April 13 news: California sets highest renewable power goal; 2011 budget deal slashes EPA budget 16%

New Calif. law mandates more electricity from renewable sources

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law today requiring power companies to generate 33 percent of all electricity from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power by 2020.

The new law is a major incentive for clean technology companies in the state to begin ramping up their production of clean energy sources. Previous laws required power companies to fill 20 percent of their output with renewable energy sources by 2010 with a 3-year grace period.

Interest in cheaper, cleaner energy has focused recently on solar power because of innovations in increasing the amount of sunlight a single photovoltaic cell can capture. Most wafer-style cells today are around 6 inches across and capture 30 percent of the sunlight shining on them and convert it to electricity. There are also more flexible thin-film panels that can be placed on more surfaces but are less efficient at capturing sunlight. But both types of power have attracted a lot of investing interest from companies like General Electric and Google. Individual wafer-style solar panels can usually generate around a watt of power.


Wind turbines typically carry large capital costs “” meaning the upfront cost of building and operating a turbine will take a long time to break even with the money saved by using wind power. Most wind turbines generate anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 megawatts of power, and the costs vary from state to state. For example, wind power turbine manufacturer First Wind has a 30-megawatt wind farm in Hawaii that cost $125 million to build and a 57-megawatt wind farm in Maine that cost $140 million to make. Wind power only accounts for around 2 percent of all power generated in the U.S.

2011 budget deal would slash EPA budget 16 percent

EPA funds would get a $1.6 billion cut for the fiscal year ending September 30 under Friday’s last minute deal between President Barack Obama and Republican and Democratic leaders in the Congress that averted a government shutdown.

“Some programs will be cut back,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters. She said the largest cuts to the EPA would be made in revolving funds that help states pay for pollution abatement.

There will be some cuts in the EPA’s programs on climate, but those will be comparatively small compared to cuts in other agency programs, Jackson added.

Under the budget deal, many other government departments face smaller cuts than EPA on a percentage basis and the Department of Defense actually gets a boost.

Lawmakers are expected to vote sometime this week on the deal to cut another $28 billion from the government.

Many Republicans and some Democrats are anxious to delay or permanently stop EPA rules on greenhouse gas emissions. These critics say the rules could hurt businesses like oil refineries and power utilities, which could pass costs to consumers who are struggling to recover from the economic downturn.

Change in Thinking — A Critical Innovation for Energy Security

A recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report titled the Clean Energy Progress Report reviews the global energy situation. The IEA has a policy advisory role to 28 member countries, including the USA, for balanced energy policy making, energy security, economic development, and environmental protection. One of the summary points made in this inaugural report is that “an increased level of systems thinking is needed to integrate the broad range of individual clean energy technologies into the energy system. Increased attention and resources are required to expand smart grid pilot projects on a regional level.”

What does this mean? Business as usual won’t work to address the severe challenges facing every country in the world struggling to deliver reliable, clean and secure fuel sources and electricity to their citizens. For instance, integration of clean domestic renewables into the grid provides energy security and helps build local economies without environmental degradation of air or water quality. Many startups are promoting technologies that improve energy harvestability and reduce cost curves to compete with the current energy mix of heavily subsidized fossil fuels like oil and coal. New Smart Grid products and services will help integrate these renewable energy sources into a distributed energy infrastructure that transforms today’s inefficient centralized systems into more efficient, clean, and proactive operations.

Systems level thinking considers the entire value chain from production to consumption and understands the impacts that a change in one technology or model will have to remaining links in the chain. This is why the Smart Grid covers a broad range of subjects — because it is a combination of innovative technologies, services, and even new business models. An event in Silicon Valley called Smart Grid@Plug and Play will highlight a number of Smart Grid startups with solutions focused in energy management, field area networks, renewable energy, cyber security, and energy storage software platforms. These are encouraging signs of progress to encourage innovative systems thinking, but there’s a large obstacle to successful transformations to secure a sustainable energy future. It’s the business as usual thinking amongst some members of the US Congress.

