Energy and Global Warming News for November 2: Stimulus spurs 7.9 GW of geothermal; BP oil disaster costs hit $40 billion; First wireless electric car charger

Stimulus Bill Has Put Almost 8 GW of Geothermal Energy on US Grid

The geothermal industry has begun an unprecedented expansion starting this year, as a record 7, 875 MW of geothermal projects broke ground, the Geothermal Market Update reports this week. While the pre-deadline dash to break ground on new US solar projects has been getting all the coverage these last few months, the similarly deadline-driven geothermal projects have been able to break ground on time.

This means that many more of them qualify to receive a Federal grant of 30% of investment cost from the stimulus bill, for a total of $363 million in onetime US Recovery Act funding for geothermal energy. The stimulus funding will continue to be a significant driver of US geothermal development through 2011.

The funding itself is an anomaly. Geothermal has long been the Rodney Dangerfield of clean energy, and received absolutely no funding at all during the Bush administration. But the fast-track renewables development nationwide under the stimulus bill has changed that forever.

Once on the grid, this 8 GW expansion of renewable energy will benefit the US for decades into the future. Once established, geothermal projects can deliver steady energy supplies at 3–5 cents a kilowatt hour. — after the tax incentives that save 1.9 cents a kwh. The higher (than natural gas) cost of the initial investment has been the expensive part of geothermal power. Between California and Nevada alone, 31 geothermal projects broke ground this year and will see most of their construction happen through 2011.

BP oil spill costs to hit $40bn

BP said today it expects the cost of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to be $7.7bn (£4.8bn) bigger than previously thought, pushing the total bill to nearly $40bn. The oil giant announced the new charge to cover the cost of the Gulf of Mexico spill alongside its financial results for the third quarter of the year. It blamed the delays that dogged its attempts to seal the leak, along with higher clean-up costs and legal fees.

The new charge knocked BP’s pre-tax profits for the third quarter of 2010 down to $1.8bn, compared with $4.98bn a year ago. In late July BP set aside $32.2bn to cover the cost of the clean-up, more than the City had expected, a move which pushed the company into a record loss of $17bn for the second quarter of 2010. At that time, though, the Macondo well was still leaking oil into the ocean, and was only finally shut off in mid-September.

Richard Hunter, head of UK equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said the additional $7.7bn provision was “a stark reminder that the fallout from the spill will follow BP for some considerable time to come”.

The final cost of one of the worst environmental disasters ever could climb further. BP said that the total charge of $39.9bn was its “current best estimate of those costs that can be reliably measured at this time”. So far, BP has actually paid $11.6bn in total costs since the incident, but still faces ongoing clean-up charges, compensation claims, and probably a multi-billion dollar fine from the US government.

U.S. exchange’s CO2 cap-and-trade to end

The United States’ only national carbon trading scheme could be shut down within months because of stalled emissions trading laws in Congress, the Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday quoted a senior exchange official as saying. The Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) operates what it calls a voluntary but legally binding greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in which companies have to meet annual reduction targets, or a cap. Those below the targets can sell surplus allowances or bank them.

But Jeff Sprecher, chief executive of the InternationalExchange and CCX’s owner, told the Financial Times that participants in the CCX’s cap-and-trade scheme wanted to pull out. “The bulk of the users have said to us that they really don’t want to continue to trade voluntarily in the absence of any credit for their work by the current administration,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The lower house of Congress last year passed a climate bill that set a national 2020 emissions reduction target on greenhouse gas emissions as well as outlined a national emissions trading scheme. But Senate Democrats slimmed down the bill in July, abandoning a cap-and-trade scheme aimed at cutting emissions.

Globally, the voluntary carbon market stalled in 2009 after six years of growth as the downturn in the global economy and uncertainty over future climate legislation curbed demand. The market shrank 47 percent last year to $387 million and by 26 percent in volume to 93.7 million metric tons of emissions.

World’s First Wireless Electric Car Charger Launches in UK

IPT (Induction Power Transfer) is the name of the world’s first commercially-available wireless electric car charging system, just launched in London. The brainchild of UK start-up HaloIPT wishes to electrify the England’s M25 motorway by using magnetic induction, a principle discovered in the 1800s.

The company has designed the IPT to be functional on any weather conditions and even if the driver doesn’t align the car properly with the pads embedded in the asphalt. They also say it has a performance closely equal to that of a wired charger, though I doubt it can brag any efficiency higher than 80 percent at a few centimeters gap.

HaloIPT used a car named Evie, based on the Citroen C1 (ultra compact) to test the charging performance of the IPT. Fully charging from 20 percent took the Evie about six hours, and the energy came from a regular household socket. The company also says their system can charge even at distances of up to 40 centimeters.

