"Energy and Global Warming News for February 19: German Industrial Giant partners with U.S. Concentrated Solar Startup; $8 billion to jump-start work on 13 high-speed rail lines; CO2 Capture and Storage System Gains Foothold"
The partnership, announced on Thursday, comes a month after eSolar, which is backed by Google and other investors, signed an agreement with a Chinese industrial company to build solar power plants that would generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity.
Last year, eSolar agreed to license its technology to an Indian developer that plans to build solar projects with a total capacity of 1,000 megawatts.
Bill Gross, eSolar’s founder and chairman, said the Ferrostaal agreement continues the startup’s strategy of striking deals with deep-pocketed partners who can bankroll multibillion-dollar solar farms at a time when credit remains tight.
“They have access to capital and they have enough of a balance sheet that they can put a guarantee on a plant that a bank will trust and come up with the money,” said Mr. Gross in an interview. “We’re looking for partners all over that have that kind of strength to make these plants go forward.”
The terms of the Ferrostaal deal were not disclosed, but Mr. Gross said eSolar will receive licensing revenue from the partnership.
The $8 billion President Obama handed out late last month to jump-start work on 13 high-speed rail lines across the country will likely do more than put shovels in the ground.
It also appears to lay the track for lawmakers to pump billions of dollars more into the president’s vision of a nationwide high-speed rail network for many years to come.
According to an E&E analysis, the passenger rail lines that received stimulus cash go through more than 40 percent of all congressional districts, including those represented by a number of powerful lawmakers that will play a key role in finding the tens of billions of additional dollars thought to be needed to complete the work.
When looked at as a whole, the grants can be seen as an attempt to entice lawmakers to continue to spend on a massive public works project that is still very much in its infancy, even at a time when Washington has one eye firmly focused on the growing national deficit.
“Logrolling is the name of the game,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan federal budget watchdog. “If everyone gets a piece of the pie, they become more likely to support that program in the future.”
An exact congressional tally is difficult to determine given that no exact route yet exists for some lines such as the “3C” high-speed line in Ohio linking Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, and an extension of Pennsylvania rail service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. But based on existing rail lines and federal sketches of future routes, the 13 lines appear to cross into a total of 182 congressional districts plus the District of Columbia.
Dozens more congressional districts that are close to, but not part of, the passenger rail lines are also expected to benefit from the federal investment, and more could get in on the direct action when all is said and done. The stimulus grants included several million dollars for planning work in states that otherwise would have gone empty-handed, such as Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas and West Virginia.
The bulk of the stimulus cash went to a trio of major projects: a high-speed rail line linking Tampa and Orlando, Fla.; a high-speed line linking Southern and Northern California; and incremental upgrades to three existing lines radiating out from Chicago to St. Louis, Milwaukee and Detroit.
The administration also sprinkled more than $2 billion around to more than 20 other states for incremental upgrades to existing Amtrak passenger rail service or for very preliminary work on future high-speed rail lines that could take years to construct.
While a number of smaller projects got only relatively tiny pieces of the funding pie, the administration has suggested that more could be on the way.
Obama has called the stimulus grants a “first step” in a robust plan similar to President Eisenhower’s launching the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, and has admitted billions of dollars more will be needed to complete the passenger rail network.
States requested more than $50 billion from the stimulus program alone, and some of the most ambitious high-speed advocates have said the final price tag — including private investment — for a national network will approach $600 billion over the next two decades.
The gaps between current funding and the totals needed to complete the lines is evident, beginning with the major three federal projects.
California received a total of $2.3 billion, the largest amount of any corridor but only a fraction of the estimated $40 billion the state will need to link Los Angeles and San Diego with the San Francisco Bay Area. Florida’s $1.25 billion will cover about a third of the work on phase one of its new high-speed rail line but none of the roughly $8 billion needed for phase two, and the $2.2 billion the Midwest received will result in only the first steps of a long-term, high-speed plan for the region.
High-speed backers in Congress say more federal funding is on the way. The next relatively small batch of cash is expected to come from the fiscal 2011 appropriations process, with the next multi-year highway bill — which is currently mired in congressional inaction and temporary extensions — expected to follow with tens of billions of dollars more.
