39 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for November 23rd: Massachusetts clears Cape Wind for construction; Simple discoveries could enhance wind turbine efficiency by 18%; Saving energy with a ‘slow wall’
The last regulatory hurdle for the start of construction of the first U.S. offshore wind project was overcome today with the approval by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) of the 15-year Power Purchase Agreement with National Grid to buy half of Cape Wind’s energy, capacity and renewable energy credits.
However, the DPU did not approve a second agreement for the other 50 percent of the project’s power. That agreement would have allowed National Grid to assign the remaining portion of Cape Wind’s power to another customer under the same financial terms. The DPU’s refusal could hurt Cape Wind as the company seeks financing for the proposed 130 turbine project.
The decision culminates a comprehensive six-month review of unprecedented scope, including 13 days of evidentiary hearings. This approval comes on the heels of significant Cape Wind project announcements that locate the creation of over 1,000 new manufacturing, staging, assembly, construction, and operations jobs in Massachusetts. In addition, Siemens has opened its North American Offshore Wind office in Boston because of Cape Wind.
Cape Wind will be rated to produce up to 468 megawatts of wind power with 130 turbines each producing up to 3.6 megawatts. Maximum expected production will be 454 megawatts. Average expected production will be 170 megawatts which is almost 75 percent of the 230 megawatt average electricity demand for Cape Cod and the Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Cape Wind will be 5.2 miles from Point Gammon, a private island in South Yarmouth, 5.6 miles from Cotuit, 6.5 miles from Craigville Beach on Cape Cod. Cape Wind will be 9.3 miles from Oak Bluffs and 13.8 miles from the town of Nantucket. Cape Wind will be farther away from the nearest home than any other electricity generation facility in Massachusetts.
Even though the cost of wind power is in a continuous drop since 2008, more and more researchers aim for reducing it more while at the same time enhancing the efficiency. A couple of teams from the Syracuse University and the University of Minnesota have a few ideas about how to improve wind turbines by modding their blades and how the air flows on them.
One of the approaches, developed by a team from Syracuse (Guannan Wang, Basman El Hadidi, Jakub Walczak, Mark Glauser and Hiroshi Higuchi), estimates the airflow over the blade surfaces and passes the information to a computer that regulates the blades’ angle in real time to increase efficiency, just like an airplane does the opposite to move faster or slower.
Their simulations showed that if the flow control is applied on the outboard side of the blade, beyond the half radius, the operational range of the wind turbine could significantly be increased, without affecting the overall power output.
The researchers at the University of Minnesota (Roger Arndt, Leonardo P. Chamorro and Fotis Sotiropoulos)dealt with another issue of wind: the resistance of the blades to the incoming airflow. They placed tiny triangular-shaped grooves in a coating applied on the blades. Being very shallow (40 to 225 microns), they can’t be seen by the naked eye, but still remain perfectly smooth to the touch. This micro-grooves approach gave the turbines another 3 percent efficiency, which is much if we think about the numbers on a global scale.
Neste Oil has started production at its biodiesel plant in Singapore, the world’s largest with an annual capacity of 800,000 tons. The plant will produce the NExBTL diesel which, according to the company reduces the carbon emissions by 40 to 80 percent depending on the percentage blending with the conventional diesel.
The biodiesel from the plant can be either blended with the conventional diesel or used directly. The company claims that the biodiesel is compatible with the all the diesel engines currently in use. Neste Oil is building a similar plant in Rotterdam, The Netherlands which should be ready by Q2 2011.
The plant uses either vegetable oil or a mixture of oils and residual animal fats from the food industry. The basic principle used in producing biodiesel is esterification (or transesterification). In commercial production of biodiesel, fatty acids (found in plant-derived oils, animals fats and greases) are made to react with an alcohol (usually methanol) with potassium hydroxide (or other hydroxide) as catalyst.