“We’re using IPT to break down the barriers to mass-market adoption of electric cars,” says HaloIPT’s CEO, Anthony Thomson. “Keeping electric vehicle costs down is a key priority for us.” He also claims that a car using wireless charging is going to have a third of a today petrol car’s carbon emission by 2030, including the manufacturing and usage processes.

Algae Fuel’s Long Road to the Pumps: 61M Gallons by 2020

It’ll be a long, long road before algae biofuel producers make any significant dent in the world’s overall fuel supply. How long? Consider this: By 2020, the algae biofuel industry is likely to produce 61 million gallons per year globally, research firm Pike Research said Wednesday.

The U.S. alone consumed nearly 138 billion gallons of gasoline in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The government has set an ambitious plan to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuel of all kinds by 2022. Just last week, the Department of Agriculture launched a $461 million subsidy program to help growers cultivate and transport energy crops, including algae, to processing facilities.

None of the dozens (even hundreds) of algae biofuel developers have yet to start supplying the mass market, so getting to any meaningful volumes will certainly take time. The world won’t likely see the first commercial plants with a capacity of at least 1 million gallons until 2014 at the earliest (could even be 2016), according to Pike’s report. We took stock of those changes and recently assembled an updated list of 15 algae companies worth watching.

Sewage Plant for Blue Danube Gets New Green Roof

As part of efforts to clean up the Danube River, the famous waterway is getting a new sewage treatment plant “” and in one of those sustainability twofers we love so much, the gigantic structure will be capped with a 10,000-square meter green roof. The idea is that sewage treatment plants have enormous footprints, and without a roof all of that surface area is lost for other purposes. This makes green roofs an especially attractive investment for densely developed urban areas where open space is at a premium.

Green Roofs and Sewage Treatment Plants

A green roof is simply vegetation planted on specially designed rooftops. They can range from a light covering that needs practically no maintenance, to lushly planted gardens. Green roofs for sewage treatment plants have been around for a while, but due to their cost they are still relatively rare, especially here in the U.S. In one striking example, some greenery was planted as part of a state park built on the fully roofed North River treatment plant in New York City back in the 1980″²s. However, the facility was designed for recreation, not necessarily to take full advantage of a green roof’s function, which is to absorb excess storm water and carbon dioxide. Green roofs also add a layer of protection to the conventional roofing materials below them, which extends the overall life of the roof.

Green Roof on the Living Danube

The new sewage treatment plant in Budapest is called the Living Danube. The designer chose DuPont Typar for the foundation, which is a polypropylene material that is water-permeable but does not retain water (therefore it cannot freeze, a key condition for green roofs in cold climates). The roof is expected to retain up to 90% of the stormwater that falls on it, while also helping to keep down dust and mute urban noise.

Green Roofs and the U.S. Military

Green roofs are becoming very common in Europe, partly due to their use in saving energy for heating and cooling buildings, but they are still exotic to the U.S. However, the U.S. military is beginning to adopt green roof technology, which will go a long way towards helping the U.S. public perceive green roofs as part of mainstream construction. One recent example is a green roof at the new visitor’s center at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. A naval facility in Norfolk has a new green roof, which among its advantages serves as an urban micro-habitat for wildlife. Peterson Air Force Base and Tobyhanna Army Depot are two other examples.

Grasses have potential as alternative ethanol crop, Illinois study finds

Demand for biofuels is increasing as Americans seek to expand renewable energy sources and mitigate the effects of fluctuating energy prices. Corn ethanol is the main biofuel on the market, but demand for ethanol competes with corn’s availability as a food, and rising ethanol consumption could lead to higher food costs.

In recognition of this problem, federal regulations mandate that 79 billion liters of biofuels must be produced annually from non-corn biomass by 2022. Large grasses, such as switchgrass and miscanthus, could provide biomass with the added benefits of better nitrogen fixation and carbon capture, higher ethanol volumes per acre and lower water requirements than corn.

“It’s a better way to achieve our goals of energy security and climate change mitigation,” said Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at U. of I. “These two particular crops are among the more promising nonfood crops currently available for large-scale production.”

Switchgrass is large prairie grass native to the Midwest, and Miscanthus, a sterile hybrid, is already widely cultivated in Europe as a biofuel crop.

Champion Investors in Photovoltaics

With solar prices plunging amid talk of an oversupply, project financing becoming hard to get and expensive, and few U.S. initial public offerings, it’s no wonder that solar investment dropped off at the end of 2008 and in the first half of 2009. But intrepid investors have started streaming new money back into the sector in the last year.

The diehard investors that PVW selected to highlight here have supported solar in spite of the risks, each participating in many deals for a variety of different photovoltaic companies in the last five years and backing at least one — and in some cases, far more than one — PV startup in the last year.

