long as they use plug-in cars, because the power would be generated off peak?

    Are you against California’s SB 375, which is meant to reduce the amount people drive by reducing sprawl? Are you against proposals to reform federal TEA spending by giving more funding to transit to reduce the amount people drive?

    I am sure that you are not against these things, any more than I am against plug-in cars. I think we both take the only reasonable position: that we should both shift to plug-in cars and reduce the amount we drive.

  25. Grady says:

    Charles:
    It sounds like we are mostly on the same page. There is no question we need less urban sprawl, more public transit and more carpooling. I think what sends up a red flag for me is when I see people questioning the implementation of electric vehicles based on their impact on the grid. We desperately need to get off oil, whether you care about climate change, national security or impending peak oil. Electrification is the only way to do this and we need to start 10 years ago. Oh wait, we did … then killed it… let’s just get it moving because it takes a long time to replace a whole fleet of petroleum burning automobiles.