It is clear that a greater concentration of fatty acids in any raw material would increase the output of biodiesel. Plant-derived oils like rapeseed oil are rich in fatty acids and can be directly used for producing biodiesel through transesterification. The animal fats, however, have lower fatty acid content and thus they are first treated with alcohol to generate an ester and then the resulting ester is treated with another ester in a replacement reaction to get biodiesel.
One of my favorite science fiction ideas is in a short story called Light of Other Days about something called “slow glass.” Light took decades to pass through. In this story, the idea was that people could buy glass windows that took so long for the light to pass through, that they could nostalgically watch long gone scenes, such as their children playing outside as toddlers long after they had gone off to college, or green fields with horses where now ugly cities grew.
Here is a concept that is similar. Instead of slow windows, it is slow walls. RavenBrick has made a nanotech wall that can slow down the day’s heat coming into a building. Using phase-changing material at the molecular level, you get to transfer the warmth of the sun’s heat from the afternoon well into the night.
RavenBrick makes several clean tech materials for building that greatly reduce energy needs, most notably windows that turn off the sun, like Sage Electrochromics windows do. The one that is new to me is this “slow wall”. They claim that their glass-clad Smart Wall: RavenSkin could literally reduce your heating bill to zero! (Coupled with good building design, of course, you can’t expect a zero bill if you put leaky windows in their wall!)
Their wall can delay solar heat gain from hot afternoons, to later that night, when you need it more. This helps regulate the internal temperatures of buildings. It has excellent R-values to begin with (R-11 or more) so it insulates like a normal wall limiting the conduction and convection of heat.
The magic – or science fiction – part is achieved by converting incoming sunlight to infrared, and then directing the flow of energy inward only when you want it to come through the walls. The problem with super well-insulated buildings is that sometimes you do want the suns heat getting in, and regular insulated walls are dumb walls that don’t know when to send the heat in and when to shut it out.
The agriculture and forestry sectors would gain $14 billion in revenue by 2025 under a national renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to generate 25 percent of their power through wind, solar, biofuels and efficiency improvements, according to a new study from the University of Tennessee.
An RES would create an overall boost of $215 billion in economic activity, create 700,000 jobs and add $84 billion to U.S. gross domestic product, the study says. The increase in bioenergy feedstock to meet the standard would not disrupt major crop and livestock prices, according to the study. But an RES would not lower carbon emissions from agricultural lands compared to either current policy or a scenario with compensation for limiting carbon emissions from land use, the report says.
The study was requested by the 25x’25 coalition, a group of organizations pushing for meeting a quarter of the nation’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2025. Under a scenario that includes carbon payments with an RES, agriculture and forestry gain revenue worth $57 billion as compared to the current baseline, and there would be a reduction of 76 million tons of carbon dioxide, the study found. Under that policy, however, feedstock prices would rise by about $6 per dry ton to $51 per dry ton.
The middle of the country has the most to gain from an RES or an RES with carbon payments, but the East Coast and the Southeast also would see some benefits, according to the study. The West, except for parts of California and Washington, would experience the least gain, it says.
In an experimental control room at the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), small blips dart left and right on a display screen, recording distant signals from key points on the Western high-voltage grid at 30 times each second. Should the blips migrate past a security boundary on the display, an alarm would immediately warn that the grid was in jeopardy.
Such an early alert could have helped operators avoid the 1996 Western power blackout, which knocked out 30,000 megawatts of power — equivalent to darkening 30 cities the size of Seattle. The advanced monitors in PNNL’s Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center (EIOC) could also have averted or at least minimized the 2003 Northeast blackout, which cut off power to 50 million people, says Carl Imhoff, PNNL’s electricity infrastructure manager. “You would have seen Cleveland beginning to pull away from the rest of the system” more than an hour before the final cascading power loss, he explained.
