Energy and Global Warming News for December 3: Global solar energy may reach 980 gigawatts by 2020; China schools U.S. on building a skilled clean energy work force; Future cars may eat their exhaust

Global Solar Energy May Reach 980 Gigawatts by 2020

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) — Global solar energy capacity may reach 980 gigawatts by 2020 as governments worldwide seek to reduce fossil fuel consumption and cut emissions of greenhouse gases, a group of renewable energy associations said.

Development of photovoltaic and solar thermal power projects will cut emissions of carbon dioxide by about 570 million tons over the decade, the equivalent of shutting down 100 coal-fueled power plants or taking 110 million cars off the road, according to a report released in Cancun, Mexico, today by the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association.

The report took place as United Nations envoys in Cancun consider whether to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to cut man-made emissions of carbon dioxide that scientists say contribute to global warming. The trade group of 21 associations from around the world urged governments to include solar energy incentives as part of the effort to address climate change.


“The capital needed to manufacture that much capacity is staggering,” said Nancy Hartsoch, vice president of marketing at SolFocus Inc., a Palo Alto, California-based maker of concentrating photovoltaic panels. “And because solar hasn’t reached grid-parity in most regions, that kind of deployment would require stronger policies than we’ve got in place now.”

The solar groups plan to discuss their report, which includes development profiles for 20 countries and the European Union, during a Dec. 6 presentation in Cancun.

For the U.S., boosting total solar capacity to 139 gigawatts, as the report predicts, would account for 4.9 percent of the country’s total output, add 683,0000 jobs and help reduce the cost of electricity to $2.32 a watt from $5.71 today.

China building a skilled clean energy work force — a tale of two countries

SHANGHAI — When President Obama last year proposed a “historic commitment” to empower Americans with a clean energy education program, his speech appeared to have reminded Chinese leaders of their own educational needs.

A few months later, China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, gave a speech in Beijing, calling for creating more world-class scientists here to work in cutting-edge fields. And clean energy topped Wen’s list.

But their similar pitches had different outcomes: The proposed $170 million American energy education program, called “RE-ENERGYSE,” is still on the launching pad in Congress, which rejected it last year and appears to be in an even more tightfisted mood this year. Meanwhile, in China, newly established programs focused on clean energy are sprouting on campuses like bamboo shoots after the rain.

After it led the world in clean energy investment last year and manufactured about one-third of the global solar panels and wind turbines, China has been moving full-speed toward creating more clean energy professionals, from Ph.D.-level engineers to well-trained technical operators.

“The Chinese government and Chinese firms are using a number of different strategies to attract and develop talent in clean energy,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, an associate professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School who follows China’s energy and climate policy.Moreover, Western technology giants have come to help. As their research centers mushroom in China, they are fostering Chinese researchers in advanced clean energy technologies.

While China may not be at the cutting edge in terms of having the best talent yet, its knowledge base in clean energy is growing rapidly, said Gallagher. And compared with Europe and the United States, China has a key advantage in aiming to deliver a generation of new professionals and workers who are literate in the demands of clean energy. “No other nation has so many engineering professionals [as China has], and so this provides a strong foundation for development,” she said….

In March, China’s Ministry of Education urged universities to establish more educational programs focused on advanced technologies, clean energy among them. Less than half a year later, dozens of universities set up clean energy faculties and scheduled to enroll undergraduates starting from 2011.

Meanwhile, Chinese universities that already offered degree programs in clean energy are expanding student enrollment. Lin Boqiang, director of China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University — which provides studies in clean energy economics — said their enrollment in 2010 alone almost caught up with the total enrollment number in the previous years….

“China’s solar industry grows fast … but it lacks vocational programs to create skilled work force that the industry needs badly,” Zhang Qingyu, the college’s president, said of why Himin Solar opened its wallet to support education….

To groom more Chinese to become solar energy professionals, Zhang’s college provides a three-year vocational program free of charge and offers scholarships to those from poor families. In 2009 alone, Himin Solar poured more than $2.5 million into education incentives. With such support, the number of students there climbed to nearly 2,300 this year, up from fewer than 100 in 2007, when the college had just started.

Himin Solar may have a significant role to play in filling the green-collar labor pool, but it is not alone. Other Chinese clean energy companies have also taken action. LDK Solar, a NYSE-listed solar photovoltaic producer, provides technical training courses at a local college in central China.

