Energy and Global Warming News for September 29th: Waves power US grid for first time; New York tornado Part Two — Extreme weather on the rise

Waves Power US Grid for the First Time

OPT’s PB40 PowerBuoy was hooked up to the grid at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii as part of the firm’s programme with the US Navy to test wave energy technology. The connection demonstrates the device’s ability to produce utility-grade renewable energy that can be transmitted to the grid according to international and national standards, says the firm.

“Grid connection is another significant milestone in demonstrating the potential for commercial status of our PowerBuoy technology,” said OPT’s CEO Charles F. Dunleavy.

The PowerBuoy was deployed three-quarters of a mile off the coast of Oahu in December 2009 at a depth of 100 feet. Since then the device has produced power from more than 3 million power take-off cycles and 4,400 hours of operation.


The project has also undergone extensive environmental assessment by an independent environmental firm in accordance the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) that resulted in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), says OPT.

A tree falls in Brooklyn….

New York tornado Part Two? Extreme weather on the rise

A tornado watch has been issued for New York City and the U.S. Northeast today. If one is to form, it will be the fourth tornado to hit New York City this summer. Two touched down Sept. 16 and one hit the Bronx in July. It’s been a year of extreme weather, from Snowmageddon in D.C. to triple-digit heat in Los Angeles and from hurricanes in the Gulf to floods in Wisconsin; and the extreme weather won’t stop any time soon, scientists say.

David Easterling, chief of the Scientific Services Division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climatic Data Center, said there will be more incidences of extreme weather because the planet is heating up. What we consider heat waves will become more the norm, Easterling said, and along with heat waves, heavy rainfall and flooding will increase. Plus, while “hurricanes have always been a problem … the ones that do occur will be more powerful.”


The heavy rains and snows can also be attributed to the increase heat because the warmer the air is, the more moisture it holds. “Expect more snow,” he said, but also expect that the length of the snow season will be reduced.

Former president Bill Clinton voiced his concern about climate change at the recent Clinton Global Initiative in New York. “There is every reason to believe the incidence of economically devastating natural disasters will accelerate around the world with the changing of the climate,” he said.

Turning the Tide on Outages

What are the true costs of implementing””or failing to implement””a stronger, smarter and more robust grid, asks Massoud Amin.

In a month during which the nation observed the 7th anniversary of the August 2003 blackout (over 50 million consumers affected and more than $6 billions in losses), the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (more than 1800 deaths and over $150 billion in economic losses), and the August 1, 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis (killing 13 and disrupting traffic and the local economy for a year), persistent problems such as blackouts, water main breaks, and daily traffic gridlocks have stimulated growing public awareness of the necessity of accelerated programs of replacement, rehabilitation and new investment in the U.S. infrastructure[1].

Focusing on the electric power sector, power outages and power quality disturbances cost the U.S. economy over $80 billion annually, and up to $188 billion per year. Transmission and distribution losses in the U.S. were about 5% in 1970, and grew to 9.5% in 2001, due to heavier utilization and more frequent congestion. Regarding the former, starting in 1995, the amortization/depreciation rate exceeded utility construction expenditures. Since that crossover point in 1995, utility construction expenditures have lagged behind asset depreciation.


This has resulted in a mode of operation of the system that is analogous to harvesting more rapidly than planting replacement seeds. As a result of these diminished “shock absorbers,” the electric grid is becoming increasingly stressed, and whether the carrying capacity or safety margin will exist to support anticipated demand remains in question.

Major solar projects make progress in California

California is on track to approve a wave of solar farms this year that will more than double the state’s ability to generate electricity from solar power.

Since August, four major solar projects “” including one on 7,000-plus acres billed as the world’s largest “” have won state approval. The California Energy Commission is expected to OK two more this week. The solar farms, which concentrate the sun’s power on mirrors to produce heat used to generate electricity, could eventually produce enough electricity to power 675,000 homes.

No other state is moving as aggressively as California to add solar. Its embrace of big-scale solar may inspire other states, boosters say. “These are the first projects of this size in the U.S.,” says Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “They’re a sign to the rest of the country that solar is here, not a technology of the future.”

California, the nation’s largest solar producer, has ample sunshine and big renewable-energy goals. Last week, state regulators passed rules requiring that one-third of electricity sold in California come from renewable sources by 2020.

California’s push for solar is also being driven by a federal deadline for stimulus funds. Projects must be underway by Dec. 31 to get federal cash grants in lieu of tax credits equal to 30% of the projects’ costs.

NYC to curb water runoff with blue and green roofs

New York City wants to catch and store rainwater temporarily in new roof systems to stop heavy storms sending sewage spilling into city waterways. The catchment systems would consist of “blue” roofs that have a series of drainage pools and “green” or grass- or ivy-covered roofs, under a plan unveiled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg estimates the city could save $2.4 billion over 20 years if the state allows it to use this kind of green technology instead of relying on so-called grey infrastructure, such as storage tanks and tunnels.

“Our PlaNYC goal of making 90 percent of City waterways suitable for recreations requires us to do more, and that means reducing the combined sewer overflows that have plagued the City for decades,” Bloomberg said in a statement. During heavy storms, the city’s 14 wastewater treatment plants turn into major polluters. That is because much of the city’s water system was built 150 years ago when it was common practice to let rainwater drain into the sewage system.

