Energy and Global Warming News for June 16: Europe’s wind power is booming; A place where peak power may disappear

Europe’s wind power is booming

The European Union will continue its 2009 record-breaking pace this year for adding wind power, reports the European Wind Energy Association.

The industry group expects EU countries will install 10 gigawatts of new wind power capacity, the same as 2009’s record, bringing the total to 85 GW by year’s end.

“What is encouraging is that, unlike in 2009, the 2010 results consist of orders placed after the start of the financial crisis,” Christian Kjaer, the group’s CEO, said Monday in a statement. “Wind energy will be competing for the top spot with new gas power plants.”

Europe’s new gas plants produced twice as much power as its new wind turbines four years ago, but the gap narrowed sharply in 2007 and by 2008, wind had overtaken gas, reports The New York Times, citing data from the trade group. In 2009, 7 gigawatts of new gas power was installed, compared with 10 GW for wind.

A Place Where Peak Power May Disappear

Peak power in Finland doesn’t occur in the afternoon. It actually happens early in the morning.

That’s because many homes are equipped with electric heating systems, and consumers turn them on to keep warm in the early morning hours, according to Vesa Koivisto, the business development manager at Fortum, a large power producer and electrical distributor in the Nordic region. Power prices can swing from zero Euro cents per kilowatt hour to 1.40 Euros ($1.72) per kilowatt hour. An average home consumes about 9,000 kilowatt hours a year, he added.

“We don’t have the 5 o’clock tea-time peak,” he said during a meeting in Helsinki. “If you don’t have district heating, chances are you are heating with electric.”

The situation, though, may start to change in a few years under an ambitious program to combine time of use pricing with a regional buying pool. By 2013, all homes in Finland will be equipped with smart meters, and consumers will be able to buy power at time-of-use rates set by market on an hourly basis. Finland has had time-of-use pricing programs since the 1950s, but they have largely revolved around estimating power pricing: consumers can sign up for weekend/weekday or night/day pricing programs, but the programs aren’t tied to real-time pricing. (Side note: consumers in the Nordic region get two power bills. The first comes from their power retailer for power consumed. The second comes from the distributor. The retail bill is generally higher, but the two are close, according to Koivisto.)

Local Power: Tapping Distributed Energy in 21st-Century Cities

Residents of Hammarby Sj¶stad, a district on the south side of Stockholm, Sweden, don’t let their waste go to waste. Every building in the district boasts an array of pneumatic tubes, like larger versions of the ones that whooshed checks from cars to bank tellers back in the day. One tube carries combustible waste to a plant where it is burned to make heat and electricity. Another zips food waste and other biomatter away to be composted and made into fertilizer. Yet another takes recyclables to a sorting facility.

Meanwhile, wastewater is taken to a treatment plant, from whence it emerges as biosolids for more compost, biogas for heat and transportation fuel, and pure water to cool a power plant, which also runs biofuels grown with the biosolids. Looking at a chart of all this is enough to induce dizziness. “In terms of what you can do at the local level for energy efficiency and renewable energy, it’s incredible. It’s just amazing,” says Joan Fitzgerald, author of Emerald Cities (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Silent Power’s Neighborhood Solar Batteries

Solar panels make electricity when the sun shines, but the suburbs start using the most power when the mases come home from work (ie. night falls). How can utilities shift that solar energy from day to dusk, when it’s most needed?

This week, Sacramento’s utility SMUD turned to startup Silent Power for help. The Baxter, Minn.-based startup was named as a partner, along with GridPoint, SunPower and lithium-ion battery maker Saft, in a project funded with a $5.9 million Department of Energy smart grid stimulus grant. In its first utility pilot project, Silent Power’s “OnDemand” system will hook up about 15 houses in the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova with inverters that connect rooftop solar panels with batteries, controlling the flow of power between them and the grid at large, CEO Todd Headlee told us in an interview.

Spain Aims to Boost Renewable-Energy Production 67% by 2020

Spain’s government aims to increase renewable-energy production by about 67 percent during the decade, even as it reduces subsidies for clean power, according to a draft proposal.

Generation capacity will climb to 70 gigawatts by 2020 from 42 gigawatts this year, according to projections in the plan to be presented this month to the European Commission. A gigawatt can power about a million washing machines.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is counting on investors to continue building new solar and wind-power installations even as he plans to reduce subsidies for the generators, which currently can earn as much as about 10 times more for their power than utilities that burn fossil fuels.

Lake Michigan climate change studied

A robotic submarine is being deployed in Lake Michigan, along with other specialized tools, to determine how young fish might cope with future climate change.

Purdue University scientists say they are correlating larval fish growth with various factors, including water temperatures near the lakeshore, where wind patterns might be altered by climate change and threaten fish populations.

“These larval fish are very vulnerable because they are not fully developed and cannot swim well, so they are really at the mercy of their environment,” said Assistant Professor Tomas Hook, who is leading the research. “Growth rates during the larval stage in part determine how well young fish survive to become adults. Rapid growth allows young fish to swim faster and, thereby, avoid predators, consume more food, and actively select warmer, more favorable waters. Otherwise, they can quickly starve to death.”

Previous studies suggest climate change might alter wind patterns on the Great Lakes and scientists say lake winds are important because they cause “upwelling events” that ferry cold water and nutrients from lower depths up to the near-shore zone.

Climate Change Increases Hazard Risk in Alpine Regions, Study Shows

Climate change could cause increasing and unpredictable hazard risks in mountainous regions, according to a new study from the University of Exeter and Austrian researchers. The study analyzes the effects of two extreme weather events — the 2003 heatwave and the 2005 flood — on the Eastern European Alps. It demonstrates what impact events like these, predicted to become more frequent under a changing climate, could have on alpine regions and what implications these changes might have for local communities.

The mean summer temperatures during the 2003 heat wave in a large area of the European Alps exceeded the 1961–1990 mean by 3–5ËšC. This triggered a record Alpine glacier loss that was three times above the 1980–2000 average. Furthermore, melting permafrost caused increased rock-fall activity.

Aluminum Plays Key Role in World’s First Hybrid Solar Energy Plant

A global aluminum company called Norsk Hydro is supporting green jobs in the U.S. through its Extrusion Americas unit, which operates 12 aluminum extrusion facilities in the U.S. Two of the company’s southeastern U.S. facilities will supply aluminum frames and other parts for a new hybrid concentrating solar facility for Florida Power & Light. Apparently the first power plant of its kind, the 500 acre solar thermal array will connect with an existing natural gas-powered plant, replacing the fossil fuel energy with solar energy during daylight hours.

In addition to growing the U.S. green jobs sector, Hydro executive Matt Dionne points out that regional sourcing was an important factor in securing the contract because it cut energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions related to shipping, and it enabled the utility company to demonstrate its commitment to local economic growth. The financial advantages of just-in-time delivery to the construction site also played a big role. As more utilities join the vanguard of sustainable energy investment, those benefits provide a stark contrast to the economic and environmental havoc wreaked by the world’s latest fossil fuel disaster.