DOE Highlights Progress on International Initiatives to Promote Clean Energy

DOE Secretary Steven Chu joined energy ministers and high-level representatives from more than 20 governments on April 6 and 7, pledging renewed support for 11 international clean energy initiatives at the second Clean Energy Ministerial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. These initiatives are helping to accelerate the global transition to a clean energy future, with the goal of eliminating the need to build more than 500 mid-size power plants worldwide in the next 20 years, among other goals. At the conclusion of the meeting, India offered to host the fourth Clean Energy Ministerial in 2013 and Korea offered to host the fifth in 2014.

The Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), first launched in July 2010, aims to promote economic growth while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, support renewable energy markets, expand access to clean energy resources and jobs, and promote women’s leadership in clean energy careers. Participating countries account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and more than 70% of global gross domestic product. They also fund the vast majority of public research and development in clean energy technologies.

Secretary Chu and other ministers launched the Clean Energy Solutions Center to help countries strengthen their clean energy policies and program development, with the goal of accelerating the deployment of low-carbon technologies. The Solutions Center provides information on emerging policy trends and identifies opportunities for international policy coordination, supplemented by peer-to-peer learning, remote expert assistance, and online training. Ministers also launched, a web portal to facilitate international information exchange and serve as a resource for policymakers seeking to advance appliance and equipment efficiency. In addition, DOE announced the United States will join two other countries in a new Cool Roofs Working Group to help reduce energy use in buildings worldwide and to mitigate the warming effects of climate change. The group will work to promote the expansion of cool roofs through pilot projects, best practices, and updated building codes. The United States will also join the Sustainable Development of Hydropower initiative. See the DOE press release; the websites for the Clean Energy Ministerial, the Clean Energy Solutions Center, and; and a ministerial fact sheet on theSustainable Development of Hydropower Initiative.

Greenest cars? Gas prices drive interest in fuel economy

As gas prices rise, consumers are more interested in buying cars with better fuel economy and — good news! — there’s more eco-friendly cars on the market this year, Kelley Blue Book reports Tuesday.

Slightly more than a third, or 35%, said gas prices have changed their mind about vehicles they might buy, up from 30% in February, according to the company’s March survey. Also, 15% said they’re looking to buy a new car to save gas — up from 6% in January — and it would have to get at least 26.2 miles per gallon.

In its annual list of the greenest cars, Kelley Blue Book said there’s a much greater variety now to satisfy fuel-sipping consumers.

“The sheer number and types of choices in the Green Cars category have grown remarkably in the last year, with new plug-in electrically driven vehicles alongside an increased number of traditional gasoline-powered cars with improved fuel economy, as well as hybrids and diesels,” said Jack R. Nerad, the company’s executive editorial director in announcing the list of the 10 greenest cars.

Small Hydro Emerging as Viable Sector for Renewable Energy Development

With many states adopting renewables portfolio standards (RPS) and the prospect of a federal RPS somewhere on the horizon, more attention is being given to hydroelectric power generation. Renewable resources such as sun, wind and water, are those that can be harvested in a sustainable manner to provide the electric power that our society depends on. Water (or gravity moving water) has received less attention from project developers than wind and solar. But that may be changing.

Approximately 18% of the total world energy supply is hydroelectric. But of course, all hydro is not created equal. The bulk is large hydro, which employs dams and weirs that disrupt the environment in unalterable ways. Most hydroelectric facilities are not considered “renewable” — at least not by environmentalists. Large man-made reservoirs change habitats forever and are often blights on the natural settings in which they are built.

Small hydro — facilities that generate up to 30 MW — can be developed without harming to the environment. So called run-of-river facilities are designed to take advantage of flowing water in rivers and streams in such a way as to have minimal impact on fish habitats and natural settings. Also, many of the dams in the US are not powered. These facilities, where the environmental impact of the dams cannot be undone, are ripe for small hydro development. In September 2009, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the hydro industry could add 70,000 MW of capacity by installing more efficient turbines at existing dams, increasing the use of pumped-storage projects and encouraging the use of run-of-river turbines. That capacity is equivalent to 70 nuclear plants or 100 coal-fired plants.