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Monday, September 2, 2013: Five US nuclear reactors shuttered in recent months. Now what?

“Five nuclear reactors have been shuttered in the United States in recent months -- signaling a “rapid-fire” industry retreat in 2013 that will only get worse, according to a recent study,” reports Fox News . “What replaces them?” asks the headline. How about nuclear power from 93 million miles away? I’m talking about solar power: PV, solar thermal, daylighting, wind, geothermal, and bio-fuels.

Coal and natural gas remain the country’s biggest fuel-based electricity producer, at 42 percent and 25 percent, respectively, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2013 Early Release Overview.” Natural gas is cheap right now because of unregulated hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fracking involves injecting toxic chemicals through our present aquifers and deep underground. While we have lots of water on Planet Earth, but very little of it is drinkable. Georgia is fighting three other states for access to their river water, because Atlanta is drinking Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier dry. We can live weeks without food but only days without water. Do we really want to jeopardize the water we have left with the unknown effects of fracking?

Coal mining opens a whole new set of problems. Aside from the fact that coal, like all combustion fuels, add more carbon dioxide to the air as we are cutting more rain forests to make pastures for burger joints, the cleanest burning coal leaves behind mercury, arsenic, and a host of other undesirable chemicals.

Most of us remember the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill started when natural gas exploded in the Deepwater Horizon undersea explosion, but how many of us remember a spill eight times worse less than two years earlier and closer to Alabama. On Monday, December 28, 2008, the dam holding back an 84-acre coal slurry pond ruptured sending a 20-high wave of, you guessed it, mercury, arsenic, and a host of other undesirable chemicals through people’s homes. Merry Christmas, folks.

So if earthbound nuclear power plants close, what do we do for electricity? How about starting with conservation and then look at all forms of solar?

Saturday, October 31, 2013: Solar in Alabama is on hold right now.

The Tennessee valley Authority (TVA) Green Power Providers program is out of capacity, and Alabama Power Company managed to get the Alabama Public Service Commission to increase access that allows homeowners to sell electricity back to the utility by 600 percent. Alabama Power only pays homeowners a paltry 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour of clean solar electricity returned to the grid, while the utility charges customers 12.5 cents for the same electricity made mostly from dirty coal. Homeowners now have to generate about 715 kilowatt hours of electricity above the household needs to just break even.

Team USA Wins Award for “Best Newcomer” at Greenpower Competition

LONDON, England (WHNT) — Several Huntsville City Schools’ students earned impressive results in their first effort at a Greenpower Competition on Sunday at the Goodwood Motor Circuit in West Sussex, England.

Team USA placed 7th out of 14 teams in the ninety minute race, and finished 13th out of 50 in the four-hour long second race. The group was awarded “Best Newcomer”, and the “Siemens Innovator Award” following the competition. The Huntsville team earned a spot to the National finals that will be held in October of this year. Team USA becomes one of the few teams to qualify for the finals after just their first time to compete in a Greenpower Race.

Jeremy Way, CEO with the Greenpower Education Trust, said this was the best showing ever of a first time competitor in the history of the race. Mike Brown, the director of academic relations with Siemens, was very impressed with the Huntsville students, stating that “the depth of engineering knowledge that these kids are getting from building and racing in the Greenpower Car Competition is phenomenal”. One of the goals of the Greenpower Education Trust is to inspire the next generation of engineers. Siemens is a major supporter of the education initiative. The Huntsville Team will have an opportunity to tour the nearby Rolls Royce Plant in West Sussex on Monday, and will finish their trip on Tuesday, getting to tour an 11th century historical structure, Arundel Castle. The group will return to Huntsville on Wednesday.

Saturday, April 6, 2013: Solar PV prices continue to drop.

See why Why Going Off The Grid Isn’t Just For Conspiracy Theorists Anymore.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013: The December Sundial is posted at last.

Morton dropped the ball last month and didn’t get it posted. Check it out now and see what an excellent job your new newsletter editor is doing. See it at

Tuesday, November 20, 2012: Pssst! Hey, buddy, can you spare a few hours?

The Alabama Solar Association is looking for a few good men and women who want to leave a better future for our children and grandchildren. We realize we are going to have to continue to lean on coal, oil, and other conventional fuels for a long time to come, but we need to begin now to develop alternative forms of energy.

Al Orilion formed the association in 1990 to promote the use of our sun’s renewable energy to preserve our environment and life on earth. We are dedicated to promoting the public awareness and the use of solar energy, energy conservation, other renewable non-polluting energy sources and environmental and health awareness building practices throughout Alabama and neighboring states. We have made great progress since 1990, but there is so much more we can do. We need a few more people to help just a few hours a month to help us.

I have sent a plea to all my LinkedIn contacts in the Huntsville Area in hopes of finding a few critical volunteers, and I ask you to consider the request as well. I know that some of you are already incredibly busy and cannot take on another task, but perhaps you can forward this to other contacts who might have the interest and time. Teachers and school administrators, do you know of students who might be looking for a volunteer assignment to bolster applications to college?

Our Board of Directors meets the third Tuesday of each month at 11:30 AM in the Adtran cafeteria in Research Park. We ask that volunteers try to make most BoD meetings, but obviously nobody can make all of them. We are next meeting Tuesday, November 19th, and we need your help.

Volunteers are needed for the following positions:

  • Treasurer
  • Education Director
  • Legislative Advisor
  • Technical Editors
  • Interns to back up and assist each officer and director

Our most urgent need is for a treasurer. We do not need an accountant or even someone with prior experience. If you can balance a checkbook, we can teach you the basics.

If you can help or know anyone who can, look over the job descriptions on our website at the About Us webpage. If you don’t like the job descriptions, suggest changes.

Will you help us make a difference for future generations?

Sunday, November 4, 2012: First All-Carbon Solar Cell Created

The first solar cell made entirely out of carbon has been created by researchers from Stanford University. This technological breakthrough is offering the possibility of cheap, practical alternatives to the sometimes rather expensive materials used in current solar cells.

“Carbon has the potential to deliver high performance at a low cost,” said study senior author Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a working solar cell that has all of the components made of carbon. This study builds on previous work done in our lab.”

In contrast to the rigid silicon solar panels that cover many rooftops, the new thin-film prototype was created entirely of carbon materials that can be coated from solution. “Perhaps in the future we can look at alternative markets where flexible carbon solar cells are coated on the surface of buildings, on windows or on cars to generate electricity,” Bao said.

Read more at: The CleanTechina website.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012:

TVA's Generation Partners program ends December 31st, not October 1st as originally reported.

This gives TVA customers three more months to get in their paperwork and another 180 days to complete the work.

Thursday, September 20, 2012: TVA's Generation Partners program ends October 1st.

Generation Partners pays customers $1,000 to tie a new PV system to the TVA grid. They will also pay you a bonus of 12 cents above the retail rat for every kilowatt hour you generate – not just what excess energy you sell back to TVA, but all that you generate. This program is what makes each kilowatt hour of electricity you produce for the next 25 years cost only 3.5 cents (1.5 cents in some cases) rather than the 9 cents per kilowatt hour south of the TVA service area.

We are not sure what TVA will offer customers after October 1st. Generation Partners is ending because the cost of solar has come down so much that they can no longer justify the magnitude of the current program. TVA assures us that there will be some program and that it will be competitive with other utilities, but it will not be as generous as we now enjoy.

You can still get your free paperwork in by September 30th and have 180 days after TVA approval to complete installation. The process varies with each utility, but you generally have to complete an Application for Interconnection of Distributed Generation” form and a TVA Participation Agreement.

Huntsville Utilities and Joe Wheeler Electric Co-Op make the process much easier by allowing everything to be submitted electronically. Ask an ASA Solarite to help you, but do it fast. Don’t miss out on Generation Partners.

Friday, August 9, 2012: Two Solar BOS Giants Claim, “The Racking Evolution is Here.”

SunWize and Unirac, two of the leaders in the PV Industry, have come together to provide you with SolarMount (E)volution, a PV racking solution that installs up to 30% quicker than competitive products. It’s also the first and only AC428 certified racking solution on the market.

This means that your SolarMount (E)volution racking will meet or exceed guidelines of the International Building Code and the International Residential Code, resulting in easier and faster permitting.

ASA membership meeting "Affordable Solar" draws an enthusiastic crowd.

The topic of “Affordable Solar” drew an enthusiastic crowd of solar professionals, society members, and concerned citizens to the Lone Star Steakhouse tonight. We ran way over our budgeted one-hour time slot, but nobody seemed to mind. Everyone seemed anxious to learn about “grid parity,” where home and business owners can produce their own electricity for less than they can buy it from the utility company, even outside the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) service area. Download a copy of the presentation from Affordable Solar.

ASA has decided to hold these gatherings bimonthly. The next presentation will be October 4 and discuss electric vehicles. The presentation begins promptly at 6:00 PM, but come by 5 PM to order dinner. Again we meet at the Lone Star Steakhouse located at 5901 University Drive, Huntsville, AL 35806, in front of Sears. Come learn what all the buzz is about.

Sunday, August 5, 2012: Is it time for you to go solar? Come to the next Alabama Solar Association meeting Thursday evening at the Lone Star Steak House and find out.

The meeting topic is “Affordable Solar,” and there has never been a better time to go solar. Photovoltaic (PV) panel, inverter, and even racking prices have continued to fall. TVA has announced that their Generation Partners program is being phased out soon, because solar has become so affordable that fewer incentives are now needed. Several new companies have introduced green financing programs to ease the high initial cost. See more about “Grid Parity” and solar costs on the ASA home page . Call Morton at 256-658-5189 for more details or for help finding the restaurant.

Lone Star Steak House is located at 5901 University Drive, Huntsville, AL 35806, in front of Sears and beside Holiday Inn. Come learn what all the buzz is about.

Wednesday, July 22, 2012: Huntsville City Council Votes Not to Vote on Solar

On advice of counsel, the Huntsville City Council decided not to vote on the original solar ordnance proposed weeks ago. City planner Lisa Leddo discussed both the original version, which would have prohibited selling excess electricity back to any utility provider, and the revised version agreed to by the The Alabama Solar Association, Huntsville Utilities, and City planners. The Council decided not to vote on the original version and to set the substitute version for public hearing in August.

Numerous speakers opposed various provisions of the original ordinance and serious doubts on many provisions of the substitute version now set for public hearing. ASA president Morton Archibald compared it to the infamous Detroit “Horseless Carriage” ordnance. The proposed Huntsville Solar ordnance is solar tolerant but it is certainly not solar friendly. All speakers urged a law that is solar friendly to encourage solar power in our city known for high technology.

The Council seemed to be prepared to pass the substitute ordnance, but the City Attorney advices them to hold a new public hearing first. The Council appeared to prefer to pass some solar law now instead of waiting for it to be perfected.

Thanks to all those who spoke for us at this meeting. Let’s all show up for the August public hearing to be sure we do not get any more surprises.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012:

The Huntsville City Council meets Thursday at 6:00 PM to hold a public hearing on a new solar ordinance. Current city law prohibits the installation of any power generating equipment, including photovoltaics, in any residential zone of Huntsville. While this ordinance is far from perfect, it is better than the current situation. Your Board of Directors passed a resolution on July 10th to partially support the new ordinance but urging the City to immediately begin steps to make zoning laws more solar friendly.

Please come speak to the Huntsville City Council this Thursday evening and show your support for the clean, sustainable energy solar provides. We are gathering at the Energy Park on the northeast corner of Memorial Parkway and Airport Road at 5:30 PM. We will car pool from there to City Hall for the public hearing.

Call Morton at 256-658-5189 for any more information. Y’all Come!

Sunday, July 22, 2012:

Brandon Hunt, singer, songwriter, environmentalist, patriot, loyal member of the Alabama Solar Association, and proud owner of a new solar garden predicts a bleak future for America if we continue to ignore the reality of diminishing supplies of fossil fuels. “Coal train coming down the track, But this time it ain’t comin’ back” he sings. Well, we know that we actually have plenty of coal underground in the US, but how many more mountaintops are we willing to remove to get to it? How many lives can we afford to lose in mining accidents?

“When the wells run dry” is not a matter of “if” but “when.” Oil production is already past its peak, and global demand is growing at alarming rates. Listen carefully to Brandon’s words and begin planning now for a sustainable future. What makes Brandon a patriot? When I drove up to meet him for the first time, I saw a poignant bumper sticker on his car, “Renewable Energy IS Homeland Security. He gets it. Do you?

Thursday, July 11, 2012: City Council delays vote on solar ordnance -- don't go to the council meeting tonight expecting to speak for or against it.

Instead of voting on the new solar ordnance tonight, the City Council will hold a public hearing on July 29 th. We do encourage ASA members and others interested in solar to come to the public hearing. Look for more to follow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2012 - Traditional Energy Stocks Snap Back After Losses

New York, July 10, 2012: Coal giant Peabody Energy Corporation rose 3.3% and Consol Energy Inc. moved up by 2.6% as energy stocks snapped back from losses in the previous session. Alpha Natural Resources rose 1%. The Energy Select SPDR Fund , which tracks energy stocks in the S&P 500, rose 0.4%. On Monday, coal stocks sold off sharply just ahead of a bankruptcy filing from Patriot Coal. Energy stocks including coal and nuclear tend to ride and fall with oil prices, and oil futures are climbing sharply. Experts blame the recent decline of oil futures on fears that European economies might fail and the recent rise on better financial news from those markets.

Friday, July 6, 2012: Thin-film flexible modules are available for $0.65 to $0.85 per watt

Building on 25 years of solar experience, the new, enhanced version of our proven PVL delivers greater efficiency, packing density and ease of installation, resulting in a lower cost of electricity than ever before. These Roof-friendly modules are lightweight and flexible requiring no penetrations. The design claims superior performance at high temperatures like we’ve had in Alabama lately. The system has a lead-free RoHS compliant design.

Thin-film modules are not as efficient per square foot as flat panel modules, but their flexibility and make the fit into unusual roof designs, and their cost per watt is very attractive. See the module data sheet at

Monday, June 4, 2012:

Alabama residents can now produce their own clean, solar electricity cheaper than the electricity they can buy the coal-fueled energy from the power company. Don’t plan to cut your power lines just yet, though. Experts still recommend a grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) system wherever a power grid is available. See the ASA homepage ( for more details.

Sunday, April 15, 2012: “Firefly” is fully functional if not quite finished.

“Firefly” rolled out of the Alabama Solar Association factory (Morton’s garage) at 2 PM Saturday and began collecting the afternoon sun. We still have some details to finish, but at least she is functioning.

Right now we have three 400-amp automotive inverters, so we can produce 1,200 watts or about 10 amps. We would like to install a better inverter, but we have drained the ASA treasury to build her this far. We could still use donations of time and money to complete the project.

Next stop is the Earth Day celebration at Hayes Nature Preserve on the Flint River Saturday, April 21st. Take US 431 South toward Guntersville. The preserve is past Hampton Cove on the left before you cross the Flint River. Bring the family and come see Firefly in action.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012: Firefly spreads her wings

The work party last Saturday got Firefly’s solar panels mounted to the frame. Don helped Morton finish bolting them to the hinges – this turned out to be quite a chore. Kay came by to give her a beautiful golden coat.

Tuesday, at solar noon, Doug and Morton rolled Firefly out into the sun. Even under the high clouds and a tiny bit of shading, her performance was excellent. Adjusted for Standard Test Conditions (77°F, 1,000 watts per square meter irradiance, and 1.5 atmospheres solar penetration) Firefly produced 106 percent of the expected performance.

Friday we should receive the battery controller essential to make Firefly produce usable electricity – we raided the ASA treasury to finish paying for it, so we still need donations. We should install the controller and get her fully functional during the Saturday work party.

Lifting the heavy array in the wooden frames is a big chore for two strong men. We really need $60 to buy an electric winch to perform this chore. Anybody got a used 12-volt winch we can use?

Thanks for all the hard work everyone has performed to get us this far. Please consider donating time or money to get her finished. The last work party is 10 AM Saturday, April 7th at 2117 Rothmore Drive SW in Huntsville. E-mail or call 256-658-5189 for details.

Sunday, April 1, 2012: Report finds US solar installations up 109% in 2011 – Total installed PV in Alabama more than doubles

Today’s Energy Solutions reported that the U.S. solar energy industry installed a record 1,855MW of photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2011, more than doubling the previous annual record of 887 megawatts (MW) set in 2010, according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report. The record amount of solar installations is enough to power more than 370,000 homes, and represents a 109% growth rate in 2011. It is the first time the U.S. solar market has topped one gigawatt (1,000MW) in a single year. In the fourth quarter of 2011 alone, the industry installed 755MW, up 115% from Q4 2010, for a second consecutive record-breaking quarter. GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimate the U.S. solar market's total value surpassed $8.4 billion in 2011.

This unprecedented growth was spurred in part by declining installed solar photovoltaic (PV) system prices, which fell 20% last year on the back of lower component costs, improved installation efficiency, expanded financing options, and a shift toward larger systems nationwide. In addition, the anticipated expiration of the U.S. government's 1603 Treasury Program, which ended Dec. 31, 2011, drove developers to commission projects before the end of the year.

Alabama neared one megawatt with completion of the Join Forces Headquarters at the Alabama National Guard compound in Montgomery with arrays included rooftop modules on the building itself and covered parking that included Electric vehicle (EV) premium parking and charging stations. The state also doubled the number of NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) with the addition of two Entry Level PV Installers.

Thursday, March 29, 2012: New statewide building codes targeting October 1st launch

The The Huntsville Times reports that statewide building codes for homes and businesses are aiming for an October 1st launch in an effort to make the state more energy efficient. Karen Clifton with the Energy Division of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs said the state is one of about 11 states still without a mandatory energy code.

The codes would also simplify the varying building mandates set by city and county governments. "Previously, and still, it's been up to each individual jurisdiction as to what code they comply with, if anything," Clifton said before giving a briefing on the codes Wednesday at the Huntsville Board of Realtors. "This is the first time Alabama has a statewide mandatory energy code for the private sector."

Clifton said new homes and businesses as well as businesses that make extensive renovations would be responsible for complying with the codes when they go into effect.

Energy efficient homes and commercial buildings make rooftop solar and geothermal heat pumps more practical. ASA welcomes the improvement.

Sunday, March 25, 2012: Colorado Study Shows Possibly Harmful Airborne Toxins Coming From Fracking Well.

The Denver Post (3/23, Jaffe) reports that in spring 2010 smells started wafting from a drilling rig operated by Antero Resources near homes in Battlement Mesa, CO. Antero took action to fix the issue after the state's Oil and Gas Commission issued notice of alleged violation. However, a study released this week by University of Colorado-Denver's School of Public Health took samples from the air in Battlement Mesa and found that there were higher-than-average levels of some potentially toxic substances occurring when wells were being used for fracking, even in samples half a mile away from the drilling site. The latest study adds to what the Post says is an increasing amount of scientific study that links gas and oil drilling operations with problems with air pollution.

“Fracking” or hydraulic fracturing used by oil companies to release natural gas has consistently been one of the top two concerns of professional engineers (PEs) for the past year. it has been linked to ground water contamination, earthquakes, air pollution, and other health concerns. Fracking needs a lot more study and environmental impact analyses before it causes more health problems.

Solar is safe now and is plentiful. Let’s give renewable energy the consideration it deserves.

Friday, March 23, 2012: Firefly needs your donations of both time and money now.

We have been asked to bring Firefly (our solar trailer) to The Shoals for Earth Day on Saturday, April 14th. ASA volunteers are working frantically to get her finished in time, but there is another snag. A critical piece of equipment, the battery controller we thought was going to cost $100, will actually cost us $600. We would also like to buy a nice inverter, but this is not critical right now.

Firefly now has wings. As a minimum we need to complete the supporting frame underneath the three solar panels. We can then attach the hinges to let the array tilt up to an optimum angle. We then have to wire the panels and connect them to the new controller.

If time and money permits, we want to install an electric winch to tilt the array to the optimum angle. Since this angle changes throughout the day, an electric tilt system will help us adjust tilt easily. We also want to install meters showing the current status of the array, the controller, the battery, and other components. Again we need money and manpower to finish this project.

Please consider making a donation now and possibly coming by Morton’s house on Saturday to work on Firefly. She has so much potential, and we are so close to making her functional. Won’t you help?

The work parties are each Saturday from 10 AM to 3 PM at 2117 Rothmore Drive SW Huntsville. From Memorial Parkway, go west on Rothmore from just north of the Mountain Gap Road traffic light -- it’s right across from the Bojangles Fried Chicken place. Go ½ mile and take the first left turn onto Pembrook. My driveway is the first on the left. Call Morton at 256-658-5189 for more info.

Thursday, March 22, 2012: Five megawatt solar farm coming to North Carolina, 14 more to follow

A Chapel Hill solar-energy company wants to build a 5-megawatt facility in Mocksville, North Carolina, according to a legal notice filed Monday. The North Carolina Utilities Commission said it has received an application from Mocksville Farm LLC for a certificate of public convenience and necessity. The solar farm would be built on a 30-acre site off Eaton Road. The registered agent listed for Mocksville Farm is Markus Wilhelm, president of Strata Solar Development LLC. According to The News & Observer of Raleigh, Strata plans to build 15 industrial-scale solar farms in North Carolina, including three each in Wake and Chatham counties. Each solar farm would have the power capacity of 5 megawatts.

According to the Photovoltaic Resource Map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL,, Alabama gets more solar radiation than North Carolina gets. Why, then, does North Carolina lead Alabama so much in solar development?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012: Business Energy Intensity Drops 8% in 2 Years

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that Businesses’ energy intensity – measured by kWh per square foot – declined by 8 percent from Q1 2009 to Q3 2011. Big box retailers, those with floor space of 25,000 square feet or more, saw their energy intensity fall by 10 percent over that time period, the largest percentage fall of any sector, according to Ecova’s white paper, A Big Data Look At Energy Trends: 2009-2011. Fast food restaurants saw their energy intensity fall by 3.8 percent over that time period, the smallest percentage fall of any sector.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012: Poll Shows US Support For Offshore Drilling Growing, Renewable Support Waning.

The Los Angeles Times (3/20, Banerjee) reports, "Struggling with rising prices at the pump, Americans are voicing a greater willingness to develop domestic fossil fuels than they did just a year ago," according to a Pew Research Center for People and the Press poll, which found that 65 percent of the 1,503 US adults surveyed support "the expansion of offshore drilling, compared with 57 percent a year ago and 44 percent in June 2010, during the gulf spill."

According to Politico (3/20, Dixon), the poll also found that "interest in alternative energy sources" including solar and wind power "has waned" in the past year. Now, 52 percent said they support such energy alternatives, an 11 percent drop from last year. And, the "partisan divide on renewable energy versus oil, coal and natural gas development has also become more pronounced" since March 2011, with 89 percent of Republicans now favoring offshore gas and oil drilling compared with 50 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents.

In the "E2 Wire" blog in The Hill (3/20) Andrew Restuccia writes that the poll further indicated "39 percent of the public says expanded oil, natural gas and coal production should be the country's top priority, up from 29 percent last year." Additionally, the poll indicated 26 percent in the US "have heard a lot about fracking; 37 percent say they have heard a little about it; and 37 percent say they haven't heard about the drilling technique at all."

We need to quit spending our grandchildren’s future. Fossil fuels will eventually run out -- we’re already drilling in more expensive and environmentally-sensitive places to get them. We need to plan ahead now for the future. We need to be looking up instead of down for future energy needs. Think green – think solar.

Saturday, March 17, 2012: First Solar and Suntech Lead 2011 Top 10 Solar Manufacturers

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that First Solar, Suntech Power, Yingli Green Energy, Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, Sharp, Hanwha Solar One, Jinko Solar, LDK Solar and SolarWorld are the 2011 top 10 solar module manufacturers, according to the Solar Supply Tracker from Lux Research. The leaders’ modular production for the year totaled 12.5 GW, and commanded a total global market share of 43.9 percent, Lux Research said.

First Solar and Suntech led in module manufacturing in 2011 with both having around 2 GW of module production, while Sharp, a Japanese manufacturer, and Hanwha, a South Korean company, are noteable additions to the top 10 listing, Lux Research said. According to Fatima Toor, the Lux analyst who leads the Solar Supply Tracker, the research house expects strong increases in market share from Japanese and Korean suppliers.

A second trend to watch, according to Toor, will be European manufacturers’ continued struggle to adapt to the financial climate, as their governments reduce incentives to the solar industry.

Crystalline silicon module prices continue to be at a record low with Tier 1 manufacturers selling at around $0.90/W while Tier 2 and Tier 3 manufacturers sold at even lower rates to move through their inventories and survive the current market conditions, Lux Research said.

Check out Morton’s white paper " Is now the time for you to go solar?” to see if solar is right for you now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012: Study Linking Fracking To Ohio Small Earthquakes Stirs Continued Debate.

The Washington Times (3/13, Wolfgang) reports, "In another blow to the natural gas extraction technique known as fracking, officials in Ohio now say wastewater produced by the popular process is likely responsible for a rash of recent earthquakes." Following the study's release, both sides of the fracking debate have been declaring "victory," with fracking supporters noting "fracking itself -- the use of water, sand and chemical cocktails to crack underground rock and release trapped reserves of natural gas -- was not responsible for the quakes." Meanwhile, critics of the practice have been saying the findings from Ohio prove "gas companies can't be relied upon to act responsibly, and that stronger regulations at both the state and federal levels are needed."

Professional Engineers (PEs) are those engineers licensed by each state to oversee public welfare and safety. For the past year, discussions over three hot energy topics have topped daily concerns of the PEs. First among them was nuclear safety. A close second has been hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The third item is pipeline safety. We need a lot more study and research before we can declare fracking safe for the public. In the meantime, the sun sends us nuclear power from 93 million miles away. If we used only solar power to meet all of today’s energy needs worldwide, we would use less than two tenths of one percent of the energy we get from the sun daily.

Think Green! Think Solar!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012: US’s Largest Ground Source Heat Pump Set for Ball State

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., is on the cusp of turning on what it says will be the largest ground source heat pump in the U.S., if not the world.

The pump will cut the University’s carbon footprint roughly in half, the school says. It will also eradicate almost all of its $3 million annual fuel bill, but will cost about $1 million a year in electricity to run, reports the New York Times.

Ground source heat pumps – also called geothermal or geo-exchange heat pumps – work by running water through pipes below the frost line, which is about six feet underground in Ball State’s locale. This water sits at the soil’s constant 55 degree temperature, meaning that it can be used for heating in winter and cooling during summertime.

The Ball State project broke ground in May 2009 and, when finished, will have cost $75 million to $80 million, the Times reports.

A recently opened IKEA store near Denver, Colo., uses a ground source heat pump. The pump was installed at the Centennial, Colorado, store in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL is based in Denver suburb of Golden, Colorado.

Thursday, January 26, 2012: Celebrate Engineers Week 2012 February 19 – 25

National Engineers' Week - With seven billion people now crowded onto Earth, the National Engineers Week Foundation believes new generations of engineers are critical to solving challenges in areas such as water resources, energy, fuel and infrastructure. NSPE founded Engineers Week to raise awareness and understanding of engineers' contributions to society. This annual week of engineering activities is one of the oldest professional outreach efforts in the U.S. Get involved!

Wednesday, January 24, 2012: Solar financing is available.

Affordable Solar of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a reliable solar equipment provider is providing financing for your solar projects of up to $25,000 with terms of 5 to 20 years. Fixed rates are as low as 6.95% depending on the term of the loan and the applicant’s credit score.

Couple this loan with the 30% Federal tax credit, and you can completely finance a 6 kW PV (photovoltaic), grid-tied system for your home or small office. This deal works extremely well for Alabama residents served by TVA.

Contact for details.

Tuesday, January 2, 2012: Tennessee Solar Study Says Need to Stay Aggressive

WSB-TV reports that Tennessee's solar and related industries provide more than 6,400 jobs in a growing green economic sector, but the state needs to stay aggressive in supporting and pursuing the ventures, a report released Thursday shows. The Tennessee Solar Institute report shows the state has more than 200 organizations involved in solar power, including 174 for-profit entities.

The institute is part of a Volunteer State Solar Initiative that focuses on job creation, education, renewable power production and technology commercialization as a partnership that includes the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The institute said its grant programs have generated more than $40 million in private investments, with a total benefit of about $64 million to the state's economy.

If solar works in Tennessee, why can’t we make it work in Alabama? The map above clearly shows that Alabama has a higher solar potential than does “The Volunteer State.” For that matter, Germany leads the world in solar harvesting, and it has the solar potential of Southern Alaska.

The only reason solar does not work now in Alabama is because we lack the political will. We need to look to the future now or get used to dirty air for a long time to come.

Monday, January 1, 2012: DOE-funded solar project begins producing power.

Bloomberg News (12/28, Martin) reports, "Sempra Energy (SRE), California's third- largest utility, began producing power at a 150-megawatt solar project in Arizona that received a $337 million US Energy Department loan guarantee three months ago." Sempra said that "the plant, located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Phoenix, is expected to be complete in 2013 and will produce enough power for 50,000 homes." PG&E Corp. has agreed to purchase power from the plant under a 20-year contract.

In its coverage of this story, the San Diego Union-Tribune (12/28) says that "the project received a $337 million federal loan guarantee in September under the same Department of Energy program that has become a rallying cry for Republican critics of the Obama administration's green energy program. ... Officials at Sempra Generation, a subsidiary of utility holding company Sempra Energy, say its federal loan guarantee posed little risk to taxpayers because of its state-approved, 20-year power purchase agreement with PG&E, California's largest utility."

Friday, December 2, 2011: Fracking (hydraulic fracturing of bedrock to release natural gas) is a major concern to Professional Engineers (PEs) in three states.

Colorado Springs passes six-month moratorium on gas drilling.

The AP (12/1) reports, "Colorado Springs has suspended oil and gas exploration in Banning Lewis Ranch so officials can ensure they have the right regulations in place," passing a six-month moratorium on Wednesday. It adds, "A unit of Houston-based Ultra Petroleum bought 18,000 acres in the area," and "plans to use hydraulic fracturing to determine if oil or gas can be produced."

Drilling becomes focus of Pittsburgh town-hall meeting.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (12/1, Rittmeyer) reports, "Concerns about state legislation that opponents say doesn't do enough to protect people from Marcellus shale natural gas drilling dominated a town hall meeting state Rep. Eli Evankovich hosted Wednesday night." A majority "of the roughly 50 people who attended the meeting at the Kinloch Volunteer Fire Department were there because of Marcellus shale drilling and their concerns about the legislation." Upper Burrell resident Ron Slabe "presented Evankovich, R-Murrysville, with a petition he said contains more than 11,000 signatures of people opposed to the legislation passed in different forms by the state House and Senate," which the Rep. supported. Slabe says the new law pre-empts stronger local measures.

Fracking hearing held in New York City.

The AP (12/1, Esch) reports, "Gas-drilling opponents including actor Mark Ruffalo and 'Gasland' documentary producer Josh Fox called for a ban on gas development using hydraulic fracturing at a state hearing on drilling regulations" held in New York City yesterday. During "the hearing...the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the 90-day comment period on its 1,537-page review of the environmental impacts of shale gas drilling and proposed regulations has been extended to 120 days, ending Jan. 11." The extension comes after "environmental group...criticized the agency for developing regulations too quickly with too little time for public comment, while industry proponents say 3 1/2 years of study is more than enough."

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News (12/1, Efstathiou) observes, "Proposed rules on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York state can't protect reservoirs that supply drinking water to 9 million people in New York City, residents and politicians said." New York state Senator Tony Avella said, "There is no possible regulation strong enough that you could come up with to prevent that one accident." He added, "New York state should never consider this process."

Reuters (12/1, McAllister) adds that hearing attracted protestors.

Thursday, December 1, 2011: DoE seeks energy efficiency gains.

Electric Co-op Today (11/17/11) Cunningham, Todd H.

“An educated consumer is our best customer,” a slogan well-known to clothing buyers, won’t be appearing in utility bill stuffers anytime soon. But the Department of Energy is embracing the thought in a new campaign aimed at boosting consumers’ energy efficiency and potentially reducing energy costs. The initiative seeks to turn consumers’ electricity usage data into a tool for hiking energy efficiency.

Under this new effort by the Department of Energy, aimed at boosting consumers' energy efficiency and reducing costs, local communities can partner with utilities and third-party technology innovators on programs that make electricity consumption data readily available to consumers. Smart grid technologies are generating "unprecedented amounts" of usage data that could potentially allow more control over electricity choices, notes Energy Secretary Steven Chu. To turn that data into usable information, consumers need to more effectively understand their electricity use. The Smart Grid Data Access program will make up to $8 million available to utilities and others to create programs that empower consumers to better manage electricity use through improved access to their electricity consumption data. In the first phase, applicants will provide detailed plans that outline their process for establishing the required data access policies for consumers and authorized third parties. Ten to 12 projects will be selected and funded at $500,000 each, with a 50 percent matching requirement. In Phase II, DOE will select one recipient to receive approximately $2 million for the wide-scale adoption of Phase I work. NRECA’s Cooperative Research Network is "keenly interested" in the funding program, says John Hewa, vice president for research, engineering and technical services. "Local cooperatives do an outstanding job of communicating with members," Hewa says. "This is an opportunity to further the existing relationships between cooperative systems and their members through an even higher level of energy empowerment and education."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011: Fracking: Gas industry pours $747 million into lobbying and Congress, more missions into TV ads

The Denver Westworld Blogs, Alan Prendergast , reports that the oil and gas industry has turned increasingly to hydraulic fracturing to extract reserves, fears about groundwater contamination from the toxic chemicals used in "fracking" have intensified. And that's prompted a $747 million spending spree by major industry players in an effort to allay those fears and influence key energy committee members in Congress, according to a new report released by Common Cause.

The report, "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets," suggests that the industry is pumping cash into the pockets of lawmakers in much the same way it pumps chemicals into tight shale formations to extract oil and gas. Only what it's extracting from Congress is loopholes in environmental controls, such as legislation in 2005 that exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Oil companies have pumped millions of more dollars into TV advertising promoting fracking and natural gas as the answer to our latest energy crisis. Perhaps you have seen them yourself. Please tell your friends and neighbors that oil company claims simply are not true.

Registered professional engineers (PEs) are examined and deemed worthy or protecting public welfare. If a doctor makes a mistake, he or she could kill someone. If a PE makes a mistake, he could kill hundreds at one time. PEs take their public safety role very seriously.

Since March, PEs have had several topics on their minds and circulating through internal memos and articles. Number 1 is nuclear safety, after the earthquake caused catastrophic failure of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. Closely following the nuclear plant safety issues are concerns over fracking. While Planet Earth has an abundance of water, very little of it is drinkable. PEs see fracking as a serious threat to clean and safe drinking water.

Yes, natural gas is cleaner than coal to burn, but it is neither truly clean nor renewable. We must begin now looking at renewable fuels and make modest gains in developing it before the oil runs out.

Saturday, November 27, 2011: California approves ballot initiative to close nuclear plants.

The San Clemente (CA) Times (11/22, Zimmerle) reported, "California's Secretary of State approved a ballot initiative November 18 that seeks the closure of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the Diablo Canyon plant." The initiative, filed in the wake of the Fukushima incident, "parallels existing state law prohibiting the creation of new nuclear plants until the federal government finds a solution to dispose of radioactive nuclear waste and reprocess spent fuel rods," and "would essentially shut down the state's two remaining nuclear plants by stopping them from creating additional waste until a federal solution arrives." The article notes that "a state analysis said the closures would likely have major initial fiscal impacts on local and state government," potentially create power outages, and could drive up power costs.

The Orange County (CA) Register (11/23, Sforza) reports, "San Onofre and Diablo Canyon provide about 16 percent of the state's electricity, so shutting them down would have tremendous, and immediate, repercussions on consumers, businesses and local governments," according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst. "The measure has been cleared for circulation, and supporters must gather 504,760 signatures to get it on the ballot."

The highly successful California solar industry may get even busier soon. The big wuestions are:

  1. Will they be successful in shutting these plants down?
  2. and
  3. Will other states follow the California lead?

Friday, November 11, 2011, Veterans' Day: Americans now leads the world in energy use per capita.

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that we Americans are now the biggest energy hogs on the planet. Each US citizen uses an average of more than double the peoples of Europe and Central Asia – our nearest “competitor.” We use more than four times the energy of the average world citizen.

