17 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for April 29: Concentrated Solar Set to Shine; Russia’s Putin voices fears for polar bears; Dutch cut estimate of geologic CO2 storage in half
A California-based startup, Amonix, has received $129 million in venture-capital investments to further its commercialization of concentrated photovoltaic technology. The company’s product combines powerful lenses, a tracking system, and solar cells for large, highly efficient solar-power installations. The funding could give the company, and the emerging field of concentrated photovoltaics, the boost it needs for widespread utility-scale deployments.
“We’ve looked at 100 solar companies in the last 18 months, and Amonix is the one that stood out to us as having breakout potential,” says Ben Kortlang, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which led the recent investment.
Amonix recently launched its newest solar concentrator, which converts one fourth of the sunlight that falls on it into AC electricity. That’s compared with the approximately 18 percent system efficiency–including inverters that convert solar’s DC power to useable AC power–of the most efficient photovoltaic systems that don’t use special optics or track the sun.
To collect sunlight as efficiently as possible, Amonix starts with a massive 23.5-meter-by-15-meter array. The array is covered with thin, plastic Fresnel lenses, each measuring 350 square centimeters, that focus sunlight to an area that’s .7 square centimeters. The sunlight, concentrated to 500 times its normal intensity, hits an ultra-efficient multi-junction solar cell that converts 39 percent of the light into electricity. The cell, made by Spectrolab, is the most efficient in the world, demonstrating more than 41 percent efficiency in lab tests. To further enhance performance, Amonix uses a tracking system that keeps the lenses pointed within .8 degrees of the angle of the sun throughout the day.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, better known in the West for his tough-guy image, expressed concern Thursday for the fate of Arctic polar bears threatened by climate change.
“The polar bear is under threat. Their population is currently only 25,000 individuals,” Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying after a recent trip to an island in the Arctic Ocean.
Although Putin is better known in the West for pushing a muscular foreign policy and tightening control over the Russian political system, he has occasionally shown compassion for wildlife and nature.
His press service and the Russian Geographical Society said that Putin went to the Arctic to visit Russia’s most northerly border post and take part in a Russian scientific expedition.
“The reduction in the surface of the ice sheet, the melting of the ice, all this adds to the complications in the conditions of life” of the polar bears, he said.
He helped scientists put a tracking collar on a 230-kilo (506-pound) polar bear as part of an observation programme,
Last year he condemned the hunting of baby whitecoat seals, saying it was a “bloody business”
The Dutch used to discover new worlds across unexplored seas. Now, they are beginning to trace the edges of a new undiscovered country, and it is right beneath their shores.
The Netherlands, a country that chose to build many of its cities below sea level, is famous for its pragmatic, long-term planning. So it should be no surprise that, when it comes to efforts to store carbon dioxide underground for a millennium or more, Holland has been leading the way, planning for years to turn declining natural gas fields off their shores into storage sites.
Initial estimates of the fields were promising. It seemed 40 years of emissions from eight large coal-fired power plants could be stored. Then scientists looked closer, probing each site’s geology, to disturbing results.
Some fields were too small or perforated by drills to store CO2, they found. Others were stubborn, their rocks likely to resist the injection of the gas.
Soon enough, the Dutch had to cut their storage estimate in half.
It is a disappointing result that should be kept in mind as estimates of CO2 storage potential, which mostly exist on countrywide or regional levels, are refined and localized, said Filip Neele, a research geologist here at the geosciences branch of TNO, the Dutch national lab of applied sciences.
In some cases, Neele would not be surprised to see storage estimates fall by up to 95 percent compared with the original projection. Though even then, he added, the capacity would be still large thanks to the vast size of the available storage formations.
“This is likely to be true for any large-scale inventory of storage capacity,” Neele said. “If you look at a country scale and try to assess the storage potential, you’re very likely to grossly overestimate the storage potential.”
Welcome to the new terra incognita. As politicians and businesses push forward with carbon capture and storage, or CCS, as their “bridge” to renewable energy, geologists are scrambling to properly estimate how much CO2 can be stored in deep, water-flush rock formations — called saline aquifers — that have long been ignored by, well, pretty much everyone. They are blank spaces below the map and are only beginning to be better understood.
