"The ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age."
President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address
Making CO2 Valuable
This concept struck me: CO2 can be reformulated into hydrocarbons. While this has been understood for some time - though I'd never heard of it - the process has involved high temperatures and high pressures, thus considerable energy, and little if any net gain.
Now, a company by the name of Carbon Science in Menlo Park, California is poised with a potentially break-through technology. It is planning to build a prototype facility this year that will use "biocatalytics" and a low-temperature, multi-step and proprietary "biocatalytic process." The facility will test commercialization of a "CO2 to fuels" conversion process.
The Carbon Sciences process uses inexpensive renewable "bio-molecules" as catalysts, a process that company officials note occurs in all living organisms. Carbon is stripped from CO2 as hydrogen is stripped from water; together they form hydrocarbons. The company vision is to transform power plant flue gases into gasoline for cars and jet fuels for planes.
Energy BizInsider reports that Sandia National Laboratory scientists are experimenting with a solar-powered CO2-to-fuels project. The system uses sunlight to split CO2 into valuable elements. Yet another CO2 conversion process turns CO2 into "cyclic carbonates" that can be used in paint removers, strippers, and solvents.
A Solar Medley
Where's the biggest solar system east of the Mississippi?
Pennsylvania. More precisely, just outside Philadelphia. Even more precisely, at a 16.5 acre "GROW" landfill. The 3 MW, 17,000 module solar plant is the Keystone State's first "utility-scale" plant, provided to Exelon - the major regional utility - through a long-term power purchase agreement.
The PPA with EPURON - a Conergy company - provides Exelon with renewable power and its renewable energy credits. The plant was designed and built by Conergy and will annually reduce CO2 emissions by four million pounds, avoiding the release of over 9,000 pounds of NOx and 28,000 of SOx.
Bizarre. A cemetery outside of Barcelona, Spain, is now adorning mausoleums with solar panels. Dubbed a tribute to those that lie in rest there, the panels are generating clean power.
Meanwhile, Colorado architects are working on new ways to cut the costs of solar, specifically, by getting double duty from solar. Semi-transparent photovoltaic panels serve as the skins of shade structures used in food production. Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) offset conventional building materials, marrying food and energy production and lessening the costs of both.
Marburg, Germany's City Council has instituted a solar heating "installation upon resale or retrofit" ordinance in June. If you sell or significantly remodel, or replace your heating system or roof, and you live in Marburg, you must install solar heating. (Closer to home, a Coachella Valley city is considering a retrofit upon resale ordinance for pool pumps.) Marburg's rule went into effect on October 1, 2008. Violators apparently face stiff fines.
Colorado's San Luis Valley is home to one of the nation's largest and most productive solar farms. Based in Alamosa, the 8.2 MW SunEdison plant is on 82 acres. Xcel Energy, the largest utility in Colorado, is using the plant to fulfill its 20% Renewable Portfolio Standard, due by 2020. Renewable energy requirements have caused Xcel rates to rise by 2% thus far. California-based PG&E will soon be getting solar power from a 10 MW PV plant in southern Nevada. (No report yet on any rate impact.)
New Jersey holds the distinction of being Number Two in the nation, behind California. Prior to 2001, the state had six solar systems. Legislation in 1999 created the New Jersey Clean Energy program. Since then, the On Site Renewable Generation program has provided $213 million - in the form of direct incentives and the purchase of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) -- to support 2,825 projects including 2,355 residential installations (average size 7 kW), 330 commercial, 70 school, and 70 other. By the end of 2008, New Jersey boasted some 50 MW of capacity and more than 3,000 homes were expected to have been "solarized" there. Solar now accounts for 0.07% of the state's power generation, with a goal of a 2.12% contribution by 2020.
EcoMotion Seminar: Solar PPAs
On January 13, EcoMotion hosted a seminar on "Power Purchase Agreements" (PPAs) for solar systems. Financiers, such as our featured guest -- Solar Power Partners, headquartered in Mill Valley, California -- will design, install, maintain, continue to own and operate solar systems on large roofs, providing solar power to the property owner (or tenant) at a fixed price below the prevailing utility rate.
Using PPAs, major institutions and companies that are unable or unwilling to invest in solar can have their cake and eat it too! Check out Chevron Energy Services, the elephant in the PPA business. It is working with dozens of colleges deploying the no-money-down model. In fact, Chevron often structures deals where the customer has positive cash flow in year one.
Roy Schwartz explained that the PPA market has been impacted by the recession. The deals are getting harder to make and the "sweet spot," where solar PPAs make sense, is getting smaller. And the deal size requirement is large. SPP entered the market hoping to be able to finance systems as small as 30 kW. Now they will generally only work deals that are 200 kW or larger in size.
So where is the sweet spot? Primarily in the institutional sector: Government buildings, schools, universities. These are big customers who will likely be around for a long time. While big box chains and supermarkets (from Costco to Whole Foods) are still viable candidates for PPAs, in the past six months, even these "stable" stores are suspect and therefore not interesting to long-term investors. Witness the failure of Mervyns and Circuit City.
Roy Schwartz also explained the fundamental use of PPAs is for non-profits that cannot take advantage of federal investment solar tax credits. These are worth 30% of the deal. PPA providers partner with financial institutions who can fully use the tax credits to make the deal sound.
Many institutional customers are paying very low rates for power (In America we continue to have declining block rates for power: the more you use, the less you pay per unit.) For PPA providers to profit, and to give their customers a discount on their rates, deals only work where rates are high. Solar Santa Monica, in the Edison territory, finds that deals only work where the participant is paying over 13 cents per kilowatt hour. And of course all of this depends on the sunshine.