One oil company executive two years ago commented, “We use 25 percent of the world’s energy supply, but that’s not too bad. We make 29 percent of the world’s ‘stuff’.” I don’t know where this guy shops, but he obviously hasn’t noticed how much “stuff” is made in China.

A tiny Asian island nation launched us into World War II in 1941 over access to energy supplies. A coalition of developing nations brought us to our knees in 1973 over oil. Our armed forces put their lives on hold to fight wars in the Middle East to help ensure our energy access. Can’t we honor our brave men and women who fought so valiantly for us by adopting a more sensible energy project? Can’t we move toward renewables a little faster?

Friday, November 4, 2011: Oil tax recommended to pay for transportation projects.

The Asbury Park (NJ) Press (11/2, Higgs) says a report, "Road to Recovery," released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "suggests the United States impose a variable 'oil security fee' ranging from $3.50 to $6 on a barrel of oil to fund needed transportation projects. The tax would vary as the price of oil drops or increases on the commodity market, to help protect consumers from spikes in oil prices. But members of a panel who debated the plan Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the Regional Planning Association said an additional tax will be a hard sell in the current economy and political climate." reports that ” All told, road construction has sucked $600 billion out of America’s public purse since the dawn of the interstate system. The gas tax – the primary source of financing for federal transportation projects – is not a user fee, as a popular myth suggests. The highway lobby argues that roads pay for themselves through “user fees” — a.k.a. gas taxes and tolls — whereas transit is a drain on the taxpayer. They use this argument to push for new roads, instead of transit, as fiscally prudent investments. Their argument is simply not true.

You can’t measure all the costs of driving with the price of asphalt. One report gives a laundry list of external costs associated with driving, including:

  • Changes in the risk of accidents, including injuries to non-drivers and damages to property
  • Environmental and public health impacts, including smog, greenhouse gases, water pollution from highway runoff
  • Impacts on wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts
  • National security and economic implications of protecting access to foreign oil
  • Increased pressure on those without cars
  • Quality of life and the impact of roads on active transportation, such as walking and biking
  • Car-centric development patterns, sprawl, and the resulting infrastructure costs for the expansion of water, sewer, and other services
  • Police, fire, and rescue services to respond to wrecks and traffic violations
  • Salaries and benefits of municipal planners
  • Salaries, benefits, and expenses of road building and maintenance inspectors

Some reports say that if fuel taxes alone paid for all road and highway costs, the fuel tax by itself would exceed $25 per gallon.

Solar can, and eventually will, solve many of the problems and costs associated with personal cars. Grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) arrays could recharge batteries of electric vehicles (EVs) for commuting. PV arrays atop existing power lines for above-ground light rail systems could power the trains without increasing the footprint of the system. PV can do all of this with a significantly smaller carbon footprint.

Look up to the light of solar instead of down to the dark smudge of oil to solve our transportation woes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011: Apple quietly plans solar array for $ 1billion data center

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that Apple is quietly planning a solar farm near its newly opened, $1 billion Project Dolphin data center in Maiden, N.C., according to news reports.

The Charlotte Observer says that the county has approved permits for Apple to reshape about 171 acres of vacant land that it owns across from the data center, for the purpose of building a solar array. The permits don’t offer any details about the solar plant itself.

The company had been keeping mum on the plans – with even the Catawba County economic development chief, who helped bring Apple to Maiden, first hearing about the solar plant from reporters.

The Miami Herald said work to prepare the land for construction has already started, angering some residents. Apple contractors are burning brush, and neighbors said smoke and ash are drifting across their properties 24 hours a day.

Project Dolphin opened this spring. At 500,000 square feet, it is five times the size of Apple’s data center in Newark, Calif., and helps support the company’s iCloud service.

Greenpeace had criticized Apple for locating the data center in North Carolina, whose electricity mix is 61 percent coal and 31 percent nuclear, and less than five percent “clean energy.” In April the company got the worst ratings in a Greenpeace report, “How Dirty is Your Data?”, which compared ten major IT companies. The non-profit said the North Carolina data center will consume as much as 100 MW of electricity, or the equivalent of 80,000 U.S. homes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011: In Fayetteville, Tennessee, they're waiting to 'flip the switch' on a big solar-power project

Mike Marshall of the Huntsville Times re[ports that wedged among a subdivision and the former location of Sunchasers Tanning is a 13-acre development that's part of the largest solar project in Tennessee.

Farther south is another of Barry Brown's solar farms, a 5-acre tract with enough solar panels to soon help provide power to Piggly Wiggly, Dairy D'Lite and the other businesses along Huntsville Highway.

The homes in the Park City community south of Fayetteville also will be powered by Brown's solar farms during daylight hours, perhaps as early as Wednesday, when the TVA inspectors are scheduled to arrive.

"We're waiting on TVA to come in and say. 'Flip the switch,' " said Brown, owner of Brown Construction.

When it happens, Brown's four farms on the two sites will be "the largest combined solar project in the state of Tennessee or Alabama," he said.

The project, completed last Wednesday, cost about $11 million, Brown estimated. He said the project involved companies based in China, Germany, Colorado and Virginia, among other places.

Those of you who don’t think Alabama has enough sun to make solar practical, do you actually think Tennessee has more?

Monday, October 31, 2011: More water woes -- Green River water access may decide whether new Utah nuclear plant is ever built.

Utah's Deseret Morning News (10/31, O'Donoghue) reports that whether or not Blue Castle Holdings' proposed nuclear plant will ever be built "depends largely on the waters of the Green River" and whether "there is enough water in the Colorado River's chief tributary to divert 53,600 acre feet 917.5 (17.5 billion gallons) of river water for use at the plant." Those questions will "likely be determined by the end of the year with decisions rendered by the State Engineer's Office, the agency that decides water rights issues." The Morning News adds, "Foes of nuclear power and water watchdogs of the Colorado River system say Utah is not the place for a new nuclear power plant and the Green River - home to a trio of endangered fish - can't sustain such a withdrawal."

To understand what is at stake, you have to understand the Green River. Its annual average flow is 754 gallons per minute — or nearly 4.4 million acre-feet. The proposed diversion represents 1.2 percent of that annual average flow, but critics say the Upper Colorado River Basin -- of which Utah is part -- is already being tapped dry because there are “too many straws in the bucket.”

The Green River for a plant that would generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity, but that electricity would have to be distributed for hundreds of miles away from where the plant is to be located. This involves unsightly and potentially dangerous high-voltage transmission lines with huge losses of power along the way. Transmission lines can fail during severe weather; TVA customers in North Alabama remember going weeks without power after the April 27th tornados.

Photovoltaics, of course, use no water to generate electricity. The megawatts of equivalent power could be installed on empty rooftops across Utah and generate electricity right where it is needed. PV produces no nuclear waste to worry about, and once the infrastructure is built, the energy itself is free and it runs practically maintenance-free for 25 years or longer.

Think nuclear power from 93 million miles away.

Saturday, October 29, 2011: Water woes hit food and beverage producers; solar power could help that.

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reported that many companies, including Gap, Kraft and MillerCoors, are all dealing with financial hits from water shortages and floods, according to news reports.

The Gap cut its profit forecast by 22 percent after the Texas drought killed much of the year’s cotton crop, Reuters said. Kraft, Sara Lee and Nestle have all announced plans to raise product prices after droughts and floods drove up commodity prices. And stocks of gas company Toreador Resources fell 20 percent after France banned fracking, in large part because of concerns over water quality.

These stresses look set to intensify. On Tuesday, the World Resources Institute said that water consumption has been growing over twice as quickly as the global population. The report raised alarm bells as the world population races towards the 7 billion mark, which the UN estimates will happen on October 31.

In the Guardian, MillerCoors head of corporate social responsibility Kim Marotta said the company has had to put “considerable funds” into water-related projects that don’t offer the kinds of returns on investment the company looks for, simply because the initiatives are necessary to keep the business going. In one major investment, the company recently bought a new pasteurizer water reclaim system that it says will save up to 20 million gallons a year.

MillerCoors is also working with farmers to reform their irrigation practices. It has created a “showcase farm,” in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and an Idaho farmer, and plans to invite all 500 of its suppliers there. Although one of its parent companies, SABMiller, reported an eight percent improvement in water efficiency from 2008 to 2010, MillerCoors’ water-to-beer ratio has remained constant. The company has a goal of reducing the ratio by 15 percent to 3.5:1 by 2015.

Meanwhile, much of Bangkok lies under water, with the threat of more to come, as major manufacturers in the country continue to deal with flooding at their factories.

Coal and oil-fired electric generating plants use vast quantities of water to turn the steam turbines. Nuclear plants use much more, as they need clean water for cooling as well as for making steam. All centralized plants, even hydropower, lose a lot of the electricity transporting it long distances. Every watt of electricity lost corresponds to waste of the water used to produce it.

Solar power uses no water to generate electricity, and it can produce power right where it is needed. Solar can help to save more water for drinking.

Friday, October 28, 2011: TVA sees future in small reactors.

The Tennessean (10/27) reports, "TVA is eager to help lead the way to a new concept in nuclear plants - small reactors that would be factory-built, hauled to a location and buried underground." According to the article, Jack Bailey, Tennessee Valley Authority's vice president of nuclear development, explained that "such mini-reactors would make it possible to build nuclear power capacity in less costly increments." The Tennessean says that the small reactors' "major benefit may be to the nuclear industry's search for new markets," since they can be used in remote areas that do not have a solid, established transmission grid.

I prefer big reactors nuclear a long way from my house. That 870,000-mile diameter nuclear plant that is 93 million miles away is my favorite. Rooftop PV collectors will supply all the energy we need.

Thinking nuclear? Think of the sun. Let it meet all your energy needs.

Thursday, October 27, 2011: Northeast states unite to build EV infrastructure

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that ten northeast states and the District of Columbia have formed the Northeast Electric Vehicle Network, to help plan for EV charging stations and infrastructure throughout the region. The network, to be run through the states’ existing Transportation and Climate Initiative, facilitated by the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University, will also promote a variety of clean vehicle and fuel types. It will work to attract public and private investment in clean vehicle infrastructure.

Already TCI has awarded a nearly $1 million Electric Vehicle Readiness Grant to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, to fund the development of guidelines for the site selection, permitting, and installation of EV charging stations. The Georgetown Climate Center says this is a critical next step in the development of the network. The states in the network are Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

TCI said the initiative’s first steps include the definition of a set of common infrastructure standards, as well as outreach to the public and private sectors, and creation of a blueprint for EV deployment. TCI said these efforts will help the region become a leader in the deployment of clean energy vehicles. President Obama has called for one million plug-in vehicles to be on the streets nationwide by 2015, and based on population, the northeast’s contribution to that would be about 200,000 vehicles.

But so far, most of the announcements around electric vehicle deployment seem to have come from the west.

  • In February Ecotality started installation of more than 1,100 public charging points in Oregon, as is part of The EV Project, a federally-funded initiative which the company calls the largest rollout of EV infrastructure in U.S. history. It will see Ecotality install 14,000 chargers in 18 U.S. cities and metropolitan areas, with installations through the end of this year in Washington state, California, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Washington D.C. – but no points further north or east.
  • Last July Nissan said the first Leafs will go to consumers in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Tennessee.
  • Ivan Chevrolet of Hoover has one Chevy Volt in front of their dealership and reports a lot of interest in it.
  • Now if EV owners recharged their vehicles under a PV photovoltaic)-roofed carport or garage, the vehicle would come with a lifetime supply of free fuel.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011: US missing out on energy from trash, study says.

CNet (10/12/11) Lombardi, Candace. Columbia University researchers have found that sending scrap to landfills is actually a waste of energy. About 28.8 million tons of nonrecycled plastics went to landfills in 2008, the energy potential equivalent of 36.7 million tons of coal or 139 million barrels of oil, according to the Columbia report. If that plastic was separated by type, enough petroleum-based plastics could be recovered and recycled into fuel oil to produce 3.6 billion gallons of oil, enough to power 6 million cars for one year, according to the report. The states that are leading in scrap management technology are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Maine, Virginia, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. "Hypothetically, if 100 percent of the landfilled municipal solid wastes were diverted from landfills to new waste-to-energy power plants, they would reduce coal consumption by 108 million tons and produce 162 million MWh of electricity, enough to power 16.2 million households for one year," the report says.

Waste not, want not,” Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, October 23, 2011: Resort cities fund new ways to move people with less carbon cost and footprint.

Modern streetcars unveiled in Henderson, Nevada.

The Henderson (NV) Press (10/21) reports the city of Henderson, NV debuted its new fleet of StreetCar RTVs September 18 with "overwhelmingly positive" rider reviews. The outlet says the cars are "award-winning state-of-the-art high-tech vehicles" that are "powered by extremely fuel-efficient hybrid engines that are both electric- and diesel-powered."

Sitka, Alaska to launch trolley service.

On its website, KCAW-FM Sitka, AK (10/21) reports, "Sitka Tribal Enterprises plans to roll out two trolley-style buses" in Sitka, AK that should be available by Spring of 2012. The trolley buses will run Monday-Friday on a loop "hitting all of Stika's highlights."

Still more opportunities to save money and carbon

Mass transit makes sense. Overhead wiring for above-ground light rail systems could be covered with racks of grid-tied photovoltaic modules. These PV units could convert sun into electricity to power the trains and put excess back on the power grid. Modules would help shade passengers all within the footprint of the track while greatly reducing the carbon footprint of the traveler’s communte.

Friday, October 21, 2011: Chevron CEO Says affordability should be goal of energy policy.

The Houston Chronicle (10/20, Dlouhy) reports, "The US should build a national energy policy around affordability, giving a boost to fossil fuels while ending subsidies for still-developing alternatives, Chevron Corp. CEO John Watson said Wednesday." Watson said that "up to 85 percent of the outer continental shelf in the United States has been declared off limits to development" even as oil prices remain high and the US remains dependent on imports. "If we had more access, I would spend more money in this country. We go where the opportunities are and where we are welcome," he added. Watson said that Chevron's rigs in the Gulf had enough work to remain there for the time being, but noted that the permitting process "can be onerous."

The San Francisco (CA) Chronicle (10/20, Dlouhy ran this same story on its website.

The Wall Street Journal (10/20, Gonzalez, Subscription Publication) also covers this story, noting that Watson said US energy policy compared unfavorably to other countries, such as Canada, and Brazil, where fossil fuel development is a top priority. The Executive also said that massive Federal subsidies for renewable energy was making energy less affordable by promoting technologies that are still not ready for commercial use.

MarketWatch (10/20) notes in its coverage that Watson also "slammed what he called 'punitive and selective' tax hikes on the oil and gas industry, including eliminating a tax credit for manufacturers."

Energy policy should be based on affordability, but affordability should be based on life-cycle costs, not on just the initial price. Oil is running out. We are having to drill in even more environmentally sensitive, more dangerous, more costly locations. Oil prices were down briefly, but they are on the way up again. Studies show that other energy prices, even uranium, closely follow world oil prices. If we are to end the measly government subsidies for green alternative energies, then lets end the huge subsidies for oil, coal, and nuclear. If we’re going to spend billions on new infrastructure, let’s invest it in an energy that is renewable, that greatly reduces distribution costs, has a tiny carbon footprint, and that is already available at the earth’s surface in quantities able to meet our current energy needs thousands of times over. Lest invest in putting solar panels on empty roof; let’s invest in the buried solar treasure right beneath our feet.

Coal? Oil? That’s so 20th Century! Let’s move on.

Thursday, October 20, 2011: New bike share program underway in Montevallo

Birmingham TV Chanel reports that Alabama residents can have unlimited city commuting with zero carbon footprint for two bucks a month. ValloCycle, the Montevallo Bike Share program, held its official launch Thursday, October 13, as part of the University of Montevallo’s 115th Founders’ Day celebration, themed “Sustaining Montevallo.” ValloCycle is believed to be the only citywide bike share program in Alabama.

The program’s purpose is to provide low-cost transportation for the residents of Montevallo—including UM students—as well as to live greener by reducing carbon emissions and increase quality of life by reducing the amount of motorized traffic on city streets. In addition, the program promotes physical activity and healthy living.

In addition to over 50 used bicycles donated by Montevallo residents and Bob’s Bikes of Homewood, Regions Bank donated 20 brand-new green bicycles to the program.

ValloCycle checkout sites are located at Carmichael Library on the UM campus at thel Library in Montevallo and at the Montevallo Police Department. Members register at city hall. Individual costs to participate in the program can be paid either through 25 hours of community service or through a fee that averages about $2 per month.

A new bicycle shop will be set up at the University to maintain the bikes, and UM students will have the opportunity to become certified in bicycle maintenance or safety. The safety certification will allow them to provide safety instruction to local schoolchildren.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011: The U.S. solar industry will soon be able to flourish with little or no support from the government.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch managing director Jonathan Plowe told Platts Energy Week that the US solar industry will soon be economical enough to replace fossil fuels without the current tax credits. He said the falling price of solar panels and the country’s vast solar potential, particularly for rooftop systems, promise a bright future for the industry. That’s especially good news for Alabama where the Federal Government and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provide the only incentives available.

The bank’s Project Amp program to install 733 MW of solar panels on commercial rooftops across the U.S. secured a DoE loan guarantee. But Plowe said the company’s SolarStrong project, which would place 371 MW of solar panels on military housing, was not able to secure such a guarantee. (The bank earlier reported that SolarStrong had obtained a conditional commitment for partial guarantee of a $344 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office.)

Much more detail about Project Amp can be found in a recent edition of EL Insights.

Alabama Solarite Southern Solar Systems is in Dallas attending the Solar Power International conference. Hopefully Larry Bradford will bring more sunny news back home to Alabama.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011: ASA is looking for a few good men and women.

The Alabama Solar Association is looking for a few good men and women. We need folks willing to do something about the environment and the latest energy crisis instead of just talking about it. There are four of the ASA staff that regularly show up to work on projects and a few more that pitch in occasionally. We need more; we need many more! Who will rise to help Mother Earth?

We are living in exciting times. ASA got four inquiries about installing rooftop photovoltaics (PV) in a single week recently; three of the four projects were in the Tennessee Valley, and two of those are now underway. Coal plants from the 1950’s are ageing and not well; they need to be replaced. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has made elaborate plans to retire them in favor of nuclear and natural gas. Both are cleaner than the old coal-fired plants, but both methods are fraught with problems.

Only PV, solar-thermal, and geothermal systems harvest the electricity from the sun very near to the facility where it is consumed.

Silicon PV module prices are plummeting while efficiencies are climbing steadily. Solar installers are becoming more experienced and developing new techniques to reduce installation costs. The SunShot Initiative, inspired by the Moon Shot program of the 1960’s is racing toward a goal of installing complete utility-scale PV systems for less than a dollar a watt by 2025. We’re only about 13 years out, and we’re already well ahead of schedule to meet these goals. Commercial and residential PV systems may still cost as much as a dollar a watt more than the big projects, but the cost of even the small systems has dropped sharply in the past two years.

These are exciting times to be involved in solar, but we must seize the day. ASA needs more people willing to spread the word through education and outreach. The best ideas are practically worthless until they are implemented.

Will you join us in making a real difference? See Morton’s blog for how and why.

Monday, October 17, 2011: TVA manager testifies for ash spill plaintiffs as the Christmas 2008 Tennessee coal-ash spill continues.

The AP (Poovey) reports, "The Tennessee Valley Authority wanted to blame its disastrous 2008 ash spill on circumstances it could not control, a TVA senior manager told a judge who is deciding if TVA was negligent and is liable for damages." Melissa Hedgecoth, a senior manager of TVA's coal combustion byproducts group, said that the utility's claim that slime in an ash storage pond caused a dike to break is a "little bit bogus." According to the report, "Hedgecoth said when TVA hired a consultant to identify the cause of the spill, 'they were hoping they could find something outside of TVA's control.'" Hedgecoth, who has become a TVA whistleblower, has also filed a federal workplace retaliation complaint.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (Marcum) reports that Melissa Hedgecoth "described in videotaped deposition Wednesday how her efforts to bring problems within the federal utility's fossil plants to the attention of top management resulted in her getting 'shut out of the system.'" Additionally, Hedgecoth "said under oath that she suspects her efforts to expose problems resulted in her car being burglarized to get sensitive information that she had collected on the federal utility." The News Sentinel notes that "Hedgecoth was in charge of ash-handling operations at all TVA fossil plants during the Dec. 22, 2008, coal fly ash spill at the utility's Kingston Fossil Plant that sent 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash into the Emory River and adjoining land."

WTVF-TV Nashville, Tennessee (evening news) broadcast, "More damaging testimony for TVA today. In a federal trial that stems from the 2008 coal ash spill, one of the utility's coal ash managers testified in a deposition that TVA's claim that a deep slime layer caused the massive spill at the Kingston Fossil plant was quote, 'A little bit bogus.' She went on to say that when TVA hired a consultant after the spill to find the cause they were hoping they would find something outside of their control. TVA contends that the spill was not the result of negligence."

Regardless of who caused the spill, it was disastrous for everyone living downstream of the Kingston spill; that includes all residents of the Tennessee Valley. The Christmas 2008 spill and ones that might occur in the future would be made less likely by replacing some of the older coal-fired generating plants with rooftop solar.

Coal. That’s so 20th Century!

Sunday, October 16, 2011: U.S. Capitol pens waste-to-energy contract.

The environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that the U.S. Capitol is to divert 90 percent of its solid waste from landfills to local waste-to-energy facilities. Congress’s estimated 5,300 tons of annual non-recyclable waste will now fuel local incinerators and put energy back on the grid.

The Architect of the Capitol, the federal agency charged with maintaining the building, says waste-to-energy programs are more cost effective than composting. Waste also produces power with less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity, according to the EPA. The AOC expects the new waste removal contract to save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

Chairman of the House Administration Committee Dan Lungren, R-Calif, said that the deal was originally only going to cover the House side of the Capitol, but that it had won Senate support in recent months, the New York Times reports. In June, it was revealed that the facility powering the Capitol and other key buildings had saved more than $9.5 million on a new 17-month natural gas contract secured through the World Energy Exchange.

The General Services Administration ran a series of online reverse auctions on the exchange together with energy management services firm World Energy, to procure natural gas for the Central Heating and Refrigeration Plant.

With the all the waste in Congress, this should produce a lot of energy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011: Interior to allow BP to bid on Gulf leases.

Dow Jones Newswire (10/14, Tracy) reports that the US has decided to allow BP to bid on new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico, less than two years after the Macondo oil spill. Testifying at a House hearing Thursday, offshore regulator Michael Bromwich said his agency "considered and thought about this issue quite a lot," but ultimately determined to allow the company to bid for leases in an upcoming auction known as Lease Sale 218. Democratic Rep. Ed Markey however said that regulators should consider barring BP from the upcoming auction "to give us time to assess whether BP has made the necessary changes to protect the public interest." Bromwich said his decision to allow BP to participate in the auction was based in part on the company's response to the spill.

In a similar article found on its "E2 Wire" blog, The Hill (10/14, Geman) quotes from Bromwich. "We are not going to suspend or de-bar BP from that lease sale. We have considered and thought about this issue quite a lot and we don't think it is appropriate in these circumstances," Bromwich said. After the hearing, he went on to tell reporters that BP doesn't have a "deeply flawed record offshore" and that the company's relative safety record over time puts the company "close to the top of the group." Bromwich's comments rebuffed a suggestion by Democrat Ed Markey that the company be barred from participating in the bidding process.

The Wall Street Journal (10/14, Tracy, Subscription Publication) notes that the lease sale, scheduled for December 14 involves leases in the Western Gulf of Mexico covering 21 million acres. According to the Interior Department, production in this area could reach 420 million barrels of oil and 2.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The New York Times (10/14, Krauss, Subscription Publication) also picked up this story, noting that the decision "was a welcome development for BP, which has been struggling to rebuild its exploration portfolio and remake the company after the accident."

Reuters (10/14) also covers the events of the Thursday hearing, and notes that Markey called existing fines against BP a "slap on the wrist" for its conduct leading up to the rig explosion and spill last year. It is also noted that some Republican lawmakers questioned the authority of offshore regulators to fine contractors Transocean and Halliburton for their roles in the incident.

BP will likely run one of the safer drilling sites in the Gulf, but what has been done to prevent other companies from causing another huge spill?

Friday, October 14, 2011: Interior cites BP, contractors for violations in Macondo Spill.

The New York Times (10/13, Broder, Subscription Publication) reports, "The Interior Department formally cited BP and its two chief contractors on Wednesday for numerous safety and environmental violations in the operation of the doomed Deepwater Horizon well." The citations against BP and contractors Transocean and Halliburton, which could lead to millions of dollars in fines, comes on the heels of a Federal report which lays blame on all three companies for the incident. "The joint investigation clearly revealed the violation of numerous federal regulations designed to protect the integrity of offshore operations," said Michael R. Bromwich, head of the department's offshore safety office. "To ensure the safe and environmentally responsible conduct of offshore operations, companies that violate federal regulations must be held accountable."

The AP (10/13, Kunzelman) also covers this story, noting that Transocean spokesman Lou Colasuonno said the company intends to appeal the citations. Meanwhile BP spokesman Scott Dean said the company will respond to the bureau "once it reviews the citations." A Halliburton spokeswoman said the company reserves its right to appeal. BP also released a statement which notes the steps it has taken to improve its safety after the spill.

The Hill (10/13, Geman) covers this story in its "E2 Wire" blog, noting that the notices give the companies a 60 day appeal period, after which Interior will review potential civil penalties. "The spill is also expected to lead to billions of dollars of separate Clean Water Act fines, in addition to the potential penalties for allegedly violating drilling rules," the Hill notes.

Bloomberg News (10/13, Klimasinska) notes that BP was cited for seven violations of Federal regulation, while Halliburton and Transocean were each cited for four violations each. "BP said it is strengthening its oversight of contractors and putting new safety standards in place that exceed current regulatory requirements in the Gulf of Mexico," Bloomberg News notes.

The Financial Times (10/13, Crooks, McNulty, Subscription Publication) notes that a Halliburton spokesman said that the company believes it is indemnified by BP against any loss resulting from the Macondo incident, including penalties levied against it by the Interior Department.

Reuters (10/13, Rascoe) notes in its coverage of the story that while the companies may face up to $35,000 a day per incident, the citations did not specify how much the companies will face in fines.

Thursday, October 13, 2011: TVA watchdog inspector testifies at spill trial.

The AP (10/12, Poovey) reports that on Tuesday, TVA inspector general's chief inspector Gregory Stinson testified that William H. Walton, a consultant who conducted a study in the causes of TVA's 2008 coal ash, said that he was told not to place blame in his report. According to the article, "Stinson said Walton told him in the June 2009 interview that he was told 'not to judge TVA employees and contractors' in determining the cause of the spill at TVA's Kingston Plant on the Emory River." The AP notes that "Walton's study said the Kingston ash storage facility was 'on the verge of failure' long before the spill of 5.4 million cubic yards of ash that contains mercury, selenium and arsenic into the river and onto surrounding property."

In a separate article, the AP (10/12, Poovey) reports, "Testimony has ended at a Knoxville trial over the

Tennessee Valley Authority's 2008 coal ash spill that fouled a river and waterfront community." The report notes that Stinson was among the last witnesses Tuesday. The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (10/12, Marcum) reports, "In the middle of the fourth week of the Kingston ash spill trial, lawyers for both sides rested their cases Tuesday and are expected to present closing arguments today." During his testimony Tuesday, Bill Walton said that the Kingston coal ash spill "is one of a handful of examples, perhaps five or so in the entire world, in which a landfill has failed through instant liquefaction," according to the article. The News Sentinel notes that "liquefaction usually is triggered by an earthquake or some similar shock."

In another article, the AP (10/12) reports, "Geotechnical engineer William H. Walton testified Tuesday that his intent was to tell the technical cause of failure." He added that he was "'certainly not handcuffed' in explaining what happened," according to the article. Further, the AP says that "Walton, who testified he has been paid $180,000 to testify as an expert for TVA, says a deep slime layer caused the 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge to spill into the Emory River and onto surrounding property in the community west of Knoxville."

Also covering the story are, on its website, WCYB-TV Bristol, Virginia (10/12, Taylor) and the AP (10/12).

Solar panels reduce the need for coal-fired electric generation plants.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011: Intel runs PC on CPU powered by solar cell

IDG News Service (09/15/11) Shah, Agam reports that Intel recently demonstrated Claremont, an experimental low-power processor the size of a postage stamp that could run PCs using solar power by dropping energy consumption to under 10 milliwatts. Although the new processor is not expected to become a commercial product, the research could be integrated into future processors and other circuitry, says Intel's Justin Rattner. The research is part of an Intel Labs project aimed at reducing energy consumption fivefold on chips and at bringing an always-on capability to computing devices. The chip is an experimental Pentium central processing unit and ran on a PC with the Linux operating system. Intel has a company-wide goal of delivering 300-fold improvement in energy efficiency in high-performance computing over the next 10 years. Intel researcher Shekhar Borkar notes that about 200 watts of power are currently needed to achieve 100 gigaflops of performance, but the company wants to reduce that power requirement to just 2 watts.

We’ve always said the first step in using solar power is reducing your demand.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011: Republicans seek to overrule EPA on coal ash rules.

The Hill (10/8, Kasperowicz) reported in its "Floor Action" blog, "House Republicans next week will try to approve a bill that would override pending Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that would regulate coal ash for the first time." The bill, H.R. 273 would allow states to adopt and implement their own coal ash permit programs while creating minimum standards for coal ash. The bill would effectively allow states to opt out of any EPA administered program by choosing to regulate coal ash on their own. Meanwhile, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), who sponsored the bill warned that the EPA plans under consideration "will not only hurt coal, but it will also damage dozens of other industries and eliminate jobs across the country."

TVA manager testifies for ash spill plaintiffs.

The AP (10/6, Poovey) reports, "The Tennessee Valley Authority wanted to blame its disastrous 2008 ash spill on circumstances it could not control, a TVA senior manager told a judge who is deciding if TVA was negligent and is liable for damages." Melissa Hedgecoth, a senior manager of TVA's coal combustion byproducts group, said that the utility's claim that slime in an ash storage pond caused a dike to break is a "little bit bogus." According to the report, "Hedgecoth said when TVA hired a consultant to identify the cause of the spill, 'they were hoping they could find something outside of TVA's control.'" Hedgecoth, who has become a TVA whistleblower, has also filed a federal workplace retaliation complaint.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (10/6, Marcum) reports that Melissa Hedgecoth "described in videotaped deposition Wednesday how her efforts to bring problems within the federal utility's fossil plants to the attention of top management resulted in her getting 'shut out of the system.'" Additionally, Hedgecoth "said under oath that she suspects her efforts to expose problems resulted in her car being burglarized to get sensitive information that she had collected on the federal utility." The News Sentinel notes that "Hedgecoth was in charge of ash-handling operations at all TVA fossil plants during the Dec. 22, 2008, coal fly ash spill at the utility's Kingston Fossil Plant that sent 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash into the Emory River and adjoining land."

WTVF-TV Nashville, Tennessee (10/5, 6:16 pm, EDT) broadcast, "More damaging testimony for TVA today. In a federal trial that stems from the 2008 coal ash spill, one of the utility's coal ash managers testified in a deposition that TVA's claim that a deep slime layer caused the massive spill at the Kingston Fossil plant was quote, 'A little bit bogus.' She went on to say that when TVA hired a consultant after the spill to find the cause they were hoping they would find something outside of their control. TVA contends that the spill was not the result of negligence."

Breaking News, Monday, October 10, 2011, Columbus Day: Coal ash rule process stalled:

PE Magazine, the official publication of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE,, reports that in more than one year since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted its last public hearing on proposed coal or fly ash regulations, the public is no more closer to protection from this hazard than we were during the Christmas 2008 massive spill in Tennessee. In fact, EPA is facing increasing pressure and budgetary challenges. A bill from Congress’ only registered professional engineer (PE) may strip EPA’s ability to procect ground and surface waters from this deadly hazard. U.S. Rep. David McKinley, P.E., of West Virginia opposes EPA regulation of coal ash as a hazardous material. He said such regulation would stifle business and affect the myriad industries that rely on coal-produced electricity for their everyday business. He introduced H.R. 2273, a bill promoting recycling of coal ash and preventing EPA from labeling the material as a “hazardous waste.”

The coal ash rules were to be in place by the end of 2011. There have been so many comments on two proposed rules, that EPA officials postponed the initial timetable. EPA has set no date for a final release of the any new coal ash rule.

The public does not realize the long term danger of coal fly ash pollution. The 2008 spill released 1.1 billion gallons of sludge releasing significantly elevated levels of toxic metals including arsenic, copper, barium, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, and thallium into a tributary to the Tennessee River.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) decision to retire aged coal plants is timely, but the shuttered capacity should be replaced with photovoltaic (PV) arrays on the Valley’s many vacant rooftops. Rooftop solar produces electricity very near to where it is needed, it has no carbon footprint, and it gives free energy once the initial infrastructure investment is recouped.

Sunday, October 9, 2011: University solar capacity rose 450% in 3 years

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (10/7) reported that installed solar capacity in the higher education sector has grown 450 percent over the last three years , according to research by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. AASHE has compiled a database that details hundreds of campus solar photovoltaic installations. There is currently 137 MW of solar capacity installed on U.S. higher education campuses. Since 2009, the median project size has grown six fold, the database shows. Data shows a 40 percent drop in the installed cost of campus solar over the last four years. The market in 2010 for on-campus solar installations was over $300 million in the U.S., according to the database.

In other solar news, SunDurance Energy, Kyocera Solar and Solaire Generation, have completed a 300 kW photovoltaic system for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in downtown Dallas. SunDurance’s design uses 1,250 Kyocera KD240 240-watt multi-crystalline solar modules, mounted on Solaire Generation’s Solairis solar carports. The carports cover 116 parking spaces at the hospital. KDC Solar LLC has teamed up with SunDurance and Middlesex County, N.J., to design, install, own and operate a 6.7 MW ground mounted solar installation at the Middlesex Apple Orchard Complex in North Brunswick Township, N.J.

Saturday, October 8, 2011: Energy group wants states to end subsidies for fossil fuels.

The AP (10/5) reported "the International Energy Agency said Tuesday it wants world governments to curb state subsidies for fossil fuels as a way to help the environment, ease strains on national budgets and boost economies." AP said "the Paris-based organization of developed and heavy oil-consuming nations estimates that" state subsidies amounted to $409 billion last year – "a striking 33 percent increase from the year before."

Bloomberg News (10/5, Patel, Airlie) reports "fossil-fuel subsidies may rise to $660 billion in 2020 from $409 billion in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency." The IEA and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Tuesday that "the biggest payers of subsidies are energy producers Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia." The article said "higher subsidies for fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide may undermine efforts to deal with climate change."

The Hill (10/5, Geman) reports in its "E2 Wire" blog that "global fossil fuel consumption subsidies rose in 2010 despite a pledge by G-20 nations to take steps to reduce them in coming years," according to the IEA study. The blog posting said that "the agencies said there have been positive steps to curb both production and consumption subsidies, noting for instance Germany's ongoing phase-out of coal mining subsidies, and projections that Mexican consumer subsidies will fall with plans to better target them for low-income households."

Level the playing field for all energy sources, consider all hidden costs such as transmission losses and health problems, and renewables will beat both fossil fuels and nuclear now.

Thursday, October 6, 2011: Renewable energy surpasses nuclear power by 18%

Sun Day Campaign, Ken Bossong (10/5) reports that, according to the most recent issue of the "Monthly Energy Review" by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), with data through June 30, 2011, renewable energy has passed another milestone as domestic production is now significantly greater than that of nuclear power and continues to close in on oil.

During the first half of 2011, renewable energy sources (biomass & biofuels, geothermal, solar, water, wind) provided 4.687 quadrillion Btus of energy or 12.25 percent of U.S. energy production. By comparison, renewables accounted for 11.05 percent of domestic production during the first half of 2010 and 10.50 percent during the first half of 2009. (On the consumption side, which includes oil and other energy imports, renewable sources accounted for 9.45 percent of total U.S. energy use.)

