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Energy and Global Warming News for October 29; Global geothermal capacity will grow 78% by 2015; Reducing cost and improving efficiency in solar modules; Fight global warming with eggshells?

Global Geothermal Capacity Will Grow 78% by 2015

In its recently released Sixth Edition of the Geothermal Report, ABS Energy Research concludes that although 2009 was a very difficult year for the geothermal industry, the market will continue to grow over the next five years.

According to ABS Energy’s research, only 10 projects, totaling 405-megawatts, were commissioned in 2009. The geothermal power projects were located in the United States (181 MW), Indonesia (137 MW), Turkey (47 MW), and Italy (40 MW). The report states the requirement of high up-front investment along with high risk associated with developing geothermal projects as the chief catalysts for the tough year.

Nevertheless, the Geothermal Report says the overall outlook for the geothermal industry is positive. ABS Energy expects the global geothermal market to increase 78% between 2010 and 2015; this would bring global capacity to 19,016 MW.

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The countries driving this growth will be the current world leaders in geothermal production: the U.S., the Philippines, and Indonesia. Goethermal energy is set to enter new markets, however. ABS Energy projects the number of countries producing geothermal energy will rise from 24 at the end of 2009 to 36 in 2015.

Reducing Cost/Improving Efficiency in Solar Modules

Thinner, larger solar cells challenge current module assembly tech Current module assembly methodologies based on solder processes, while effective for today’s cell dimensions, are challenged by the move to thinner, larger solar cells.

New electrically conductive adhesives deliver fast cure times, low temperature processing and superior flexibility for higher yield, higher efficiency and lower-cost assembly of modern PV modules.The much discussed and highly sought after grid parity for solar technology is arguably the primary driver for widespread, mainstream adoption of solar electricity solutions. While significant advance has been made over the last decade, the higher cost as compared to the price tag of traditional grid power has left consumers a bit lukewarm when it comes to photovoltaics (PV). But new advances may help change this dynamic and push the industry ever closer to heretofore elusive grid parity.

Reigning crystalline silicon (c-Si) cell technology, which currently accounts for approximately 80% of the PV market, today has an efficiency of roughly 15% and an average module end unit price per Watt peak (Wp) of US $2.00 — $2.50 (or, a production cost in the range of US $1.50 — $1.80 per module). Indeed, the performance of c-Si cells is what has led to their market dominance and, while thin-film modules are a lower cost solution from a production point of view, their current status as the less efficient of the two technologies has limited implementation — at least for now.

Eggshells: Another Interesting Way to Fight Global Warming

Carbon sequestration technology is still in its infancy so it stands to reason that researchers are pursuing any number of odd and unusual avenues, and among these the eggshell thing has to be among the oddest. Researchers at the University of Calcutta have found that eggshell membranes can absorb almost seven times their weight in carbon dioxide, making them an ideal sponge to soak up excess quantities of this greenhouse gas.

Eggshells and Membranes

Anyone who has ever cracked an egg can discern the thin membrane that clings to the inside of an eggshell. To make any kind of dent in global carbon dioxide emissions, there would have to be a highly efficient method of separating the membrane from the shell. The Calcutta team found that a weak acid can do the trick, but that would be impracticable on a commercial scale. A mechanical method would be preferable. It’s possible that the egg farmer of the future will be able to market egg membranes as a value-added byproduct, much as biogas technology has provided the livestock industry with a means of producing marketable fertilizer.

Expose Your Eggshells

Lead researcher Basab Chaudhuri suggests that until eggshell membrane salvage is commercially viable, it might help if we all just let our eggshells air out a bit after emptying their contents. That’s not as far-fetched as it may seem. There’s a lot of eggs cycling through the world these days. India consumes about 1.6 million tonnes (that’s a metric ton, or 2,305 pounds) of eggs annually all by itself, and some nations are encouraging a sharp increase in egg consumption, South Africa being one example. The U.S. is no slouch either — for example about half a billion eggs were recalled in a salmonella outbreak last summer, barely causing a ripple in the market. Global egg consumption is expected to reach about 1,154 billion eggs by 2015.

Better Place to Launch EV Taxi Program in San Francisco Bay Area

Better Place, with support from the U.S. Department of Transportation via the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, recently announced a commitment to bring a switchable battery, electric taxi program to the Bay Area in partnership with the cities of San Francisco and San Jose to further cement the region’s EV leadership position.

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According to Better Place, taxis are a high-mileage, high-visibility segment that can serve as the on-ramp for technology transfer to the mass-market. Over the next three years, the program will reportedly deploy and operate four battery switch stations in the San Francisco to San Jose corridor that supports a fleet of zero-emission, switchable taxis. This fleet will offer many thousands of Bay Area residents and visitors their first EV experience. The program also has the potential to help California and the Bay Area meet their aggressive energy and climate policy goals when scaled to the entire region.

The company already operates an EV taxi program in Tokyo, supported by the Japanese government. The pilot project began on April 26, in cooperation with Nihon Kotsu Co., Tokyo’s largest taxi operator, and focuses on the feasibility of an automated battery switch process as means for taxis to have instant, zero-emission, range extension. In the first 90 days of the trial, the EV taxis drove over 25,000 miles using battery switch as the primary means of “instant charge” or range extension.

Guest Post: The Durability Problem in Solar

Solar modules live in rough environments. So how do you avoid losses from degradation? There is a reason why, to date, the vast majority of all PV installations are based on crystalline wafer silicon. Work done over 40 years ago identified a system (cSi) that seemed to work quite well and that appeared reasonably durable. Subsequent experience demonstrated that, if the proper materials are chosen and combined with good workmanship, the resulting PV modules can be exposed to most outdoor environments for 20+ years and still produce over 80% of their original rated output.