Besides its direct support for education, China has found shortcuts to get the country’s brightest minds more quickly engaged in clean energy innovation.

China, which recently surpassed the United States to take the position as the world’s largest energy consumer, declared that 15 percent of its power supply should come from renewable energy by 2020. Such market potential, together with cash-rich local manufacturers who are hungry for technology, is luring Western companies to come and launch research centers.

That, in turn, helps Chinese get trained by international giants and acquire knowledge of the world’s more advanced clean energy technologies.

“[General Electric Co.’s] huge research center in Shanghai’s Pudong district is staffed by smart young Chinese engineers and scientists, and they are getting lots of practical training by working for GE,” said Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Along with the GE team that currently tests materials used to make solar panels, “there has been a lot of international investment and effort to develop China’s clean energy education,” said Turner.

The latest news came from Denmark’s Vestas, a world leader in wind energy. In October, Vestas celebrated the establishment of its new research center in Beijing.

Gamesa and Eolia Sign Agreement to Develop 324 MW of Wind Energy in Mexico

Gamesa, a manufacturer of wind turbines, has signed an agreement with Eolia Renovables de Inversiones — an independent European wind power producer — to jointly develop several wind energy projects in Mexico, for which Gamesa will supply 100% of the turbines with combined installed capacity of 324 MW.

The deal calls for turnkey construction of the wind farms, including turbine supply, transport, assembly, erection and start-up, and operation and maintenance services during the turbine warranty period. Gamesa will supply a total of 162 of its G9X-2.0 MW turbines to equip the Eoliatec del Istmo (164 MW) and Eoliatec del Pacifico (160 MW) projects in the state of Oaxaca.

The turbines are scheduled for delivery between 2011 and 2013.

Mexico offers significant growth potential in the medium and long term. At the end of 2009, the country had 582 MW of installed wind assets, while forecasts (Emerging Energy Research, EER) indicate that Mexico will host 7,000 MW of installed wind capacity by 2025. Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderon, highlighted in his speech to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 16) the growth potential of the country, which could generate up to 71,000 MW of wind energy.

Gamesa has a significant presence in Latin America, where it has installed more than 200 MW of wind energy in five countries. The new contract brings its agreements/orders to 740 MW in Honduras, Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico.

Also in Mexico, the company this year signed a long-term agreement (10 years) to supply 100% of the turbines for wind farms the Cannon Power Group plans to develop in Baja California (combined installed capacity of 1,000 MW).

The Car of the Future Will Eat Its Own Exhaust

GM, not content to rest on the laurels of its highly rated new Chevy Volt electric/gasoline car, is working with researchers at Purdue University to develop thermoelectric generators that can harvest the waste heat from a car’s exhaust and turn it into electricity. The initial goal is to reduce fuel consumption by 5%, and once some kinks are worked out a savings of 10% is possible.

Thermoelectric Generators and Car Exhaust

The new generator would save gas by using scavenged energy to charge the battery and keep the car’s electrical systems running. The researchers have developed a prototype that sits behind the catalytic converter. A more efficient design would be to fit the generator inside the converter, but the device is not yet engineered to withstand the high temperatures within catalytic converters.

Thermoelectric Generators — How They Work

The principle behind thermoelectric generators is simple enough: the devices are made of materials that generate electricity through a difference in temperatures, a phenomenon known as the Seebeck effect. The car exhaust will heat the side of the thermoelectric generator that faces the hot gasses, while the other side remains relatively cool. Purdue research team leader Xianfan Xu explains that the trick is to keep the heat from flowing too rapidly from one side to the other, while grabbing the maximum amount of heat from the exhaust.

A Hearty Stew of Thermoelectric Materials

At GM, researchers are focusing on generators made from the crystalline mineral skutterudite, which can contain cobalt, arsenide, nickel or iron. To achieve the desired effect, skutterudite needs to be mixed with lanthanum, cesium, neodymium, or other rare-earth elements, but researchers are exploring less expensive materials such as mischmetal, a naturally occurring alloy that is commonly used as a flint in lighters.

Bamboo can capture carbon fast, says report

Bamboo, a wild grass that grows in Africa, Asia and Latin America, could help tackle climate change and provide income for local communities, a conference has heard. It can sequester carbon faster than similar fast-growing tree species such as Chinese fir and eucalyptus when properly managed, said Coosje Hoogendoorn, director-general of International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), based in Beijing, China.