More significantly, energy production from renewable energy sources in 2011 was 17.91 percent more than that from nuclear power, which provided 3.975 quadrillion Btus and has been declining in recent years. Energy from renewable sources is now equal to 79.83 percent of that from domestic crude oil production, with the gap closing rapidly.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011: TVA coal ash attorney questions plaintiff expert.

The AP (10/4) reports, "An attorney for the Tennessee Valley Authority has questioned the credibility of a civil engineer who has testified as an expert for plaintiffs at the utility's ash spill trial." On Monday, when the federal bench trial resumed in Knoxville, "an attorney for TVA took aim at drawings that civil engineer B. Dan Marks produced." According to the news wire, "The attorney pointed out discrepancies of distances, a misplaced decimal point and other inaccuracies in the drawings."

In a related story, the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (10/4, Marcum) reports, "During testimony last week, Marks laid out a case that the December 22, 2008, fly ash spill at the federal utility's Kingston Fossil Plant resulted not from the shifting of a deep layer of unstable soil and ash called 'slimes,' as TVA consultant AECOM concluded, but from ground water pressure build-up within the dikes holding back the coal ash slurry." During questioning "by Mark Anstoetter, a lawyer for TVA, Marks conceded he did not do his own test borings and did not have his analysis of the ash spill peer reviewed by other engineers." Additionally, Marks was "unable to find any 'as built' drawings of the ash facility to work with and said he had to make do with drawings he could get from TVA and from the root cause analysis by AECOM."

WBBJ-TV Jackson, Tennessee (10/3, 6:10 pm, EDT) broadcast, "An attorney for the Tennessee Valley Authority has questioned the credibility of a civil engineer who has testified as an expert for plaintiffs at the utility's ash spill trial. Today an attorney for TVA took aim at drawings that a civil engineer produced. The engineer contends the December 22, 2008, ash spill stemmed from TVA's failure to monitor and control increased in underground water pressure in the dikes that enclosed the toxin-laden ash. The engineers said he could not find as-built drawings and relied on TVA and the AEcom engineering firm that analyzed the cause of the spill. The attorney pointed out discrepancies of distances, a misplaced decimal point, and other inaccuracies in the drawings."

The Christmas 2008 coal ash spill leaked eight times as much pollution as did last year’s Gulf oil spill.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011: Boeing 787 Dreamliner to cut fuel 20%, telecommuting cuts fuel 100%.

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that Boeing has delivered its first 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which the company says uses 20 percent less fuel than similarly sized planes. Boeing describes the Dreamliner, delivered to All-Nippon Airways yesterday, as a super-efficient airplane with unmatched fuel efficiency. The $200m plane arrived three years late, following delays that cost Boeing billions of dollars.

Webinars, teleconferencing, and other distance-based solutions eliminate the need for and the hassle of air-travel today. Say it with electrons.

Military spearheads clean-energy drive

The Washington Post (09/26/11) Eilperin, Juliet, As the nation's single biggest energy consumer, the Pentagon has many reasons to want to diversify its fuel sources. Navy Secretary Mabus and others say the move toward alternative energy is about national security and assured sources of supply. "The main reason we're moving toward alternative fuels in the Navy and the Marine Corps is to make us better war fighters," says Mabus. With oil supplying 80 percent of the military's energy, the impact of price fluctuations ripples quickly through the system. Each one-dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil adds more than $30 million a year to the Navy's energy costs, prompting the Pentagon to press ahead with an ambitious program to change its energy use. Its spending on renewable energy increased 300 percent between 2006 and 2009, from $400 million to $1.2 billion, and it is projected to reach more than $10 billion annually by 2030, according to a report issued last week by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy, and Climate. The Defense Department has pledged to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. In doing so, it has provided a new target of opportunity for environmentalists and green businesses now that climate legislation has failed and renewable-energy subsidies have come under fire, most recently with the collapse of solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra. Navy Secretary Mabus says he is more focused on the fact that a Marine is either wounded or killed for every 50 convoys of fuel brought into Afghanistan than on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Mabus has outlined a series of ambitious goals for the Navy and Marine Corps, including ensuring that 50 percent of the services' energy supply comes from alternative energy such as biofuels and solar power by 2020; cutting fossil fuel use by its non-combat vehicles in half by 2015; and reducing fuel consumption on ships 15 percent by 2020. The scale of the military’s energy consumption, along with its formidable purchasing power, gives its policies tremendous impact.

Monday, October 3, 2011: Toshiba LED bulbs light up Houston Art Museum

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (9/30) reports that Toshiba International Corporation’s LED Lighting Systems Division is now providing lighting to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Toshiba installed 150 of its A19 lamps in the museum’s Pre-Columbian Gallery and the exterior and lobby of its Caroline Wiess Law building. The museum expects to install more lamps in Cullinan Hall in October and the Japan Gallery next year.

A19 lamps can reduce energy consumption by as much as 85 percent compared to traditional bulbs, TIC says. Designers must have also considered the long life of the LEDs and the cost of replacing burned-out conventionallight sources in the design. Changing light bulbs in vaulted ceilings can be both challenging and expensive.

Sunday, October 2, 2011: More Alabamians interested in solar.

Doug Elgin, ASA Treasurer, reports that on a recent beautiful Saturday (October the 1st), Morton Archibald and Doug Elgin joined a large group of people on a Solar Tour an hour south of Huntsville. We toured three houses that have been developed to be very energy conservative and two to of the three generate their own power. As a matter of fact, two of the houses were completely off the grid (they did not connect to an electric utility company).

The first thing to be noticed was how the homes are built to be very energy conservative. One house was a “straw bale” house using straw bales for insulation in the walls. These straw bales were not as thick as one usually sees, so the walls weren’t as huge as you might expect.

Another house was an underground house. The east and west sides were bermed with the ground also covering the roof. The south side was open to collect sunlight in the winter for warmth, and the north side also had a ground-level exit.

All of these houses used many features to help reduce energy consumption. There were solar water heaters, clerestory windows to bring in light, high efficiency appliances, the use of grape vines in front of south-facing windows to add shade in the summer, but let the sun warm the floor in winter when the leaves fall off, and many other energy saving ideas.

This is an annual event, so if you are getting interested in ways to save energy or generate your own, plan to take the Solar Tour Saturday and Sunday, October 6 & 7, 2012, to see some successful examples. Join us to see for yourself.

Clear and cold, climbing quality, falling prices - perfect combination for PV production.

Weather forecasters are predicting unseasonably cold weather with clear skies combined with long hours of daylight and relatively high sun angles. These conditions combine to maximize the performance of PV (photovoltaic) solar array production. If you had installed a system last year, you could be harvesting record electricity just as utility companies are raising their rates.

Two of the reasons so many more folks were exploring solar options this year were falling prices and soaring efficiencies. Efficiency is up 17% and cost is down 54% from 2009. More installers are getting into business, so expect more competition to cut installation prices.

Don’t waste another year. Put in a system this year. if you cannot afford a full system right now, put in a modest one and add to it next year.

Saturday, October 1, 2011: Oil sheens sighted near Deepwater Horizon site.

The AP (9/27) reported, "The Coast Guard says a series of 'sheen sightings' have been reported in the area where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last year, but BP's capped well isn't the suspected source." The Coast Guard said the sheens "could have come from the sunken rig's riser pipe or from other underwater debris." Officials have informed the rig owner, Transocean Ltd., that it could be liable for the cleanup costs if its rig is the source of the sheens.

Bloomberg News (9/27, Carroll) reported the Coast Guard "said the wreckage of Transocean Ltd. (RIG)'s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig may be the source of an oily sheen on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico." Bloomberg reported that Kennedy, a Transocean spokesman, "said in an e-mailed statement that any oil or other fluids that may have leaked from the crumpled pipe that connected Macondo to the rig emanated from the well." He said that "as such, BP is responsible because the London-based company was operator of the well," Bloomberg added.

On its website, Platts (9/27, Gentile) reported "the Coast Guard said that video footage from remotely operated vehicles has shown that the sheen is not the result of oil leaking from the Macondo well, which is located in Mississippi Canyon Block 252."

Gulf Coast Oil Spill Effects Continue To Hurt Region, Experts Say. The Hill (9/28, Sloan, Garrington) reports in its "Congress Blog" blog that "in September 2010, engineers successfully capped BP's ruptured Deepwater Horizon oil rig, after it spilled" millions of "barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico." On the one year anniversary of the "worst environmental disaster in America's history, its effects continue to devastate the region's economy and the families who live there," write Sloan, of Truman National Security Project, and Garrington, of the Checks & Balances Project. The blog posting criticizes the policies that led BP to write off $13 billion of its clean-up costs, and potentially other companies involved elsewhere in separate incidents. The Hill says "we must build a 21st century energy infrastructure to insulate ourselves against speculators artificially inflating the oil markets." The writers call for a diversified energy portfolio to strengthen the country and its economy.

Think the oil spill was bad? The December 26, 2008, coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, was eight times worse, and it was upstream of all of Alabama.

Friday, September 30, 2011: Solyndra and other company failures shake the US solar industry.

The US lost 20 percent of its panel manufacturing capacity this August. Three American photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturers failed, and two European manufacturers decommissioned their local production lines.

Solyndra’s fall made the biggest news splash. They had received a $535 million loan guarantee from DoE in 2009. A congressional investigation followed the bankruptcy complete with FBI raids and flying accusations. olar received unprecedented front-page coverage throughout September, and many opponents jumped to criticize all solar power.

Solyndra offered a theoretically superior cylindrical cadmium-indium-galium-(di)selenide (CIGS) thin-film panel. The idea was born before 2007 when the cost of polysilicon neared a thousand dollars a pound. By 2009, when the new administration approved the loan guarantee, silicon prices had dropped 90 percent. As global silicon prices dropped, Solyndra could not even sell their panels at their $4.00 per watt production costs. ASA Solarite Reynogy was then quoting high-efficiency polysilicon panels at $2.85 per watt. They now sell even more efficient panels at $1.40 per watt, and they have quoted megawatt projects at $1.04 per watt. The market never gave Solyndra a chance.

Good grid-tied PV systems will run almost maintenance-free for 25 years; in fact manufacturers usually guarantee 80 percent of design output for 25 years. Guarantees, however, are only good as long as the company is in business. Check the history of the company and how they will back up a warranty in the event of bankruptcy before you buy.

Look for more on this subject in the October Sundial.

Thursday, September 29, 2011: NM solar storage project now operational

Energize Weekly Christopher Kolomitz, EUCI, reports that a New Mexico solar plant is using battery storage connected to the grid around Albuquerque, making it the first such application in the nation. The project features one of the largest combinations of battery storage and photovoltaic energy in the nation and involves extensive research and development of the smart grid. The PureWave Storage Management System is operated by S&C Electric Co. at a PNM solar field and can produce 500 kilowatts of power. It uses high-tech batteries to create firm and dispatchable energy derived from a renewable energy source. The project is located south of the Albuquerque International Sunport near Mesa Del Sol. According to project officials, it is the first of 16 smart grid projects partially funded by stimulus money to be fully operational.

This is especially encouraging, because storage is the last obstacle to allowing solar and wind to completely replace fossil fuels. The DoE SunShot initiative of producing photovoltaic (PV) power at a dollar a watt has moved from 2020 to 2017. PV prices are falling and efficiency is climbing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011: TVA engineer testifies as trial on spill resumes.

The AP (9/27) reports that on Monday, Jamey Dotson, a Tennessee Valley Authority engineer, "testified that some data was removed from spreadsheets used for groundwater monitoring at the time of the Kingston Plant coal ash spill to avoid confusion." Citing a Knoxville News Sentinel story, the AP says that Dotson and "other TVA engineers removed data from dewatering well points believing it might be confused with other measurements from different depths." According to the article, Dotson "said the data was removed to avoid possibly confusing others, including TVA managers, who might try to interpret the spreadsheets."

WRCB-TV Chattanooga, Tennessee (9/16, 5:38 pm, EDT) broadcast, "Testimony continues in the Federal trial involving the TVA coal ash spill. Today, a TVA engineer testified some data was removed from spreadsheets used for groundwater monitoring at the time of the spill. He said the data was removed to avoid possibly confusing others who might try to interpret the spreadsheets. The removed data was retained. Property owners are suing for damages from the December 2008 spill."

ASA applauds TVA for retiring many coal-fired plants; the Kingston spill released eight times as much pollution as the Gulf Oil Spill. Coal ash contains health-damaging substances including arsenic, lead, thallium and other chemicals that can leach into water supplies. An EPA study found that people who drink from wells near coal ash holding ponds have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer.

The best way to replace the hazardous coal plants is with rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems. Not only is PV clean, but rooftop PV generates power where it is needed the most.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011: Smart grid needs energy efficiency

Electric Light & Power (09/11) Lefevre, Russell reports that energy usage attributable to electric vehicles (EVs) could rise 1,700 percent by 2030, according to a recent report by The Shpigler Group released by the Utilities Telecom Council. Studies indicate an increase of this amount will not necessarily impact the generation and transmission elements of the electric grid severely, but serious difficulties will be introduced on the distribution element, especially on pole-mounted and pad-mounted transformers that deliver electricity to users.

This, in turn, will put a premium on energy efficiency in charging EV batteries. The utility industry is examining several scenarios in order to develop approaches to meet the new demand, and as sales of EVs become more common, it will observe areas where electricity demand shows a significant increase to determine the necessity to upgrade or replace transformers. A potential problem could arise as electricity rates designed to discourage charging during the daytime may result in a night-charging challenge. With the potential increased load, sustained excess current eventually could cook a transformer’s copper wiring, cause a short and black out the local loads it serves.

Studies of the French and Belgian electric grids have led to similar results, showing that utilities must address concerns, especially those related to their distribution systems. In the U.S., the EV Charging Infrastructure USA conference, which was held early 2011 in San Francisco, indicates the seriousness to which the utility industry assigns these issues. During the conference U.S. utilities collaborated with stakeholders to find solutions to make EV charging infrastructure commercially viable, and the conference addressed business models, impact on the grid, infrastructure upgrades and in-home charging infrastructure. Especially pertinent among conference sessions was one that included Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) Director of Integrated Demand Side Management Saul Zambrano called “Understanding What Impact Electric Vehicles Will Have on Grid Systems, Power Distribution & Load Profiles to Determine What Can be Done to Manage Their Impact.” The PG&E study looked at the likelihood of having to upgrade transformers within a given time and noted a significant difference between air conditioning areas and nonair conditioning areas. Nonair conditioning areas will need upgrades at peak and off peak, and air conditioning areas will need upgrades at peak. The study also examined how to alleviate stress at the substation, concluding that time-of-use (TOU) rates alone will be insufficient and that some form of demand response is needed.

One obvious solution would be charging stations powered by photovoltaic (PV) arrays. This would go as long way toward solving both the distribution problem and peak demand challenges:

  • PV generates power at or very near the point of use, like PV-covered parking sheds.
  • PV power peaks midday and is stronger in the summer, just when air-conditioning demands are highest.
  • PV power also performs extremely well when in cold weather keeps the arrays from heating up, i.e., when heating demands are highest.

Monday, September 26, 2011: EPA launches green product web portal

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a green products web portal that can help manufacturers find information on standards and criteria for designing greener products. On the new tool’s home page, which was launched to coincide with pollution prevention week (September 19-25, 2011), businesses can choose what category of product they are seeking help with and click through to EPA advice on what programs are applicable for that product. Companies can then find out at performance specifications the product must meet to join the program.

Consumers can also use the site to find electronics and appliances that have earned EPA’s Energy Star label, WaterSense products that help save energy and water, and cleaning products bearing the EPA Design for the Environment label. The new green products web portal is available at

Sunday, September 25, 2011: House defeats bill seeking to cut DoE funding to aid disaster relief.

The Detroit Free Press (9/22, Kessler) reports the House "has rejected a temporary spending measure to fund the government through mid-November, after House Democrats and the auto industry pushed back hard against proposed cuts to an Energy Department auto loan program. The 230-195 vote defeating the measure came after a flurry of activity this week that saw Democrats in Congress, automakers, environmentalist and unions lobbying against cutting $1.5 billion from a program to help the industry retool plants to produce fuel-efficient vehicles" in order to offset new disaster relief spending. The article later adds that "Democrats both objected in principle to any offsets being required to provide disaster relief, and cited the auto loans in particular as a proven job-creation program that shouldn't be cut as part of the continuing resolution."

Characterizing the vote as a "surprise," the AP (9/22) says that its defeat came at the hands of both Democrats and tea party Republicans, explaining that "many GOP conservatives felt the underlying bill permits spending at too high a rate." The AP adds that "the White House, a vigorous advocate of greater fuel efficiency for US-made cars, welcomed the result of Wednesday's vote." White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, announced on his Twitter account, "We are pleased that the House of Representatives today rejected efforts to put politics above the needs of communities impacted by disasters."

Saturday, September 24, 2011: Proctor & Gamble to advocate coldwater washing to 100 million us homes.

environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (9/23) reports that the world/s leading soap manufacturer has pledged to launch an information blitz on 100 million U.S. homes aimed at promoting coldwater clothes washing. In partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy, and through its Tide brand and Future Friendly conservation education campaign, P&G wants to provide the households with the information needed to convert from warm and hot water laundry habits to cold water washing by Earth Day 2013.

This campaign is part of P&G’s corporate sustainability goal of converting 70 percent of total global washing machine loads to cold water washing by 2020. About three quarters of the energy used and greenhouse gasses emitted when washing a load comes from heating the water, the New York Times recently reported.

Research released earlier this month showed that, despite many detergents working perfectly well in coldwater, most consumers are wary of using the cold cycle when washing their clothes. Sales figures from Henkel – the German company that markets coldwater specific detergents – showed sales for their products declined 16 percent in the last year in the U.S., despite many people trying to cut costs during the recession, the paper reports.

According to P&G studies about 7 percent of white laundry loads are done in cold water and 57 percent of “darks”, the paper reported.

See today’s and yesterday’s ”Thought for the Day” for more on this subject.

Friday, September 23, 2011: New power lines concern North Alabama residents.

WHNT-TV (9/22) reported that due to intensive housing growth, TVA and Huntsville Utilities have predicted that by 2015 a small power substation will need to be quadrupled in order to keep from overloading power. To make this happen, miles of new powerlines will be run from Northeast Huntsville to the Charity Lane substation in Hazel Green.

Recently, letters were sent to homeowners, and Thursday afternoon TVA set up an open house to talk one on one with concerned residents about the suggested routes of these power lines. Tom Cureton with TVA says, "we've invited the public in and around the routes that we've identified to come in and provide us comments, to help us better identify a single route in the future."

As of now, there are many options on where the power lines could run. These options create a distance between 12 to 15 miles. Over the next month, TVA will collect comments and converse with residents about options for the power line route. This winter, they will officially identify the proposed power line route and begin the next step in this three-year process, which is negotiating the price for land-usage and creating an environmental review for the proposed area.

The beauty of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems is that:

  • They make electricity very near where it is needed thus avoiding long distribution lines.
  • They produce no carbon dioxide and other harmful pollution into the air.
  • They consume no oxygen from the air we breathe.
  • They now offer a 10 to 16-year payback. You know exactly what your electricity will cost for the next 25 to 30 years.
  • Uncle Sam will give you a 30-percent tax credit
  • TVA will give you $1,000 to defray startup costs.
  • TVA will buy back all the “green” electricity you can produce in the next 10 years for $0.12 per kilowatt-hour above the retail rate.
  • Thursday, September 22, 2011: TVA to pass on costs of improving dams to customers

    WTNZ-TV Knoxville, Tennessee (9/16, 7:38 pm, EDT) broadcast, "TVA made $4.5 million dollars worth of improvements to four east Tennessee dams a couple years back. And now they're looking to make more changes. Tellico Dam in Loudon County is one of the places that could see improvements. TVA says the idea is protect the area from historic flooding down the road the kind we've never seen. But the plan would come with a cost. Last night, TVA confirmed that would be passed along to rate payers. Regardless, nothing is decided yet."

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011: DoE awards WVU $1.5 million for energy engineering program.

    The AP (9/16) reported that West Virginia University was awarded $1.5 million over the next five years from the Department of Energy "to help create the next generation of energy engineers." The grant, which is the renewal of one the university has had since 1992, "requires the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources to train 10-15 students a year in conducting energy assessments, as well as extensive follow-up reporting and tracking. ... WVU also is responsible for developing relationships with private sector partners that can provide workforce development support, such as scholarships and internships."

    Training and education are the best ways to create an energy mind set among the future engineers that will design and build our future.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011: Living on Microwatts

    Electronic Products (09/11) Tomasz, Martin reports solar power is increasingly prevalent in autonomously powered systems, from large panels to harvested microwatts from a few photodiodes. The Solar Electric Power Association reports that total U.S. power generation derived from solar power increased 124 percent – from 349 MW in 2009 to 782 MW in 2010. In low-power solar systems, it is critical to assess whether there is sufficient sunlight at a given time to power the system. This involves determining whether there is sufficient power to enable the microcontroller. One solution is to incorporate a simple analog op amp into the system, and an ultra-low-power analog op amp can support "always-on" circuitry around the microcontroller. The technique for such a measurement mode assessing the state of the solar cell depends upon using an op amp whose total power is as low as practical driven primarily by ultra-low supply voltage operation. Detailed test loading is useful for determining the available power from a solar cell, since merely measuring the open circuit voltage generally does not provide an accurate assessment. Generally, an ultra-low-power op amp is an excellent option for supporting "always-on" analog circuitry. An ultra-low-power analog op amp can be an effective means to determine if there is sufficient power to wake the microcontroller in a low-power solar system. This simple approach can provide one solution for managing power at the solar-cell system level.

    Monday, September 19, 2011: Electric cars are emerging as the oil era comes to an end.

    WHNT-TV in Huntsville last night featured a company that will soon offer kits to convert mose gasoline powered cars and light trucks into Electric Vehicles (EVs). Gas prices are down a bit at the moment, but as soon as the recession easies or vacation travel season approaches, demand will likely inch back up again.

    There’s still a good bit of oil left in the ground, but it’s getting harder to extract. Much of it is in places where either environmentally sensitive, more expensive to drill, or where people don’t like us very much. I expect cheap gas ion our future ever again.

    Natural gas (NG) is an alternative, and it’s cleaner than oil, but the process of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is highly controversial and risks harming our drinking water. Using NG for vehicles may simply trade one environmental problem for another, more serious one.

    EVs could also use clean electricity generated from dirty coal to recharge batteries. This too could trade one problem for another. A more “green” solution would be to either trickle-charge batteries at night, when demand for electricity is low, or, even better, to charge cars at work in photovoltaic (PV) roofed carports or garages.

    Expect to hear much more about EVs in coming months. The DIY Electric Car Blog offers tips and provides resources for those adventurous souls willing to try the conversion yourselves. The Electric Car Conversion Kits offers a website claiming, “Converting a gas vehicle to an electric vehicle however, is not easy enough for everyone interested to jump right into.”

    Look into the advantages and disadvantages of switching to EVs. If you decide to go further, do a lot of homework, develop a sensible plan to recharge the batteries, and compare the costs vs. benefits. At least one ASA Solarite (professional member) is planning a PV refueled EV in his future.

    Sunday, September 18, 2011: TVA details plans for modifying four dams.

    The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (9/16, Willett) reports, "TVA officials met with the public Thursday to detail plans for modifying four area dams to better withstand an historic weather event as residents expressed concern about the impact on their property." The meeting was "held at Louisville Town Hall to gather public comments and provide information on a series of proposed modifications to Cherokee, Fort Loudoun, Tellico and Watts Bar dams." According to the report, "the modifications are designed to protect TVA infrastructure, including nuclear power plants, from a probable maximum flood (PMF). Such a flood might occur once every thousand years or more."

    WBIR-TV Knoxville, Tennessee (9/16) reports that if the proposed changes are approved, "TVA would replace temporary sand filled, barriers made to prevent water from coming over the dam in a massive flood." TVA Communications Consultant Bill Sitton explained, "These projections came in 3 to 4 feet higher at the reservoirs we're talking about. So what we want to do is look at putting these permanent structures in place, so should we get that historic flood, we can minimize flood damage."

    WTNZ-TV Knoxville, Tennessee (9/15, 10:34 pm, EDT) broadcast, "New proposals from TVA could mean changes at several East Tennessee dams and some utility customers worry they'll foot the bill. ... .In a nutshell, TVA is considering plans to make changes to four area dams including here at Tellico along with Fort Loudoun, Cherokee and Watts Barr. The plans specifically concern these temporary sand baskets put in place a couple years ago to prevent flooding. The utility spent 4 and a half million dollars on the project then. Now TVA is looking to build new protection. ... Here are the options TVA is now considering. One: replace the current sand baskets. Two: remove them completely. Three: make what officials call permanent modifications to the structures. Tonight TVA held a public forum about the proposed project."

    In a separate story, WBIR-TV Knoxville, Tennessee (9/16) posts Bill Sitton's responses to some questions regarding the modifications. In his response to the question of why the changes are needed, Sitton answered, "If we have a 500 year flood, and we had the new modification, the water would run through the spillways just like it does currently and we can handle that. We're talking about if we would have an historic flood event that was even higher than that, we would have an additional five to six feet of storage capacity behind the dam."

    The Maryville (TN) Daily Times (9/16, Butler) also covers the story in a piece entitled, "TVA Preparing For Noah-sized Flood."

    With the water of the Tennessee River so precious that three states are fighting over it, it is important to be able to capture as much flow as possible. Tropical Storm Lee forced TVA to open floodgates bypassing the generation turbines and wasting potential hydropower.

    Saturday, September 17, 2011: Solar costs drop 11% in first half of 2011

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that the average cost of going solar in the U.S. fell dramatically in 2010 and through the first half of 2011, according to a report released yesterday by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

    The latest edition of Tracking the Sun, an annual report on solar photovoltaic costs in the U.S., found that the average pre-incentive cost of residential and commercial solar PV systems decreased 17 percent in 2010, the most significant annual reductions since the lab started tracking the data in 1998. Costs declined another 11 percent in the first half of 2011, according to the report. Furthermore, market-building policies are effectively driving costs down, the report says. Reductions in the costs of installation labor, balance of systems, overhead and other non-module costs fell 18 percent from 2009 to 2010. This is significant because, unlike module costs, which are largely determined by the global market, non-module costs are most readily impacted by state and federal policies that accelerate deployment and remove market barriers, the report says.

    And government policy, specifically solar incentives, is now delivering an increasing return on investment, according to the report. As a result of lower per-watt costs, the average size of direct cash incentives from states and utilities as well as dollar-per-watt value of the federal tax incentive have both steadily decreased since their peak. So far Tracking the Sun has examined more than 115,000 PV systems installed between 1998 and 2010 across 42 states.

    Here in Alabama module prices have dropped 40 percent from 2009 while efficiency has improved 35 percent. Payback has dropped from more than 25 years here in the Tennessee Valley to about 16 years during the same time period. Nw is the time to go solar.

    Friday, September 16, 2011: TVA dam collapse trial.

    WZTV-TV Nashville, Tennessee (9/13, 9:38 pm, EDT) broadcast, "The first of two bench trials dealing with numerous lawsuits against the Tennessee Valley Authority begins today. ... It's taken years to get to this point, I imagine these families are ready for it to be over with. There are more than 50 lawsuits connected to this situation. The court fight is over the December 2008, TVA dam collapse. The collapse spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge in the Emory River and onto surrounding land in Roane County. US District Judge Thomas Varlan has already granted TVA's motion for summary judgment on claims for personal injury, emotional distress and inverse condemnation. A bench trial is set for today on dozens of damage suits with another trial possibly to follow in November. Today's trial allows claims for property damages, trespass and nuisance to go forward. After the spill, TVA spent $47 million buying up almost 900 acres of land. Homeowners signed those deals promising not to sue."

    Wikipedia details the tragic Christmas tragedy. “The TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill occurred just before 1 a.m. on Monday December 22, 2008, when an ash dike ruptured at an 84-acre (0.34 km2) solid waste containment area at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee, USA. 1.1 billion gallons (4.2 million m³) of coal fly ash slurry was released. The coal-fired power plant, located across the Clinch River from the city of Kingston, uses ponds to dewater the fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion, which is then stored in wet form in dredge cells. The slurry (a mixture of fly ash and water) traveled across the Emory River and its Swan Pond embayment, on to the opposite shore, covering up to 300 acres (1.2 km2) of the surrounding land, damaging homes and flowing up and down stream in nearby waterways such as the Emory River and Clinch River (tributaries of the Tennessee River). It was the largest fly ash release in United States history.”

    With photovoltaic (PV) module prices falling, efficiency soaring, and the current Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC), there has never been a better time to replacing aging coal-fired steam plants with rooftop solar. In the North Alabama area served by TVA, PV projects can have a payback of 16 years or less, solar hot water (SHW) systems can payback in as little as four years, and geothermal heat pumps can have an almost instant payback. Difficult installations and projects in Alabama Power territory may have longer paybacks. Some rural electric co-operatives prohibit grid-tied PV systems, but SHW and geothermal projects should be possible throughout the state.

    Join the 21st Century. Contact an, ASA Solarite (professional member) today to see what will work for you.

    Thursday, September 15, 2011: DoE awards $30 million to universities to train engineers in energy efficiency.

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (9/14, Content) reports the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was awarded $1.5 million as part of a $30 million DoE program that is awarding funding to 24 universities to help train engineering students while improving energy efficiency. The school "will re-establish an 'industrial assessment center' program to train engineering students in energy management concepts. As part of the project, engineering faculty and students plan to consult with small and medium-size manufacturers, assessing their energy use and identifying recommendations for opportunities to reduce waste." Under the program, "each Industrial Assessment Center will be expected to train at least 10 to 15 students per year, conduct about 20 energy assessments annually and perform extensive follow-up reporting, tracking, implementation and management-improvement activities."

    In its coverage of UWM's award, the Milwaukee Business Journal (9/14, Subscription Publication) adds that Energy Secretary Steven Chu said of the program, "This industrial efficiency training program opens the door to good jobs in a growing, global sector for thousands of energy-savvy students while promoting real, boots-on-the-ground progress toward our transition to a clean energy economy."

    The Indianapolis Star (9/14, Groupe) reports that the DoE awarded $1.3 million to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The Star explains that "each school will receive $200,000 to $300,000 a year for up to five years for an Industrial Assessment Center."

    The University of Kentucky, the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader (9/14, Sloan) reports, will receive $1.5 million under the DoE program. Larry Holloway, director of UK's Power and Energy Institute of Kentucky, said that "he thought UK's application stood out because of the university's various technical centers, such as the Institute for Sustainable Manufacturing, that have established relationships with area industries. Not only will UK be able to more easily identify companies that could benefit from the service, it will be able to use what the other centers have gleaned from working with the companies, he said."

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011: AT&T to roll out plant-based packaging

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (9/13) announced that AT&T will start transitioning to a plant-based plastic in packaging for its branded wireless accessories, the company has announced. The plastic is composed of up to 30 percent plant-based materials, sourced from sugarcane-based ethanol. The new packaging will start appearing in stores and online starting October 2nd, the company said. The plastic will be used in packaging for products including device cases and power accessories.

    Senior vice president for devices Jeff Bradley said AT&T is the first U.S. telecom company to use this plastic in its packaging. In doing so, it has joined the ranks of several beverage manufacturers. Coca-Cola sells its Dasani water across the U.S. in the 30 percent plant-based PlantBottle. Yesterday, Coke announced that it was rolling out the PlantBottle in the U.K., for its 500ml bottles of Coca-Cola, Diet Coke & Coke Zero – but these will comprise up to 22.5 percent plant-based material and 25 percent recycled plastic.

    In April, Coca-Cola subsidiary Odwalla announced that it had finished transitioning all its bottles to 100 percent plant-based models, fulfilling a promise made in October. The high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic bottles are fully recyclable, the company says. PepsiCo’s sustainable packaging initiatives include development of a fully recyclable bottle made from bio-based raw materials, the Naked Juice reNEWabottle made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, and the Aquafina Eco-Fina bottle, which PepsiCo says is the lightest bottle of its size among U.S. bottled water brands.

    AT&T announced plans to slim down its accessory packaging in March of 2010. It says that it eliminated the use of over 500 tons of paper and plastic in its packaging in 2010 and 2011. Other packaging efforts have included the use of soy and vegetable-based ink, and use of recycled paperboard. “We are actively working with our accessory suppliers to incorporate both less packaging and more sustainable plastic and paper,” Bradley said.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011: Federal Government backs massive solar energy project on military bases in 33 states

    AP (09/07/11) reports that the Obama administration is providing a loan guarantee for a massive solar energy project that could double the number of solar panels on residential rooftops in the U.S. The Energy Department announced that it would provide a partial guarantee for a $344 million loan to California-based SolarCity for the SolarStrong Project, which seeks to place solar panels on 160,000 homes on 124 military bases in 33 states. SolarCity has already begun work on its first project at Joint Base Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. When complete, approximately 2,000 military homes will be powered by solar at the base. SolarCity will own and operate the panels and work with private companies that run the military housing to install them. The U.S. Defense Department is the country's single largest electricity consumer. "By tapping our abundant domestic solar energy to power base housing, the military is showing the rest of the country that homeowners throughout the U.S. can help improve our energy independence by going solar," said Rhone Resch, president of the solar industries group. The capital for the project is being provided by the private sector and the DoE is providing a guarantee for the loan.

    Monday, September 12, 2011: Electric car-battery shakeout ahead

    The Wall Street Journal (08/31/11) Pearson, David, reports that industry watchers say that companies making batteries for electric vehicles appear headed for a shakeout as government subsidies to foster the emerging industry could soon result in a glut. Some companies are expected to be acquired as the sector consolidates, while others will not generate enough sales to achieve critical size and will go out of business. "There's clearly going to be overcapacity around 2014 and 2015, if you just take the number of vehicles that will be produced and do the calculation of how many batteries will be needed," says Oliver Hazimeh, partner and head of the global e-mobility practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC's PRTM Management Consulting. The U.S. government has invested approximately $5 billion into the electric-vehicle sector -- of which $2.4 billion is going to battery projects. PRTM expects the overall global electric-vehicle industry to reach $300 billion by 2020, including a possible $50 billion for battery manufacturers. Hazimeh estimates the total investment by battery manufacturers over the period at between $20 billion and $30 billion. The announced capacity investments will far exceed the projected demand from auto makers as production kicks in, and not every company is expected to survive the capacity glut. "There will be consolidation. Some people may be bought up, while some may just vanish because they don't get enough business," says Hazimeh. The companies that will disappear will likely be ones that are not technological leaders, that cannot produce batteries sufficiently cheaply, that do not have the backing of a solid vehicle-manufacturing partner, or that aren't financially robust enough to get through the ramp-up phase, says Udo Rugheimer, a spokesman for SB LiMotive, a company that will start manufacturing electric-vehicle batteries in 2013.

    EVs can best replace gas burners by charging them from grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) systems. Imagine a PV-covered parking space at work charging your EV’s batteries instead of turning it into a soar oven, or a PV roofed garage at home putting power back on the grid during mid-day peak demands and using grid power to trickle-charge vehicles during off-peak hours at night.

    Sunday, September 11, 2011: The International Code Council is shaping its first International Green Construction Code to meet growing demands for more environmentally-friendly construction.

    “The International Code Council is a member-focused association dedicated to helping the building safety community and construction industry provide safe, sustainable and affordable construction through the development of codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process.” Says the council’s website. “Most U.S. communities and many global markets choose the International Codes.”

    In fact, Rhode Island, Maryland, and several cities have either already adopted the working 2012 code outright or approved its use since the March 2010 first public comment version was published. Other jurisdictions are using the code as a guideline to develop their own. We simply cannot live in a throw-away society; some are realizing this, while others are still in denial. Alabama, unfortunately, is still in denial. Expect interest in the code to grow as the March 2012 publication date approaches.

    The Council has developed a free webinar “ Green Building Codes 101: Navigating the Standards, Codes, and Rating Systems.”

    The Council promises the “green” code is being written to fit well with other 2012 codes now under development. Compatibility” was a key consideration in designing all the codes.

    Saturday, September 10, 2011: Power outage cuts electricity for millions in Southwest, Mexico

    AP (9/9) reports that a major outage knocked out power in a region of almost 6 million people in the Southwest and Mexico on Thursday, bringing San Diego to a near-standstill and leaving people in the surrounding desert to swelter in searing summer heat. Two nuclear reactors were offline after losing electricity, but officials said there was no danger to the public or workers.