Venture-capital (VC) investments rose steadily in each of the last three quarters to reach a total of $871 million globally in Q2 2010, according to the Cleantech Group. That’s less than the whopping $1.2 billion in solar venture-capital investments the group tracked in Q3 2008, but it’s more than any other quarter since the group began tracking cleantech investments in 1999.

The diehard investors that Photovoltaics World selected to highlight here have supported solar in spite of the risks, each participating in many deals for a variety of different photovoltaic companies in the last five years and backing at least one — and in some cases, far more than one — PV startup in the last year. While each of these investors’ solar portfolios likely includes both winners and losers, we wanted to celebrate the highly active investors around the globe who have played a critical role in creating the industry we have today and who have shown huge potential — and commitment — to finding, shaping, and growing the solar leaders of tomorrow.

Energy from the Ocean and Tides Starting to Look Promising

According to new research from IHS Emerging Energy Research, there are more than 45 wave and tidal prototypes expected to be ocean tested in 2010 and 2011 signaling that the ocean power industry may be set to take off over the next year. The research outlet estimates that more than 1.8 GW of ocean projects in 16 countries are currently in the pipeline. For reference, IHS said that only 12 projects were installed in 2009

The UK is currently the world’s leading market for ocean energy, with 300 MW of projects in the pipeline seeking to be installed over the next five years, according to IHS. Ireland, France, Portugal, South Korea and Australia are also key ocean energy markets and will remain the industry’s primary focus for the next decade, according to the study.

Of the various forms of ocean energy, tidal energy is poised to mature first, mostly due to the fact that major hydro players understand the technology and are starting to enter the industry. Tidal is attracting major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) into the ocean energy industry’s supply side, according to IHS.

“The strong synergies between tidal turbine manufacturing and the hydro power industry have attracted major power sector OEMs,” said IHS Senior Renewable Power Analyst Marianne Boust. “Over the past two years, all three of the major hydro power turbine vendors — Andritz Hydro, Alstom Hydro, and Voith Hydro — who account for over 80 percent of the total global hydro turbine supply, have jumped into the tidal sector.”

“Large hydro players see tidal as a synergistic growth opportunity, with at least 150 GW of installed capacity potential globally. Traditional hydro players are critical to catalyzing faster development and commercialization of the tidal industry,” added Boust. Greater involvement by large OEMs will help the ocean energy industry overcome its technological challenges and drive down costs.

Indian Wind Giant Eyes Chinese Market

India’s Suzlon Energy sees China as the wind energy hub of the future, the firm’s chairman said in an interview yesterday. Suzlon has about 600MW, or a fifth of its total manufacturing capacity in China, although its manufacturing plant has only been running at a third of its capacity this year. The firm’s chairman Tulsi Tanti said a manufacturing base in China would allow his company to compete on price with Chinese suppliers.

“We are bringing the Chinese price with German technology. We are quite comfortable that we will get more business from the China market,” he said. Suzlon has installed 5GW of wind capacity in India and at present about half of Suzlon’s 1.5GW of orders are domestic, a figure expected to expand to 3.6GW by 2011.

But this is small when compared to the Chinese government’s goal of increasing the country’s wind power capacity from about 20GW at the end of last year to 90GW by 2015 — a market all suppliers are eyeing up. Suzlon wants to move up the rankings from its current position as the eighth-largest wind energy company in China with an installed capacity of 530MW.

Electric Vehicles Will Accelerate After Slow Start

One in five US vehicles could be electric or plug-in hybrid models by 2030, according to a report issued this week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report, published as part of Bloomberg’s Energy Smart Technologies Insight Service, said that electric vehicle sales will rise to nine per cent of cars by 2020 before accelerating to 22 per cent in 20 years. A key driver will be fuel prices, which tend to push car owners quickly towards alternatives.

However, electric vehicle sales are off to a slow start, mainly due to the pricing differential. The company said that the average vehicle price in the US between June 2009 and July 2010 was $21,800 (£13,600). Comparatively, the Nissan Leaf, due for launch this December, will cost $26,280 after government subsidies.

Battery costs, already identified by car makers as a key constraint in electric vehicles, will need to come down to help drive up sales, Bloomberg said. Nissan’s Leaf will address a slightly wider segment of the driver market than GM’s Volt, the report said, targeting 11 per cent of drivers compared with the Chevy’s seven per cent. “However, actual sales will be much lower and limited by vehicle availability,” it said.

Global estimates were less optimistic. Analyst JD Power predicted that electric vehicles would total just 7.3 per cent of the global market in 2020. Much of their success on the world stage will depend on China, which is a potentially huge market for the vehicles.