To prevent treatment plants from flooding, bypasses kick in when there are major rainfalls, spewing sewage into harbors, canals and rivers. New York City could capture an inch of rain in 10 percent of the older neighborhoods by using a variety of green methods, such as rain barrels and porous parking lots. Sidewalks could be planted with strips of greenery which also could absorb rainwater and release it slowly.

Lawmakers urge Obama challenge China on clean energy

More than 180 U.S. lawmakers urged President Barack Obama on Tuesday to fight back against what they called China’s “unfair” tactics to dominate global production of clean energy technology.

“Through a variety of predatory trade practices, China’s industrial policy seeks to give its manufacturers an unfair advantage in the green technology revolution and to capture this emerging sector,” the group of mostly Democrats and at least two Republican lawmakers said in a letter. “If left unchecked, these practices will achieve their intended effect, which is to drive American manufacturers from this critical emerging sector,” they said.

The letter came on the eve of vote in the House of Representatives on a bill to give the White House a new tool to protect U.S. companies from China’s currency practices, which many lawmakers also believe are unfair.

China’s clean energy “practices, combined with Chinese currency policy and other predatory practices, are already taking a heavy toll on the U.S. green economy and U.S. trade balances,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin said in a separate statement.

The group urged the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to accept a “Section 301” petition filed earlier this month by the United Steelworkers union asking for an investigation of “illegal” Chinese activities to spur development of the world’s leading clean energy technologies within its borders. Those technologies include wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy equipment.

Will the Netherlands Rule High Altitude Wind?

The birth of renewable energy industries often follow a familiar pattern. First, technological breakthroughs occur. Second, various manufacturers begin to coalesce around standard designs and materials. Third, a national government and the local conglomerates decide to make the market its own.

High altitude wind — kites and small planes that can harvest energy from atmospheric winds — exists only in the prototype and PowerPoint stage, but it is already seeking national sponsors.

“One country could dominate this industry,” said Saul Griffith, Makani Power founder and freelance futurist, at the Airborne Wind Energy Conference taking place this week at Stanford University. “One country could win this by getting into it in a big way.”

An early candidate could be the Netherlands. The country has three key ingredients: good technology, a cooperative government and really bad weather. It is one of Europe’s most technologically advanced nations. It is a somewhat natural location for wind — windmills kept the country humming for centuries. And most of the established technologies already have a home.

Health advocates urge EPA regulation of greenhouse gases

Labeling climate change “a serious public health issue,” more than 100 leading health advocates called on Washington policymakers this week to allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The advocates “” including 18 national public health organizations, 66 state-based groups and dozens of individual medical experts “” urged lawmakers to “recognize the threat to public health posed by climate change and to support measures that will reduce these risks.”

“In order to prepare for changes already under way, it is essential to strengthen our public health system so it is able to protect our communities from the health effects of heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts, infectious diseases, and other events,” the advocates wrote Tuesday to House, Senate and White House policymakers. “But we must also address the root of the problem, which means reducing the emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Endorsing the letter were the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association, among a long list of others.

Mighty Micros Make Their Mark: PV Inverter Scene Overhauled by Micros and the AC Module

Producing a reliable, more efficient and less costly PV panel is an important step in making solar more competitive. But it is only part of the bigger picture, or the ‘balance of system’. An array of other components, including inverters, converters and the associated hardware that go towards making it work — as well as the people who install them — can account for half an installation’s cost. Central inverters may currently dominate photovoltaic installations but a distributed inverter architecture using either micro-inverters or AC-DC solutions is set to mount a growing challenge.

Manufacturers and installers know only too well that these items must be made simpler, smarter, more integrated, more efficient and more reliable to reduce overall costs and speed up the rate of return for customers. Some of the most significant recent technological advances are in the area of inverters, with several firms racing to market with micro-inverters, devices that convert direct current (DC) from a single solar module (panel) to alternating current (AC).

Drawbacks in Central Inverter Architecture

Shortcomings inherent to the central inverter architecture are creating opportunities for a range of new technologies, with a growing number of companies developing products and technology to generate more power from the PV panels already on the market.

Unlike a central, or string inverter, that aggregates and converts the power generated by an entire array of solar modules, a micro-inverter converts the DC power from a single solar module to AC. When connected to a central or string inverter, modules are typically connected in series; when they have micro-inverters, the modules are all connected in parallel.

Tracking Clouds to Predict Solar Bounty

Solar power is clean, renewable and increasingly competitive with traditional energy sources, particularly in hot, dry areas with long periods of uninterrupted sunshine.

But in areas with lots of sunshine but also plenty of clouds, like Hawaii or Florida, the amount of solar power available at any one time can be about as predictable as the arrival of an afternoon thunderstorm.

So as solar plants scale up in size and play an increasingly large role in utility-scale generation, solar researchers are testing ways to iron out some of these uncertainties.

To get a better sense of how a constantly shifting mix of clouds and sun affects power production, researchers from Sandia National Laboratories have developed a sensor system that attaches to photovoltaic panels, tracking cloud activity and transmitting data wirelessly at one-second intervals. The system is gathering data at the 1.2-megawatt La Ola solar farm on the Hawaiian island of Lanai.

“Our goal is to get to the point where we can predict what’s going to happen at larger scale plants as they go toward hundreds of megawatts,” Scott Kuzmaul, a researcher with the project, said in a statement from Sandia Labs.