July 1 News: DOE Issues Loan Guarantee for 1,300 MW of Solar; California Gov. Demands More Renewable Energy

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

First Solar Wins Loan Help

The U.S. Energy Department said it is offering to guarantee about $4.5 billion in loans for First Solar Inc. to finance three renewable energy projects in California that the solar-panel maker is developing.

The government’s conditional offer to support the projects drew funds from the stimulus-funded loan guarantee program, which expires on Sept. 30 and currently has less than 25% of its funds remaining.

Once built, First Solar, of Tempe, Ariz., said that two of the projects would be the largest capacity solar-panel farms in the world.

First Solar’s California plan includes two 550-megawatt plants in Riverside and San Luis Obispo counties that will be supported by $1.88 billion and $1.93 billion in loans, respectively, according to the Energy Department.

Governor Moonbeam has big plans for California sun

California plans to get a third of its electricity from wind, solar and other renewable energy, but Governor “Moonbeam” Jerry Brown wants more. Soon.

The feisty 73-year-old who brings a former seminarian’s zeal to environmentalism sees green jobs reinvigorating the economy and restoring California’s position as world leader in clean energy.

Never mind budget gaps, technology gaps or the political gap that will come as the state legislature’s champion of alternative energy is termed out of office.

“I didn’t get my name Governor Moonbeam for nothing! I earned it, by advocating ideas that were not popular,” said Brown, who earned the nickname Governor “Moonbeam” three decades ago when he wanted California to buy a satellite.

Returning to the top state office this year, Brown already has signed a law requiring that the state get a third of its electricity from solar, wind and the like by 2020. He called it just a start. That’s the top goal in the United States in terms of raw power, although by 2030 tiny Hawaii is shooting for 40 percent, a number that resonates with Brown.

“I think 40 percent, at reasonable cost, is well within our grasp in the near future,” he said in a statement on the 33 percent goal, called the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

His administration is studying how realistic the higher target would be, as well as a parallel, overlapping effort to plaster the state with small arrays of solar panels that could sit anywhere from prison land to the sides of the California aqueduct. Together these small arrays would account for nearly 20 percent of electricity, if Brown’s goals are met.

New Jersey Lawmakers Send Christie Ban on Hydraulic Fracturing

The New Jersey Legislature sent Republican Governor Chris Christie a measure to ban drilling for natural gas using a process called hydraulic fracturing, which environmental groups say contaminates drinking water.

The measure passed the state Senate 32-1 and the Assembly 56-11 with 8 abstentions yesterday, according to the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services website. If Christie signs the bill, it will be the first statewide ban on fracking in the U.S. The governor won’t comment until state lawyers review the legislation, Michael Drewniak, his spokesman, said yesterday in an e-mail.

While New Jersey produces no natural gas, communities in the state’s northwest sits atop the Utica Shale, a largely unexplored formation stretching from Ontario, Canada, to Tennessee. Range Resources Corp. (RRC) said in February that its initial well in the Utica formation in Pennsylvania produced the equivalent of 4.4 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.

Researchers find plastic in more than 9% of fish in northern Pacific Ocean

Scripps scientists find plastic in 9.2% of lanternfish collected. The small fish are commonly eaten by larger species, and the plastic could end up in the food chain.

Southern California researchers found plastic in nearly 1 in 10 small fish collected in the Pacific Ocean in the latest study to call attention to floating marine debris entering the food chain.

The study published this week by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego estimated that fish in the middle depths of the northern Pacific Ocean are ingesting as much as 24,000 tons of plastic each year.

Although the research found a lower percentage of plastic-fouled fish than previous studies, it is the latest to quantify how many fish are eating marine garbage — most of it confetti-sized flecks of discarded plastic — that has accumulated in vast, slow-moving ocean currents known as gyres.

The results came from a 2009 voyage a group of graduate students made to the so-called Pacific Garbage Patch, an area with a high concentration of fragments of floating garbage about 1,000 miles off the California coast. Researchers cast nets into the water and collected 141 fish, mostly lanternfish measuring just a few inches, and took them to a laboratory in San Diego to dissect.

Exxon, parrying attacks, launches natural-gas website

Exxon Mobil Corp. launched a website Thursday to tout the abundance of U.S. natural-gas supplies and the benefits of hydraulic fracturing, the process that’s enabling a production boom but bringing fears of water pollution alongside it.

“Natural gas is providing the United States with an enormous economic advantage as a result of American ingenuity and innovation,” the website states.

The site is a mix of text, animation and slide presentations touting U.S. development and defending the safety of hydraulic fracturing, which is commonly called “fracking.”

It involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into shale rock formations, which opens cracks that enable gas to flow. Developing these so-called unconventional reserves is prompting a gas boom in a number of states.

Army deploys microgrids in Afghanistan for ‘smart’ battlefield power

The U.S. Army, led by the Project Manager for Mobile Electric Power, or PM MEP, is installing microgrid technologies in Afghanistan as part of a groundbreaking project that could significantly lower fossil fuel consumption on the battlefield.

The effort, which kicked off at a 2,400-man Force Provider complex in June, is the first attempt by the Department of Defense to evaluate microgrid technologies in an operational environment.

A microgrid consists of “smart” generators that link with one another to intelligently manage the power supply and operate at peak efficiency. Microgrids also enable the use of alternative energy sources and energy storage.

“We know this technology can save fuel and maintenance time for our deployed forces,” said Brig. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical, or PEO C3T, the Army organization overseeing the initiative. “Through this project, we can obtain reliable data on these benefits — and lay the groundwork for successful use of microgrids in theater.”

Among the goals of the three-month experiment are to collect data on fuel and maintenance savings, identify the microgrid technologies with the highest potential for military use, familiarize Soldiers with the equipment’s functions and obtain a baseline cost analysis to support future installations. The Army Materiel Systems Analysis Agency, or AMSAA, will take the lead in gathering system and cost data.

Solar PV Balance-of-System Costs to Surpass Modules by 2012, According to GTM Research

As solar PV module prices continue to decline globally, balance-of-system (BOS) components will assume a majority share of a PV project’s total cost per watt within the next year, according to GTM Research. In 2010, BOS costs accounted for approximately 44.8% (US$1.43 per watt) of a typical, utility-scale crystalline silicon (c-Si) project, with that percentage forecasted to increase to 50.6% in 2012. This economic shift is driving industry attention beyond the module toward achieving economic gains for key BOS components and services, including mounting structures, foundations, labor, civil works, cables, engineering and combiner boxes.

“Mounting structures are an access point for both BOS cost reductions and business opportunity”

GTM Research’s latest report, Solar PV Balance of System (BOS): Technologies and Markets is a comprehensive analysis of the product innovations and economic positioning of these key BOS components. At 140 pages with more than 100 exhibits, the report provides coverage of all PV system components beyond the module and inverter, featuring BOS cost roadmaps, component market sizing and mounting structure demand globally and by country for the U.S., Germany, Italy, Rest of Europe, China and Japan.

“The PV market has new focus,” said Shayle Kann, Managing Director of GTM Research’s solar practice. “While the module will remain the most costly single part of a PV system for the foreseeable future, the large combined cost of BOS components will inevitably engender greater activity and innovation across the BOS value chain. We expect to see BOS consolidation, integrated business models and increased supplier competition in the coming years as more companies see the BOS as a major revenue opportunity in the PV market.”

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