She was speaking today (2 December) at the launch of ‘Bamboo and Climate Change Mitigation’ “” a report on bamboo’s potential role in adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development “” in a press conference held during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 16), in Cancun, Mexico.

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet “” with a growth rate of up to 1.2 metres a day. It is stronger than steel, weight for weight, and its roots can reduce soil erosion by up to 75 per cent.

“Although botanically bamboo is a woody grass and not a tree, bamboo forests have comparable features to other types of forest regarding their role in the carbon cycle,” the report said. “They sequester carbon through photosynthesis, and lock carbon in the fibre of the bamboo and in the soil where it grows.”

Ethiopia Sets its Sights on Biodiesel

Policy-makers in Ethiopia, challenged by fluctuating oil prices and poverty, are seeking solutions that will improve the living conditions of its people and boost its fragile economy. One such solution, Ethiopian leaders hope, is renewable energy.

Statistics from the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines and Energy (MoME) indicate that the country spends about Ethiopian Birr 10 billion (US$800 million) annually to import petroleum products for domestic consumption. The figure, according to the MoME represents more than 90 percent of Ethiopia’s earnings from foreign trade each year. Were the country to tap some of its renewable energy potential, the energy independence it would achieve as a result, would be a boon to the economy.

Because of its location, Ethiopia is perhaps one of the most-suitable nations in Africa for tapping renewable sources of energy not only for its own economy, but also for export into regional economies such as Kenya, which is always looking at enhancing its energy capacity.Biodiesel Production

While Ethiopia boasts of numerous green energy possibilities such as geothermal, solar and wind power generation, it is the biodiesel sub-sector that has taken off over the last few years and continues to witness increased attention both from the government and development partners from abroad.

Ethiopia is one of the largest countries in Africa but it is also one of the driest, a factor that renders most of its land unsuitable for agricultural production. This has led the Ethiopian government to shift its focus to biodiesel crops that flourish under the harsh climatic conditions of Ethiopia.

The shift from expensive fossil fuels to cost-effective biofuels has received a stamp of approval from the Ethiopian government. It recently approved a 16-page renewable energy strategic document that was prepared under a collaborative partnership between the MoME, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD).

More Efficient Polymer Solar Cells Fabricated

Researchers from Iowa State University and the Ames Laboratory have developed a process capable of producing a thin and uniform light-absorbing layer on textured substrates that improves the efficiency of polymer solar cells by increasing light absorption.

“Our technology efficiently utilizes the light trapping scheme,” said Sumit Chaudhary, an Iowa State assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. “And so solar cell efficiency improved by 20 percent.”Details of the fabrication technology were recently published online by the journal Advanced Materials.

Chaudhary said the key to improving the performance of solar cells made from flexible, lightweight and easy-to-manufacture polymers was to find a textured substrate pattern that allowed deposition of a light-absorbing layer that’s uniformly thin — even as it goes up and down flat-topped ridges that are less than a millionth of a meter high.

The result is a polymer solar cell that captures more light within those ridges — including light that’s reflected from one ridge to another, he said. The cell is also able to maintain the good electrical transport properties of a thin, uniform light-absorbing layer.

Tests indicated the research team’s light-trapping cells increased power conversion efficiency by 20 percent over flat solar cells made from polymers, Chaudhary said. Tests also indicated that light captured at the red/near infrared band edge increased by 100 percent over flat cells.

Researchers working with Chaudhary on the solar cell project are Kai-Ming Ho, an Iowa State Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy and an Ames Laboratory faculty scientist; Joong-Mok Park, an assistant scientist with the Ames Laboratory; and Kanwar Singh Nalwa, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering and a student associate of the Ames Laboratory. The research was supported by the Iowa Power Fund, the Ames Laboratory and the Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

Green Roofs are Starting To Sprout in American Cities

The low scrubland of densely packed succulents is in full fall color, a carpet of green fading brilliantly to red and gold. This 2.5-acre oasis, located among a barrens of blacktop roofs that stretches east to Broadway and west to the Hudson River, would be an impressive sight even if it wasn’t sitting atop the U.S. Postal Service’s 1933 landmark Morgan Processing and Distribution facility in midtown Manhattan.