    San Diego bore the brunt of the blackout that started shortly before 4 p.m. PDT., darkening much of the nation's eighth-largest city was darkened. All outgoing flights from San Diego's Lindbergh Field were grounded and police stations were using generators to accept emergency calls across the area.

    The blackout extended east to Yuma, Ariz. where more than 56,000 people were left in the dark; power was restored there about five hours later. Most of the people in the darkened swath were expected to spend the night without power.

    Are such power blackouts headed here? We can reduce our chances of outages by looking for more conservation steps and by installing more solar power.

    Friday, September 9, 2011: Bank of America plans another billion-dollar solar project.

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (9/8) reports that Bank of America, SolarCity and USRG Renewable Finance plan to install 371 MW of photovoltaics on military bases across the U.S., at a cost of over $1 billion, in what the partners say is the largest residential solar project in the U.S.

    Project SolarStrong aims to install rooftop PV systems on up to 160,000 military homes, on as many as 124 bases in 33 states. The partners say the project will avoid 250,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

    It is the second major-scale solar announcement from Bank of America since the company announced its participation in Project Amp, likely the biggest distributed solar deal in history. That $2.6 billion initiative aims to put about 733 MW of solar panels on 3,000 acres of rooftops owned by industrial real estate giant Prologis.

    Project SolarStrong is the brainchild of San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity, a full-service solar provider for homeowners, businesses and government organizations. SolarCity will install, own and operate the solar installations.

    Thursday, September 8, 2011: In the aftermath of Fukushima, Germany’s renewable energy sources rise to 20 percent (9/6) by John Daly reports that the worldwide implications for nuclear power advocates in light of the 11 March disaster at Japan’s Daichi Fukushima nuclear complex, battered first by an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami, are slowly unfolding. Nations committed to nuclear power are being subjected to a relentless PR barrage by nuclear construction firms, who stand to lose billions if current contracts are suspended or, even worse, cancelled.

    Despite the bland reassurances of the nuclear power industry that “it can’t happen here,” in Europe, Italy has canceled plans to construct nuclear reactors, while Germany’s Bundestag last month passed a resolution to close all 17 of the nation’s nuclear power plants. Seven NPP plants were immediately shuttered with the remainder to be passed out by 2022.

    So, where to go for the juice? Shifting gears since the beginning of the year, a trend accelerated by Japan’s Fukushima debacle, in a statement released by the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), commenting on renewable energy input to the country’s national grid since January, "Renewable energies have crossed the 20 percent mark in Germany for the first time." Last year, Germany’s green energy consumption totaled 18.3 percent of total demand.

    Following Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government’s goal was to draw 35 percent of production from renewable energy sources by 2022. While Germany’s total energy consumption remained stable at 2010 levels of 275.5 billion kilowatt-hours, energy from sources like wind, biomass, hydroelectric plants, solar panels and waste incineration rose to 57.3 billion kilowatt-hours in the first six months of 2011.

    Nuclear power should come from 93 million miles away from earth.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011: U.S. posted a trade surplus in solar technologies, study finds

    New York Times (08/29/11) Bradsher, Keith reports that a new study concludes that the United States ran a trade surplus of $1.88 billion in solar technologies last year, as exports of raw material and factory equipment for the solar sector outpaced imports of finished solar panels. American solar panel makers have been struggling, including Evergreen Solar, which filed for bankruptcy this month and had already moved early this year to shut down most of its production in the United States. It takes up to two years for a conventional blue solar panel to produce as much electricity as it took to manufacture the device, prompting critics to suggest that solar panels in some ways resemble batteries as well as power generation technologies. Much of the electricity for making a solar panel goes into producing the main material, polysilicon. Cheap hydroelectric power from dams on rivers in the Pacific Northwest region has turned the United States into a big exporter of polysilicon. The country exported $2.52 billion worth of polysilicon last year while importing $179 million worth of polysilicon, the report says. GTM Research, a renewable energy market analysis firm based in Boston, produced the report, which was sponsored by the Solar Energy Industries Association. Figures in the report appeared consistent with United States Customs data from Global Trade Information Services, a data service based in Columbia, S.C. The United States also ran a large surplus last year in factory equipment used to manufacture photovoltaic devices like solar panels, exporting $2.55 billion worth of the equipment while importing $428 million.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011: China and the US lead the world in renewable energy production and in pollution.

    China leads the world in total renewable energy production with 537 billion kilowatt hours per year, according to information from McKinsey & Company Population Reference Bureau and the US Energy Information Administration. The United States is next in line behind China followed closely by Canada, Brazil, and Russia.

    It’s good that China and the US lead in “green” power, because both countries also lead the world in greenhouse gas emissions. China, with its huge population, has a relatively small carbon footprint of only six metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita. The US has four times that amount. Of the ten countries studied, only Canadians had a bigger carbon footprint than did we Americans and only the people of India had a smaller one than did the Chinese.

    We all can reduce our carbon footprint by choosing “green” power.

    If we own our home or business, we can save money while going “green” by investing in geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, and photovoltaic (PV) panels. PV panels are becoming more efficient and cheaper each year. Alabamians served by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) have the best deal from TVA’s Generation Partners program. People down south can take heart in the fact that Alabama Power has finally seen the advantages of partnering with home and business owners, and they may soon offer better programs as TVA does now.

    But what about apartment dwellers or homeowners with shaded lots such as myself? We can choose to buy “green” power from the TVA Green Power Switch program. Alabama Power has a similar program at a slightly higher price.

    We can all reduce our carbon footprint and save money in the process.

    Monday, September 5, 2011, New DuPont encapsulant makes solar modules stronger and faster to manufacture.Labor Day:

    North American Clean Energy reports that Willard and Kelsey (W&K) Solar Group announces commercialization of their new "WK1-75" photovoltaic (PV) module using DuPont PV5400 Series encapsulant. Designed for utility-scale clean energy projects, the new module incorporates a cost-effective cadmium-telluride (CdTe) thin-film power-generating layer, which is given extra protection by the new, highly moisture-resistant DuPont PV5400 ionomer-based PV encapsulant.

    "Builders and investors in solar farms look at total lifetime energy return per dollar spent," explains Keith Guenther, director of product development for W&K Solar. "CdTe-based thin-film photovoltaic modules convert photons into electricity as much as 20 percent more efficiently than typical amorphous silicon modules. But with any module, the key to long-term output efficiency is resistance to extreme weathering, and especially resistance to moisture intrusion at the module edges."

    DuPont worked closely with W&K Solar to advise on ionomer sheet processing techniques and testing protocols for the new module. "DuPont basically became part of our development team," said Guenther.

    Because it is up to 100 times stiffer and 5 times stronger than traditional thin film laminating materials, DuPont PV5400 encapsulant also improves module deflection resistance and mechanical strength. Laminating speeds with the new encapsulant are increased by as much as 30 percent versus using traditional PVB- and EVA-based encapsulants.

    Sunday, September 4, 2011: Siemens, Volvo pair up on EV development.

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that Siemens and Volvo are the latest companies to announce an alternative-fuel vehicle collaboration, saying they intend to jointly advance the technical development of electric cars.

    The companies have agreed on an extensive strategic cooperation, with the focus on joint development of electrical drive technology, power electronics and charging technology, as well as the integration of those systems into Volvo C 30 Electric cars. The first vehicles in this model fitted with Siemens electric motors will be on the test tracks at the end of this year.

    Beginning in late 2012, Volvo will deliver a test series of up to 200 vehicles to Siemens, which will then validate the cars under real-life conditions as part of a Siemens internal test fleet. In addition, Siemens says it will provide highly efficient and fast on-board and off-board charging systems.

    In the past two weeks, there have been a wave of companies announcing collaborations aimed at developing alternative fuel vehicles. GM and electronics manufacturer LG announced that they plan to design and engineer electric vehicles together. Ford and Toyota signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at developing advanced hybrid systems for light trucks and SUVs. And Magna International and the Canadian province of Ontario announced an investment of C$432 million ($441 million) in EV research.

    We prefer EVs recharged with grid-tied PV arrays, particularly carports at work destinations.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011: Gulf storm leads to oil platform evacuations.

    Bloomberg News (9/2, Sullivan, Porter) reports that BP, Exxon, Anadarko Petroleum, and Noble Corp. began evacuations from Gulf rigs and platforms along with ConocoPhillips and Enbridge as a storm approached the Gulf Of Mexico. Joe Bastardi, chief meteorologist for New York-based WeatherBell Analytic said, "Parts of the Gulf of Mexico's offshore oil- and gas- producing areas could experience gales for four or five days." The storm has shut down 5.7% of Gulf oil production and 2.4% of its natural gas output, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement stated.

    The AP (9/2) also covered the approaching storm, noting that "the National Weather Service issued tropical storm warnings Thursday night from Pascagoula, Miss., to the Texas state line." The approaching storm is expected to make landfall Saturday, and could dump as much as 20 inches of rainfall on Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

    Reuters (9/2) notes that computer models predict that the storm's current path will take it through some of the heaviest concentrations of oil and gas platforms in the Gulf, adding that Shell, and BHP Billiton were also among the companies that shut output and evacuated workers as the storm approached. Gulf refiners however have not decreased output.

    In a separate story Reuters (9/2) notes that BP is evacuating all of its personnel from its oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico in anticipation of the storm. BP spokesman Tom Mueller however declined to say whether the company was shutting down production at any of its eight company operated platforms.

    In an update, Reuters reported that Enbridge Inc. has evacuated all of its workers from four platforms on the Manta Ray, Garden Banks and Stingray gas pipeline systems in the Gulf of Mexico because of the approaching storm, email alerts said on Thursday.

    Tropical Storm Lee is expected to degrade PV performance in Alabama briefly while he is washing all the solar panels. Immediately after Lee completes the washing, solar panels should have an improved output for a some time.

    Friday, September 2, 2011: Obama's jobs plan calls for speeding up permitting for infrastructure.

    The Hill (9/1, Restuccia) reports in its "E2 Wire" blog that President Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to speed up permitting for infrastructure projects as part of his jobs agenda. The memorandum, which was directed to several Federal agencies, including the interior department, also calls for using new technologies to speed up permitting. "For example, the Interior Department's offshore drilling arm announced earlier this week that it has added new features on its website to help operators track their permit applications," the Hill notes.

    The Alabama SunShot initiative (see the ASA homepage, about SunShot) has the same objective with photovoltaics (PV) installations.

    Energy Secretary Chu co-hosts engineering forum as administration announces internship initiative.

    The AP (9/1) reports that while Energy Secretary Steven Chu was at Portland State University Wednesday to discuss ways to increase interest in engineering programs, President Obama's jobs and competitiveness council announced that "more than 40 major companies have agreed to double the number of engineering internships they offer in a bid to help universities train more people for jobs that require math and science skills." The commitment, which will create nearly 6,300 new engineering internships, is "part of a short-term goal to graduate 10,000 more American engineers each year, bringing the total to about 130,000 annual graduates." Chu said Wednesday, "We need engineers. We need scientists," adding, "This is going to be at the heart of how the United States is going to remain competitive."

    The Tri-City (WA) Herald (9/1) adds that Secretary Chu said of the announcement, "For America to stay competitive in the global market, we must train and retain the world's best engineers," adding, "Working together, private industry and the public sector can position the US to continue to lead in science and innovation in the 21st century, creating good jobs and laying the foundation for a robust economy."

    Thursday, September 1, 2011: Exxon signs Arctic oil deal with Russia.

    In front- page coverage, the New York Times (8/31, A1, Kramer, Subscription Publication) reports, that "Exxon Mobil won a coveted prize in the global petroleum industry Tuesday with an agreement to explore for oil in a Russian portion of the Arctic Ocean that is being opened for drilling even as Alaskan waters remain mostly off limits." Exxon officials said that the initial investment would be in the tens of billions of dollars and would include swapping assets with Russia's state owned oil company Rosneft. Exxon's investment could be vulnerable if it leads to objections in the US, and as the Times notes, "as a result of the agreement...more of the company's investments and future earnings will partly hinge on policies set in the Kremlin."

    The potential of renewable energy is growing daily. Module efficiencies are going up and prices are coming down. The SunShot program (see the ASA homepage, for details of SunShot) will reduce the cost of PV installation. Still, it will be a long time before renewables replace fossil fuels. We see nothing wrong with Arctic drilling provided that:

    • Strong measures are taken to protect the fragile Arctic environment
    • Government subsidies for oil exploration not exceed that given to renewable energy research
    • Government subsidies for oil production and delivery does not exceed subsidies for renewable energy sources.

    When fossil fuels run out, as may well happen in our lifetime, renewables will be there to take their place.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011: Nearly six million lose power during storm.

    The AP (8/29, Kahn) reports that in the wake of Hurricane Irene, "the lights went out for six million people and businesses, from Folly Beach, South Carolina, to Portland, Maine," and "it could take weeks to restore power." The article explains that "some of the storm's damage will be easy to spot: a tree smashed into a power pole, for example." But other outages will be difficult to address as the power has been cut with no apparent danger. "That's a tougher situation because crews need to move slowly down power lines, looking for places where there is no electrical current."

    While grid-tied PV systems are not intended as emergency backup, many homeowners are putting a small inverter on the DC circuit to provide limited refrigeration, ventilation, and lighting. More rooftop solar has to somehow help with power outages.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011: Human gait could soon power portable electronics

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison (08/23/11) Devitt, Terry reports that the energy of human motion could be used soon to power cell phones and other portable electronic devices. University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering researchers Tom Krupenkin and J. Ashley Taylor, who have discovered a novel energy-harvesting technology known as reverse electrowetting, are now working to commercialize the phenomenon through a company they have established called InStep NanoPower. In reverse electrowetting, mechanical energy is converted to electrical energy by using a micro-fluid device consisting of thousands of liquid micro-droplets interacting with a novel nano-structured substrate. Krupenkin and Taylor believe the technology could enable a novel footwear-embedded energy harvester that captures energy produced by humans during walking and converts it into up to 20 watts of electrical power that can be used to power mobile devices. New energy is constantly generated during normal walking, so the energy harvester never needs to be recharged. The energy generated by the footwear-embedded harvester could be used to directly power devices, or the energy harvester can be integrated with a Wi-Fi hotspot that acts as an intermediary between mobile devices and a wireless network. The technology is unlikely to completely replace batteries for most applications, but it could help reduce cost, pollution, and other problems associated with the use of batteries.

    Monday, August 29, 2011: Governor Christie recommends one year moratorium on fracking.

    The AP (8/26) reports that NJ Governor Chris Christie "has recommended a one-year ban on a natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, disappointing environmentalists who had hoped New Jersey would become the first state to permanently forbid the technique." The recommendation came after Christie used a conditional veto Thursday to strike down a bill that would have banned the practice entirely. Meanwhile, a coalition representing "natural gas interests" called the decision economically responsible. Jim Benton, who heads the New Jersey Petroleum Council, "We believe that New Jersey can benefit directly from domestic production of natural gas," said Jim Benton, who heads the New Jersey Petroleum Council. "It has been the type of game-changer that really bodes well for New Jersey - and that's not at the cost of our environment."

    Undoubtedly Americans will benefit from using natural gas in lieu of coal and oil,. But what about the damage to our drinking water. We can live weeks without food, but only a few days without clean drinking water. Clean water is already in short supply around the world, including right here in the USA, so we need to study fracking much more carefully before we risk shrinking potable water supplies further.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011: 13-year-old designs efficient solar array inspired by oak trees

    When it comes to renewable energy solutions, sometimes nature has the best ideas. That was 13-year-old Aidan Dwyer’s conclusion after a wintry hike in New York’s Catskill Mountains, a trip that inspired him to build a unique and effective solar array design.

    Dwyer observed patterns in the trees and, after further research and contemplation, realized the branches matched up with the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical pattern found throughout nature, such as in falcon flight paths, nautilus shells and ratios within the human body.

    Dwyer speculated that this pattern aided the trees in photosynthesis and tested his hypothesis by building a miniature tree-shaped solar array. The project won him a 2011 Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History. The 7th grader describes his experiments in his detailed essay.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011: UPS, AT&T announce “green” fleet additions.

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that UPS is purchasing 100 fully electric commercial delivery vehicles from Electric Vehicles International. The class 6 walk-in delivery trucks with a 90-mile range will be placed in service early next year in California’s South Coast Air Basin, San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley. This purchase should save UPS 126,000 gallons of fuel a year.

    In April this year, AT&T, UPS, FedEx, PepsiCo and Verizon signed up as charter members of the National Clean Fleets Partnership. The White House initiative led by the Department of Energy aims to encourage Alternately Fueled Vehicle use and help large fleets across the country cut petroleum use by 2.5 billion gallons by 2020.

    This is encouraging, but we’d rather see more emphasis on renewable energies than the carbon dioxide emitting natural gas fuels. So many engineers are highly concerned over the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) used to extract the gas and pipelines used to transport it long distances.

    Friday, August 26, 2011: Energy storage is looking better.

    The environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that energy storage is the key to unlocking the full potential of renewable energy. The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, but both happen with enough regularity to meet all our energy needs. The problem is peak shaving, storing surplus energy for when sunshine and wind will not meet our needs, sucn as nightime, clouds, calm days, etc.

    The cards dealt to the energy storage industry are looking better now than in the past. Here are three of them, all played because of the growing presence of Smart Grid technologies that enable solutions and policies that encourage energy storage markets. There’s also a wild card that could have significant influence over the speed, distribution, and value of energy storage deployments in the Smart Grid.

    1. A recent UN report titled “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011” highlighted $211 billion spent worldwide in renewable energy sources that included solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and waste-to-energy. Developing countries actually outspent developed countries in investments. China alone spent $48.9B in wind farms.

    2. The recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision defines regional planning processes, outlines rules for fair cost allocation, and delivers market certainty for transmission companies and renewables developers that will speed renewables integration and concomitant energy storage deployment.

    3. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) released a recent study to help utilities develop functional requirements for energy storage to aid in integration of renewable energy sources as well as energy storage at substations and within the electrical distribution networks. Current work is now focused on similar recommendations for energy storage on the customer side of the meter – micro-scale energy storage that can be coupled with rooftop solar generation. This means that utilities are taking serious looks at moving from current “always-on” forms of generation to time-shifted generation supported by energy storage, and considering that intermittent renewables like wind and solar can be coupled with energy storage technologies.

    Wednesday, August 24, 2011: PG&E knew of risks in San Bruno pipeline.

    The San Francisco Chronicle (8/21, Van Derbeken) reports, "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. knew in 2008 that the San Bruno gas line that later exploded and the network of smaller pipes it fed had multiple potentially at-risk welds, but decided to spike the system's pressure so it could avoid the possibility of costly inspections, according to a company memo turned over to federal investigators." The memo argued that "boosting the pressure temporarily on the San Bruno line was a way to get around testing the welds and preserve its legal capacity." Also in the memo, the author wrote that some sections of the pipe in question "have suspected manufacturing threats." The paper also cites "officials with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration" saying that because the pressure boost "exceeded the legal maximum during the process, the increase itself should have initiated water-pressure inspection tests on Line 132."

    Many people view natural gas as a clean energy, but even under the best conditions, burning gas consumes oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. Solar power is truly clean. Rooftop solar generates electricity right where it is needed most eliminating transportation losses and dangers of both conventional power plants and natural gas.

    The solution to this problem comes up every morning.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011: Have Sun, Will Travel!

    New York Times (08/19/11) Wassener, Bettina reports that the Turanor PlanetSolar, a vessel that is circumnavigating the globe to prove that solar energy can power water transportation, is currently berthed in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. The 102-foot boat has completed about two-thirds of a voyage that began in Monaco last September, and has so far sailed nearly 24,000 miles. The Turanor PlanetSolar's upper deck is covered with over 5,300 square feet of photovoltaic solar panels. Throughout its journey, the four-person crew is monitoring the performance of the panels and of lithium batteries that store solar energy and allow the ship to continue sailing through the night, or when the sky is overcast, at a speed of up to about 15 miles per hour. So far, says the skipper, Erwann Le Rouzic, everything has gone smoothly. "I feel like a mouse in a laboratory which is being used to test what can be done with solar energy," Le Rouzic joked at a media briefing in Hong Kong. Financed by various sponsors, the Turanor PlanetSolar is a scientific experiment rather than something that will be mass-produced for commercial use. Its route does not stray far from the equator to ensure that a maximum amount of sunlight is available — hardly an option for the commercial shipping industry. Still, the industry has been testing different technologies that could complement fuel-based propulsion, and solar could well play a role, says Arthur Bowring, managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association. "It doesn't have to be as extreme as us," says Le Rouzic, "with 100 percent solar, but you could have a proportion of solar power, which would also help reduce emissions."

    Orville Wright took the brothers’ Flyer for a 12-second, sustained flight on December 17, 1903. This little scientific experiment was the first successful, powered, piloted flight in history. Compare their experiment with a Trans-Pacific flight of a Boeing 747 today and try to imagine where this experiment might lead us 100 years from now.

    Monday, August 22, 2011: Acquisition of world's largest solar photovoltaic project completed

    Skadden is representing First Solar, Inc. which recently completed the sale of the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente solar project to NRG Energy, Inc. The acquisition was contingent upon the financial closing of the project's loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. Agua Caliente is the world's largest solar photovoltaic project currently under construction. Electricity from Agua Caliente will be sold under a 25-year power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. of California. At full capacity, the electricity generated by Agua Caliente is enough to serve more than 225,000 homes. The project is expected to offset approximately 5.5 million metric tons of CO2 over 25 years, the equivalent of taking over 40,000 cars off the road annually.

    First Solar manufactures solar modules and provides comprehensive photovoltaic system solutions.

    Sunday, August 21, 2011: Alabama nuclear reactor, partly built, to be finished.

    The New York Times (8/19, Wald, Subscription Publication, 950K) reports, "The directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority unanimously approved a plan on Thursday to finish the partly built Bellefonte 1 nuclear reactor, a project on which the authority spent billions of dollars in the 1970s and '80s but dropped in 1988 because of cost overruns and declining estimates of power demand." The previously shelved reactor, located in Hollywood, Ala., "is not expected to be completed before 2018 to 2020 - or about a half-century after the project was first announced, and following nearly a quarter-century of limbo." TVA's decision "comes at a time when other countries, Germany and Switzerland, for example, are leaning away from nuclear power and closing older plants, after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex in Japan in March."

    Dow Jones Newswires (8/19, Subscription Publication) notes that the utility's board approved a $4.9 billion plan to finish construction of the once mothballed nuclear unit. While also touting the benefits of nuclear energy, TVA Chief Executive Tom Kilgore remarked, "Making Bellefonte a productive asset with state-of-the-art equipment will add an additional supply of clean, base-load power to TVA's generating mix."

    The AP (8/19) says, "TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore has said that building the Bellefonte reactor is the right move for the environment and for the utility's 9 million rate payers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi."

    The Scottsboro (AL) Daily Sentinel (8/19, Bonner) reports that Sam Collins, former Northeast Regional Administrator for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was present at the proceedings. Referring to the Bellefonte project, Collins remarked, "The safety focus is there." He added, "(The plant) must meet all current rules and regulations in place. Upgrades to the plant will be the first of a kind, like the digital control room."

    TVA claims spending $5 billion will save $2 billion by not starting a new plant from the ground up. How much could they save by investing the $5 billion in solar power?

    Friday, August 19, 2011: Wearable solar panels to revolutionize mobility for armies

    treehugger reports that designers have been trying to come up with ways to integrate solar panels with clothing and still have it look cool. For the most part, it's been a failure. But what if you set style aside and go for straight functionality? Australia's army is testing out wearable solar panels that could make soldiers far more mobile without giving up access to plenty of electricity.

    The Australian National University Center for Sustainable Energy Systems has a $2.3 million contract with the Australian Department of Defense to come up with better technology for soldiers. Part of the technology revolves around devices that "enhance their close combat tactical awareness and survivability." But how do you charge those devices without weighing soldiers down? That's where solar comes in.

    "The development of these wearable solar cells will now allow soldiers to generate power in the field and reduce the need for batteries for their electronic devices. They will also establish a power supply that keeps electronic devices operational throughout the duration of missions," Dr Igor Skryabin, Development Manager for the project, said in a press release.

    The solar cells developed are only the thickness of a human hair, making them flexible and light all while staying efficient in converting light to electricity. Plus, they're tough enough to withstand the abuse they'll surely get in the field.

    Maybe the US Army will eventually see the value in this concept and do some research.

    Thursday, August 18, 2011: Air Products fuels cars with hydrogen from wastewater

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (8/27) reports that specialty gas company Air Products has opened a hydrogen fueling station that draws feedstock from municipal wastewater. In addition to providing hydrogen, the process, taking place at the Orange County Sanitation District in Fountain Valley, Calif., also provides electricity and heat.

    At the sanitation plant, the wastewater sits in holding tanks, creating methane gas. This methane enters a purification system and then feeds into a fuel cell, built by FuelCell Energy, Inc. where it is reformed to hydrogen.

    The fuel cell produces clean electricity for use at the OCSD facility, and the heat created can also be directed to several site uses. Excess hydrogen not converted to electricity leaves the unit and is further purified to make it vehicle grade for fuel cell automobile fueling, via Air Products’ technology. The facility will produce enough hydrogen to fill 25 to 50 fuel cell vehicles per day and generate 250 kilowatts of electricity daily, according to Air Products. The company says that this technology is the first of its kind in the world.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011: Debt deal threatens Government spending for renewable energy industry.

    The Bloomberg News (8/8, Efstathiou, Martin) reports, "US government support for renewable energy may plunge from record levels, setting back the use of wind and solar power before they can compete on their own with oil, gas and coal." According to the Energy Information Administration, "direct spending, tax breaks and research funding pushed federal renewable-energy subsidies to $14.7 billion in 2010." But Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, cautioned, "The debt agreement, which is focused on cuts only and not revenue increases, makes it more likely that this infant sector gets strangled before it matures." The article cites figures from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which caution that renewable energy subsidies are forecast to start their decline this year, falling 77 percent by 2016 from the record levels reached in 2010.

    If Congress would subsidize solar, wind, and other sustainable energies at the same level they now subsidize oil, gas, and coal, then renewable energies would already compete with the non-sustainable fuels. if they were to cut just a few of the billions of tax dollars now subsidizing fossil fuels, they could fully fund clean energies and still save a lot of money and pollution.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011: Judge sets trial date for Gulf oil spill liability.

    The AP (8/12) reported, "A federal judge on Friday outlined his plan" for holding a trial that will assign percentages of fault to the companies sued over the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and Gulf oil spill that occurred last year. Judge Carl Barbier set a trial date for Feb. 27, 2012 with the proceedings to be broken down into three phases. The first phase would focus on the cause of the rig explosion, the second would examine BP's efforts to stop the gusher and quantify how much oil was spilled, and the third would focus on the clean up effort. Business week notes that "besides apportioning fault, the trial also is designed to determine whether rig owner Transocean can limit what it pays claimants under maritime law."

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune (8/12) noted that "some 549 cases over the April 2010 well-blowout and 86-day oil spill have been consolidated in Barbier's court" along with 108,000 individuals claims alleging harm.

    Monday, August 15, 2011: Video: Printable paper solar panels can power gadgets.

    Tuan C. Nguyen of smartplanet reports that a new manufacturing technique may allow for solar panels to be produced simply using nothing more than an ink-jet printer. The new technique, developed by MIT researchers, is a much gentler technology than what’s being used to manufacture solar cells. That’s because the process involves using vapors instead of liquid to bring down the temperature during manufacturing to less than 120°C, which allows it to be used on more delicate materials like paper, cloth or plastic.

    The idea behind the MIT team’s approach is that if researchers can perfect a process in which cells can be printed on common everyday materials like cloth and paper, you would suddenly open the technology up to all kinds of possibilities for household use. Cells can be painted on wallpaper or companies can produce solar-powered curtains to harness energy anywhere the sun might shine.

    The cells, which are quite durable, can be scrunched up, made into a paper airplane or even folded a thousand times over and still deliver solid performance. And if you wanted to harness energy outdoors, the paper can be laminated to protect it from harsh weather conditions.

    Versatile and affordable solar cells would be a major boon to the industry. High manufacturing costs is one of the reasons why solar power hasn’t hit the mainstream as some renewable energy advocated had hoped. For instance, the glass that supports the active photovoltaic material coupled with installation can cost twice as much as the cells themselves. In contrast, paper costs one-thousandth as much as glass for a given area, according to the researchers.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011: US Army launches task force to reach 25% renewables by 2025.

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News reports that the U.S. Army has announced the creation of the Energy Initiatives Office Task Force, a body that will serve as the central managing office for the development of large-scale Army renewable energy projects.

    The task force will be part of the Army’s effort to reach a goal of sourcing 25 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025, a target of all Defense Department agencies. The Army said that the new EIO Task Force is integral to its addressing rising energy security challenges, escalating fuel prices, and stricter federal mandates.

    Army installations currently are pursuing renewable energy infrastructure, but, according to the Army, often lack needed expertise. The EIO Task Force will be charged with filling this expertise gap and providing resources to enable private sector involvement in large-scale renewable energy projects. The Army hopes this will result in increased interest by project developers and better prices on projects.

    I used to live in a tropical paradise that was an Army missile range in the Pacific. I loved to watch the sun come up in the morning. At sunrise, I was often riding my bicycle to work at Kwajalein Missile Range in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific Ocean. Even more spectacular were sunsets over the world’s largest enclosed lagoon. We all enjoyed seeing these beautiful sights, but between sunrise and sunset, we were only concerned about how to get rid of the heat the sun generated and the humidity the sun drew from the tropical waters never more than a quarter mile away. Never once did we consider using the sun’s power, or even the sun-induced nearly constant wind, to help us cool the buildings or power the sophisticated electronic systems we used to track missiles. We continued to muddle along generating electricity with oil imported from more than 4,000 miles away. If ever there was an Army post crying for renewable energy it was the Kwajalein Missile Range.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011: New research reveals affordable geothermal

    The Energy Center of Wisconsin offers a low-cost method of implementing geothermal heat pump systems on your building projects by going hybrid. A hybrid geothermal heat pump system can lower your costs by reducing the peak capacity of your ground loop and allowing you to install a smaller, less expensive ground heat exchanger. HyGCHP is a software module that can help you analyze this option!

    An easy-to-use, but sophisticated method of analyzing various hybrid geothermal configurations is one piece that has been missing from the world of geothermal analysis tools. With our free modeling tool, HyGCHP (Hybrid Ground-Coupled Heat Pumps) you can use the powerful TRNSYS-based ground heat exchanger m odule1 to investigate several configurations of geothermal system, including both conventional geothermal systems and various hybrid options, from heating dominated to cooling dominated systems.

    You can use the HyGCHP software to:

    • Determine how much money a building owner can save by choosing a hybrid geothermal system.
    • Select optimal sizes for the equipment in a hybrid system.
    • Compare different hybrid geothermal approaches in terms of energy and economics for a given building project.
    • Analyze the effects of different control strategies for your geothermal or hybrid system.

    Friday, August 12, 2011: Alabama nuclear power plant may get revival.

    The Memphis Commercial Appeal (8/12, Connolly, 123K) reports, "Later this month, the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority could take up a proposal to complete the Bellefonte nuclear power plant in northeast Alabama." TVA officials are mounting a campaign to bolster public support "for the project and nuclear energy in general despite a dangerous incident at a Japanese plant this year." The Commercial Appeal notes that "the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says rebuilding the Bellefonte plant is 'an extremely costly and dangerous proposal.'" And yet TVA virtually ignored rooftop solar, a less costly alternative, in their Integrated Resource Plan. Let’s keep our nuclear power plants 93 million miles away from home!

    Thursday, August 11, 2011: Group: Reviving TVA nuke plant plan carries risks.

    The AP (8/10, Poovey) reports, "Opponents of the Tennessee Valley Authority's plans to revive its mothballed Bellefonte Nuclear Plant said Tuesday that unanswered safety and cost questions should delay, if not stop, the utility board from moving ahead with the project on Auust 18th." According to the article, "Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said there are questions about structural and radioactive containment problems similar to cracks discovered in a nuclear plant containment vessel in Florida." Additionally, "Fairewinds Associates Inc., chief engineer Arnold Gundersen, who prepared a report for the alliance on problems with TVA's' projected $4.7 billion reactor, said in a telephone news conference with Smith that the cost of the pressurized water reactor that TVA's top executives want to have operating by 2018 could more than double."

    The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (8/10, Huotari) reports, "In dueling teleconferences Tuesday, TVA and a Knoxville-based environmental group squared off over a controversial plan to complete a partially completed reactor at the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site in Hollywood, Ala." Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) Executive Director Stephen Smith said during the teleconference with reporters, "The bottom line is this is an extremely risky decision, and we think TVA has better options that they can pursue." However, "in their own teleconference several hours later, TVA officials refuted many of the statements made during the SACE press conference, including a project cost estimate as high as $10 billion and an allegation that a hole would have to be cut in the plant's containment vessel to install new steam generators."

    In a separate but related story, the AP (8/10) reports that a report released by SACE Tuesday "says the site where ground was broken in 1974 for a nuclear plant has an aging foundation, raises concerns about possible seismic activity and flooding and could force rates higher." On August 18, TVA's board "will get a staff recommendation to build a reactor at Bellefonte as the utility moves ahead with phasing out some coal-fired plants." The AP (8/10) also covers the story in a similar report. TVA Defends Work At Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.

    The Chattanoogan (8/10) reports, "TVA issued a statement on Tuesday in defense of work at the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant after the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy sharply criticized the project." In the statement, TVA officials said, "The Tennessee Valley Authority has a vision to be a national leader in cleaner, competitively priced energy by 2020, and nuclear energy will play a critical role. TVA's Integrated Resource Plan has forecast the need for new generation sources in future years and identified nuclear power as a safe, reliable, low-cost energy source to meet that demand." The report goes on to discuss some of the utility's specific points in defending the project.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011: Alabama Power is testing solar power while Georgia Power makes its own solar plans.

    Alabama reports that Alabama Power workers installed solar panels on poles in the Inverness area in northern Shelby County on Friday. It's part of a research project to find out how well they work in Alabama where the hot, humid and cloudy conditions can reduce the efficiency of solar panels. It will enable researchers to see how they work in real life conditions with the system.

    Alabama Power isn't the only company hoping to make solar energy work. Sister company Georgia Power has won Public Service Commission approval to buy up 50 megawatts of solar power from outside suppliers by 2015, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

    Next Georgia Power hopes to cut deals with solar-power producers to meet the deadline. Those suppliers will be able to tie into the transmission system used by Georgia Power and Alabama Power, plus sister companies in Mississippi and Florida.

    Solving problems with distribution of renewable energy will allow utility companies to make widespread use of a network of many small photovoltaic generation stations. The beauty of distributed generation is that it makes electricity near where it is needed avoiding transmission costs and energy losses. The challenge of distributed generation is that it has to work seamlessly with conventional power plants to feed customers over a wide area. We wish Southern Companies the best on solving these challenging problems and bring more “green” energy online.

    To find more about Alabama Power's renewable energy efforts visit

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011: U.S. Cities, states require large buildings to cite energy use

    USA Today (07/31/11) Koch, Wendy

    To help consumers lower their utility bills and spur greater efficiency, a growing number of U.S. states and cities are starting to require that commercial buildings measure and disclose their energy use. The new rules, which generally exempt small firms, are expected to basically "shame" landlords into upgrades that will save energy. The rules will not specify utility costs, but will show a building's relative efficiency measured in energy use per square foot for apartments. July 31 was the deadline for 16,000 large buildings in New York City to report how much energy they used in the last year or face $500 quarterly fines. Similar requirements begin in Seattle, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia this October, in Austin next June, and across California as early as the first quarter of 2012. At least six other states are now considering such rules. "They give consumers — tenants and investors — access to information they've not had previously," says Andrew Burr of the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington-based non-profit promoting energy efficiency. The Department of Energy's Kathleen Hogan says DoE plans next spring to begin testing a voluntary program to rate the energy efficiency of commercial buildings, similar to a pilot program it finished in June for rating homes. Seattle, which aims to reduce energy use 20 percent by 2020, opted for mandatory reporting, because "voluntary programs weren't getting us there fast enough," says Jayson Antonoff, an energy adviser for the city. He says 860 buildings with more than 50,000 square feet must report by Oct. 1 and another 8,000 buildings with more than 10,000 square feet by April 1. Nationwide, he says, "The number of buildings that will be benchmarked (for energy) is going to explode."

