36 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for March 26: Laser guidance adds power to wind turbines; Austin aims for grid makeover; Evangelicals embrace God and green
The wind industry may soon be dependent on a different kind of environmental awareness that has more to do with lasers than ecology.
A new laser system that can be mounted on wind turbines allows them to prepare for the wind rushing toward their blades.
The lasers act like sonar for the wind, bouncing off microscopically small particulates and back to a fiber optic detector. That data is fed to an on-board processor that generates a three-dimensional view of the wind speed and direction. Subtle adjustments in the turbine blade’s angle to the window allows it to capture more energy and protect itself in case of strong gusts.
The startup company that developed the Vindicator system, Catch the Wind, recently deployed a wind unit on a Nebraska Public Power District turbine. It increased the production of the unit (.pdf) by more than 10 percent, according to the company’s white paper. If those numbers held across the nations’ 35 gigawatts of installed wind capacity, the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors could add more than 3.5 gigawatts of wind capacity without adding a single additional turbine.
“This is what they call disruptive technology,” said William Fetzer, vice president of business development for Catch the Wind. “There are roughly 80,000 to 90,000 wind turbines out in the world, and they don’t have this technology.”
The city of Austin, Tex., today presented a wide-ranging list of recommendations for remaking its electricity system, including more energy efficiency measures and a change to the business model of the local utility.
The effort, known as the Pecan Street Project, goes beyond the concept of smart-grids and could serve as a national model, its backers say.
“We believe it is not enough for the grid to be smart. It needs to be smart and green,” said Jim Marston, who directs the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund and is a Pecan Street board member, in a conference call Wednesday.
Some other smart-grid projects, Mr. Marston added, are “are only looking for ways to lay off meter readers.”
The report’s recommendations range from expanding “demand response” programs to better management of water systems, which require huge amounts of electricity for pumping water.
But the key idea was rethinking the way Austin Energy, the electric utility, makes its money. Currently, the more electricity customers use, the more money the utility “” and the city of Austin, whose single largest source of revenue is the utility “” earns.
“This basic economic model is the single greatest obstacle standing between Austin Energy and a modernized energy delivery system,” the report stated.
This conundrum applies to most utilities around the country too. Roger Duncan, another Pecan Street board member who recently retired as the general manager of Austin Energy, said that he “didn’t really see any other utilities facing up to this problem.”
Pecan Street Project representatives say that some of the recommendations are already being implemented. Last year the Department of Energy awarded a $10.4 million grant to the group for a pilot smart-grid project in an Austin neighborhood.
General Electric announced Thursday it was investing roughly $453 million to expand wind energy facilities in four European countries.
Expansions plans for GE in Europe include the use of the company’s next-generation 4-megawatt turbine for offshore deployment. The new turbine features a drive train system that eliminates the need for a gear box and is the largest wind turbine in GE’s fleet.
Ferdinando Beccalli-Falco, president and chief executive of GE International, said the investments would help his company tap the huge wind energy potential in offshore Europe.
“Offshore wind will play a vital role in meeting the growing global demand for cleaner, renewable energy and has a bright future here in Europe,” he said.
GE points to studies that show that if all offshore wind farms planned for Europe are completed, the European Union could avoid more than 200 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
The projects could also meet up to 10 percent of the EU’s electricity needs, moving Europe closer to its goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2020.
The four projects in the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and Germany could enter operations as early as 2016.
The cultural revolution of the 1960s and ’70s included the birth of the environmental movement. That’s when “there was a deep split, and the right stole God and the left stole green,” says Jonathan Merritt, a 20-something evangelical Christian who sees himself as a political conservative but also as an environmentalist. “I think God and green go together, and I think they belong together.”
While many Christian denominations enthusiastically support efforts to combat climate change, evangelical Christians, who tend to be both theologically and politically conservative, have been caught up in an internal tussle over the issue in which skeptics seem to hold the upper hand.
But a new generation of Evangelicals such as Mr. Merritt – who, he argues, carry less “baggage” from the 20th-century’s cultural wars – are making a spirited effort to show that their religious beliefs and their environmental concerns are not only compatible but inextricably linked.
“I’m an environmentalist because I’m a Christian and not in spite of that fact,” says Merritt, an author and speaker whose book, “Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet,” will be published on Earth Day, April 21.
Conservative US Protestants are among those Christians most likely to be skeptical that human-induced climate change is taking place. In a poll last year, only 34 percent of white Evangelicals agreed there is solid evidence that Earth is warming because of human activity. In contrast, 48 percent of white mainline Protestants agreed, according to the survey, released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the Obama administration will bring leading automakers together today to explore how the industry can best launch electric vehicles with the aid of utility companies.