On a placid bend of the Ohio River in West Virginia sit two coal-fired power plants. The Philip Sporn Plant boasts four boilers from the 1950s, surrounded by mountains of coal and a series of man-made lakes to contain the toxic residue of its coal-burning. A faint haze emanates from its main smokestack, the only visible sign of the thousands of tons of acid-rain-forming sulfur dioxide, smog-forming nitrogen oxides, and climate-warming carbon dioxide it emits each day, a consequence of the plant’s complete lack of pollution-control technologies. The 1,100 megawatts of electricity it produces will never benefit from such controls, as they are too expensive to install on the multiple small boilers, according to the plant’s owner, American Electric Power.
The Mountaineer plant in West Virginia is the first power plant in the world to capture and store underground a portion of its CO2 emissions. The Philip Sporn power plant is visible in the distance.
But just beyond Sporn’s waste ponds stands the steaming cooling tower of American Electric’s Mountaineer Power Plant, which burns 12,000 tons of coal a day to produce steam in a single massive boiler and generate up to 1,300 megawatts of electricity. Roiling white water vapor billows out of its 100-story smokestack, a visible sign of the scrubbers and other technology that remove as much as 98 percent of the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions and 90 percent of its nitrogen oxides.
And to top it off, since October, an oversized chemistry set employs baker’s ammonia (ammonium carbonate) to strip more than 90 percent of the CO2 from a small portion of the Mountaineer plant’s waste gas and turn it into ammonium bicarbonate. Heat and pressure in another part of the carbon-capture machine turn that back into baker’s ammonia, delivering a nearly pure stream of CO2 gas that is compressed into a liquid and pumped into two wells that drop 1.5 miles beneath the earth. There, the captured CO2 is stored permanently between grains of rock.
If Sporn represents the dirty past of coal-fired electricity generation, Mountaineer is the future “” the first power plant in the world to both capture and store underground any part of its CO2 emissions. At this point, Mountaineer stores less than 2 percent of the more than 500,000 metric tons of CO2 pumped out each month by the power plant, which generates enough electricity for 1 million American homes
It took more than a month for the container ship Ebba Maersk to steam from Germany to Guangdong, China, where it unloaded cargo on a recent Friday “” a week longer than it did two years ago.
But for the owner, the Danish shipping giant Maersk, that counts as progress.
In a global culture dominated by speed, from overnight package delivery to bullet trains to fast-cash withdrawals, the company has seized on a sales pitch that may startle some hard-driving corporate customers: Slow is better.
By halving its top cruising speed over the last two years, Maersk cut fuel consumption on major routes by as much as 30 percent, greatly reducing costs. But the company also achieved an equal cut in the ships’ emissions of greenhouse gases.
“The previous focus has been on ‘What will it cost?’ and ‘Get it to me as fast as possible,’ ” said Soren Stig Nielsen, Maersk’s director of environmental sustainability, who noted that the practice began in 2008, when oil prices jumped to $145 a barrel.
A top Obama administration official yesterday defended a new draft proposal that will require federal agencies to consider climate change during environmental analyses of proposed projects as “straightforward, common-sense guidance.”
Under the draft guidance released yesterday by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, agencies will have to consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change effects when carrying out National Environmental Policy Act reviews. CEQ will take public comment for 90 days on the proposal.
“I think there was really no question that there are environmental effects associated with climate change, and how could we not have that as part of agencies’ thinking as they look at their NEPA obligations and looking at environmental impacts?” Sutley told E&E. “I think what we’ve tried to craft is some very straightforward, common-sense guidance.”
Agencies will need to look at emissions that may be produced by projects such as a landfill or coal-fired power plant. They also must consider climate change effects on projects — for example, whether plans for infrastructure along the coast would need to change due to projected sea level rise.
Sutley noted the draft guidance’s threshold of 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually for a proposed action to trigger a quantitative analysis, saying CEQ tried to “really focus on projects where there’s likely to be effects associated with greenhouse gas emissions.”
The guidance also fulfills CEQ’s “long-standing role of providing guidance to agencies so they’re not all trying to figure this out themselves; they have some basis to start to, and in some cases continue to, do the analysis.”