    Knowledge is power!

    Monday, August 8, 2011: General Motors helping to design “City of the Future” China

    Fox News points our, “At the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, General Motors sponsored a “Futurama” exhibit that depicted what the world might look like 20 years in the future. Back then, suburbs connected to cities by high-speed expressways were the thing of dreams, but something that came to pass soon afterwards thanks in part to the vehicles built by GM and other automakers.”

    Now, the American company is collaborating with a Chinese-Singaporean consortium that is building a real-life city of the future where cars as we know them are set to play a much smaller role than they do today, but where a forward-thinking GM still sees a great opportunity for growth.

    Located on the outskirts of one of China’s largest existing metropolises, the Tianjin Eco-City was conceived as a large-scale prototype for sustainable, high-density communities. A reliance on renewable energy sources and mass transit are key elements in its environmentally-friendly design.

    But even though its creators are planning for 90 percent of its eventual population of 350,000 to get around town using a light rail system, there will still be a need for individual point to point transportation, and that’s where GM comes in.

    That’s great news for China, where a small town has a population of a million, but we need to be looking at future cities here in the United States.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011: Cuomo says power NY law will aid “green” energy, create jobs, and remove obstacles to closing Indian Point.

    WXXI-TV Rochester, New York (8/5, DeWitt) reported on its website Cuomo said the law "will create jobs, clean energy and may help spur the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant." Cuomo, "who is opposed to the continued operation of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, less than 50 miles from New York City, says the new law could spur replacement power sources so that the nuclear plant is no longer necessary. 'One of the arguments against closing Indian Point is you would need to find the replacement power,' said Cuomo."

    On its weblog page, Politics on the Hudson (8/4, Spector) reported "Cuomo is expected to use the new law as a way to find alternative energy sources to the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, Westchester County, which Cuomo has vowed to close."

    The AP (8/5, Gormley) reports, "Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Thursday that will allow New York to increase its power production and provide low-interest loans to homeowners and businesses for the cost of energy efficiency projects." It is hoped that the "Power N.Y. Act will allow for the first significant increase in power plants to be built in New York since a previous plant siting law expired in 2003." The Cuomo administration hopes the new law will "promote expansion of businesses and result in tens of thousands of new jobs" and Cuomo said "the law could provide enough power to eliminate one of the obstacles to shutting down the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County." Platts (8/5, Carlsen) adds, "Supporters see the act as enhancing the chances of replacing Entergy's Indian Point nuclear plants, which Cuomo wants closed."

    Buchanan Mayor Faults Cuomo's Efforts To Close Indian Point. Westchester (NY) Journal News (8/5, Spector) adds, "Buchanan Mayor Sean Murray, who said he was unaware of the governor's plan, insisted it would be a mistake to shutter the plant in his Hudson River village. 'Any plan to close Indian Point would be strongly opposed here,' he said. 'We need the power, we need the jobs, we need the revenue.'" Murray "works at the plant himself" and said "various proposals to create other forms of energy in the region were 'not viable.'" The facility employs about 1,300 people and more during re-fueling operations.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011: Vermont utility recognized with smart grid award.

    The AP (8/4) reports, "Vermont's third-largest electric utility has won a national trade magazine award for deployment of smart grid technology." The Vermont Electric Cooperative started "installing smart grid meters and related technology a decade ago, well before many larger utilities started getting interested in doing the same." In "awarding VEC its first ever Power Smart Grid Award," Power magazine praised the cooperative "for using a new GPS-enabled outage management system, online access to electricity usage information and other technical innovations to achieve big service improvements."

    Smart grids give utilities feedback of electricity flow and problems at customers’ meters and other points of delivery. Smart grid technology makes integration of solar and other “green” power easier and more efficient.

    Friday, August 5, 2011: River temperature forces nuclear plant to 50 percent power.

    The Chattanooga Times Free Press (8/4, Sohn) reports that on Wednesday TVA "had to bring a third reactor at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant down to 50 percent power to avoid environmental sanctions because the water in the Tennessee River - where the plant's cooling water is discharged - already was at 90 degrees." TVA spokesperson Ray Golden explained, "When the river's ambient temperature reaches 90 degrees, we can't add any heat to it." Golden mentioned that last year, similar problems forced the utility to spend $50 million for replacement power. In order to avoid that problem this year, "TVA in October began construction on a seventh cooling tower at Browns Ferry."

    Now considering filling just some of the empty rooftops in the Tennessee Valley with solar panels. We could still retire a lot of coal-fired power plants without replacing them with nuclear ones or overheating our rivers and lakes.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011: Lighting brief: Cree, FZLED, Philips wins DoE prize

    The environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (8/3) reports that FZLED has unveiled a range of 22-watt spotlights featuring Cree LEDs. The series is a simple money-saving plug-and-play replacement for inefficient traditional lights in existing sockets.

    Options include both switch dimmable and non-dimmable versions, with a clear or frosted lens, and with a choice of both a warm white and a cool white version. The warm 3,000K illumination provides 1,300 lumens with a Color Rendering Index (CRI) of more than 80, while the CW-22 bulb achieves 1,500 lumens with its bright 6,000K beam.

    Conservation should be the first step to any renewable energy project. One dollar spent on conservation can save three to five in installing the extra capacity to meet the needs of wasteful equipment. LEDs can cut electrical demand for lighting by as much as 90 percent. It can also reduce cooling requirements due to lighting by the same 90 percent.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011: Skylight converts sunrays into power.

    The New Scientist (8/1, Reilly) "One Per Cent" blog reported on a skylight developed by Enfocus Engineering "that captures the boiling rays" of the sun "to make electricity could keep the heat out." The "device is made of an array of glass lenses that concentrate direct sunlight onto narrow, opaque strips of photovoltaic cells made of gallium-arsenide and germanium." New Scientist explained, "Light streams through traditional skylights in strong beams that heat indoor air and change intensity as the sun moves throughout the day. Enfocus's lenses, by contrast, allow diffuse light to pass through the edges of each lens, providing even illumination for a room without increasing the heat load in a building."

    Sunday, July 31, 2011: Renewables on smart grid

    Electric Light & Power (06/11) Mandalika, Ravi reports that global investments in clean energy are expected to grow as high as $200 billion compared to just $162 billion in 2009. “The challenge is finding ways to get renewable energy onto outdated and inefficient existing grids,” writes Ravi Mandalika, solution delivery head for Wipro Technologies. The problem of integrating various sources of power into existing infrastructure is fueling the development of smart grids, a more efficient energy management system that optimizes the transmission, distribution, and consumption of energy. The intermittent nature of most renewable energy sources affects the stability and reliability of energy supply, which is a business risk that existing grids cannot handle. But a smart grid can dynamically manage disparate sources of energy, optimizing power usage and reducing transmission and distribution loss. Indeed, in a test done by IBM, a smart grid coupled with simple consumption habit changes brought an energy savings of at least 15 percent. The energy systems of the future will replace centralized production and one-way power transmission with distributed production and two-way systems, providing real-time visibility to grid activity, lowering congestion, allowing for the storage of energy, cutting carbon emissions, and reducing costs.

    Paper calls for Illinois smart grid bill to require more reliable storm service.

    The Chicago Tribune (7/29) editorializes, "We've said there's a lot to like in the so-called 'smart grid' legislation" that, while passed by the General Assembly, still hasn't gone to the Governor's desk in an effort to prevent a veto. However, the "bill could be revised to include stricter rate caps and a profit formula that's less conspicuously tilted in the utilities' favor," as well as "to respond to the widespread public frustration over recent service disruptions." With the current bill, "the utilities lack sufficient incentives to make reliable storm service the top priority it needs to be."

    Friday, July 29, 2011: Expert says compromise could end 3-state water wars.

    The Daily (AL) Home (7/24) reported that "for more than 20 years Alabama, Georgia and Florida have been fighting the 'water wars' that seek to determine which state has the final say over water flowing from Georgia, through Alabama and into Florida." The article said the disputes are complicated involving several parties and matters. In Alabama, Alabama Power Co. controls the lakes and the dams that are the source of hydroelectric power. Mike Godfrey, a manager with the utility, recently said, "We could be in the worst-case scenario now. Or they (court officials) could decide to let Georgia take as much water as they want. But I think there will be a compromise somewhere."

    Thursday, July 28, 2011: Argonne electrifies energy storage research.

    Argonne National Laboratory (06/30/11) Hardin, Angela reports that a team of multidisciplinary researchers at Argonne National Laboratory is striving to create innovative energy storage technologies to assist the growth of a U.S. battery manufacturing industry, help migrate the U.S. automotive fleet to plug-in hybrid and electric passenger vehicles, and facilitate greater use of renewable energy technologies. "In more recent years, we've executed several licensing deals for a lithium-ion battery technology with General Motors, BASF, Envia, LG Chem, and Toda America," says Argonne director Eric Isaacs. "We'll continue to develop and license more advanced battery technologies for transportation use." Jeff Chamberlain, director of Argonne's new Energy Storage Initiative, says the effort's goal is to encompass a wide spectrum of advanced energy storage research from basic materials and cell engineering and design to testing and validation. He also says that when a technology's potential for market take-up is strong, "it is part of our job to help industry develop it to the point where it can be commercialized."

    Storage is the one thing that will let solar and wind completely replace fossil fuels, something we will need to survive in the future.

    Can we do it? Consider the iPod Nano. Smaller than a credit card, it can hold 4,000 songs and play for hours on a rechargeable battery. If the Nano were built with 1975 technology, it would be the size of a building, cost a billion dollars, and need a dedicated power plant to operate it. If scientists can make that much progress on a toy in 35 years, just imagine what they could do with a serious problem like our future energy supply.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011: Solar initiative provides "Green" curriculum.

    WTVA-TV Columbus, Mississippi (7/26, LeMaster) reports online, "schools in Alcorn County will soon be able to teach children about the green industry through a 50-kilowatt solar collection station, and Superintendent Stacy Suggs said it will provide both educational and economic incentives." Suggs remarked, "We found out about this grant incentive that was being offered through the Mississippi Development Authority and the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide some solar panels for green energy." Suggs added, "The grand incentive: they would pay 75 percent of the cost," while the district would pay the remaining 25 percent.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011: Project that aids TVA solar program hits bump.

    The Tennessean (7/25, Paine) reports that "TVA's popular Generation Partners program that pays incentives to install solar and other forms of renewable energy is drawing national attention and growing quickly, but a sister project that helps fund it is flagging." The Green Power Switch program, "which asks customers to voluntarily pay extra on their utility bills," has a shortfall of "$4 million to $5 million." TVA says that it will redesign both programs, and "will work with power distributors, renewable developers, program participants and others before deciding what to do."

    Also, the Chattanooga Times Free Press (7/25, Sohn) reports that until the programs are revamped, TVA said it will "honor existing agreements and accept new projects under Generation Partners." The article notes that the solar power program has seen tremendous demand. For example, "TVA shut down Generation Partners last summer after applications exceeded limits set by the federal utility for the test initiative" and "the moratorium brought an outcry from solar installers whose businesses had boomed since TVA began offering incentives for solar projects." In fact, Generation Partners was "so successful, 10 of the power distribution companies TVA serves were among the top providers of solar power in the region and nation last year."

    Participating in “Green Power Switch” is something homeowners, business owners, and renters alike can do to to promote sustainability. Next to conservation, it’s the single most powerful simple thing all of us can do. Buy your electricity under the “Green Power Switch” program starting today.

    Monday, July 25, 2011: Fewer than 25% of local governments use alternative energy, says report

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (7/22) reports that fewer than a quarter of US local governments employ any form of alternative energy generation, according to survey results. Just 23.4 percent of the more than 2,100 local governments surveyed for Breaking New Ground: Promoting Environmental and Energy Programs in Local Government reported using any kind of renewable or alternative energy production. The study was carried out by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and James H. Svara, professor at the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University.

    It argues that while many communities recognize the importance of environmental awareness and energy efficiency, most local governments were still at the early stages of adopting a full range of measured sustainability activities. The report offers five major findings:

    1. There is considerable variation in the extent to which sustainability actions have been implemented by local governments.
    2. There is no fix-all panacea for sustainability.
    3. Goal setting and progress measurement are important for all communities.
    4. A few local governments are leading sustainability initiatives.
    5. Policy priorities matter to sustainability initiatives.

    Alabama needs a firm energy policy and a good public education program explaining the advantages of renewable energy. maybe then cities and local communities will understand the value and importance of sustainability.

    Sunday, July 24, 2011: New FERC rule aims to improve grid, access to renewable energy projects.

    The New York Times (7/22, A11, Wald, Subscription Publication) reports that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously approved a rule Thursday that establishes guidelines "for planning and paying for new power lines, part of a long-term policy effort to help the nation's electricity grid grow enough to meet the demands of renewable energy and a competitive electricity market." The rule "is intended to push the organizations that manage the grid into cooperating with one another, so that developers can build power lines across several states and multiple electrical jurisdictions." However, it "does not specify what the formula should be for allocating costs, or precisely how new lines should be planned."

    The Wall Street Journal (7/22, A3, Smith, Subscription Publication) adds that FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said Thursday that the new order will benefit wind and solar energy projects in particular, because they are often located in remote areas and lack access to existing interstate transmission lines. The rule will allow companies other than local utilities to take part in transmission projects, with the hope that the removal of such barriers will increase competition and lower costs.

    Citizens of Arab, Alabama, will certainly welcome this rule. The rural electric co-op serving Arab refuses to even consider letting customers with renewable energy sources connect to their power grid.

    Saturday, July 23, 2011: Walgreens to host 800 EV charge points; GM to launch smart grid pilot.

    environmental Leader: Environmental and Energy Management News (7/22) charge your EV while you wait for your prescription to be filled. Pharmacy chain Walgreens plans to offer electric vehicle charging stations at about 800 locations across the country by the end of the year, making it the nation’s largest charging station retail host. The charging stations will feature either a high-speed direct current charger that can add 30 miles of range in as little as 10 minutes of charging time, or a Level 2 charger that can add up to 25 miles of range per hour of charge. Major markets expected to host these sites include Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Select locations in Florida, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington state will also receive charging stations, Walgreens says. Installation in these locations begins later this month.

    In other electric vehicle news, General Motors and OnStar will this year launch what they say is the first real-world pilot of smart grid solutions for electric vehicles. In the pilot, employees of regional utilities nationwide will be leased Chevrolet Volts to use as their everyday vehicle. Through the OnStar Advanced Telematics Operations Management System, the utilities will be able to monitor and manage the energy used by the vehicles. The data will give the utilities insight into where and when electric vehicles are charged, and will enable demand response, which allows the utility to reduce peak demand by shifting electric vehicle charging to non-peak hours.

    Friday, July 22, 2011: FHWA grant to fund solar-panel parking lot.

    The AP (7/21) reports, "Solar Roadways of Sagle announced Wednesday it won a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the Federal Highway Administration." The plan is "to create a prototype parking lot" made of solar panels. TheAP(7/21, Miller) also reports in a longer story, "Company founders Scott and Julie Brusaw plan to use the cash to create a prototype parking lot for testing. But their real dream is for a road system built of 12-foot-by-12-foot solar panels rather than traditional asphalt." They think "the panels might cost three times more than asphalt but would produce electricity that could be sent back to the power grid, helping governments and private industry pay for them." And "transportation experts say convincing highway agencies and others responsible for big asphalt and concrete projects to shift gears will be among Solar Roadways' biggest challenges."

    The Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review (7/21, Kramer) reports, "Each of the 12-foot-square panels will produce about 7.6 kilowatt hours of electricity daily. Four of the panels would supply a typical household's electrical needs." Brusaw explained, "We'll do our own parking lot first ... so we can monitor it 24/7, get all our data ... and start seeing how it holds up under all kinds of load tests."

    Thursday, July 21, 2011: Study finds "clean" industries employ more Americans than oil, gas sectors.

    The Christian Science Monitor (7/19, Clayton) reports, "Throughout his term, President Obama has repeatedly heralded clean energy and the industries that surround it as being a vital element of America's economic future. ... But what is the reality of 'clean' jobs in the US? A recent study by the Brookings Institution and Battelle Technology Partnership seeks to answer that question." According to the study, "'clean' industries...provide 2 percent of the jobs in the United States," which is "more than other key industries such as biosciences and oil and gas."

    Led by apartment construction, housing starts increase 14.6%.

    The CBS Evening News (7/19, story 7, 2:10, Schieffer) reported the residential construction industry is reviving itself through apartment construction, according to a government report released Tuesday. Apartment construction increased nearly 32 percent from May to June, a change CBS notes is due to "economics and demographics. Many older retirees and younger workers are choosing apartment living over homeownership. Apartments are more affordable, offer more flexibility."

    Bloomberg News (7/20, Willis) reports, "Housing starts in the US jumped more than forecast in June as better weather allowed the struggling industry to break ground on delayed projects," with the Commerce Department reporting "work began on 629,000 houses at an annual pace, up 15 percent from May and the highest level in five months." Housing starts had been "projected to rise to a 575,000 annual rate, according to the survey," but decreasing home values and a high rate of foreclosure means a recovery is years out, experts say: Morgan Stanley economists led by David Greenlaw "estimated that, given the current rate of home building, it will take just over three years to absorb the excess supply of unoccupied houses based on their projections for household formation."

    New housing starts are a signal that the economy may be about to rebound. It is also an excellent opportunity to build smarter this time – build housing that is more energy efficient, uses more renewable energy, saves money in the long run, and reduces pollution.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011: 10 GW of renewables pass military muster.

    environmental Leader (7/18) reports that the US military is moving toward more renewable energy and less dependence on foreign oil. The projects cleared a significant hurdle, with the Department of Defense’s finding that 229 such projects will have little or no impact on military missions.

    The DoD reviewed 249 projects proposed in 35 states and Puerto Rico. The projects included 30 solar facilities, and wind installations with a combined 6,500 turbines, along with a handful of transmission lines and three geothermal projects.

    Of the 249 projects reviewed, the DoD found that 20 may pose adverse impacts on military readiness and operations. It said it would undertake further studies and developer negotiations on these projects, in consultation with appropriate federal, state and local agencies.

    The largest projects with no DoD objection include a 314-turbine project in Breckenridge, Mich.; the 251-turbine Red Pine Wind Project in Marshal, Minn.; another 251-turbine project by Ceilo Wind Services in McCarney, Texas; and Milford 3, a Utah facility of up to 300 turbines.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011: New ASA branches formed as the membership approves the new Constitution and By-Laws.

    The members of the Alabama Solar Association have approved the proposed changes to the 1993 Constitution and By-Laws by a vote of 18 to 9. Eight votes from the 37 regular members were required to make the change, and six had to favor the amendment. Read the new document and see the summary of changes on the "About Us" webpage.

    The four new branches are:

    • Gulf Coast Region
    • Central Alabama Region
    • Capital Region
    • Wiregrass Region

    Monday, July 18, 2011: Study questions link between mountaintop removal and Appalachia job growth.

    Greenwire (7/15, Quinones) reports on a study published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers that "suggests there is no connection between mountaintop-removal coal mining and job growth in Appalachia, a finding that cuts against claims by the coal industry." According to the study, "a comparison of mining information with employment indicators fails to show a correlation between the size of a mountaintop-removal (MTR) mine and the percentage of people employed in coal mining. 'Neither rise or decline in employment was found for underground or MTR mining,' researchers Brad Woods and Jason Gordon wrote."

    “Green” energy technologies are proven job makers without the dangers and pollution of coal mining. Think Green!

    Sunday, July 17, 2011: ComEd says smart grid could have mitigated storm outages.

    The Chicago Daily Herald (7/14, Kukec) reports ComEd said Wednesday that a smart grid could have mitigated outages in the Chicago area that were caused by a storm this week. The Chicago Daily Herald notes that "ComEd is eager to push Senate Bill 1652 that authorizes the Smart Grid, along with rate increases." Tabrina Davis, a spokeswoman for ComEd said that had a smart grid been in place, "Technology would have pinpointed outages allowing us to dispatch crews more quickly to restore service. Digital automation would have rerouted power or corrected a problem before an outage occurs, meaning fewer customers would have seen any outages."

    The Chicago Tribune (7/15) notes, "Legislators have passed a bill that authorizes the grid, but it hasn't been sent to Gov. Pat Quinn."

    Smart grid technology provides feedback to the utility companies as to power usage as well as power generation. As photovoltaics become a more significant fraction of electricity production, smart grids will help compensate for shading and other variations of rooftop solar panels.

    Saturday, July 16, 2011: Alabama Power to buy “green” electricity from AbiBow

    The (Childersburg) Daily Home, Lindsey Holland, reported that Alabama Power has contracted with AbiBow U.S. Inc. to purchase electricity from a generating facility at the Coosa Pines pulp plant. The five-year contract will provide 15 megawatts of generating capacity, enough power for an estimated 3,750 homes. According to a news release from the Alabama Public Service Commission, the power will be generated using fuel from black tar, a by-product of the pulp making process. Electricity generated at the plant is classified as renewable energy.

    Fuqua said Alabama Power has entered a partnership like this before with Westervelt Lumber in Moundville. She said this contract shows Alabama Power’s continued commitment to secure cost effective ways to produce renewable energy. Alabama Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn said in a news release he is hopeful the contract will strengthen the job security of workers at AbiBow. “This contact is good for Alabama Power’s customers and should also provide more financial stability for the AbiBow mill,” he said. “Anything we can do that protects jobs and helps our economy, provided it is also good for customers, is the right policy.”

    We applaud Alabama Power for finding a way to convert a waste product into an energy source, but the utility would have done much better to encourage their customers to produce electricity right where it is needed, on the customer’s roofs. Photovoltaic panels not only reduce distribution problems, but they produce no harmful carbon dioxide. With forests around the world disappearing an alarming rate, we need to be ever more mindful or carbon release.

    Friday, July 15, 2011: FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, is going “green.”

    The AP (7/13) reports that the Washington Redskins "announced Wednesday that solar power panels will be in place at FedEx Field and in the Landover stadium's parking lot this September. The system will provide a portion of the stadium's electricity on game days and all of its electricity on non-game days." According to the AP, "NRG Energy will install 8,000 panels that will provide clean energy" as part of "the latest in a growing number planned or already built across the region." The AP notes that "panels will cover 850 parking spaces and provide two megawatts of electricity."

    Philips plans LED-filled luminous wallpaper.:

    Popular Science (7/12, Dillow) reports Philips "is teaming with Kvadrat Soft Cells to create a kind of luminous textile for the consumer market that will essentially embed adjustable LEDs in an acoustic panel that can be hung on the wall to provide ambient lighting like an active piece of artwork, or even be used as a wallpaper to bathe entire rooms in soft tones of the user's choosing." The article notes that "the acoustic panels will do a lot to muffle sound and reduce echo in large spaces, but ostensibly they could also respond visually to sounds--that is, the ambient color of the room might be programmed to respond to the music playing at any given time or integrated into other entertainment experiences."

    Thurssday, July 14, 2011: "Green jobs" offer above-average wages in US.

    USA Today (7/13, Martin, 1.83M) reports that according to a report released by the Brookings Institution and Battelle, "clean-tech jobs offered median wages 20% higher across the United States in 2010." The report also states that "total jobs across the clean-tech sector now outpace those of the oil industry and are double those of the biosciences industry" and count as 2.7 million jobs across 100 US cities.

    The Chicago Tribune (7/13) adds that the report also defines what a "green job" is and where they are, making "it possible for policymakers to see which industries are producing such jobs and where and how the clean economy is growing." Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and co-author of the study, said, "The great purpose of this study is to help policymakers understand what the clean economy is, to make it clear to economic leaders what the trends are and allow them to make good economic decisions." The article also adds that the Chicago area was ranked "third among the 100 largest metro areas in the nation, with 79,388 jobs defined as green, everything from workers assembling wind turbines to scientists researching the next breakthrough in battery technology."

    The Los Angeles Times (7/13, Hsu) reports that the study found that "California continued to lead the nation in the number of people with 'green jobs,'" as "nearly 320,000 people in the state work in such jobs as installing solar panels, making electric vehicles and running organic farms." The Times adds that "the study is likely to draw more debate over what constitutes a 'green' job," because "even the study's researchers called the concept of a clean economy an 'enigma' that has been a lightning rod for legislators."

    According to the study, the Boston Globe (7/13, Mangouri) reports, "Greater Boston ranks in the top 10 among the nation's largest metropolitan areas for employment in the alternative energy industry, boosted by state policies that require utilities to purchase electricity generated by solar, wind, and other nonpolluting power sources." The study "found that Boston ranks seventh among the 100 largest metro areas with nearly 4,300 alternative energy jobs, accounting for the vast majority of the state's employment in this emerging industry. Massachusetts has just over 5,000 alternative energy jobs, placing it 11th among states."

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011: Water management plan would give Alabama leverage in tri-state water wars case (editorial)

    It’s hard to think about water shortages here in North Alabama where daily thunderstorms keep us on our toes. Unfortunately, we are the exception. Most of Alabama is still in drought as we were in early June.

    The Huntsville Times The drought and the recent court ruling in the Alabama-Georgia-Florida water wars lawsuit should be a wake-up call for Alabama to take greater steps to protect this natural resource. According to the Alabama Rivers Alliance, Alabama is the only state in this tri-state conflict without a comprehensive water management plan.

    As Huntsville Times Editorial Page Editor John Peck explains, Alabama shares most of its major rivers with other states, so the future sustainability of its water resources depends on a healthy balance of efficient water use from sources solely within our border and from rivers we share with neighboring states. Without a comprehensive water management plan, Alabama is in a weak position to negotiate its stake in the state's appeal, warns the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Conservation measures and long range growth plans must be part of any plan.

    “Alabama must have a comprehensive water management plan for leverage,” says Peck e-mail:

    Whether or not a new water management plan gives us more leverage in a lawsuit may matter little. Whether recent droughts were caused by global warming, by climate change, or due to the fact that our planet occasionally changes things around for no reason we can see, we need to protect the clean water we have left. Our state and our region is growing, and water demands are rising. We need sensible comprehensive water and energy management plans regardless of the reason why.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011: Technology would harvest ambient energy to power small devices.

    The Wall Street Journal (7/8, Rooney) "Tech Europe" blog reported researchers from the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering have developed technology designed to harvest ambient energy. The technology could potentially power small electronics devices, and could be produced at relatively low cost using mostly existing methods. Many see this as the key to the future “Internet of Things.”

    Gizmag (7/8, Quick) reported, "Manos Tentzeris, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his team used inkjet printing technology to combine sensors, antennas and energy scavenging capabilities on paper or flexible polymers. Presently, the team's scavenging technology can take advantage of frequencies from FM radio to radar, a range of 100 Mhz to 15 GHz or higher." The article noted, "The team is also looking at combining the energy scavenging technology with supercapacitors and cycled operation so that the energy builds up in a battery-like superconductor and is utilized once the required level is reached."

    Monday, July 11, 2011: Health concerns near Yellowstone River prompt plans for environmental tests.

    The AP (7/8) reports, "Indoor air, cropland soils and residential wells downstream of a Yellowstone River oil spill will be tested for contamination after residents raised concerns about hazards from the tens of thousands of gallons of crude that poured into the watercourse," the EPA said Thursday. Contractors for the EPA and Exxon Mobil "were to collect air samples beginning Thursday or Friday, and the results would take about a week, said EPA on-scene coordinator Steve Merritt." Also Thursday, Gov. Schweitzer announced state officials were leaving a command post set up to coordinate the spill response, citing Exxon Mobil's inability to "respect the open government laws we have in Montana." As an alternative, Schweitzer set up an oil spill office in the state Department of Transportation to improve the flow of public information.

    Schweitzer withdraws from joint oil spill command, sets up state spill office.

    With a focus on the Schweitzer pull out, Dow Jones Newswires (7/8, Nicas, Gonzalez, Subscription Publication) notes Exxon claimed that it did not exclude anyone from informational meetings hosted by joint command. And EPA spokesman Mathew Allen said Schweitzer's move was the first time he learned of the governor's concerns. Also on Thursday, Schweitzer sent PHMSA a letter seeking all complaints and recommendations about the Silvertip pipeline. He said, "I'm a citizen of Montana and (ExxonMobil) hasn't been open and transparent with me. Virtually everything they've said to me turned out to be not true."

    No doubt, engineers will be able to solve the safety issues to reduce the likelihood of future spills, but expect this to cause both gasoline and natural gas prices to rise even more. Consumers will have even more incentives to begin using more renewable energy.

    Help us to educate the public as to the financial, security, and environmental benefits of renewable energy by joining or donating to your Alabama Solar Association.

    Sunday, July 10, 2011: Report: Stored Energy in Commercial Buildings Set for Rapid Growth.

    environmental Leader, (7/8) reports energy storage in commercial buildings is poised for significant growth, driven by market momentum toward greater energy efficiency, the proliferation of smart grid technologies, and the growth of renewable energy installations, according to a report by Pike Research.

    “Energy Storage in Commercial Buildings” predicts that the uninterruptible power supply market, which is currently the largest segment within this industry, will increase from $3.4 billion in 2011 to $4.8 billion by 2016.

    Another key emerging segment is ice-based thermal energy storage custom systems, which Pike Research anticipates will rise from $15 million in revenue in 2011 to $37 million by 2016. Under a more aggressive growth scenario, this market could reach as high as $92 million during the same period. Ice-based thermal energy storage rooftop units in North America will also experience strong growth, increasing from $12 million in 2011 to $123 million by 2016 under a baseline forecast scenario, Pike said.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011: Renewable energy investment grew 32% in 2010, UN says.

    According to a report from the United Nations Environment Program, USA Today (7/8, Vergano) reports "drops in solar cell prices and surging interest in developing nations led to a 32% increase in investments in renewable energy globally in 2010. ... Overall, the $211 billion in 2010 investments in renewable energy - wind, solar, geothermal and related technologies - was driven by policies in nations that increasingly require such power worldwide." And while the "report finds that Chinese wind farms and German solar rooftops led investments...surprisingly, developing nations spent more on renewable energy utility projects, $72 billion, than developed ones, at $70 billion."

    The AP (7/8) adds that China led in renewable energy investments, spending "$48.9 billion on such projects in 2010, mostly wind power - an increase of 28 percent from 2009. The United States was second with investments of $23.8 billion. ... While renewable energy only accounted for just over 5 percent of global power generation in 2010, UNEP chief Achim Steiner said the increased spending on green energy shows investors are preparing for a transition to a low-carbon future."

    If developing countries can make such advances in renewable enrgy, why can't we?

    Friday, July 8, 2011: Grants to fund study of more efficient coal use. Solar???

    The Salt Lake Tribune (7/7, Maffly) reports that the University of Utah was one of eight universities to receive "grants to investigate ways to better harness the heat stored in coal." The $300,000 grant is "intended to figure out how to prevent heat loss in coal-fired power plants and to harvest that lost heat to power instruments and sensors that monitor performance." The University of Utah will "develop measurement methods to improve the management of refractory materials, which maintain their strength at high temperatures and are used to line furnaces."

    The AP (7/7) reports, "The University of Colorado is getting federal funding for research aimed at helping use coal more efficiently and cleanly." Researchers led by chemical engineering professor Christine Hrenya will work to "make gasification reactors more efficient so they can harness up to 60 percent of coal's energy, as opposed to 40 percent with traditional burning." The AP notes, "Princeton University and Iowa State University also received grants for related projects."

    It would seem that we already know more than we need to know about coal except how to replace it with a cleaner fuel. We certainly don’t need eight universities studying how to make it more efficient.

    Scientists have, since 1975, discovered how to shrink storage for 4,000 songs from a facility the size of a building costing a billion dollars and requiring a dedicated power plant into the iPod nano, a box smaller than a credit card costing $149 and with a tiny battery that will play 15 hours on a single charge. If science can make these strides with a toy, how much can research do to solve the energy crisis threatening to impoverish most of the inhabitants of developed countries?

    We need to focus scientific research better solar collectors that will produce electricity closer to where we need it and better batteries to save it for when we need it most.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011: Rise in rooftop solar energy contributes to rise in renewable production.

    The Los Angeles Times (7/6) reports that according to the Federal Energy Information Administration, "renewable sources in the US are starting to produce enough energy to rival oil output." The agency reported, "Biomass and biofuels along with geothermal, solar, water and wind-power generation were responsible for nearly 12% of the country's energy production during the first quarter of the year." This figure is 77% of the amount of electricity generated from domestic crude oil. The rise in renewable production is partly attributed to a "boom in installations for rooftop solar energy systems in California." "Homes, businesses, nonprofits and government agencies in the state put in a record 194 megawatts of new solar capacity last year," the Los Angeles times reports.

    Rooftop solar not only produces “green” power, but it produces electricity where it is needed. This reduces transmission losses and other problems.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011: Battery that extracts energy from water salinity difference

    Power (06/11) Patel, Sonal, reports that Stanford University researchers have developed a rechargeable battery that employs the difference in salinity between freshwater and saltwater to generate a current. The technology could make it possible to harness power from anywhere freshwater enters the sea. The battery essentially uses two electrodes—one positive, one negative—immersed in a liquid containing electrically charged particles or ions. In water, the ions are sodium and chlorine, the components of ordinary table salt. The positive electrode is made from nanorods of manganese dioxide, which increases the surface area available for interaction with the sodium ions by roughly 100 times compared with other materials. Because the silver used for the experiments is too expensive to be practical, researchers are continuing to search for a better material for the negative electrode. The battery is initially filled with freshwater and a small electric current is applied to charge it up. The freshwater is then drained and replaced with seawater, which contains 60 to 100 times more ions than freshwater, thus increasing the voltage between the two electrodes. "The voltage really depends on the concentration of the sodium and chlorine ions you have,” says Yi Cui, associate professor of materials science and engineering, who led the Stanford research team. "If you charge at low voltage in freshwater, then discharge at high voltage in sea water, that means you gain energy. You get more energy than you put in." Once the discharge is complete, the seawater is drained and replaced with freshwater and the cycle can begin again. Cui's team achieved 74 percent efficiency in converting the potential energy in the battery to electrical current, and Cui believes the battery could eventually become 85 percent efficient.

    Tuersay, July 5, 2011: Peak shaving and energy storage can overcome many of the intermittency and power quality problems that plague alternative energy resources like wind and solar.

    Distributed Energy, July/August 2011, page 32 reports that the outlook for the US electricity system is bleak as rising demand continues to strain resources. New conventional power plant construction is a tough sell, with coal a less than desirable fuel source and nuclear energy now suffering under the long shadow cast by Japan's recent earthquake and tsunami. There is significant growth of photovoltaic (PV) and wind turbine projects, but it's not enough to close the gap, and renewables create problems of intermittency and power quality issues.

    There are two solutions bridging the gap—peak shaving (the use of onsite energy or demand reduction to reduce electricity consumption during peak demand periods) and electrical energy storage (EES). EES is a method that can actually overlap with peak shaving, along with many other purposes, such as backup emergency powe,r load leveling, and power quality or "smoothing" activities. With so many applications, it’s not surprising to find that EES is a promising market that's set to explode in the edging years, according to market research from NanoMarkets, Glenn Allen, VA.

    In "Batteries and Ultra-Capacitors for the Smart Power Grid: Market Opportunities 2009-2016," NanoMarkets predicts that the global market for storage batteries and ultra capacitors on the smart grid will rise from its current level of $326 million to $8.3 billion by 2016. One of the key factors driving the phenomenal growth is the need to protect commercial and industrial users from costly power interruptions. Worldwide, NanoMarkets estimates that these interruptions cause equipment damages, plus production and commerce fosses that amount to $75 to $200 billion per year. With so many billions at stake, numerous technologies are competing for a slice of the business.

    In the case of Xtreme Power, Kyle, TX, the competition recently paid off with a 5-MW storage system on First Wind's 30-MW Kahuku Wind in Hawaii, on the north shore of the island of Oahu. Xtreme makes a battery storage system called the Dynamic Power Resource, and it digitally smoothes the wind farm's output to ±1 MW per minute by rapidly absorbing or releasing power as needed to protect Hawaiian Electric Company’s customers from disturbances due to disturbances in the winds at the Kahuka Wind Farm.