Crystalline modules have been found to resist degradation from such normal weather factors as high heat, high humidity, high moisture, freeze-thaw cycles, normal hail occurrences, sand storms, snow load, and of greatest importance, daily exposure to high solar irradiance.

Concurrent with our increasing understanding of the durability of crystalline modules has been development of a number of other systems based upon different semiconductors and different combinations of materials. The new systems, whether CIGS, CIS, GaAs, aSi, CdTe, or other multi-junction combinations, each offer some economic or performance differentiation from the original glass crystalline modules. However, each must also undergo the same outdoor environments and risks as the original known performer. The longer term environmental durability of these materials is still unknown until they are exposed for extended periods of time.

Fighting Solar Bureaucracy

More than 90% of Americans want greater use of solar power, yet less than 1% of America’s energy comes from solar power. One of the problems is that each state has different standards for connecting solar to the grid. The Solar Electric Industries Association (SEIA) recently took an interesting step to address this problem by creating a “Solar Bill of Rights.”

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Only around 25% of utility customers in the U.S. have the ability to actually purchase clean, renewable power. Utilities should be required to offer the electricity source that their customers want.

Through a website, www.solarbillofrights.com, they are encouraging people to add their voice by signing the bill. This fall, SEIA will march on the U.S. Capitol to deliver the name of those who have signed and urge key Congressional leaders and the Obama Administration to enact policies to expand the use of solar energy in the United States.

In Europe, a similar appeal is underway. Called PV Legal (www.pvlegal.eu/consortium), the goal is the “reduction of bureaucratic barriers for successful PV deployment in the EU.” The group notes that when it comes to constructing PV projects, bureaucracy and highly complex procedures and requirements (i.e. notification, registration, licensing, environmental impact assessment, etc.) significantly hamper installation processes.

Futuristic climate schemes to get U.N. hearing

Futuristic schemes for slowing climate change such as dimming sunlight are fraught with risks but will get a serious hearing from the U.N.

Futuristic schemes for slowing climate change such as dimming sunlight are fraught with risks but will get a serious hearing from the U.N. panel of climate scientists, a leader of the panel said on Wednesday.

Thomas Stocker, co-chair of the panel’s working group examining climate science, said some so-called geo-engineering solutions could disrupt world rainfall and might backfire by causing abrupt temperature rises if they go wrong.

He told Reuters his group will hold meetings of experts in 2011 to focus on geo-engineering and ocean acidification, blamed on rising concentrations of carbon dioxide, to help prepare the next U.N. review of climate science, due for completion in 2014.

Stocker said proposals for imitating the effect of volcanoes by frequently pumping sun-dimming sulphur gases into the upper atmosphere would have knock-on effects on world rainfall.

“You will have additional effects of drying or moistening in various regions of the world that may be unwanted and even surprises,” Stocker, a professor at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said in a telephone interview.

China Takes First Steps In the Fight Against Acid Rain

Amid China’s seemingly boundless emissions of industrial pollutants, there are signs of hope. Discharges of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, have actually decreased, offering some evidence that China is starting to establish a culture of pollution monitoring and control.

The Leshan Buddha, an ancient statue carved from a cliff in southern China, is slowly dissolving. The giant stone Buddha, the world’s largest, seated with its hands planted on its knees, looks out resolutely over the waters of the Minjiang River and across to Mount Emei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China. Since being chiseled from a cliff in Sichuan province in the Tang dynasty (8th century), it has for 1,200 years drawn a continuous stream of pilgrims, tourists, and scholars; in 1996, the Buddha was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But this symbol of eternity is slowly corroding. The body of the statue is no longer the reddish color of the surrounding hills, but instead a charred, tombstone gray. Its face is streaky with sooty tears, and its nose blackened. Having withstood the weathering of the ages, the statue is now succumbing to a modern man-made threat. Stains caused by acid rain mark the ancient Leshan Buddha in China’s Sichuan province. The culprit: Acid rain. When I visited the region this spring, a researcher at a local university told me: “Our ancient heritage is crumbling. The Buddha is a symbol of peace, harmoniousness “” and now, pollution.”

Tagged Narwhals in Arctic Provide Key Winter Temperature Data

Scientists from the United States and Greenland have successfully used satellite tags on narwhals to measure rising ocean temperatures in Baffin Bay. In 2006 and 2007, the scientists outfitted 14 adult narwhals “” medium-sized toothed Arctic whales “” with satellite tags that recorded ocean temperatures, depths, and location and that transmitted that data to satellites whenever the whales surfaced between the ice in Baffin Bay, west of Greenland. The tags showed that the highest winter ocean temperatures ranged between 4 and 4.6 degrees Celsius (39.2 and 40.3 degrees Fahrenheit), which is nearly a degree Celsius warmer that previous human-collected data showed. The narwhal study, funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also showed that the thickness of a stable layer of sea surface temperatures “” which plays an important role in ocean circulation “” was 50 to 80 meters thinner than reported in previous climatology data. Scientists said that the narwhals, which dove to a depth of 1,773 meters “” more than a mile “” provided vital data not only about warming sea temperatures but about possible effects on ocean circulation patterns. “Narwhals proved to be highly efficient and cost-effective ‘biological oceanographers,’ providing wintertime data to fill gaps in our understanding of this important ocean area,” said Kristin Ladre from the University of Washington.