The intermittent nature of wind and solar power now make the grid operators’ world more complex. The looming emergence of electric vehicles and the need for ways to store more electricity and to get electricity consumers to reduce peak demands will add still more complexities, Imhoff said. “The grid is going to be changing a lot over the next 10 years. We want to anticipate that and to some extent, to guide it. Right now, I think we’re kind of backing into the future,” he said.
PNNL’s ambitious aim is to manage at least some of that future by investing in innovations like the EIOC, and then carrying technology advances into the marketplace with its industry partners, its leaders say. The result is a federal laboratory, funded by Congress, that seeks solutions in areas of climate policy, renewable energy integration and electric vehicles — areas on which a clear political consensus has not been reached in Washington.
The state-owned Indian oil and gas company, ONGC, has announced that it will invest about $110.5 million to promote research and development of renewable energy sources. The announced was made by the company chairman at a summit organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) is Asia’s largest oil exploration and production company. It has 77 percent share in the Indian oil production market and 81 percent share in the natural gas production sector. The company is actively involved in exploration of oil and natural gas in several parts of India. A subsidiary, ONGC Videsh takes care of the international business overseas. It has high value stakes in oil and gas fields in countries like Russia, Iran, Vietnam and Sudan. It is believed that it will also partner with a Russian firm to bid for rights to explore the Arctic for hydrocarbon reserves.
This rosy picture, however, fails to bring profits for the company. Due to the government’s intervention, the oil and gas proces remained low for the past several years. So while the companies imported oil at international prices the government maintained lower domestic prices in order to shield the people from inflation; therefore all the state-owned companies operated in heavy losses for several years. Only recently did the government loosen its grip on the pricing mechanism and allowed the companies to decide domestic prices according to the international oil prices.
Air pollution in major cities in Asia exceeds the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality guidelines and toxic cocktails result in more than 530,000 premature deaths a year, according to a new report issued on Tuesday. Issued by the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute, the study found that elderly people with cardiopulmonary and other chronic illnesses were especially vulnerable and they tended to die prematurely when their conditions were exacerbated by bad air.
“In general, those susceptible to air pollution are people who are older, who have cardiopulmonary disease, stroke, conditions often related to aging,” the institute’s vice president, Robert O’Keefe, said by telephone. “In Asia, the elderly will become more susceptible to air pollution and become more frail. The more frail are the ones dying prematurely from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), cardiovascular disease,” he said.
The study took into account three main pollutants — particulate matter of 10 micrometers and smaller, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Not a single city in Asia had all three pollutants within limits considered acceptable by the World Health Organization. Although sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide in Dhaka were within safety limits, particulates in the capital of Bangladesh were more than five times over WHO guidelines.
While a tremendous amount of research and funding is going into trying to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic cells by a few percentage points, there is a readily available solution that yields a 40% increase in produced power today – dual-axis tracking . By simply moving the PV array so that it is aligned with the sun throughout the day and seasons, you get a large boost in produced power at a small incremental cost. Of course the cost depends on the design of the tracking system. In today’s market, this cost ranges from under a $1.00/produced watt, to around $3.00/produced watt. We are talking about produced watts rather than rated watts.
The key to understanding the benefits of tracking is the significance of the incident angle, the angle at which the sun’s rays strike the PV array. To see how the incident angle affects solar intensity and power production, we use the formula Intensity = Constant x cos Î˜ where Î˜ is the incident angle measured from perpendicular (Fig. 1). So intensity is at its maximum when Î˜ = 0ˆ’this is when the arriving energy strikes a PV panel perpendicularly. The greater the incident angle, the smaller the amount of energy reaching the panel.
Another consequence of a large incident angle is reflection. As the incident angle increases, the glass on the front of the PV panels begins to reflect energy away from the panels, reducing the power produced. The combination of reflection and reduced available surface area is why fixed solar systems produce very little power in the morning and afternoon. Figure 2 is a representational daily energy production graph for a fixed array. For a fixed array, the incident angle changes throughout the day, from highly acute to highly obtuse. The result is that very little energy is produced during the morning and afternoon.