The biggest green roof in New York City and one of the largest in the country, the Morgan facility’s verdant covering was completed in December 2008 and has thrived since. As the inscription above the landmark James Farley Post Office might have it, the roof has been affected by “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night,” and has flourished through freezes and thaws, through summer rooftop temperatures that reach 150 degrees, and through weeks of drought and torrential summer storms, despite never being watered, weeded, or fertilized.

The vegetation is a densely planted assemblage of some 25 hardy, low-growing species that have thrived in their few inches of planting material. The plants’ size and modest requirements, however, belie their substantial biological capacities and environmental benefits. Since the roof has been installed, the building’s storm water runoff into the New York municipal water system has been reduced by as much as 75 percent in summer and 40 percent in winter. The U.S. Postal Service estimates that the plants’ ability to cool the roof in summer and insulate it in winter will reduce the building’s energy costs by $30,000 a year.

The sprouting of a large, living roof in midtown Manhattan is a sign that this universally lauded green practice, which has spread rapidly across Europe, is now gaining a serious foothold in the U.S. Although initially more expensive than standard asphalt or shingle roofs, green roofs offer major environmental and economic advantages, from slashing storm water runoff and energy costs, to cooling overheated cities and cleaning their air.

PowerSecure Grows and Profits From Smart Grid Systems

The U.S. broad stock indices have dramatically outperformed green sector indices over the first 11 months of 2010. However, a handful of green sector companies are bucking the trend with strong revenues and profits and impressive share price increases.

Several of these companies have been profiled in EBOOM CAPITAL this fall — and here’s another one: PowerSecure International, Inc. (NASDAQ: POWR), headquartered in Wake Forest, North Carolina.Approximately 85 percent of PowerSecure’s revenues come from providing energy efficiency and smart grid systems to electric utilities and their customers, while 15 percent of revenue is from energy and water management services to oil and natural gas companies.

PowerSecure’s capabilities include including the ability to 1) reduce peak power costs by forecasting electricity demand and electronically deploying the systems to deliver power at peak demand periods, 2) provide utilities with dedicated electric power generation capacity to utilize for demand response purposes, and 3) provide customers with standby power the company’s claims is the most dependable in the industry.

The company also provides customers with energy efficient lighting technologies that deliver improved quality of light. An example is its proprietary EfficientLights LED lighting product for retail stores’ refrigerated cases that PowerSecure claims saves grocery, drug, and convenience stores 70 percent in costs compared with traditional fluorescent lighting.

In the company’s latest financial results, PowerSecure reported nine-month (ended September 30, 2010) net income of $3 million on revenue of $90.4 million, compared with 2009’s nine-month net income of $2.1 million on revenue of $72.5 million.

Salt Lake City Oil Spill: Chevron Pipeline Leaks Thousands of Gallons for Second Time in Six Months

After a Chevron oil pipe has leaked crude oil near the Red Butte Creek in Salt Lake City, Utah for the second time in six months, city and state officials are calling for the oil company to shut down the pipeline indefinitely.

The leak which, was reported by Chevron employees at 11:30 PM on Wednesday, spilled an estimated 100 barrels of oil. Emergency response crews, with the help of oil booms and earthern berms, were able to stop the flow of oil 50 before it reached the nearby Red Butte Creek.

In June, the same section of the pipeline failed leading to 800 barrels of oil leaking into the community. The oil contaminated three waterways: the Jordan river, Red Butte Creek, and the Liberty Park pond. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) allowed the pipeline to resume operations only eight days after the initial spill. The DOT determined the pipeline was safe after Chevron conducted five tests of the compromised section.

The oil giant may not receive such an allowance this time around, especially if Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker has his way. Becker has requested the DOT’s Public and Hazardous materials Safety Administration shut the pipeline down indefinitely while an independent investigation of the pipeline and the latest incident is conducted.

This morning at a press conference an incensed Becker said, “At this point we cannot trust Chevron. Chevron has broken the trust we have and the work that’s been done to give us a safe pipeline and [our efforts] to protect the community.”

Although Chevron (NYSE: CVX) was not represented at the press conference, the company has stated it will take full responsibility for the oil spill. The last spill, more major in its scope, saw Chevron receive a $423,600 fine from the U.S. government. So, just how much responsibility the oil giant will have to assume will be a developing story.