Several people familiar with the event told the newspaper that auto industry task force chief Ron Bloom will oversee the meeting, which will include the Detroit automakers, several foreign companies including Honda Motor Co. and electric vehicle startups Fisker Automotive Inc. and Tesla Motors Inc.
Obama has been a strong supporter of electric vehicles. As a presidential candidate he campaigned on a pledge to push for 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015, and last year the White House announced $2.4 billion in grants to automakers and suppliers for electric vehicle efforts.
While electric utilities have generally backed automakers’ push toward battery-powered vehicles, both industries have lingering concerns about the availability of charging stations and how much energy demand such vehicles could create for the grid.
A group of electric wholesalers covering two-thirds of the United States and Canada released a study yesterday that stated that plug-in hybrids could boost electric demand by 10 percent in some areas only if all were charing during peak hours. If charging were staggered throughout the day, the study found minimal boosts in energy demand
On a recent morning, the mayor of Seoul stopped by a local amusement park to inaugurate a new electric tram system to ferry tourists around the grounds, replacing an old noisy one that belched exhaust. Music blared. A phalanx of TV crews trailed him.
For some politicians, the event might have been an obligatory photo opportunity, something to be endured en route to more important meetings. But for Oh Se-hoon, who has been striving to build a defining legacy for his mayoralty, it was a signature moment.
“We are the first in the world to use the technology this way,” he said, admiring the way the tram sucks electricity from power strips buried beneath the road. “What we are doing is changing history.”
Mr. Oh is among a new breed of South Korean politicians who increasingly stake their political fortunes on so-called green growth. For Mr. Oh, that means creating jobs based on environmentally friendly technologies and figuring out how to make this city, home to one-fifth of the country’s 49 million people, a healthier, more pleasant place to live.
Since taking office in 2006, Mr. Oh has striven to make the city look nicer and greener. Under his Design City slogan, the municipal authorities carted away urban eyesores like leaky shacks for shoe shiners and replaced them with artfully designed, government-subsidized kiosks. They revamped the old city center, turning part of its Kwanghwamoon Boulevard into a plaza where children can skate in winter.
“My goal in the changing of the face of Seoul is all related to enhancing its attractiveness,” said Mr. Oh, who is seeking re-election as his four-year term winds down. “If the city is attractive, people, information and capital flow in. This in turn creates economic re-vitality and it also creates a lot of jobs.”
Perhaps the issue Mr. Oh has pursued most successfully is air pollution.
While some of his competitors in the election may dismiss some of Mr. Oh’s initiatives as gimmicky, even they concede that the pink haze that used to envelop the metropolis has largely disappeared. The amount of pollutants in Seoul’s air has dropped 20 percent in the past four years, according to city data.
Spanish renewable energy giant EDP Renewables broke ground on a third onshore wind farm in Brazil that has an installed capacity of 70 megawatts.
EDP Group subsidiary EDP Renewables began work on the 2,000-acre site in the state Rio Grande do Sul that would eventually meet the energy demands of 200,000 consumers.
Two wind farms in the region would combine with the Rio Grande do Sul project to deliver 84 MW of wind energy to Brazil.
An expanding Brazilian economy inspired the government to look for alternative energy resources, which would reduce the national dependence on foreign energy.
The Brazilian government awarded the wind farm license to EDP Renewables in January. The wind farm in the city of Tramandai comprises 31 wind turbines.
A “Green Fund” designed to help nations meet climate-change pledges would sell bonds in global markets and use the proceeds to help poor countries deal with the effects of global warming, International Monetary Fund staff proposed in a report.
The report released today expands upon an idea mentioned by IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn earlier this month as a way to raise $100 billion a year by 2020.
The plan offers a mechanism for rich nations to honor their agreement from last year’s Copenhagen climate summit to provide that amount of money to developing countries to confront drought, flooding, food shortages and disease exacerbated by global warming.
Governments could inject reserve assets in the fund, including those disbursed by the IMF last year, it said. The IMF staff plan also calls for wealthy nations to provide separate subsidies to help finance grants, according to the report.
“Once created, the Green Fund could provide a unified resource mobilization framework capable of meeting the financing needs identified at Copenhagen for decades to come,” the IMF staff paper said. “This seems far preferable to the alternative — a succession of difficult international negotiations every few years, with uncertain outcomes.”
The climate fund is aimed at encouraging progress on negotiations towards a global agreement on curbing carbon emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts as many as 250 million Africans may be exposed to water shortages by 2020 and some countries may see harvests fall by 50 percent.