    Monday, July 4, 2011, Independence Day: EIA reports that renewable energy has passed a milestone as domestic production is now greater than that of nuclear power and is closing in on oil.

    Washington DC – The latest issue of the Monthly Energy Review by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), reports that during the first quarter of 2011, renewable energy sources (biomass/biofuels, geothermal, solar, water, wind) provided 2.245 quadrillion Btus of energy or 11.73% of U.S. energy production. More significantly, energy production from renewable energy sources in 2011 was 5.65% more than that from nuclear power, which provided 2.125 quadrillion Btus and has remained largely unchanged in recent years. Energy from renewable sources is now 77.15% of that from domestic crude oil production, with the gap closing rapidly.

    Looking at all energy sectors (e.g., electricity, transportation, thermal), production of renewable energy, including hydropower, has increased by 15.07% compared to the first quarter of 2010, and by 25.07% when compared to the first quarter of 2009. Among the renewable energy sources, biomass/biofuels accounted for 48.06%, hydropower for 35.41%, wind for 12.87%, geothermal for 2.45%, and solar for 1.16%.

    Looking at just the electricity sector, according to the latest issue of EIA’s "Electric Power Monthly," for the first quarter of 2011, renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) accounted for 12.94% of net U.S. electrical generation - up from 10.31% during the same period in 2010. Non-hydro renewables accounted for 4.74% of net U.S. electrical generation.

    In terms of actual production, renewable electrical output increased by 25.82% in the first three months of 2011 compared to the first quarter of 2010. Solar-generated electricity increased by 104.8%, wind-generated electricity rose by 40.3%, hydropower output expanded by 28.7%, and geothermal electrical generation rose by 5.8%. Only electricity from biomass sources dropped - by 4.8%. By comparison, natural gas electrical output rose by 1.8% and nuclear-generated electricity increased by only 0.4% while coal-generated electricity dropped by 5.7%.

    “Notwithstanding the recent nuclear accident in Japan, among many others, and the rapid growth in energy and electricity from renewable sources, congressional Republicans continue to press for more nuclear energy funding while seeking deep cuts in renewable energy investments,” said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “One has to wonder ‘what are these people thinking?’”

    Sunday, July 3, 2011: Alabama legislators propose The Alabama Sun Shot Initiative.

    The website reports that five Alabama representatives have proposed HR745 dated 25 May 2011 advocating “That the Legislature is committed to establishing the Alabama Sun Shot Initiative for which Alabama will seek to obtain one percent of the state's energy consumption from renewable solar energy in the form of solar parking canopies located in parking lots across Alabama.” The name “Sun Shot” is an adaptation of the 1960’s "Moon Shot" program which led to the “landing on the moon with more residents than any other state responsible for accomplishing one of history's greatest feats.”

    We applaud this initiative as a small step in the right direction, but we need to take it much further. We need to build grid-tied photovoltaic systems atop the millions of empty rooftops in Alabama. If two-thirds of the rooftops in New York City, nestled among the man-made canyons there, are suitable for solar (Breaking News, June 17th below), then certainly Alabama roofs are much better suited. Both carport shelters with PV roofs to recharge Electric Vehicles and PV on business and home roofs will generate power very close to where it is needed. This could significantly reduce distribution losses and costs.

    Saturday, July 2, 2011: Better buildings partners announced by Chu at Clinton Global Initiative Conference.

    The Chicago Tribune (7/1, Pearson) reports that also on Thursday, Secretary Chu "used the Clinton Global Initiative conference in Chicago to announce...that 14 businesses, developers, financial organizations and local governments had agreed to take part in the Obama administration's Better Buildings Initiative, seeking private-sector investment in commercial building energy and water efficiency upgrades." Chu said that buildings represent 40 percent of the country's energy usage, and reductions in that use could cut energy bills by about $40 billion a year. "So this is not chump change," Chu said. The program, which was launched in February, will be led by former President Bill Clinton along with the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, with the goal of improving commercial buildings efficiency by 20 percent over the next decade. Citing estimates that the program could create 114,000 jobs, Chu added, "The goal is simple -- to create jobs in these retrofits and reduce energy waste."

    Sounds like a plan to me; go “green,” save money and pollution, and put people back to work.

    Friday, July 1, 2011: Homebuilders expo matches contractors with tornado victims.

    The Birmingham News (6/29, Spencer) reported the Greater Birmingham Association of Homebuilders Expo helped match "builders and vendors, who've been struggling through a dismal home construction market, to connect with potential customers" looking to rebuild after the massive April 27 tornado. The paper said that at the expo, "Alabama Power and Alagasco distributed information on a rebate program that encourage homeowners to install energy-efficient appliances."

    As bad as the tornados were, they did provide many of us an opportunity to rebuild smart and green. Federal tax incentives could have helped home and business owners save on rebuilding costs while reducing energy demand and pollution in Alabama.

    Thursday, June 30, 2011: Google says energy innovation would dramatically boost economy, cut pollution.

    The Hill (6/29, Restuccia) "E2 Wire" blog reports that Google said in a wide-ranging report it released Tuesday that "dramatic energy technology innovation combined with a series of federal incentives and mandates could boost the economy by $244 billion and create almost 2 million new jobs by 2030." The Internet giant's report "models a number of scenarios based on what the company acknowledges are "optimistic" projections of potential technological breakthroughs in the electric generation and transportation sectors, among others. It also models the potential effects of a series of federal policies, including a clean energy standard that would mandate a certain percentage of the country's electricity come from low-carbon sources, increased energy efficiency and higher fuel economy standards."

    Reuters (6/29, Rascoe) adds that the report also found that energy technology innovation would reduce US household energy costs by $942 a year, cut oil consumption by more than 1.1 billion barrels a year, and lower greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent by 2030.

    I trust Google as my primary search engine, because they seem to know more about more things than do any of their counterparts. If they say, “energy innovation would dramatically boost economy, cut pollution,” I tend to believe them. After all, what we are doing now is not working.

    Wednesday, June 29, 2011: Inkjet printing could change the face of solar energy industry.

    ScienceDaily (June 28, 2011) — Inkjet printers, a low-cost technology that in recent decades has revolutionized home and small office printing, may soon offer similar benefits for the future of solar energy. Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way for the first time to create successful CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) solar devices with inkjet printing, in work that reduces raw material waste by 90 percent and will significantly lower the cost of producing solar energy cells with some very promising compounds. High performing, rapidly produced, ultra-low cost, thin film solar electronics should be possible, scientists said.

    The findings have been published in Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, a professional journal, and a patent applied for on the discovery. Further research is needed to increase the efficiency of the cell, but the work could lead to a whole new generation of solar energy technology, researchers say.

    "This is very promising and could be an important new technology to add to the solar energy field," said Chih-hung Chang, an OSU professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. "Until now no one had been able to create working CIGS solar devices with inkjet technology."

    Part of the advantage of this approach, Chang said, is a dramatic reduction in wasted material. Instead of depositing chemical compounds on a substrate with a more expensive vapor phase deposition -- wasting most of the material in the process -- inkjet technology could be used to create precise patterning with very low waste.

    "Some of the materials we want to work with for the most advanced solar cells, such as indium, are relatively expensive," Chang said. "If that's what you're using you can't really afford to waste it, and the inkjet approach almost eliminates the waste."

    new material may be One of the most promising compounds and the focus of the current study is called chalcopyrite or "CIGS." The material has extraordinary solar efficiency -- a layer of chalcopyrite one or two microns thick has the ability to capture the energy from photons about as efficiently as a 50-micron-thick layer made with silicon.

    In the new findings, researchers were able to create an ink that could print chalcopyrite onto substrates with an inkjet approach, with a power conversion efficiency of about 5 percent. The OSU researchers say that with continued research they should be able to achieve an efficiency of about 12 percent, which would make a commercially viable solar cell.

    In related work, being done in collaboration with Greg Herman, an OSU associate professor of chemical engineering, the engineers are studying other compounds that might also be used with inkjet technology, and cost even less.

    CGIS and other thin-film technologies are not as efficient in terms of watts per square foot, so they may not be ideal for projects with severely limited space for PV panels. If you are looking for the most cost-effective way to convert sunshine into electricity, and if you have plenty of available space, this new material may be just the ticket.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011: EPA testing shows contamination in 3 Pennsylvania water wells near the April fracking accident.

    The AP (6/24) reports, "Testing conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed contamination in three private water wells located near" the site of Chesapeake Energy "drilling site" that suffered a blowout in April. The blowout spewed "spilled thousands of gallons of salty, chemical-laced flowback water into fields and a stream." Chesapeake spokesman Brian Grove said, "While EPA's latest results make a strong case for developing standards to govern water well construction, which currently is unregulated, they do not support any link between water quality and our natural gas operations." Ira Haire, a landowner near the site of the April accident, commended Chesapeake for their attentiveness to the spill and lauded the company for their efforts to provide safe drinking water.

    Current natural gas production depends heavily on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to be economically feasible. While natural gas is certainly cleaner than coal, the practice of fracking needs a lot more study. Rooftop solar avoids these concerns and is available now. Let’s go with a sure bet that gives free energy for life.

    Monday, June 27, 2011: GE, partners to invest $63 million in home efficiency firms.

    The AP (6/24) reports "General Electric Co. and its venture-capital partners say they will invest $63 million in 10 companies that provide technology such as energy-efficiency to the home." The funding will be provided for solar, communications and building efficiency, among others.

    Bloomberg News (6/23 Martin) said "GE is spending about $10 billion by 2015 developing environmentally friendly products across its businesses through Chairman Jeffrey Immelt's 'ecomagination' program."

    The Raleigh News & Observer (6/23, Murawski) reported "a Triangle-bred Smart Grid concept nabbed a $100,000 award from General Electric this morning, proving again that the Smart Grid craze isn't about to fade any time soon." The paper said Durham-based PlotWatt boasts of a "web-based portal called Energy Dashboard" that "reputedly can save households 20 percent on their electricity bill." Notably, PlotWatt's business model involves providing the product free of cost to homeowners.

    Sunday, June 26, 2011: Recycle those keystrokes and generate electricity

    Green Your Network Blog wants to capture the energy you use when pounding the keyboard to recharge your notebook’s batteries. Feasible? How much energy does one keystroke produce?

    Remember that solar cells individually produce a very tiny amount of electricity, but added together, they can produce enough to power a city. For that matter, imagine the nutritional value of one grain of rice. It’s not much, but put enough of them together and you can survive indefinitely on nothing but rice and water.

    So have you ever sat at your computer, listening to the little fan burn off irreplaceable fossil fuels at a slow but steady rate, and wondered- isn’t there some way that I can make a difference and return energy to the grid just by sitting here doing what I was going to do anyway? If you are anything like millions of other people in cyberspace the answer is probably no, but you’ve often wondered how you can make tens of thousands of dollars surfing the web from the comfort of your own home. The Green Your Network Blog is concerned with making a difference in Corporate America to impact positively on the environment. Check out this innovation.

    The Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering ( published a paper with the following evocative title: A micromachined energy harvester from a keyboard using combined electromagnetic and piezoelectric conversion. Fascinating and, despite what a quick first reading might suggest, wholly unrelated to small toy cars. Rather, two researchers from the University of Missouri- Columbia have developed a working prototype for a computer keyboard that generates energy from keystrokes. The combination of electromagnetic and piezoelectric conversion means, in simple English, that both velocity and frequency of keystrokes can be used to generate electricity and the working prototype suggests that it ought to be possible to recharge laptop batteries while typing, simply by typing.

    Remember that if the iPod Nano were built using 1975 technology, it would be bigger than a building, cost a billion dollars, and require a dedicated hydro-plant to power it. If science can use technology to make a toy feasible and inexpensive, how much can it do to solve our energy crisis?

    Saturday, June 25, 2011: MLGW and library help residents save money, conserve energy with two new programs.

    The Memphis Commercial Appeal (6/24, Johnson) reports, "Memphis Light Gas & Water Division, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Memphis Public Library have teamed up to offer two new programs to help Shelby County residents reduce energy consumption: Get EnergySmart at Your Library, and Kill-A-Watt Checkout." According to the report, "Get EnergySmart at Your Library is a two-hour workshop that imparts practical tips and offers hands-on instruction." The second program, Kill-A-Watt Checkout, will help ratepayers identify the costs of running their home appliances.

    Carpool to "The Land of Elvis," anyone?

    Friday, June 24, 2011: New study finds link between mountaintop mining, birth defects.

    Greenwire (6/23, Quinones) reports that a new study published in the online journal Environmental Research has found a correlation between birth defects in Central Appalachia and mountaintop removal mining. According to the report, "Researchers Melissa Ahern, an associate professor at Washington State University's College of Pharmacotherapy, and Michael Hendryx, an associate professor at West Virginia University's Department of Community Medicine, found higher rates of birth defects in mountaintop mining areas compared to other coal mining areas and non-mining areas." In a statement, Ahern commented, "The study shows that places where the environment, the earth, air and water, has undergone the greatest disturbance from mining are also the places where birth defect rates are the highest."

    Alabama residents get most of our power from coal, but we can reduce the amount of electricity we use several ways.

    1. Conserve! Whether you get electricity from the power grid, from solar panels, or from a combination, the first step in reducing dependence on coal is simply to use less. Studies show we can save 10 to 25 percent without making any lifestyle changes. With a few simple lifestyle changes, we can save up to 50 percent. We just need to eliminate the waste. CFLs can cut lighting costs by 75 percent; LED lamps can reduce the costs by 90 percent. In Alabama, more significantly, we can save corresponding amounts of heat emitted by the lighting. Alabama residents use more air conditioning than we do heating.

    2. Buy “Green” power. TVA and Alabama Power both offer customers the choice of paying a small premium to guy power generated from renewable sources. The proceeds pay for renewable energy research and development. Learn more at TVA’s Green Power Switch website .

    3. Install rooftop solar. TVA makes this very easy in North Alabama with their Generations Partners program. TVA will purchase 100% of the output from a qualifying PV system at a premium of $0.12 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) on top of the retail electricity rate. TVA will retain all rights to any renewable energy credits (including tradable renewable credits or green tags) or other associated benefits of energy generated from the renewable nature of the qualifying system. Payment is made in the form of a credit issued by the local power company on the monthly power bill for the home or business where the generation system is located. If a qualifying system produces more electricity than the customer consumes, payment for any excess credits will be issued either monthly or annually, at the discretion of the power company. All new participants in the Generation Partners program will receive a $1,000 incentive to offset the upfront cost of the qualifying system.
    Coal seems to be cheap, until you consider all the Government subsidies, health costs (I am an asthma sufferer), and other hidden costs. Be part of the solution to our dependency on this and other dirty energy sources. Choose “Green” power, or at least use less electricity.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011: FERC grants BPA extra time to respond to wind power companies' complaint.

    Platts (6/22, Costa) reports that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted a request from the Bonneville Power Administration to extend the comment period on a complaint filed by several Northwest wind generators, including Iberdrola Renewables, PacifiCorp, NextEra Energy Resources, Invenergy Wind North America and Horizon Wind Energy, giving BPA two additional weeks to respond. In its request, BPA "said that the large number of legal and factual issues raised in the complaint merited a longer response period." The companies allege that "BPA is discriminating against certain generators in violation of the Federal Power Act--including Section 211A--with its environmental redispatch curtailment practice." Platts explains that "since May 18, BPA has invoked environmental redispatch to manage an oversupply of power, curtailing thermal and wind generation and replacing it with excess federal hydropower."

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011: NC State researchers garner praise for "Smart" Transformer.

    McClatchy (6/21, Murawski) reports that a digital transformer "was named this year by experts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as one of the 10 most important technology innovations of 2010." The "smart transformer," designed by the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Center at NC State University, "is one of several dozen" that the center is currently working on. McClatchy notes, "The digital transformer will form the electronic guts of the vaunted Smart Grid, the automated power network that is expected to replace nation's aging mechanical power grid in the coming decade."

    North Carolina seems to be always at the forefront of energy technology. It’s time Alabama grabbed a share of the lead. We have plenty of rocket scientists smart enough to do it.

    Summer Solstice, Tuesday, June 21, 2011: Texas utility seeks to turn San Antonio into clean energy center.

    The San Antonio Express-News (6/20, Hamilton) reports that "CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby is expected to announce Monday the relocation of several clean-energy-related companies to San Antonio, bringing hundreds of good-paying jobs and establishing a firm toehold in the 'new energy economy' that Mayor Julián Castro has been pushing since he was first elected. Beneby said that together, the companies could bring as many as 800 to 1,000 jobs to the Alamo City by 2015, in areas as diverse as LED lighting, electric vehicles, solar-panel assembly or manufacturing, cleaner-coal technology and home-area networks, which work with smart meters to reduce consumer and utility electricity demand."

    This is good news for Texas, but Alabama could also lead the nation out of the current energy crisis in style. We had the very first school of aviation, we developed the rockets that let us escape from our home planet, and we have the technical know-how to lead us again. The only difference is this time; we are fighting not for national pride but for survival.

    See more about the vast knowledge of North Alabama a the Huntsville Association of Technical Societies on the (HATS) website.

    Monday, June 20, 2011: LED prices expected to "plummet" in coming years.

    Bloomberg News (6/16, Herndon) reports, "VantagePoint Capital Partners, the Silicon Valley investor that helped bring Tesla Motors Inc. public, expects prices for LEDs to 'plummet' within three years as competition intensifies to satisfy surging demand for energy-efficient lights." CEO Alan Salzman predicts that "prices for LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, may fall 90 percent by 2015." He added that he expects the transition from traditional incandescent and fluorescent lighting to LEDs will "be one of the fastest clean-tech sectors to flip."

    Going “Green" is gon’a get easier. LEDs use only about one-tenth of the energy used by incandescent bulbs and one-fourth of the energy used by the unpopular CFLs. Just as important in Alabama, they put out correspondingly less heat.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011: Some Louisiana water systems literally running out of water.

    The Shreveport (LA) Times (6/15, Welborn) reports, "Below average spring rainfall, triple-digit temperatures, and a desire to keep lawns and gardens lush and green proved to be too much for the Keatchie Water System this week as water customers have been left without service for hours at a time to allow the storage tanks to refill." System manager Dennis Dougherty said the system "just can't keep up." The article explains "the Keatchie Water System, which has about 1,300 customers in west DeSoto Parish and across the state line into extreme east Texas, actually ran out of water and was unable to service customers in Longstreet and Smyrna on Sunday."

    With flooding in the Midwest and droughts across the South and West, we really need to move to renewable energy sources to reduce demands on our water supply as well as for economic and other environmental reasons.

    Saturday, June 18, 2011: Solar PV could cost less than fossil fuels in 10 years

    environmental Leader: Environmental & Energy Management News says the world’s leading technology advancement association believes that the cost of solar photovoltaic systems could become cheaper than even fossil fuels over within the next ten years. IEEE, ( also said that to achieve this cost parity, the solar industry must continue to improve the efficiency of photovoltaic cell technologies and create economies of scale. “Solar PV will be a game changer,” said executive director James Prendergast. “No other alternative source has the same potential. As the cost of electricity from solar continues to decrease compared to traditional energy sources we will see tremendous market adoption, and I suspect it will be a growth limited only by supply,” Prendergast added.

    But Jie Shu, director of the Solar Energy Application Laboratory at the Guangzhou Institute of Energy Conversion (GIEC), Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, “For solar PV to truly compete on its own with traditional power generation, the cost and efficiency of transforming sunlight into electricity must continue to improve.”

    The IEEE says that that in the past few years, there have been significant advancements in solar PV technology and in the availability of materials needed for solar PV development. Silicon is now more readily available than it was five years ago, the IEEE says, and thin-film materials are helping to improve solar cell efficiency.

    Friday, June 17, 2011; Map shows NYC's potential for solar energy; compare to Alabama.

    The New York Times (6/16, A31, Navarro, Subscription Publication) reports, "Two-thirds of New York City's rooftops are suitable for solar panels and could jointly generate enough energy to meet half the city's demand for electricity at peak periods, according to a new, highly detailed interactive map to be made public on Thursday." The map was developed by the City University of New York in partnership with the city and the Department of Energy, and funded with $210,000 from the DOE's Solar America Cities program. "City officials said the information should advance efforts to increase the city's reliance on solar power as part of its energy mix, reducing the metropolis's greenhouse gas emissions." It was produced as "a series of flights over the city by an airplane equipped with a laser system known as Lidar, for light detection and ranging," which provided detailed information about the size and slope of the city's rooftops, as well as surrounding shade.

    In a May 18, 2009, letter to other Congress members, every Alabama Congressman furthered the belief that Alabama has insufficient sunshine for solar power. The letter claims “While other states have the ability to make electricity from . . . solar power, Alabama lacks the natural resources to meet these mandates due to cloud coverage . . . .”

    If two-thirds of the rooftops among the New York City’s skyscrapers are suitable for solar, and even North Alabama has significantly better solar potential than has NYC, there is obviously more than enough sunshine in Alabama for practical application of solar power. The false information our congressmen put out apparently came from the industries such as coal and oil spend to keep us using their products.

    We need ASA members to pay our modest $10 per year dues to allow us to counter the false claims other industries are making through their multi-million dollar lobbying efforts each year. We need you! Click here to see how you can help us to spread the truth.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011: Google makes $280 million investment in fund for rooftop solar panels.

    The Los Angeles Times (6/15, Hsu) reports, "In a move that could boost solar energy use in homes, Google Inc. is creating a $280-million fund to help finance rooftop installations." Google "said the deal with SolarCity, a solar panel installation company based in San Mateo, Calif., is the largest green investment it has ever made." The deal stipulates that SolarCity will use the fund created by Google to cover the installation and maintenance of rooftop panels.

    The AP (6/15) adds that Google's "money will allow installer SolarCity to offer solar systems to homeowners for no money up front. In exchange, customers agree to pay a set price for the power produced by the panels. Google earns a return on its investment by charging SolarCity interest to use its money and reaping the benefits of federal and local renewable energy tax credits."

    The Wall Street Journal (6/15, Chernova, Subscription Publication) reports that the deal is a manifestation of Google's desire for strong financial returns on low-risk projects. To date, Google has invested $680 million in renewable energy projects. According to Google's director of green business operations, Rick Needham, the company sees renewables as an investment, and not a burden. Furthermore, Needham says that investing in clean energy makes sense, since the prices of fossil fuels are constantly changing. DOE Offers Nearly $2 Billion In Loan Guarantees For Two Solar Projects.

    Dow Jones Newswires (6/15, Sweet) reports that the Department of Energy announced Tuesday that it has offered almost $2 billion in conditional loan guarantees for solar power projects being developed in California by NextEra Energy Inc. and Abengoa S.A. Abengoa was offered a $1.2 billion loan guarantee to help build its 250-megawatt Mojave solar-thermal power project in San Bernardino County that is expected to be finished and generating electricity by December 2013. The agency also offered NextEra a $681.6 million loan guarantee to build the 250-megawatt Genesis solar-thermal power project on federal land in Riverside, which is expected to be operational by November 2013. Both companies have signed power purchase agreements with PG&E Corp.'s utility.

    Platts (6/15, Hansen) adds that "Abengoa's project will be the first US-based, utility-scale deployment of the company's latest 'Solar Collector Assembly,' which DOE said is a significant improvement over the prior generation of parabolic trough technology installed in the US in the 1980s and 1990s. ... NextEra's project will feature proven and scalable parabolic trough solar thermal technology that has been used commercially for more than two decades."

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011: Water woes are threatening our lifestyle.

    We can live weeks without food but only days without water. Earth is known as “The Blue Planet” because of our abundance of water visible from outer space, but drinkable water is yet another matter. We’re running out, but solar can help.

    US utility industry executives worried about water.

    Forbes (6/13, Woody) reports, "Water has emerged as the top concern of United States' utility industry executives, according to a survey released Monday by Black & Veatch, the engineering and consulting giant." Mark Gabriel, a senior vice president for Black & Veatch's management consulting business, said, "Just about every form of electricity generation relies on water for cooling (and even solar panels need to be washed). Recent droughts and concerns over water pollution and treatment as a result of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tap natural gas from shale has only intensified worries over water." The executives also expressed their concern about nuclear fuel and disposal issues, as well as "proposed government regulations that would require utilities to reduce the number of fish killed when power plants suck in water from rivers and other sources to provide cooling."

    While solar panels do need occasional washing, this is usually accomplished with natural rainfalls. Nuclear power, on the other hand, needs very pure water not only for cooling the very high temperatures of the reactor core but also for storage of fuel rods. Converting coal-fired plants to nuclear would produce cleaner air—barring a nuclear disaster, but it would also significantly increase water requirements while increasing the problem of long-term storage of spent nuclear waste. Converting nuclear and fossil fuel plants to distributed solar production would significantly reduce water requirements for power generation.

    The survey also found that natural gas is the number 1. “environmentally-friendly technology the industry should emphasize,” with solar falling to third place behind nuclear and wind taking fifth place after hydroelectric. Obviously, utility companies either do not understand solar power, or they are strongly influenced by the billions of dollars industries spend promoting their own personal interests. Solar advocates need to spend more time and money educating the public as to the long-term value sustainability. Once the public clearly understands, they will convince utilities to change priorities.

    GAO report examines municipal water industry's energy efficiency.

    Water World (6/10) reports a GAO report found that "technologies and systems exist to help improve the energy efficiency of the Municipal drinking water & wastewater industry, but costs and competing priorities have slowed their implementation." The agency "found a variety of approaches can improve the energy efficiency of drinking water and wastewater processes, but determining the most appropriate solution depends on the circumstances of a particular system and requires an understanding of the system's current energy use." Approaches to reduce the energy demands for water include "process optimization, equipment and infrastructure upgrades, water conservation, and improved energy management." The report cited "key barriers to adopting the available technologies and approaches that could reduce the energy demands of the urban water lifecycle," including "(1) costs associated with these technologies, (2) inaccurate water pricing, (3) barriers associated with how water utilities operate, (4) competing priorities at drinking water and wastewater facilities, and (5) the lack of public awareness about the energy demands of the urban water lifecycle."

    Under the headline "Natural Gas Gives Edge To US Manufacturers," the Financial Times (6/9, Crooks, Subscription Publication) notes a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which found that the US could significantly and cheaply cut its pollution emissions by increasing the number of natural gas power plants in operation. The report, "The Future of Natural Gas," notes that hydraulic fracturing is a somewhat contentious issue, and that there are some legitimate concerns surrounding it. MIT Professor Ernest Moniz called those issues "challenging but manageable" in the report. The coal industry, meanwhile, warns that natural gas is unproven on such a scale.

    Fracking is more than “somewhat contentious” it needs a lot more study on impacts to groundwater and seismic potential before it is implemented any further. The last thing we need is induced earthquakes in addition the ones Mother Nature throws at us.

    Coal certainly is plentiful, but how much more harm can we accept in potential environmental damage and proven health risks.

    Limestone County bans all outdoor water use as North Alabama cotton farmers face another ruinous year.

    Watering lawns, washing cars, and filling swimming or wading pools are banned by the Limestone County Commission as the hottest and driest June in years hits the Tennessee Valley. Cotton farmers planted all available land in the crop as global demand pushed prices to a record high. The weather, however, points to a a fourth year of losses.

    We need more solar now.

    We need to use conservation and efficiency to reduce demand, rooftop-solar to replace water-hungry natural gas and nuclear power. We need solar techniques to produce more potable water. We need to conserve our clean water for drinking, not for cooling power plants.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011: Heat wave causes Alabama County to urge water conservation.

    The New York Times (06/09/11) Rosenthal, Elisabeth

    Congress is deeply divided over whether climate change is real or if the country should use less fossil fuel, resulting in U.S. efforts that pale in comparison to other countries. A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that while the clean technology sector was booming in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, its competitive position was "at risk" in the United States because of "uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives." “This is a $5 trillion business and if we fail to be serious players in the new energy economy, the costs will be staggering to this country,” says Hal Harvey, a Stanford engineer who was an adviser to both the Clinton and the first Bush administration. Although the 2009 stimulus bill provided a burst of funding — $45 billion — that has now tapered off, he says, "We've let energy policy succumb to partisan politics."

    President Obama has vowed a switch to cleaner energy, and some states, like California, have taken aggressive measures. But the current patchwork of government inducements remains generally insufficient as a draw for American companies and investors to jump into new fields like wind power or energy efficient appliances, because upfront costs are large and profits uncertain. Dr. Arun Majumdar, senior adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, says that the department's $5 billion budget for research should be tripled as it currently financed less than 5 percent of proposed projects. He asserts the country needs better low-cost financing methods to bring companies into the market, as well as stricter energy efficiency standards to stimulate customer demand. "We want this ecosystem to grow and thrive like I.T. and biotechnology," he says, adding he is "concerned" it will not. While he agrees the United States remains a hotbed of good ideas, he says, "in actual downstream deployment we are at risk of falling behind — we are falling behind already."

    Even if we can’t agree on the causes and effects of climate change, we can agree on the financial and security of using more renewable energy. Renewables have a known lifetime cost; fossil fuel prices are likely to increase more sharply in coming years. once renewable energy collection infrastructure is paid for, the energy itself is free.

    Renewable energy sources make us less vulnerable on foreign suppliers. In 1973, we imported 28 percent of our oil. Today, we import 57 percent. By 2030, let’s try to import none.

    Monday, June 13, 2011: Heat wave causes Alabama County to urge water conservation.

    WHNT-TV (6/13) Despite record flooding elsewhere and heavy rains earlier this spring, the current heat wave is causing water shortages in North Alabama. Officials with the East Lauderdale County Water Department are urging customers to please curb their use of water. Manager Ronnie Woodard says the continued dry conditions are putting a serious strain on this local water system. He is urging people to please refrain from outdoor watering, such as lawns, flowers and car washing.

    With much of the West in drought, we need to look even more closely at how hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will affect our water supplies. Do we need oil and natural gas more than we need clean water?

    Sunday, June 12, 2011: World's largest solar-powered yacht reaches milestone in record voyage.

    CNN -- By George Webster for CNN. After almost 250 days at sea, the world's largest solar-boat has made it half way around the globe to the shores of Brisbane, Australia, propelled by nothing but rays from the sun. The 31-meter (102 foot) "Turanor", which more closely resembles the "Starship Enterprise" than a practical yacht, set sail from Monaco back in September 2010 on its voyage to become the first fully solar-powered vessel to circumnavigate the world.

    "So far everything has gone according to plan," said the Swiss-born skipper and former mountain guide Raphael Domjan. "By making it this far we've already demonstrated the huge potential for high-performance solar mobility -- and we also hope we've inspired others to have more faith in renewables."

    The 60-ton vessel -- which is dotted with over 536 square meters (5,800 sf) of photovoltaic panels -- can sail for up to five nights without direct sunlight, supported by reserves stored in the world's largest rechargeable lithium battery.

    "Before we set out, this was one of my greatest fears -- that we would be without sunlight for so long we'd run out of battery and end up stranded in the middle of the ocean," recalled Domjan, who is joined on board by Gerard d'Aboville -- the first man to row across the Atlantic and the Pacific -- as well as two additional engineers. However, the skipper is proud to reveal that the battery has never dipped below 20%. "We are very happy with the performance of the boat," he said. "Although it is going a little bit slower then expected in good conditions, it is much better with difficult weather."

    Saturday, June 11, 2011: Access to water becoming a limiting factor to growth, development.

    In the "Green, Like Money" blog of Forbes (6/10) Erica Gies writes, "Access to water is becoming a limiting factor to growth and development with significant economic implications." The GAO says that "at least 36 states expect water shortages by 2013" because of "population growth, particularly in places with limited water, and climate change, which is making water supplies unpredictable and water management difficult." As a result, "municipal bonds backed by water utilities may be in trouble due to growing water scarcity." While seeking more water sources is natural, conservation, especially stopping water leaks could offer better value.

    Atlanta, Georgia, is consuming water so fast that droughts drained the city’s water supply lakes to less than 25 percent capacity. Alatoona Reservoir, a lake feeding the Atlanta water system, was full this spring for the first time in ten years only because of the torrential rains this year. Georgia just lost one lawsuit against Alabama and Tennessee to take water from the Tennessee River and pipe it over 125 miles of mountainous terrain to feed Atlanta. Georgia promises to sue again.

    Water and energy availability may soon be major factors in our future. We beed to eliminate our wasteful habits now.

    Friday, June 10, 2011: Falling costs expected to make solar power cost-competitive.

    The Financial Times (6/9, Crooks, Subscription Publication) reports that solar power industry leaders believe that the US will be able to compete with other forms of power generation, such as coal and natural gas, without government incentives as solar power costs have fallen 60 percent in the last five years. Thomas Dinwoodie, founder of SunPower, the second-largest solar company in the US, said, "Solar is cheaper than new nuclear power. It is cost-competitive with gas and coal." Although tax credits that cover 30 percent of solar power projects are available, First Solar, the world's largest solar power company by market capitalization, believes it can meet its objective to sell power for 10-12 cents per kilowatt hour without those incentives.

    Study finds expanded natural gas power could benefit US industry.

    Under the headline "Natural Gas Gives Edge To US Manufacturers," the Financial Times (6/9, Crooks, Subscription Publication) notes a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which found that the US could significantly and cheaply cut its pollution emissions by increasing the number of natural gas power plants in operation. The report, "The Future of Natural Gas," notes that hydraulic fracturing is a somewhat contentious issue, and that there are some legitimate concerns s urrounding it. MIT Professor Ernest Moniz called those issues "challenging but manageable" in the report. The coal industry, meanwhile, warns that natural gas is unproven on such a scale.

    Fracking is more than “somewhat contentious” it needs a lot more study on impacts to groundwater and seismic potential before it is implemented further. The last thing we need is induced earthquakes in addition the ones Mother Nature throws at us.

    Coal certainly is plentiful, but how much more harm can we accept in potential environmental damage and proven health risks?

    Thursday, June 9, 2011: DoE awards companies $4.2 million to develop energy efficient lighting.

    In its "Green Space" blog, the Los Angeles Times (6/8, Carpenter) reports that "three California companies will receive $4.2 million from the US Department of Energy to fund the development of high-efficiency lighting. Soraa Inc. and Cree Inc., both in Goleta, along with Philips Lumileds Lighting Co. in San Jose, were awarded the money to accelerate the deployment of technologies such as light-emitting diodes, or LEDs." Energy Secretary Steven Chu said of the awards, "These investments in cutting-edge lighting technologies will support American innovation, create new manufacturing jobs for US workers and help ensure that the United States leads the world in this rapidly evolving industry," adding, "These next-generation lighting technologies have the potential to transform the way we light our homes and businesses and generate enormous energy and cost savings for families and businesses across the country." The blog points out that the grants come ahead of a federally-mandated phase-out of incandescent light bulbs.

    Reducing demand through more efficient lighting and appliances as well as better insulation is the best way to begin a solar project. Reducing demand reduces the size of the photovoltaic (PV) system you need to replace grid power. This is especially true of off-grid power.

    In fact, energy efficiency is the most readily available form of renewable energy available today. Go turn your thermostat two degrees warmer, and you will immediately begin to save five percent on your air conditioning bill. Change incandescent light bulbs to LEDs and reduce your cooling costs even more. LEDs not only use 90 percent less electricity than do the older bulbs, but they put out 90 percent less heat.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011: Connecticut senate passes energy policy overhaul.

    The AP (6/7, Singer) reports the Connecticut state Senate "unanimously approved sweeping legislation Monday that overhauls Connecticut's energy policy in response to consumer and business complaints about the high cost of electricity." The measure "broadens the state's role in buying power" and "establishes an agency to finance zero-emission projects such as solar and wind." The state wants to work with electric companies to manage power purchase contracts to lower electricity costs. "Consumers and businesses have complained for years about the high cost of energy in Connecticut, saying deregulation in 1998 was a failure." Governor Dannel Malloy is expected to sign the bill if it passes the House.

    One New Englander attending my class in March said he was paying $0.36/kilowatt-hour for electricity. That’s about three times what Alabama Power customers pay and over five times what I pay to TVA.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011: House appropriations panel slashes clean energy spending.