The House Science and Technology Committee last night approved, 29-8, an $84 billion research and education bill that reauthorizes an innovative energy technology research program at the Energy Department.
The committee approved the bill (H.R. 5116) with a substitute amendment that would keep key science agencies on a path to doubling their budgets from 2007 appropriated levels after hours of debate on nearly 60 amendments.
“Honestly, this bill is a big deal and is important,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). “It’s a big deal and important for our country and for this committee’s stature in the Congress. It’s a big deal and an important step in leading our innovation agenda.”
In addition to authorizing big boosts in funding for DOE’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Standards and Technology over the next five years, the legislation would authorize $3.15 billion in spending at DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, through fiscal 2015. That funding level, laid out in a manager’s amendment offered by Gordon, is a 7 percent decrease from the funding level passed out of subcommittee last month.
The funding cut in the manager’s amendment — 10 percent of the original bill’s authorization level — was a move to earn the support of Republicans who have lamented such big spending increases during an economic downturn. But the effort did not appease all concerns.
More than half of the U.S. population lives in areas whose air is often unhealthy, the American Lung Association said in a report released today.
The group’s annual State of the Air report found that while air quality in many regions of the country has improved, about 58 percent of Americans — about 175 million people — still live in areas with dangerous levels of soot or smog.
Compared with last year’s report, the study found that fewer Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution. The 2009 assessment showed that about 186 million people lived in areas with unhealthy air (Greenwire, April 29, 2009).
The report looks at levels of ozone and particle pollution from monitoring sites across the country between 2006 and 2008. Those are the most current quality-assured data available nationwide for the analysis, according to the study.
The association credits the improvements in part to reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines.
“State of the Air 2010 proves with hard data that cleaning up air pollution produces healthier air,” said Mary Partridge, American Lung Association national board chairwoman.
Still, said Janice Nolen, the association’s assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy, “one thing to keep in mind is, this is not clean air.” She said that while the country has made improvements, “we are not where we need to be.”
Rich and poor nations need a “clean energy revolution” in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said here Wednesday.
“We cannot achieve the (poverty-reduction) Millennium Development Goals without providing access to affordable modern energy,” he said as he opened a day-long energy conference.
Noting that 1.6 billion people around the world lack access to electricity while two to three billion still rely on traditional energy sources such as firewood, peat or dung, the UN boss said access to energy must be expanded “in the cleanest, most efficient way possible.”
Ban spoke as he launched a report by his advisory group on energy and climate change that calls for “universal access to modern energy services” by 2030 and stresses the need to cut energy intensity by 40 percent also by 2030.
Energy intensity is measured by the quantity of energy per unit of economic activity or output.
“The aim of providing universal access should be to create improved conditions for economic take-off, contribute to attaining (the development goals by the 2015 target) and enable the poorest of the poor to escape poverty,” the report said.
It added that curbing global energy intensity would require developed and developing countries to strenghthen their capacity to implement effective policies, market-based mechanisms, investment tools and regulations with respect to energy use.
While the rest of the world invests in renewable, nuclear and cleaner energy sources, the U.S. continues to fall further behind, General Electric’s chairman and CEO said Wednesday in Houston.
In an interview before the company’s annual meeting, Jeffrey Immelt said the situation eventually could put the nation at a competitive disadvantage.
“We just seem to be stalled,” he said.
Over the next five years, China will have installed five times more than the U.S. in power capacity, Europe is moving aggressively into offshore wind power, and Asia is focusing on solar energy, he said.
Only two of about 50 nuclear plants under construction globally are in the U.S., he said. “It’s just not enough.”
Immelt called for a comprehensive government effort to put standards into place so businesses can invest in technologies that have a solid future.
“Some leadership in Washington would be helpful,” he said, emphasizing that he’s not focused on any one technology.
If the United States doesn’t do it, GE will have to go overseas. “We have to go where the action is,” he said.
GE recently announced it would invest about $200″‰”‰million in European offshore wind projects, especially in the United Kingdom and Norway. The investment will create about 2,000 jobs.