Some utilities do not allow PPAs, considering this an infringement on their service territory franchise and their "obligation to serve." In these instances customers can turn to slightly more complex lease mechanisms. Note that there are solar leases for residential customers, allowing participants to "get in the solar game" for little or no money down to offset a portion, if not all, their power at a discount.
EcoMotion again thanks Roy Schwartz and Dennis Wong of Solar Power Partners. Participants of the EcoMotion Luncheon Seminar Series included representatives from Samsung Solar, Envision Solar, SunTrek Industries, Bain & Company, The Marketing Machine, and The Energy Coalition.
The Eighth California Solar Initiative Forum
There is no drum roll. The quarterly CSI Forums have become pretty standard, with updates and thorough expression on all manner of technical - albeit important - minutiae. The policy is set, now is the time for head-on implementation. On behalf of Solar Santa Monica, Susan Munves and I spent the morning at the Eighth California Solar Initiative Forum, held in Long Beach, to gain an appreciation for results and process.
So far, by the Program Administrators' official count, California installed 152 MW of solar capacity since the start of the CSI on January 1, 2007. In 2007, 19 MW were installed. In 2008, 133 MW were installed.
Thus far, there have been 18,290 CSI applications - with an aggregate capacity of 322 MW -- of which 11,810 and 152 MW are complete. PG&E received over 12,000 applications, SCE has received approximately 4,000, with 1,700 in the SDG&E territory.
A CPUC spokesperson presented a doubling of CSI results in 2008 from the prior year. She called it a "privilege" to be reporting the great success achieved by a team of administrators, and the solar market. And there's another 150 MW in the pipeline. While unofficial, a statement was made that 15 companies control 60% of the California market. Others questioned whether this would lead to the sustainable solar market outlined as a key CSI goal.
Data presented shows that total grid-connected solar PV capacity throughout California is currently 441 MW. This can be compared to well over 2,500 MW in Germany.
To achieve 152 MW of a 1,750 goal, the CSI has "burned through" the highest incentives. Program Administrators for each service territory - who are by all accounts doing a great job -- report that $744 million has been paid out, leveraging $5 billion in solar investments. With 1,600 MW to go, California has achieved 9% of its goals and has another 9% in the pipeline.
There were briefings on five other CSI programs: Single-family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH), Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing program (MASH), the $50 million CSI RD&D program, the Solar Water Heating Pilot Program with 102 systems installed thus far and now being evaluated, the $47 million CSI evaluation program.
We were updated on the latest version of the CSI Program Handbook released last week. (It allows for more panels on existing inverters.) There were also interesting discussions of the definition of a "Site." Imagine the 200-square mile, 20 MW load at Camp Pendleton being limited to 1 MW of CSI incentives because it is served by a single meter! Comments were also made about broadening the scope of virtual net energy metering (VNEM).
There was also an update on the "net energy metering check-in point." When the aggregate capacity of net energy metering - from solar, small wind, and other eligible renewable - reaches 2.5% of the utility's peak demand, there is a "check-in" and re-evaluation. PG&E is at the 1.27%; SCE at 0.51%.
They're all the rage!
The Tesla Roadster is a high-end, all-electric sports car. So far, since its unveiling in July of 2006, more than 150 have been sold. Thanks to on-board, powerful lithium-ion battery packs, the Roadsters go zero-to-sixty in 3.9 seconds, have a 244 mile driving range per charge, and can go 125 miles per hour. Silently.
Tesla uses carbon-fiber bodies; the sports cars are loaded with all the amenities- navigation, heated seats, etc. They can be fully charged in as little as 3.5 hours. Tesla Motors is also working on a "solar option," so that you can buy a package of a Tesla (or two) and a solar system that will more than offset your electric mileage. Tesla's execs call this being "energy positive," completely eliminating one's transportation carbon footprint.
The 2009MY Roadster has a base price of $109,000, plus "options" such as a charging station. Orders can be guaranteed for delivery within 12 months.
Unleashing Potential Through Sport
- Alvaro Cadenas, UCI Intern
As sustainability topics gain popularity, the world is seeing more and more industries jumping to find ways of promoting and implementing sustainability practices. As an avid shoe collector, I am ecstatic to see that my favorite company, Nike, is at the forefront of green innovations for shoe and clothing companies. Their new campaign, titled "Innovate For a Better World," is implementing a number of programs that are both charitable and environmentally conscious.
I have become partial to a few that save resources and also give consumers the opportunity to help the world. The Nike "Reuse A Shoe" program lets the public turn in athletic shoes at drop off locations in Nike retailers, or they can be mailed in, to be processed into a material called "Nike Grind." The material is then used in a variety of sports surfaces. Athletes like Kobe Bryant, Paul Rodriguez and Serena Williams are participating in a program which will give Southern California residents the opportunity to erect playing fields made out of "Nike Grind" in their own communities. In addition to this program, labeled Let Me Play, Nike is developing other environmentally-friendly product lines made out of Grind.
Even "new shoes" are becoming more friendly: Nike's ACG product designers achieved a reduction of 61 percent in manufacturing waste, 35 percent in energy consumption and 89 percent in the use of solvents, plus being more readily recyclable. Now, I feel better when I come home after finding that perfect pair. I can lace them up for that trip to a Nike retailer so I can turn in my old ones and have them transformed into an athletic facility. It's a relief knowing that they won't just sit and pollute another landfill.