CEQ has been asked for guidance informally by federal agencies and formally in a petition filed in 2008 by three groups calling for CEQ to amend NEPA regulations to address climate change. The petition was filed by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and International Center for Technology Assessment.
SAN DIEGO — The white Toyota Scion xB parked in a corner of the vast convention center here doesn’t look too unusual, until you notice the fat cable plugged into its bright orange front grille.
But its owners say it might be the smallest unit of California’s electrical grid. The car, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, has been retrofitted by AC Propulsion to respond to signals from the California Independent System Operator — giving it the ability to send power from its battery back to the grid.
It’s on display here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as proponents of so-called “vehicle to grid,” or V2G, technology make their case.
Backers say V2G could help balance the country’s supply and demand for power, especially as renewable energy from intermittent sources like wind and solar becomes a larger part of America’s energy mix. With enough cars participating, a V2G system could help buffer ups and downs in power production by allowing utilities cheap storage for their excess power.
“One car doesn’t make much difference,” said Willett Kempton, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware. “But when you have 100 cars or 1,000 cars, you actually start to talk about displacing power plants.”
Kempton, who will give a talk today at the AAAS meeting, originated the V2G concept in 1997. He’s also spearheading a project that’s put three V2G cars on the University of Delaware campus, where they provide power to PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for much of the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions.
The demonstration project — known as the Mid-Atlantic Grid Interactive Car Consortium, or MAGICC — is now “making money in the grid, actually collecting cash” for sending power back to PJM, said Kenneth Huber, the grid operator’s senior technology and education principal. “Whenever these cars are plugged in at the University of Delaware, they’re making cash.”
When the Sacramento Municipal Utility District last month became California’s first utility to offer a feed-in tariff designed to boost the generation of renewable energy, it wasn’t sure energy producers would buy it.
The program sold out in the first hour.
“We opened the doors at 8 and had all the applications by 9,” said Gary Lawson, SMUD’s supervisor of power contracts. “We didn’t quite know what to expect because the rate levels that we set are kind of on the low side,” he explained, “but we were pleasantly surprised.”
SMUD’s tariff, called a “FIT” in industry shorthand, has been in the works since August 2009. It offers energy sellers fixed prices for up to 100 megawatts of power that SMUD would buy from small renewable energy projects. That amount is roughly a tenth of the output of a large power plant. It was divided into two categories: projects 3 MW and below, and those between 3 and 5 MW. Five solar companies, including SunPower and Recurrent Energy, led the stampede to supply all of it.
Solar developers are touting the program’s success. “The fact that they got 100 megawatts of applications in hours — if that’s not your big signal that FITs work and can work well, I don’t know what else you need,” said Sue Kateley, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association.
But some FIT proponents say SMUD’s rates aren’t high enough to entice smaller developers. SMUD based its rates on the avoided cost to ratepayers, including the futures prices of natural gas, the assumed cost of new natural gas-fired capacity and the estimated value of greenhouse gas offsets.
CLIMATE change is bringing an unexpected new challenge for the Netherlands. The nation is used to dealing with too much water. Half its territory is below sea level or is flood-prone, and it is busy raising sea walls to stay ahead of storms and coastal erosion.
But its range of water problems is swelling.
In the 1990s it had unexpected river-level surges and unusually severe storms damaged farmland. Then a new problem: several summers of drought.
“We face the impact of climate change,” Austrade Holland business development manager Sjoerd Rameckers says.
“We now have periods of drought. In future that will get worse. We’re seeing Africa-like patterns of cracks in the ground from drought.”
That’s where Australia comes in.
Mr Rameckers says there is strong interest in Europe in the water and wastewater products Australian businesses have developed, and in Australia’s skills in maintaining food output amid drought.
Companies such as Brisbane-based privately owned MultiTrode, Sydney-based market-listed Phoslock Water Solutions and Melbourne’s privately owned Rubicon have been stepping into water niche markets in the US and Europe.
In a joint initiative of Austrade and the Dutch embassy, Dutch water experts and company officials interested in sharing knowledge and forming partnerships will visit Brisbane on March 7-10, Melbourne on March 11 and Adelaide on March 12.
Analysts see increased water scarcity due to climate change as a major challenge for industry globally, given about 70 per cent of annual water consumption is for agricultural and industrial purposes.