    The Hill (6/3, Wasson) "E2 Wire" blog reports, "House Republican appropriators have rejected President Obama's call to have a 'Sputnik moment' by ramping up spending on clean energy." On Thursday, the Appropriations Energy and Water panel approved a bill that cuts renewable energy funding by 27 percent, or $491 million, to $1.3 billion, which is $1.9 billion below what Obama sought in his budget. "Environmentalists and unions were angered by the move, which they said will negatively affect the ability of renewable forms of energy to become competitive in the market." The BlueGreen Alliance, which brings together unions and environmentalists, "recently estimated that the funding in the stimulus bill for clean energy saved or created 1 million jobs," and it is believed that the spending cuts could result in a similar amount of job losses.

    Saturday, June 4, 2011: Solar incentives work in Texas, but not extended throughout state.

    The New York Times (6/3, Galbraith, A17A, Subscription Publication) discusses the success of solar power incentives in some parts of Texas, while pointing out that such benefits do not exist in most of the state. "Environmentalists had hoped that Texas lawmakers would pass a bill this session to establish a statewide rebate for solar projects, financed by extra charges on electric bills. But it died without getting out of a House committee." The state has become known as the national leader in wind power, and solar industries have been eyeing the state and its potential. "But solar technology remains expensive: notwithstanding its environmental benefits, it can be twice as costly as coal or gas power on a nationwide basis before incentives." And consistently low natural gas prices have also made it harder for solar energy to compete.

    Friday, June 3, 2011: DoE: $27 million to cut solar project costs, permitting hoops

    environmental LEADER (6/2) As part of the SunShot Initiative, the U.S. Department of Energy is making more than $27 million in new funding available to reduce the non-hardware costs of solar energy projects. The funding will support a $12.5 million challenge to encourage cities and counties to compete to streamline and digitize permitting processes, as well as $15 million that will be made available to advance innovations in information technology systems, local zoning and building codes and regulations, and more.

    The goal is to reduce the “non-hardware balance of system” costs, which generally refer to the costs of permitting, inspections, etc. These “soft costs” can represent up to 40 percent of the total cost of the solar energy system.

    This sounds like an excellent opportunity to get involved. The cost of the hardware has been dropping steadily for years, but administrative costs can kill some projects. Anybody want to help us work on this?

    Thursday, June 2, 2011: Solar-powered watering system wins EPA award.

    The AP (5/29, Dodson) reports on student Trey Ward, who after "a class in product development at the University of Illinois...vowed to come up with a more efficient system for dousing plants," and eventually developed "a solar-powered watering system equipped with a moisture sensor so water is delivered only when plants need it." The system has been tested in Urbana's parks system, and earlier this year "was selected as one of six winners of the Environmental Protection Agency's P3 Award." While his will begin work with a consulting company this summer, Ward also hopes to commercialize the product he designed.

    Maine winner of US Stockholm Junior Water Prize profiled.

    Bangor (ME) Daily News (5/30, Neff) reports on Leila Musavi, a senior at Bangor High School who "will be one of 51 - Puerto Rico is included - high school students attending the national competition" for the annual US Stockholm Junior Water Prize later this month. The Daily News notes, "Musavi's science project, 'development and optimization of gold-nanoparticle modified carbon electrode biosensor for detection of Listeria monogytogenes,' involves a rapid detection system for finding pathogens like cholera and E. coli in water using screen-printed carbon electrodes." The article characterizes the prize as "the world's most prestigious youth award for water-related science projects."

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011: Solar-assisted EV charging station unveiled.

    Tennessee's Oak Ridger (5/28, Huotari) reported, "A new charging station where up to 25 electric vehicles can recharge their batteries at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will likely be the largest in Tennessee, officials said after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning. The 25-vehicle charging station is solar-assisted, meaning it has roof-mounted solar panels that can pump power into the electric grid when the sun is shining." The solar-assisted electric vehicle charging stations are part of an electric vehicle demonstration project led by the DOE and industry partners. "Wednesday's ceremony included officials from the lab, state of Tennessee, US Department of Energy, and Tennessee Valley Authority, as well as executives from Nissan and ECOtality North America."

    Tennessee is challenging Alabama for the “Little Detroit” title. With all the automotive plants in our state, and the northern third served by TVA, why can’t we get more EV facilities? Are we waiting for oil to run completely dry?

    Tuesday, May 31, 2011: House leaders focus on energy.

    Elana Schor writes in Greenwire, hosted by the New York Times (5/27, Subscription Publication) website, "House leaders doubled down on their energy agendas today, with the GOP continuing to tie more domestic drilling to job creation and Democrats sticking to the Medicare-and-oil formula that they credit with securing a special election upset in western New York this week." Rep. Elijah Cummings and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "blasted the GOP for slicing the budget of regulators charged with policing oil futures market manipulation." Meanwhile a "push for more oil and gas production was a central goal of the House GOP budget that has driven the bulk of this spring's political battling."

    Monday, May 30, 2011, Memorial Day: Alexander-Merkley bill would provide funds for EV infrastructure.

    The New York Times /Climatewire (5/27, Lehmann, Subscription Publication) reports that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) "believes a major expansion of electric cars is one way to address climate change." That is one defense he gave of S.948, which he is sponsoring with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The bill "provides $2 billion in grants over five years for 'electric vehicle deployment communities,' each of which could receive $250 million for developing a plan to add charging stations, update building codes and train new workers." At the same event, "Heather Zichal, President Obama's deputy assistant for energy and climate change, said the electric car bill could be the 'underpinning' of a larger clean energy measure."

    Sunday, May 29, 2011: GE predicts solar power to become cheaper than nuclear, fossil fuels in five years.

    Bloomberg News (5/27, Wingfield) reports Mark M. Little, the global research director for General Electric Co., said that "solar power may be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years because of innovations." Bloomberg New Energy Finance said that the cost of solar cells "has fallen 21 percent so far this year, and the cost of solar power is now about the same as the rate utilities charge for conventional power in the sunniest parts of California, Italy and Turkey."

    Remember that GE builds most of the turbines, nuclear reactors, and other equipment generating electricity in the United States. It is certainly encouraging to hear them endorsing a renewable source.

    Saturday, May 28, 2011: High school erects wind turbines as part of renewable energy program.

    The Hockessin (DE) Community News (5/26) reports, "Hodgson Vo-Tech High School erected two wind turbines Wednesday as part of its ongoing Renewable Energy training for construction trades students." Students in the Electrical Trades program assembled both "windstream (propeller) and windspire (circular) turbines...under the direction of Blue Skies Solar and Wind Power Division of Wanex Electrical Services, a long-time supporter of NCC Vo-Tech schools." The article notes, "The project, entitled Capturing the Wind, was funded through a competitive state Department of Education grant for innovative Career and Technical Education pathways programming," according to district spokeswoman Kathy Demarest.

    Students at the Northeast Alabama Community College at Rainsville were challenged to capture the wind. The 2009 project involved volunteer local citizens with college students in researching, planning, and building a solar windmill constructed from recycled materials found in local junk car-lots. Initial research was done by the 2009 fall semester Ethics and Society class.

    Friday, May 27, 2011: Group developing more efficient flexible solar panels.

    In continuing coverage from Monday's briefing, the Kansas City Star (5/26, Everly) reports on the collaboration between the Idaho National Laboratory, a University of Missouri engineering professor, and MicroContinuum Inc. which is developing thin, flexible solar panels that are capable of gathering more of the sun's rays, as much as 90 percent, "by using tiny antennas in paper-thin film. The approach is still in development, but the group is far enough along in the work, which began in 2005, that its members are confident it will perform as expected and eventually be commercially successful." In addition to solar energy, "the technology could be used to collect waste energy in industrial plants," such as "the energy thrown off in the manufacturing of aluminum" which could be collected by the antenna film. The group is currently seeking funding from the DOE.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011: Expert talks about benefits, implementation of sustainability efforts.

    Dan Roessler, chemicals industry manager at Aspen Technology, writes in IndustryWeek (5/23) that "sustainability is an initiative increasingly essential to the core business model of many companies." The advantages go beyond cost savings and regulatory expectations, giving companies an edge in innovation, Roessler writes, adding that there are several ways to approach increased sustainability. However, "the core components of an effective sustainability program" include lowered energy and raw material use, "performance management of key sustainability information," and "product innovation and development." Roessler details what these components entail and how they can be implemented. Read more at the link above; sustainability is too important to ignore.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011: Japan’s “Sunrise Plan” could require solar panels on all new buildings by 2030. (5/24) Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Canada
    Here’s a surprise: Nuclear power isn't exactly popular right now in in “The Land of the Rising Sun.” The government is looking at other sources of power to secure the country's future energy needs. A new initiative called the "Sunrise Plan", which isn't yet in force but should be announced this week at the G8 in France, could help Japan turn toward solar energy for more of its electricity.

    This could help Japan regain the solar leadership that it lost to Europe some years ago, and it could eventually lead to cheaper solar panels through economies of scale (at first it could drive prices up, but the industry should react by increasing production capacity).

    This wouldn't solve Japan's energy problems as long as there isn't a way to efficiently store all that solar power, but it would certainly help increase clean energy production.

    And who knows, maybe by 2030 solar panels will be cheap enough in cost per watt that Japan won’t be alone in deploying it on new constructions.

    The iPod nano weighs less than an ounce and can hold 4,000 songs. If we built it with 1975 technology, it would've cost $1 billion and been the size of a building. If science can make a toy that much more affordable and compact, what could they do with critical energy equipment such as batteries and other storage devices? For that matter, how energy efficient will new buildings and equipment be in another 36 years?

    Tuesday, May 24: With oil running low, engineers are looking for other options.

    Can photosynthesis again power vehicles and heat homes?

    NY Times By Anne Eisenberg, 5/21/2011

    Living plants grow fuel and release oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide. In the early 19th Century, they provided wood to power mighty steamboats on American rives and even fueled the first steam locomotives. Grass, hay, and grains fed the horses that performed most of the smaller transportation chores. Can photosynthesis be a solution to travel in a post-oil era?

    Scientists Nathan Lewis and Daniel Nocera are developing artificial leaves that produce fuels directly from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. They hope that these leaves will eventually heat homes and fuel cars. This five-year artificial-photosynthesis project at the California Institute of Technology, funded by a $122 million grant by the federal Department of Energy, serves as an initial prototype for future artificial photosynthesis ventures.

    EV charging stations may work on monthly subscription plans.

    The Wall Street Journal (5/23, Ramsey, Subscription Publication) reports in a special "Tomorrow's Transport" section on the future of electric cars. It says that networks of charging stations are likely to adopt a model of charging a monthly fee for use rather than charging for each connection. It mentions a number of networks being developed charging from $25 to $100 per month for different levels of access including some stations that are supposed to be able to give a complete charge to a Nissan Leaf in about half an hour.

    Hydrogen may have future in powering cars.

    The Wall Street Journal (5/23, Fuhrmans, Subscription Publication) reports in a special "Tomorrow's Transport" section on the future of hydrogen fuel cells to power automobiles. The story points out that after a lot of publicity a few years ago, the Administration is putting its money on batteries and cutting back on hydrogen power research. The paper gives reasons why hydrogen power may continue to be of interest in that should production of fuel cells become economical, refueling is quick and fuel cells have longer ranges than today's batteries. However, whereas electricity is readily available all over the country and charging stations are being installed in a number of places, it would take some time and expense to build hydrogen stations.

    What will be the next “oil?”

    One ASA Solarite has an Electric Vehicle (EV) on order. He plans to build a grid-tied Photovoltaic (PV) array on his garage roof to keep the batteries charged. He may wind up using grid power to do most of his battery charging at night, but he will be putting more power back onto the grid when the utility company needs it most. Will PV-charged EVs be the next generation of personal mobility?

    Monday, May 23, 2011: Data centers experiment with alternative power

    Computerworld (05/09/11) Brandon, John

    Electricity usage by data centers is on rise—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that data center energy requirements will double in the next five years. To curb data center energy use, the North County Transit District (NCTD) in San Diego spent approximately $600,000 on a 30-panel solar array, and also invested in virtualization technology for server and storage systems and purchased new pods that pull hot air out of the racks. NCTD sells solar-generated power back to the local utility to earn credits on alternating current power usage, as allowed under state law. The solar initiative enabled the data center redesign to see a return on investment, says NCTD CIO Angela Miller. Meanwhile, Syracuse University CIO Christopher Sedore says the school spent roughly $12 million to build a data center that uses natural gas-fired microturbines to generate on-site electricity. Microturbines act like jet engines that run on natural gas and supply power to generators, and they produce approximately 0.5 megawatt of power for the university's data center and another 200 kilowatts for powering a nearby building and other uses. The university's co-generation arrangement allows surplus power generated by the turbines to go back to the local power company.

    Sunday, May 22, 2011: In "unusual move," IEA calls for increased oil production.

    The New York Times (5/20, B10, Saltmarsh, Subscription Publication) reports that in an "unusual move" the International Energy Agency "called for an increase in world oil production," citing "serious concern" about rising crude oil and fuel prices. "Analysts suggested that the agency, which usually does not comment on oil producers' policies, was signaling a shift in stance to become more confrontational toward the main producers over their failure to increase the flow of oil to world markets." Their call also appears to be an attempt by the agency to distance itself from Nobuo Tanaka, its outgoing chief, under whom the IEA "was seen by many as too accommodating to Saudi Arabia, and too content to accept the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' narrative of blaming speculation, rather than market fundamentals, for high prices."

    With petroleum supplies dwindling and companies having to drill in more expensive and environmentally sensitive areas to get it, is increased petroleum oil extraction really a good idea? Will it reduce prices or make them higher? Or will people look the other way to environmental issues and further mortgage our children’s futures? Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest more in proven renewable energy sources and research new technologies?

    Saturday, May 21, 2011: Companies developing 100-watt LED bulbs.

    The AP (5/17) reports, "Two leading makers of lighting products are showcasing LED bulbs that are bright enough to replace energy-guzzling 100-watt light bulbs set to disappear from stores in January." A 2007 efficiency law that kicks in next year effectively rules out traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs, but finding a replacement has been trickier than anticipated. LEDs, OLEDs and compact fluorescents all have shown potential, but all have also faced barriers. For LEDs, the problem has been heat. One of the lighting companies, Germany's Osram Sylvania, "said it has overcome the heat problem and will be showing a pear-shaped 100-watt-equivalent LED bulb this week," while US company Lighting Sciences Group Corp. "will be showing several 100-watt-equivalent prototypes, including some that solve the problem of cooling the LEDs by using microscopic devices that move air over the chips, like miniature fans."

    Thursday, May 19, 2011: ASA Member named ASES Fellow.

    Alabama Solar Association member and retired Professor Emeritus of Auburn Norbert Lechner was named a “Fellow” of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES, Raleigh, NC (5/18). He spent a lifetime of research and teaching of passive solar methods in modern architecture. His book Heating, Cooling, Lighting: Design Methods for Architects, Third Edition, has been translated into four foreign languages and is used by architectural students around the world. He invented the Solar Heliodon to measure and teach the effects solar responsive design: daylighting, shading, and passive solar. His work demonstrates the power of passive measures in putting solar theories into practice.

    Researches work on making solar panels more effective.

    In a blog for Forbes (5/17), Alex Knapp writes that "research scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a process to pair quantum dots with fullerenes in photovoltaic cells in order to improve the effectiveness of solar panels on the nanoscale." Brookhaven physical chemist Mircea Cotlet, lead author of a paper describing the dimers and their assembly method in Angewandte Chemie, said, "This is the first demonstration of a hybrid inorganic/organic, dimeric (two-particle) material that acts as an electron donor-bridge-acceptor system for converting light to electrical current." The researchers are currently using this method "to investigate ideal proportions for the most efficient transfer of light to electricity," but it also holds promise as a way to reduce manufacturing costs.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011: Renewable sources could provide 77 percent of world's energy by 2050, report says

    New York Times (05/10/11) Kanter, James Experts from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said on May 9 that renewable sources could provide a majority of the world's energy supplies by 2050, but only if governments dramatically increase financial and political support for technologies like wind and solar power. The group issued a report concluding that the availability of renewable sources like the wind and sun was virtually unlimited, and could provide up to 77 percent of the world's energy needs by mid-century, but governments needed to adopt policies to take advantage of them. "The report shows that it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades," said Ramón Pichs Madruga, a member of the IPCC. The report said renewable sources — bioenergy, wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and ocean energy — currently accounted for about 13 percent of global energy supply. To reach the goal of generating nearly 80 percent of the world's energy from those same sources would require investments by governments and the private sector amounting to $5.1 trillion through 2020, and nearly $7.2 trillion between 2021 and 2030, according to the report.

    We already know what is possible. What we are lacking is the political will to ignore the billions of lobbying by the oil and coal industries and follow some common sense.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011: With gas prices soaring, Obama looks to ramp up U.S. oil production (5/14) WASHINGTON -- Seeking to address mounting criticism over high gas prices, President Obama is directing his administration to ramp up U.S. oil production by extending existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska's coast and holding more frequent lease sales in a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska.

    Obama said Saturday that the measures "make good sense" and will help reduce U.S. consumption of imported oil in the long term. But he acknowledged anew that they won't help to immediately bring down gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon in many parts of the country.

    His announcement followed passage in the Republican-controlled House of three bills -- including two this week -- that would expand and speed up offshore oil and gas drilling. Republicans say the bills are aimed at easing gasoline costs, but they also acknowledge that won't be immediate.

    The White House had announced its opposition to all three bills, which are unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, saying the measures would undercut safety reviews and open environmentally sensitive areas to new drilling.

    But people are not going to accept more environmental damage like the Gulf oil spill if 2010, an order of magnitude worse than the infamous Exxon Valdez spill. We can have better environmental controls, but they are going to cost money. Add that to the higher costs of drilling in deep ocean locations and moving oil out of remote wilderness areas, and I fail to see these efforts reducing gasoline prices anytime soon.

    Saturday, May 14, 2011: Can't put solar on your roof? Try your parking lot

    Green Tech Pastures Heather Clancy, (5/13). One key to adoption of alternative energy technologies not only is how easy the technology is to install, but also how easy it is to finance. American Clean Energy, a New Jersey company that focuses on commercial and industrial solar installations, is attempting to address both of those issues in partnership with Envision Solar. It also recognizes that rooftops aren’t the only places that businesses are interested in installing solar technology.

    The two companies are teaming on a lease for New Jersey customers that covers installations of the Solar Tracking Tree, which is parking lot solar configuration that includes EnvisionTrak, which is a technology that helps the solar panels track the sun. The Solar Trees are designed to accommodate electric vehicle charging stations, if the business or real estate management company desires to add that functionality.

    The video at provides a conceptual demonstration of what the technology does:

    We Southerners know that for most of the year, the best parking place is not the one nearest the door but the one with the best shade. Wouldn’t it be great to have our shade generating furl for our hybrid or electric vehicle (EV)? Tennessee is working hard to become the EV state with research in batteries and other technologies. TVA is planning to build EV charging stations, mostly in Tennessee, including some PV-topped carport charging stations. Maybe someone from Alabama will like the ideas and try them here.

    Friday, May 13, 2011: Alabama poised to implement rules linked to storage of coal ash.

    The Birmingham News (5/11, Orndorff) reported Alabama "will become the last state in the country to regulate coal ash under new rules that may lead coal-burning utilities to change how they store the toxic material." The paper said "the Alabama Legislature went first and wrote its own new, less stringent rules," as EPA was considering "whether to treat coal ash as a hazardous material and impose tight restrictions on how it's handled." An Alabama Power Co. spokesman said the utility, "which has six of the 10 ash ponds in Alabama," isn't "yet planning to change its coal ash storage system from wet to dry, which could mean unloading the ash in landfills around the state." The TVA, for instance, "announced plans to convert its wet storage ponds to dry after one of its facilities in Tennessee ruptured, spilling 5.4 million cubic yards of the toxic sludge across 300 acres."

    When utility companies tout the low cost of using coal to generate electricity, let’s remember the hidden costs:

    • The health costs of failed coal ash storage dams.
    • The health costs of asthma sufferers and victims of other breathing disorders.
    • The health care of coal miners injured or killed on the job.
    • Subsidies from taxpayers to support the coal industries.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011: Phoenix solar manufacturer offers discounts to storm victims.

    Natural Light Energy Systems is offering a 20 percent discount through July 31st on their entire line of tubular skylights and photovoltaic powered attic vent fans to victims of the April 25th storms. Contact Natural Light’s Nashville representative, Derek Odette, at or 615-427-8502 to take advantage of this offer.

    We all learned a lot about the use of natural light two weeks ago, when a million Alabamians were without electricity, most for a week or longer. Light is the most efficient form of solar power requiring little or no modification to be fully usable.

    We also found out just how hot an inside space could be without air-conditioning. The Natural Light PV vent fans will not only work to save us money all summer long, but it might be the only source of ventilation after a storm.

    Download brochures, drawings, and specifications at the Natural Light website.

    Case Western, Chinese oil company to work on clean energy.

    The Plain Dealer (OH) (5/11, Koff) reports, "Case Western Reserve University and a major Chinese oil company agreed Tuesday to work together on research that they hope will lead to international breakthroughs in clean energy." While some of the specifics of the agreement have yet to be finalized, "their research will be anchored in CWRU's engineering school and will involve improving battery and electric vehicle technology," school officials said. "They also are planning joint research on the clean use of coal, offshore wind, and the modernization of the electric grid, according to CWRU spokesman Marvin Kropko."

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011: What now for Energy? Professional Engineers discuss the future.

    The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE, have considered the energy picture. We’ve seen radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, coal mine collapses and natural gas refinery explosions worldwide. It's been a dangerous year for energy. Finding safe and clean ways to quench the US energy thirst is a critical issue—for national security, for economic well-being, and for the environment. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) tackles some tough choices we are facing now.

    The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has announced plans to replace coal-fired steam plants with nuclear options. Nuke plants produce significantly less CO than do coal plants, but they also require significantly more water. With Georgia using lawsuits to against Alabama and Tennessee for the right to divert a large amount of the Tennessee River from Chattanooga to thirsty Atlanta, how much water can we afford to spend on energy.

    Natural gas is promising, and it releases only half the CO of coal, but current production methods depend heavily on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but these techniques are drawing increased concerns over safety of the groundwater in nearby aquifers. With critical water shortages across the nation, we need to be careful to protect those we have now.

    Renewables offer a bright future, but they have a high initial cost, and so many people do not understand how they work. we must work harder to educate people as to the simplicity and life-cycle-cost effectiveness of renewable energy.

    Energy efficiency is the most readily available source of renewable energy. Studies show potential savings of 15 to 25 percent without any loss of quality of life just by eliminating waste. If people are willing to accept a few small lifestyle changes, the potential jumps to 25 to 5- percent savings. Energy efficiency is the most readily available source of renewable energy. Studies show potential savings of 15 to 25 percent without any loss of quality of life just by eliminating waste. If people are willing to accept a few small lifestyle changes, the potential jumps to 25 to 50 percent savings. Energy efficiency can begin helping you immediately. You can go to your thermostat and turn the cooling setting two degrees warmer and save 5 percent. It’s also a great excuse to wear more casual clothing in the hotter months. Energy efficiency is the logical first step in any energy program be it convention or renewable fueled.

    Charles Holliday, P.E., National Academy of Engineering member and Bank of America chairman, quotes a line from former Lockheed Martin chairman and CEO Norm Augustine: "If you're worried about the plane being too heavy, you don't throw an engine off." In other words, this is exactly the wrong time to not be spending money on energy, Holliday explains.

    The American Energy Innovation Council is optimistic about U.S. ability to drive down the price of new technology—such as this iPod nano, which weighs less than an ounce and can hold 4,000 songs. With 1975 technology, an iPod would've cost $1 billion and been the size of a building, the council says. If science can make a toy that much more affordable and compact, what could they do with critical infrastructure such as our energy plants?

    Read the entire article in the May Issue of PE magazine.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011: China becomes top producer of green technology.

    The International Herald Tribune /AP (5/9) reports, "China's production of green technologies has grown a remarkable 77 percent a year, according to a report, which was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature." Denmark still produces a larger percentage of its GDP from green technology than any other country, but in pure monetary terms China has blown by it; Germany, Brazil and Lithuania round out the top five. The US, meanwhile, is ranked 18th. The report, which was put together by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, ". . . measured the earnings from producing renewables like biofuels, wind turbines and thermal equipment, and energy efficiency technology like low-energy lighting and insulation." Lead analyst Ward van den Berg noted, "Clean technologies are really growing fast, but China is responsible for the majority of that growth."

    Are any other Americans shamed by the idea that Lithuania produces significantly more green technology than the United States?

    Monday, May 9, 2011: U.S. solar industry forming a coordinated team to create photovoltaic manufacturing consortium

    by Our Breathing Planet on Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 12:22am It’s no secret, with size comes power. Now, the solar industry has been growing by leaps and bounds, but it is going up against a large, traditional fossil fuel industry that is several times bigger. While healthy competition is useful in some ways, solar companies could benefit from some more cooperation as well, and a number of them have recognized that.

    Furthermore, with cleantech one of the biggest if not the biggest investment and growth category in the world (and solar a leader in that realm), companies all over the place are trying to take the lead and capitalize on that. In order to try to stake out their territory and remain a global leader, a number of U.S. solar companies and industry players have banded together, and thin-film is apparently a key technology they are focusing on.

    The U.S. solar industry is banding together to fend off an onslaught of global competition, and to lower the cost of manufacturing solar technology domestically. To make it happen, the newly formed U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium (PVMC) secured a $57.5 million federal grant from the Department of Energy Sunshot Initiative, along with financial commitments totaling $400 million from various state and corporate entities…. They are focused on thin film, or copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) technology in particular.

    Read the complete article for a list of 35 initial participants including R&D institutes, material suppliers, CIGS solar equipment suppliers, metrology organizations, and end users.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011: TVA outlines future plans for property affected by ash spill.

    On its website, WBIR-TV Knoxville, Tennessee (5/6) reports, "The Tennessee Valley Authority has announced their plans for the 900 acres they bought after the 2008 ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County." The utility started buying land affected by the spill two years ago. According to the website, "TVA officials say they have evaluated the property based on available space, access and the best use of space." Kingston Recovery Executive Bob Deacy said, "TVA remains committed to working with public officials and the community and to devoting the necessary resources to the cleanup and restoration."

    TVA Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash spilled approximately 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood 3,000 acres one foot deep. The spill included lead, thallium—which can cause birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders—mercury and arsenic. The inlet at the spill empties into the Emory River.

    Spills such as these reminds us of the hidden costs associated with coal use that could be avoided with more use of solar energy.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011: Scotch factories to burn waste to power area homes.

    Popular Science (5/6, Dillow) reports on a project in Speyside, Scotland, an area that is home to half the country's whiskey production, to "burn a blend of wood chips and draff, the spent grains used in the whisky-making process," to power up to 9,000 homes. "Additionally, pot ale--another residual product of the process--will be donated from distilleries and turned into organic fertilizer and animal feed for local farmers." Along similar lines, "Scotland's Napier University last year announced that they had devised a means to turn scotch-making residuals... into biofuels that could burn in ordinary automobile engines."

    The Huntsville Solid Waste Disposal Authority (SWDA, burns trash and garbage from five counties in the city’s waste-to-energy facility to provide about half the power used each year by Redstone Arsenal.

    Friday, May 6, 2011: Impact of record Southern storms still being measured.

    As part of the ongoing coverage over the damage from last week's storms and tornadoes, CNN (5/5, Staff) reports on its website, "A week after a record number of tornadoes swarmed through much of the Midwest and the South, killing hundreds of people and devastating villages and towns, residents and officials in the region were still trying to measure its impact." Alabama Emergency Management Director Art Faulkner told CNN that 98,000 people were still out of power, adding that ", more than half of them Tennessee Valley Authority customers in the northern part of the state, where TVA lost two major power transmission lines." However, he also said, "We are remarkably well." The article adds that Faulkner "noted that supplies were coming so fast that some counties were turning them away."

    TVA cuts power outages to 70,000

    The Chattanooga (TN) Times Free Press (5/5) reports, "A week after tornadoes swept down in North Alabama and East Tennessee," the TVA said that "about 70,000 homes and businesses are still without electric service in TVA's 7-state region." In an update Wednesday morning, "TVA said most of the remaining outages are in North Alabama and the Chattanooga area." Workers from "the seven-state TVA service area," in addition to Florida and Pennsylvania, are working to restore TVA's transmission system.

    Lucy Stolzenburg and the Texas Solar Energy Society donated their entire stock of 48 NoKero light bulbs to the American Red Cross in Huntsville. Woody Ziegler reported he was able to put the bulbs to immediate use. ASES will begin to formulate a nationwide disaster relief plan when we meet in Raleigh in two weeks. There is so much solar power can do in a disaster.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011: California ghost town owner pushes for "sustainable wonderland."

    The Los Angeles Times (5/4, Hsu) profiles the town of Nipton, California, which when Gerald Freeman stumbled upon it in 1984 had become a virtual ghost town, but after buying the town for $200,000, Freeman thinks he has discovered what to do with the Mojave Desert outpost. "He put up rows of gleaming solar panels, and recently began selling hats emblazoned with the hamlet's new motto: 'Nipton, powered by the sun.' It's part of a major push to make Nipton a sustainable wonderland, a green hospitality center for nature lovers headed into the neighboring Mojave National Preserve." He also has plans for energy-efficient buildings, electric vehicle charging stations and more solar installations. But "Nipton isn't the only US town hopping on the environmental bandwagon," as the Times cites other towns, including Greensburg, Kansas which has adopted a green push since the town was nearly destroyed by a tornado in 2007.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011: Governor Signs Bill To Halt Coal Burning In Washington.

    The AP (5/1) reports, "Canada-based TransAlta says it plans to build a new natural gas facility in Lewis County, Wash., as it prepares to shut down the Northwest's largest coal-fired power plant." As part of legislation negotiated by TransAlta, Washington state officials, lawmakers and environmentalists, the company plans to gradually shut down its Centralia plant by 2025. According to the AP, "TransAlta spokeswoman Angela Mallow says the company would get expedited permitting to build a natural gas facility to come online by 2020."

    The Tacoma (WA) News Tribune (5/2, Schmidt) reports that on Friday, Governor Chris Gregoire signed a bill that calls for the end of coal-fired generation in Washington state. According to the report, "the new law will require Washington's only coal-burning power plant to shut down gradually –TransAlta will take one boiler offline in 2020 and the next at the end of 2025 – and, company executives said, it could pave the way for a new natural gas plant nearby." The Tribune says that "TransAlta CEO Steve Snyder said the company hasn't finalized plans for what it will do when it has to stop burning coal, but he said he expected to build a natural gas plant in the area."

    Replacing coal-fired plants is definitely a good move. Washington’s plan to replace coal with natural gas is probably better than TVA’s plan to replace coal with nuclear (See the ASA homepage.). A much better solution would be rooftop photovoltaic systems. Such systems produce completely clean electricity where it is needed most; they are not susceptible to the damage tornados did to long-distance distribution systems.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011: Some turn to solar on the water.

    New York Times (04/19/11) Woody, Todd. As an increasing number of people attach solar panels to their roofs, carports, and fields all over the world, several start-up companies in California are finding the potential for solar panels that float on water. A three-acre irrigation pound at a vineyard in Petaluma has 144 solar panels on top of its pontoons and 994 solar panels lay upon the surface of a pond at the Far Niente Winery. The two Napa Valley vineyards say that because land is so expensive, they did not want to take away from their productive property, but still wanted to reduce their energy bills and reduce their carbon footprints.

    The start-ups attempting to develop a market for solar panels on agricultural and mining ponds, hydroelectric reservoirs and canals include SPG Solar of Novato, Calif., Sunengy of Australia, and Solaris Synergy of Israel. The solar panel aqua farms have found a niche that has drawn interest from farmers, mining companies and municipal water agencies who are enticed by the idea of finding a new use for their liquid assets. Sunengy has targeted developing countries that have been besieged with electricity shortages and have vast water resources and intense sunshine. SPG Solar has found potential customers all across the globe who are interested in obtaining clean power without it taking up valuable resources. Sunengy has a deal with India's biggest private utility, Tata Power, to construct a pilot project on its hydroelectric reservoir near Mumbai.

    Solar entrepreneurs say the technology reduces water evaporation by 70 percent and reduces algae growth. Some entrepreneurs hope to convince the California State Water Project to place photovoltaic panels on the 400-mile California Aqueduct.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011: A total of 211 tornados across 14 states Wednesday and Thursday leaving over a million without power. The death toll already exceeds 300 and is still rising.

    Some of us with solar panels managed to brighten our darkened homes a little bit. I was able to recharge batteries and keep some LED and CFL bulbs burning with my small PV system. The TVA Generation PartnersSMprogram is looking more attractive also the time. Under this program, TVA will pay you $1,000 toward a new grid-tied PV system and pay you a premium of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour above retail for any electricity you generate. This still leaves a rather lengthy payback period, but an automatic switchover would leave you with at least daytime power. A battery backup would provide nighttime power but would add complexity and cost to the system.

    You can also count on seeing me get the small solar hot water panel donated to ASA by Power Partners Solar built into a functioning open SHW system very soon.

    How bad was it? It’s the worst death toll since 1925. Statistically, it should not happen again for another 86 years, but that is no guarantee. I have seen a flood in Louisiana exceed the level expected of a 500-year storm (the worst storm likely to occur only once every 500 years) two years in a row. We could get a worse storm at any time, and I plan to be better prepared by next year.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011: Solar looks into 3D technology.

    In a story about how solar companies are looking into incorporating 3D technology, Christian Science Monitor (4/26, Curwin) reports, "Santa Barbara-based startup Solar3D wants to harness concepts found elsewhere in high tech to increase the capture of more of the sun's energy hitting solar panels and turning it into electricity." Matt Feinstein, a solar analyst at research firm Lux Research, says that while this type of technology can be innovative, "disruptive technologies can be good but they go both ways." For instance, according to the report, "while solar PV technology is still dominant in the industry currently, new 'thin film' power generation technologies from firms like First Solar could be the true disruptive force, making any PV innovations," like Solar3D's, "moot."

    Equipment failure brings city major power outage.

    The Johnson City (TN) Press (4/26, Mathews) reports, "An equipment failure at a nearby Tennessee Valley Authority power station Monday afternoon forced the Johnson City Power Board to reduce its power load to one of its primary stations, causing a major power outage for much of the city." According to the report, TVA spokesman Bill Sitton indicated that "at 5:04 p.m., a large circuit breaker failed at TVA's Sullivan substation ¬- a major substation that brings power into the region - causing a power line to overload." Sitton then said that TVA contacted JCPB by 5:30 p.m. to request that they decrease "the power load at the west primary substation, located next to the Boys and Girls Club, by 140 megawatts, which basically cut power off to west Johnson City and the 10 different substations covered by the west primary substation." He explained that this was meant to prevent the problem spreading to other power lines.

    TriCities (4/26, Jackson) also reports on the story, adding that JCPB was able to restore electricity city-wide by 6:30 p.m. "Spokesman Robert White could not offer an exact number of homes impacted by Monday's outage," according to the report. Meanwhile, TVA described the situation as "very rare," and "a significant equipment failure."

    Sounds like another case for grid-tied photovoltaic systems with automatic switchover to solar power whenever the power grid fails. At least homeowners and businesses would have had some power until sundown.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011: DOE, HUD announce loans for energy efficient upgrades.

    USA Today (4/25, Koch) reports, "Many US homeowners are now eligible for up to $25,000 in federally insured loans to make energy-efficient upgrades such as adding insulation, sealing ducts or replacing windows. Consumers with good credit scores, manageable debt and some equity in their homes can get PowerSaver loans at or below market rates to finance efficiency measures that also include new HVAC systems, water heaters, solar panels and geothermal heating/cooling." Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who made the announcement with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, said, "We're making it easier for American homeowners to save money by saving energy."

    More buildings aim to become net zero water.

    The AP (4/25) reports on efforts around the US, ranging from elementary schools to universities to US military instillations, to create buildings that are "net zero water," self-sustaining and independent from the municipal water system. The University of Miami, for example, is building "a college dormitory that will reuse all water from showers, toilets and laundry for everything except drinking and cooking," and using a grant from the NSF, "researchers are developing an onsite system to convert wastewater into potable water while treating for pharmaceuticals and other contaminants." Environmental engineering James Englehardt, who is overseeing the work, called water "a looming issue after energy," and noted that the two "are intimately linked." Proponents of water conservation also argue that there are a range of other benefits.

    Monday, April 25, 2011: 'Water wars' pit Georgia and Alabama on opposite sides in dispute over rights to Tennessee River

    John Peck, Editorial Page Editor of the Huntsville Times describes the water dispute between three Southern states as “A civil war of sorts.”

    Atlanta is drinking its water supply lakes dry. I drove across Lake Alatoona on I-75 a few weeks ago and was surprised to find it full. Our recent spring rains that left the Tennessee River flooding adjacent land; it must have caught Georgia up with their half-decade water deficits’. On every other crossing of the lake for the last five years showed a huge margin of muddy lake bottom where I used to go waterskiing. From news reports, Lake Sidney Lanier, northeast of Atlanta, where I also used to ski, was as low as 25 percent of total capacity during the drought.

    In a speech to graduates a few years back, the president of Auburn University, Montgomery, told grads that soon water availability would seriously limit where we allowed populations to expand. Georgia legislators must have not gotten the memo; their unbridled urban sprawl has left water shortages with no attempts to ration what remained. Instead, Georgia headed to court.

    The Alabama Legislature wisely approved a resolution last week to counter a move by Georgia legislators who are seeking a feasibility study of channeling water from the Tennessee River basin to the Atlanta area. The closest point of the Tennessee River to Atlanta is Chattanooga, and that route would involve crossing mountains. Imagine how dire the water need of Atlanta is to require them to consider the expense of tunneling under Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga and then digging a 124-mile long canal through mountanious countryside to reach downtown Atlanta. This concept also ignores the problems faced by Chattanooga, Huntsville, and other cities downstream. Would there even be enough water left to keep river traffic flowing through the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway connecting Knoxville to Mobile?

    Now add to this huge impact the plans for TVA to retire coal plants and build new nuclear facilities to meet the growing power demand of the area. Nuclear turbines require a huge amount of water to operate. These demands will add to the already critical water shortages of North Alabama.

    Photovoltaic systems produce electricity exactly where it is needed most, sending excess to nearby users via the power grid. Solar hot water systems and geothermal heat pumps reduce the demand for electricity. Solar hot water systems use only the tiny amount of electricity to run pumps and circulate water; all heating energy comes from the sun. Geothermal heat pumps effectively multiply power input. A one-kilowatt power input produces five kilowatts of heating or 1.4 tons of cooling.

    Let’s hope TVA revises its plans to replace retired coal plants with less nuclear and more rooftop photovoltaic arrays, solar hot water systems, and geothermal heat pumps.

    Indiana House of Representatives approves CO2 pipeline measure.

    Platts (4/22, (4/22, Matyi) reports on its website that "the Indiana House of Representatives approved and sent to a conference committee a bill that includes eminent domain language sought by the developer of a proposed carbon dioxide pipeline." According to the article, "prior to the Republican-controlled House's 64-32 vote to pass the bill (S.B. 251), the lawmakers accepted an amendment by State Representative Sue Ellspermann, a Republican, that empowers companies like Dallas-based Denbury Resources to condemn private property for a CO2 pipeline that would move gas from several clean coal plants in the Midwest to the Gulf Coast for use in enhanced oil extraction." The Republican-controlled Indiana Senate "voted 28-21 in early February to defeat the original Denbury-based pipeline bill (H.B. 72), with some lawmakers objecting to eminent domain."

    Sunday, April 24, 2011: US-backed loans available for home energy improvements

    USA Today (4/22, Koch) reports that the Obama Administration announced that "many US homeowners are now eligible for up to $25,000 in federally-insured loans to make energy-efficient upgrades." Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, "We're making it easier for American homeowners to save money by saving energy." He noted the homeowners "spend an average of $2,000 each year on utility bills." Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan said that "eighteen regional and national lenders...have signed on to the two-year pilot program." The Long Island Newsday (4/22, Chang) also covers this story.

    Obama: Gas price solution lies in renewable energy sources

    Fox News (4/23) reports from Washington that President Barack Obama says one answer to high gasoline prices is to spend money developing renewable energy sources. "That's the key to helping families at the pump and reducing our dependence on foreign oil" in the long term, he said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address. Obama raises the issue of rising fuel prices during almost every public appearance and says that he understands the strain higher fuel costs are putting on some family budgets.

    He again said Saturday there is no "silver bullet" that will slash gas prices immediately. But he said there are things government can do to help make a difference in the long term. They also include boosting U.S. oil production, rooting out any illegal activity by traders and speculators and ending $4 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies. "Instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy sources, we need to invest in tomorrow's," Obama said.

    Government-funded research into better batteries and more efficient photovoltaic panels could lead to more practical electric vehicles recharged by sunlight while significantly improving air quality. Companies in Tennessee are already working on the battery problems as well as building PV charging stations. Imagine a PV-roofed parking stall at work using the summer sun to charge your vehicle’s propulsion system instead of turning it into a solar oven.

    Saturday, April 23, 2011: DOE announces $130 million For ARPA-E projects.

    Bloomberg News (4/21, Wingfield) reports that the Energy Department announced "it will provide as much as $130 million for projects in its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, known as ARPA-E." In a statement, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, "ARPA-E is unleashing American innovation to strengthen America's global competitiveness and win the clean energy race." The funding will go towards five areas: "producing biofuels as an alternative to oil, storing thermal energy, finding alternatives to expensive rare-earth minerals, maintaining electric grid reliability as renewable sources are added and reducing costs for solar power, according to a statement."

    Reuters (4/21, Gardner) adds that the funding comes from the federal budget deal, which included $180 million for ARPA-E, and stimulus money. Chu said, "We do know without additional Congressional funds...the program essentially would have had to have been put on ice."

    DOE awards $1.5 million for nuclear criticality safety program.

    On its "Observations" blog, Scientific American (4/22, Greenemeier) reports on the DOE's investment into its Nuclear Criticality Safety Program, which it "hopes can be used to build safer nuclear reactors and avoid reactor emergencies." The DOE awarded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute $1.5 million "for a new nuclear engineering research program and laboratory dedicated to the careful measurement and analysis of how neutrons interact with different materials around them." Part of the "NCSP's charter is to ensure that nuclear material is stored safely and securely to reduce the threat of a criticality accident, during which an unintended critical reaction releases a dangerous surge of neutron radiation."

    Friday, April 22, 2011: Huntsville Utilities needs to quickly raise rates to pay back TVA $37.6 million for past electric usage

    The Huntsville Times (4/21) reported that Huntsville Utilities will ask the Huntsville City Council for permission to increase residential and commercial electric rates by 3.5 percent starting in September -- a move that would cost the average homeowner about $4.90 per month.

    Rooftop photovoltaics is looking better all the time.

    Solar water purification systems donated to Japan

    renewable energy focus (4/18), WorldWater & Solar Technologies Inc and Gamesa are donating two solar driven water purification systems, Mobile MaxPure®(MMP), to Japan. The solar water purification systems will aid villages near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

    One of the MMP solar Units will screen radiation from the pure drinking water it pumps, desalinates and purifies and the other Unit will pump and purify 30,000 gallons of biologically polluted water per day. The systems are powered by solar charged battery banks embedded in the 7 ft3 structures. Each system opens automatically into a 3.3 kW array for pumping and purifying and decontaminating the drinking water plus generating electricity for lights, tools, mobile phone charging etc.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011: TVA starts energy efficiency programs.

    NEMS360 (4/19) reported Tennessee Valley Authority "is offering customers of its 156 member electric utilities several programs to learn about and implement ways to save energy and money." David Sparks, TVA Mississippi delivery manager, said TVA "is kicking off four energy-efficiency programs," including an "online energy audit for homeowners" and an "in-home energy analysis." The article said that "especially valuable are conservation measures for hot summer afternoons, when peak usage can make wholesale prices spike to several times their non-peak rate."

    The Columbus (MS) Commercial Dispatch (4/19, Poe) reported local utilities are joining hands with the TVA in pushing for energy-efficient programs in Mississippi. The Dispatch said "the campaign, which TVA officials called a 'challenge' to local customers, will promote existing and new energy-efficiency incentives, including in-home energy evaluations and renovation incentives." Columbus Light and Water, for instance, is "preparing to roll out a new, separate pilot program that will offer even more energy-efficiency incentives."

    Major builders begin pushing affordable green homes.

    USA Today (4/20, Koch) reports, "To stand out in a still-sluggish housing market, major builders are starting to sell affordable tract homes that come with solar panels and nearly zero utility bills." One such house, developed by Meritage Homes, would be "net-zero" energy use and would start around $150,000. Analysts say that affordable homes have not traditionally focused on efficient energy use, but with energy costs, particularly gasoline, so high right now, "Meritage's effort reflects an industry wide push to build homes that cost less to operate."

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011: DOE awards $2.1 billion loan guarantee for solar project.

    The AP (4/19) reports the Department of Energy "has pledged a $2.1 billion loan guarantee to support a California solar thermal power plant that is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs and avoid hundreds of thousands of carbon dioxide emissions annually." The Blythe Solar Power Project in Riverside County is sponsored by Solar Trust of America and will sell the power it generates to Southern California Edison. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday that the project "will generate 484 megawatts of power and will include an eight-mile transmission line."

    The Los Angeles Times (4/19, Hsu) adds that Secretary Chu said of the loan award, "We could sit on the sidelines and watch the competition pass us by, or we could get in the race to win." The facility will eventually be able to produce a full gigawatt of power. "The company said construction will require more than 1,000 construction jobs and create 80 permanent operations positions."

    The San Francisco Chronicle (4/19, Baker) points out that "for the third time in a week, the federal government on Monday threw its financial support behind a Bay Area company planning to build big solar power plants in California." In addition to the Oakland-based Solar Trust of America, "last week, the department announced a $1.2 billion conditional loan guarantee for SunPower Corp. of San Jose and finalized terms for a $1.6 billion loan guarantee for Oakland's BrightSource Energy Inc." Monday's award "is the department's biggest yet for a solar project."

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011: MIT is turning windows into power plants.

    William Pentland , Clean Beta,(4/16) Add this to the growing list of promising innovations in solar energy: photovoltaic cells that capture energy from sunlight but without changing the way sunlight appears to the naked human eye. The kicker: you can paint these virtually invisible cells on everyday window panes used in everyday homes and everyday buildings.

    Coated onto a pane of standard window glass, a potentially revolutionary photovoltaic technology developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology uses organic molecules to capture the energy of infrared light without blocking the flow of light. The technology may one day turn everyday window panes into a source of electric power. More importantly, it may be cheap enough for people to actually use these power-producing windows.

    Vladimir Bulovi, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, and Richard Lunt, a postdoctoral researcher in the Research Laboratory of Electronics, explained the mechanics of this transparent solar-cell technology system in the most recent issue of the journal “Applied Physics Letters.”

    The key innovation involved involves a specific chemical formulation used to fabricate the solar cells, which works in tandem with partially infrared-reflective coatings to increase the cell’s efficiency and ensure light flows unimpeded through the cell. All told, the efficiency gain in this process is massive compared to previous efforts to fashion transparent (and non-transparent) organic photovoltaic cells.

    Bulovi? and Lunt also believe their transparent solar-cell technology could cut the cost of traditional thin-film solar products significantly. Currently, installation accounts for more than half of the cost of thin-film solar-power systems comes from those installation costs. Most of the remaining costs are associated with glass and structural components used in the panels.

    In a new building, or one where windows are being replaced anyway, adding the transparent solar cell material to the glass would be a relatively small incremental cost, since the cost of the glass, frames and installation would all be the same with or without the solar component, the researchers say, although it is too early in the process to be able to estimate actual costs. And with modern double-pane windows, the photovoltaic material could be coated on one of the inner surfaces, where it would be completely protected from weather or window washing. Only wiring connections to the window and a voltage controller would be needed to complete the system in a home.

    Monday, April 18, 2011: More US buildings are becoming LEED certified.

    The Austin (TX) Business Journal (4/15, Furness, Subscription Publication) reports, "Since the US Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process first was developed in March 2000, the number of buildings certified has grown annually. More than 40,000 commercial and industrial projects have gone through or are in the process, representing 7.9 billion square feet of construction space in 50 states and 117 countries." The article notes some of the LEED-certified structures in Texas and in Austin specifically.

    Executives are now making green living an integral part of their daily business. Increasingly more owners are opting to construct LEED certified buildings, reducing their carbon footprint and upping the value of their buildings. Alabama has 25 LEED certified buildings ( see the list of Alabama projects on this website). The list includes six buildings certified LEED Gold and nine certified LEED Silver. Morton has visited the LEED Silver certified Vestavia Hills Library just south of Birmingham. It is a beautiful, practical facility.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011: TVA shuts coal units after $3 to $5 billion settlement

    environmental Leader, Environmental & Energy Management News (4/15) The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) will spend $3 to $5 billion on pollution controls after reaching a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over alleged Clean Air Act Violations at all 11 of its coal-fired plants. TVA will also invest $350 million on clean energy projects designed to reduce pollution, save energy, and protect public health and the environment, and the \ authority will pay a civil penalty of $10 million.

    The authority announced plans to retire 18 of its 59 coal-fired generation units, at three power plants. Units will be shut down at John Sevier in east Tennessee and Widows Creek in northern Alabama, and Johnsonville Fossil Plant in middle Tennessee will close completely, TVA said. The Widows Creek plant was the subject of a $450,000 civil penalty that the TVA agreed to pay last month, to resolve EPA allegations that it released unpermitted sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide at the site in violation of the Clean Air Act. TVA will have idled or retired about 2,700 MW of its 17,000 MW of coal-fired generation by the end of 2017.

    TVA said the capacity will be replaced with low- or zero-emission sources, including renewables, natural gas, nuclear and energy efficiency. Uncontrolled releases of harmful air pollution like sulfur dioxide from power plants can affect breathing and aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, especially in sensitive populations like children and the elderly.

    The $350 million in environmental projects will include $40 million for renewable technologies such as hybrid-electric charging stations, $8 million for a clean diesel and electric vehicle project for public transportation systems, and $240 million for energy efficiency initiatives including a Smart Energy Communities project that will focus on low-income communities.

    TVA also said it will ask its board to decide whether to start construction of a nuclear unit at Bellefonte, Alabama, “after TVA has a clear understanding of the Japanese nuclear situation and any potential impact on the project.” Previously approved construction at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 2 in east Tennessee is proceeding on schedule, the authority said.

    In 2008, a TVA storage pond in Kingston, Tennessee, leaked and created a massive coal ash spill, which by some estimates was eight times as large as the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Saturday, April 16, 2011: EV sales expected to be slow due to infrastructure, price.

    The The Chicago Tribune (4/15) reports, "The year 2012 is looking like a huge one for the introduction of electric vehicles." Michael Omotoso of J.D. Power and Associates said, "We expect commercial success to be very limited for the first 10 years, because we don't have the infrastructure yet." The firm "expects 12,000 plug-in hybrid vehicle sales this year" and as many as 15,000 battery electric vehicles.

    The Chicago Tribune (4/15) also reports, "Prices of...plug-in electric vehicles may give some buyers electric sticker shock. ... And prices aren't likely to drop for years, because the biggest component of cost in plug-ins is the battery pack, a technology that's in its infancy for use in cars."

    Smart EV users may opt to install PV-roofed carports or garages to keep their vehicles charged for the commute. Imagine a small business owner who drives an EV building a PV carport at work to let the afternoon sun charge his or her batteries instead of turning the vehicle into a solar oven.

    Friday, April 15, 2011: Ford names top 25 cities paving the way for electric cars.

    Reuters (4/14) reports on Ford having released a list of the top 25 cities for electric vehicles. The company's Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure Manager Mike Tinksey said that charging stations are part of what cities offer, but also pointed to other efforts to solve problems for EV owners, such as rules regarding installation of home charging stations, and location and accessibility of public stations.

    Barriers vary by location. For example, offering discounted electricity rates for “off-peak” or night-time charging will generally “really help electrification,” said Tinksey. San Francisco, a city Tinksey said is a clear leader among the top 25, has these so-called time-of-use rates in place. Other leading cities earned points because of similar plans moving through regulatory commissions. Yet a city like Seattle “needs it less,” he said, because abundant hydropower in the area helps keep electricity rates relatively low.

    While San Francisco was at the top of Ford’s list. Atlanta was the closest city to Alabama. Raleigh, host to this year’s National Solar Conference, and Charlotte completed the list of Southern cities; Nashville and other Tennessee cities didn’t make it. With all of Tennessee’s efforts to support EVs, this seems surprising.

    EPA mandates Oklahoma coal plants to lower SO2 levels.

    KFOR-TV Oklahoma City (4/14, Givens) reports on its website that the EPA says "two coal plants owned by Oklahoma Gas and Electronic (OG&E) and one owned by American Electric Power Company emit more than 36 percent of all the sulfur dioxide released in the entire state." A "public hearing was held Wednesday as the EPA mandates the companies to lower the amount of sulfur dioxide or 2 both are releasing." The EPA says "the companies have three years to either add SO2 scrubbers or switch to natural gas."

    Thursday, April 14, 2011: Study: Most companies now measure green savings.

    WDUQ-FM Pittsburgh (4/11, Nootbaar) reported on its website, "More than 300 academicians, engineers, architects and designers gather in Pittsburgh to showcase innovations in sustainable design at the 2011 Engineering Sustainability conference." The event will focus on how sustainable design incorporates a wide array of disciplines, organizers said. "When you talk about sustainability and you are an architect or an urban planner you are looking at large link scale things; communities, cities and regions, and then we have folks that are looking at sustainability from a molecular design perspective or from a device perspective," said Eric Beckman, co-director at the University of Pittsburgh's Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. "Beckman says the event also looks at sustainable engineering at all stages of development."

    Going “green” will definitely save you money. Some projects have a quick payback, while some take longer. Nobody can even guess how quick the payback will be because of the volatility of energy prices. The lowest initial cost may not be the lowest life-cycle cost.It’s time to end the buy-from-the-lowest-bidder mentality and look at life-cycle costs of a project.

    Check out the ASA white paper on making life-cycle cost comparisons to project green savings on your project at Get the “bottom line” and make smart choices. Look to the future.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011: California to set ambitious renewable power standards (4/12) reports from Sacramento that Governor Jerry Brown plans to sign legislation that would require California utilities to get one-third of their power from renewable sources, giving the state the most aggressive alternative energy mandate in the U.S. With some of the nation’s oldest and worst smog problems, perhaps “The Golden State” has decided it needs to clean up the airspace enough to let the sun shine through.

    Under the bill, California utilities and other power providers would have until the end of 2020 to draw 33 percent of their power from solar panels, windmills, landfill gases, small hydroelectric plants and other renewable sources. Unlike Alabama legislators, the California lawmakers did not consider coal and nuclear as viable renewable energies or a goal of 18% renewables by 2020 impossible per their May 2009 Letter.

    Supporters said the increase from the current 20 percent target will reassure investors that demand for renewable energy will grow, fueling a field that has been one of the few growth spots for California's economy during the recession. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was expected to attend the bill signing ceremony Tuesday at the SunPower-Flextronics solar manufacturing plant in the San Francisco Bay area city of Milpitas.

    "Instead of watching from the sidelines, America needs to get back in the clean energy race, and that's exactly what California is doing," said Stephanie Mueller, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy. It would seem that the engineers and scientists that took us to the moon and back in the mid-20th Century could lead us out of the current energy crisis in the 21st.

    Critics of the legislation said sticking with traditional energy sources such as coal and natural gas would be cheaper, keeping costs down for business and residential ratepayers. These critics obviously do not include the health costs of continuing to dump more and more coal dust into the air or the skyrocketing natural gas prices. Once the infrastructure is in place, the renewable energy itself is free. When someone installs a solar panel today, they know what that electricity will cost them for the next 25 years.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011: Radiation from the Japanese nuclear accident found in the American food chain, even here in the Tennessee Valley..

    In a posting on the Forbes (4/9) "Ingenuity of the Commons" blog, Jeff McMahon wrote that "Radiation from Japan has been detected in drinking water in 13 more American cities, and cesium-137 has been found in American milk -- in Montpelier, Vermont -- for the first time since the Japan nuclear disaster began," according to data released by the EPA. Forbes said "the EPA drinking-water data includes one outlier -- an unusually, but not dangerously, high reading in a drinking water sample from Chattanooga, Tennessee." Notably, "the sample was collected at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Sequoyah nuclear plant."

    This sounds like just more reasons to make future US infrastructure investments in solar and other renewable energy sources rather than in more nuclear plants.

    Monday, April 11, 2011: Clean, renewable solar power is expected to last for the next 999,999,997,989 years.

    A group of scientists project that the sun will burn out somewhere around 1,000,000,000,000 AD. Read more of their projections and how they arrived at them on the FutureTimeline Website. There you will find a speculative timeline of future history. Part fact and part fiction, the timeline is based on detailed research that includes analysis of current trends, projected long-term environmental changes, known advances in computing such as Moore's Law, the latest scientific advances, and the evolving geopolitical landscape. Where possible, references have been provided to support the predictions. is intended to be an ongoing, collaborative project that is open for discussion - we welcome ideas from scientists, futurists, inventors, writers and anyone else interested in the future of our world.

    See recent history and future events by century and even by date. If you are considering a project near the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster site, is should be fully habitable by 22,000 AD. But what about events before the 221st Century? Will China become the second world superpower? Will China and India surpass the United States’ space supremacy? Who will lead the flight off our crowded home planet? What energy will we use?

    Log on to vote on when you believe humans will first walk on Mars.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011: First-of-its-kind hydrogen fueling station to open in Michigan.

    The Saginaw (MI) News (4/8) reports, "By summer, the first-of-its-kind hydrogen fueling station in Michigan could break ground in" Grand Blanc Township, MI. "The $3.5 million gas station of the future, to be built by the Mass Transportation Authority at Maple Road and South Dort Highway, will be a test site for Kettering University engineering professors and students researching the feasibility of generating hydrogen for fuel - and possibly fuel cells someday." According to the Saginaw News, "The facility, on a 20-acre site next to an MTA Your Ride station, eventually will allow MTA to test three types of alternative energy: hydrogen, fuel-compressed natural gas and propane."

    It’s a shame the station doesn’t include photovoltaic-powered charging stations for Electric Vehicles as well.

    Saturday, April 9, 2011: In-home energy efficiency evaluation could save money.

    On its website and on the air, WTVF-TV Nashville (4/7, Hara) reported, "We're all looking for ways to cut costs when it comes to utilities. Now, TVA is offering a new program to do just that." The agency will "send someone to your house, tell you what to upgrade, and even help you pay for it." Jenny Taylor, who was paying hefty amounts for her electric and gas bills, said "she cut her usage by 70 percent plus TVA gave her a $500 credit on her electric bill for making the upgrades."

    ASA Solarite Todd Menzies of US Renewable & Efficient Energy ( specializes in home energy audits. Solarite Ritchie Martin of REM Solar Technologies ( performs farm audits.

    Let the Alabama solar professionals save you money for your home or business.

    Friday, April 8, 2011: ASA Solarite plans solar aquaculture project near Auburn.

    REM Solar Technologies is planning a catfish farm west of Auburn using low-voltage DC pumps and aerator motors. REM owner Ritchie Martin believes the combination of solar panels and DC motors will work extremely well in the remote locations where fish ponds fit best. Perhaps his fish will wind up on the menu of Jessie’s Restaurant with hot water by Acme International Services, Inc. Acme International Services, Inc.

    EPA loosens alternative fuel conversion rules for vehicles

    environmental Leader (3/31)The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has updated rules to make it easier for manufacturers to sell fuel conversion systems that allow vehicles to run on alternative fuels. The revised procedures will vary based on the age of the vehicle or engine being converted. The agency said has found that the procedures for older vehicles and engines can be streamlined, while maintaining environmental safeguards. The current EPA’s process is based on whether a vehicle or engine is new, of intermediate age, or outside its expected useful life.

    Fuel conversion systems alter an existing vehicle or engine to enable it to run on a different type of fuel. One example of this type of conversion is retrofitting a car designed for gasoline, so the vehicle can run on compressed natural gas. While properly engineered conversion systems can reduce or at least not increase emissions, poorly designed systems can lead to much more pollution, the EPA said.

    The new rules for are in keeping with the president’s January 18, 2011, executive order, which directs agencies to identify and consider regulatory approaches that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for the public, the EPA said. President Obama’s order called for agencies to, among other things, “identify and assess available alternatives to direct regulation, including providing economic incentives to encourage the desired behavior, such as user fees or marketable permits, or providing information upon which choices can be made by the public.”

    Previous EPA regulations required vehicle and engine conversion systems to be covered by a certificate of conformity to gain a regulatory exemption from potential tampering charges. This has been deemed too rigid a structure by the EPA.

    ASA recommends also considering electric or plug-in-hybrid vehicles charged by PV-covered carports such as Tennessee is now building.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011: DOE announces funding for advanced solar power manufacturing.

    Reuters (4/6) reports the Department of Energy announced Tuesday it had awarded up to $112.5 million over five years in investments to support advanced solar photovoltaic-related manufacturing consortiums in California, New York and Florida. The Administration is aiming to reduce the total cost of photovoltaic solar energy by about 75 percent to about $1 a watt by the end of the decade so they will not need subsidies in order to recapture the lead as the world's top solar technology manufacturer, a position which China currently holds.

    Bloomberg News (4/6, Baker) says that $50 million was awarded to a San Jose company and a joint effort between two Bay Area universities. The DOE "awarded $25 million to SVTC Technologies and $25 million to the Bay Area PV Consortium, a project managed by Stanford University and UC Berkeley. The consortium will use the funding to develop materials and manufacturing processes that can drive down the cost of producing photovoltaic modules," while SVTC "will create a facility that will perform pilot production services for solar startup companies."

    The AP (4/6) reports, "A high-tech project involving the state University at Albany and the University of Central Florida is getting a nearly $58 million federal grant" from the Department of Energy that "could help create thousands of jobs in creating a national center in solar energy research." According to US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), "most of the grant will go to the public-private partnership between the SEMATECH company and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the Albany university center." US Energy Secretary Steven Chu "said the federal government will provide up to $112.5 million over five years" as the US looks "to regain the lead in the global market for solar technologies."

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011: Jeff Max of Acme International Services is the first Alabama NABCEP installer for solar thermal.

    Jeff Max of Acme Services International, Inc. in Summerdale has become the first Alabama installer to meet NABCEP (The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, certification for solar thermal. Jeff is also experienced in PV installation. See some pictures of his work in his photo galery Contact Jeff for all your solar needs in South Alabama, Mississippi, or Northern Florida. Need solar somewhere else? His moto is

    Have Sun, Will Travel!

    Deadly storms leave 147,000 without power in Georgia.

    The AP (4/5) reports, "Fast-moving spring storms packing high winds, hail and plenty of lightning blew through much of the South on Monday, killing one man, uprooting trees and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands including in metro Atlanta." A tweet by Georgia Power said that "more than 125,000 people were without power early Tuesday around the Georgia capital and 147,000" throughout Georgia. At one point, "more than 74,000 customers had no electric in the Nashville area and 60,000 in Memphis." The Rome News-Tribune (4/5) reports that Georgia Power spokesman Jim Barber said that "severe thunderstorms knocked out power to 2,821 Floyd County customers, and 11,000 overall between Dalton and Cartersville by late Monday." This story was also covered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (4/5, Stevens), WXIA-TV Atlanta (4/5, Holcomb), and WGCL-TV Atlanta (4/5).

    This sounds like an excellent opportunity for grid-tied PV systems with automatic switchover capability. In the event or a power failure of more than a few seconds, the system would cut ties to the power grid and operate as an off-grid system. If power outages occur frequently, the owners might consider either a backup propane generator or even limited battery backup.

    The frustrated Katrina victim who painted the sign to the left would have loved to have had power even if only while the sun was shining. I found the sign in the median of US Highway 43 in Picayune, Mississippi, on 9/11/2005. He was 12 days into an 18-day power outage.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011: Every company is an energy company.

    environmental Leader (4/4) believes every company is an energy company. And if it isn’t, it will be soon. A decade from now, a company without an energy and sustainability department could be as unusual as one without a human resources department. Or, it might be out of business.

    Energy consumes a significant portion of an enterprise’s spending, accounting for 5-20 percent of a typical company’s costs. Yet, many organizations have a poor understanding of their energy consumption and how to reduce it. Their unawareness of how they consume energy is analogous to an individual paying for a grocery cart full of food at the supermarket, but without knowing what is in the cart or how much any individual item in the cart costs. This is not a successful way to operate in a period when costs for various products and services are likely to escalate.

    There’s no reason for companies to wait a decade – or even a year – to move toward an energy strategy. The sooner companies begin to understand and actively manage their energy use and energy sources, including possible ways to produce their own energy, the faster they’ll see the potential for a number of advantages including significant savings, a better bottom line, greater customer loyalty, a cost-edge over competitors, lower business risk and a company-wide awareness of sustainability that can rein in resource waste across the board.

    Nuclear was the topic of many news stories for Monday, April 4th. One Washington Post article claimed, “Numerous analyses say nuclear power is safest way to make electricity,” while ABC World News announced, “‘Highly radioactive water’ pours into pacific from damaged nuclear plant.” Reuters predicted, “U.S nuclear plant costs may soar after Japan quake.” We certainly hope solar and other renewable sources get at least the same consideration as nuclear, natural gas, and coal.

    Monday, April 4, 2011: Google Wind Project Seeks Approval From Federal Agency.

    Bloomberg News (4/1, Wingfield) reports, A Google-backed effort to build a $5 billion undersea power line to support wind energy from New Jersey to Virginia is seeking approval from the US Interior Department. According to the report, "Atlantic Wind Connection filed an application today with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement for the right to build the transmission line on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Atlantic." Markian Melnyk, president of Atlantic Grid Development, which heading the development of the project, said in a statement, that the initiative "would enhance the competitive regional electric market by increasing supply options and reducing congestion on existing facilities."

    This project underscores the advantages of distributed generation such as rooftop solar photovoltaic and solar thermal arrays. Distributed generation produces electricity and heat very near to where it is needed. Long-distance transmission of electricity is inefficient and expensive; long-distance transmission of heat is almost impossible.

    Five billion bucks would buy more than 5,000 megawatts of solar panels on existing roofs. That sounds to me like a much better investment, and it generates power right where it is needed avoiding transmission losses.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011: Waste Management Invests $22m in Plastic-to-Fuel Company

    environmental Leader reports that Waste Management has participated in a $22 million investment round benefiting Agilyx Corporation, a company that makes synthetic crude oil from waste plastic.

    This all sounds god, but how about using a lot less plastic in the first place?

    Saturday, April 2, 2011: Subsidies Providing Financial Incentives To Solar Power Adoption.

    The Wall Street Journal (3/31, B1, Gold) analyzes government subsidies for solar power and how they are attracting interest from some homeowners who see them as an attractive investment incentive rather than just a reason to adopt an alternative energy source. The Journal examines how the subsidies work, what they are doing to the price of solar power, and points out that they will be in place until 2016. Some observers think the subsidies fill a critical role in supporting solar power as the costs become more competitive against other energy sources, while some critics see the subsidies as raising energy prices overall.

    Friday, April 1, 2011: Nanomaterial Could Improve Adsorption Chilling.

    Technology Review (3/30, Bullis) reports researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are developing "new porous materials" that "can improve a process called adsorption chilling, which can be used for refrigeration and air conditioning." The new materials could potentially "allow adsorption chillers to be 75 percent smaller and half as expensive," putting them on par with current compression chilling units. Lead researcher Peter McGrail and his team are "replacing silica gel with an engineered material made by creating nanoscopic structures that self-assemble into complex three-dimensional shapes." These structures can hold more water, and "also binds less strongly to water molecules."

    Solar thermal is an excellent way to heat water, but demand for hot water or even space heating in Alabama is not that great. Adsorption chillers work very well with solar hot water systems to produce cooling which is in demand here. More efficient adsorption chillers could work very well with larger cooling or refrigeration applications.

    Thursday, March 31, 2011: EU proposes banning gas-powered cars from cities by 2050.

    environmental Leader, Environmental and Energy Management News Gasoline-powered cars will be banned from European cities starting in 2050, under a master plan to cut CO2 emissions.

    The European Commission has unveiled its plan for a “Single European Transport Area”, including proposals to phase out “conventionally fueled” cars from urban areas. The EC foresees halving the use of such vehicles in city centers by 2030, and banning them completely by 2050. The European plan calls for a 40 percent cut in shipping emissions, 40 percent use of low carbon fuels in aviation, and for shifting half of journeys above 186 miles from road to rail. These efforts will contribute to a 60 percent overall cut in carbon emissions, the EC said.

    But the U.K. government has rejected the proposals, ridiculing the idea that it should dictate transportation choices. “We will not be banning cars from city centers any more than we will be having rectangular bananas,” transport minister Norman Baker said.

    The EC also aims to come close to eliminating deaths by road accidents by 2050, and wants to see freight vehicles in cities become carbon-free by 2030. Transport commissioner Siim Kallas said the changes don’t have to inconvenience people. “Freedom to travel is a basic right for our citizens,” he said. “Curbing mobility is not an option. Nor is business as usual.”

    When I lived in Germany in the early ‘90s, cities sometimes banned all private vehicles except bicycles from larger cities when smog levels were critically high. I often cycled to work carrying my bicycle with me on the light rail connecting Mainz, Wiesbaden, and Frankfurt.

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011: Energy is on many engineers’ mind these days.

    Twelve of the 16 articles summarized in Tuesday’s NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) Daily Designs, Business News for PEs (Professional Engineers) were energy related. Here are just a few:

    • US Clean Energy Investment Falls Behind China, Germany.
    • Jeff McMahon writes in his blog for Forbes (3/29) that according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the US "dropped to third place behind China and Germany in clean-energy investment last year." Meanwhile, "investment in clean energy rebounded from flat recessionary levels, growing 30 percent from 2009 to set a record at $243 billion worldwide." Much of that growth occurred in Asia. The report read, "Overall, it is clear that the center of gravity for clean energy investment is shifting from the West (Europe and the United States) to the East (China, India and other Asian nations)."

      Reuters (3/29, Gardner) adds that the report showed that investment in clean energy in the US in 2010 totaled $34 billion, which as 51 percent higher than the previous year. That amount compares to the $54.4 billion invested by China and the $41.2 billion invested by Germany.

    • China Could Overtake US Science In Two Years, Research Finds.
    • BBC News (3/29, Shukman) reports that according to a recent study from the UK's Royal Society, China could overtake the US in science in as little as two years. "An analysis of published research - one of the key measures of scientific effort - reveals an 'especially striking' rise by Chinese science." The research found that the increase in the number of papers published in China is rising sharply and steadily, outpacing previous predictions that it would surpass the US in a decade. "Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, chair of the report, said he was 'not surprised' by this increase because of China's massive boost to investment in R&D." The BBC notes, "Chinese spending has grown by 20% per year since 1999, now reaching over $100bn, and as many as 1.5 million science and engineering students graduated from Chinese universities in 2006."

    • Legislators Plan To Introduce Oil, Gas Production Legislation.
    • The Hill (3/29, Restuccia, Geman) "E2 Wire" blog reports that "Republicans will introduce legislation in the House and Senate this week that aims to dramatically expand US oil-and-gas production" as gas prices continue to rise. Until now, "Republicans have only discussed their energy plans in broad strokes in recent weeks. But the new legislation signals that the GOP is planning to put meat on the bones of their agenda." House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) plans to unveil legislation Tuesday to expand production, while Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) will introduce legislation to speed up permitting in the Gulf on Thursday. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) will introduce companion legislation in the House.

    There is nothing wrong with increasing our domestic production of conventional fuels to reduce dependency on foreign suppliers, but shouldn’t we give at least equal support to renewable energy sources? If we are going to invest in new infrastructure, why not build renewable facilities instead of just more-of-the-same? Fossil and nuclear fuel is going to keep costing us. Sunshine and wind are free forever. Why not educate people to encourage conservation to reduce demand for all energy sources?

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011: Cincinnati Zoo completes 6,400 panel solar canopy.

    environmental Leader, Environmental and Energy Management News reports that soon, a four-acre solar canopy at the Cincinnati Zoo will furnish 20 percent of the zoo’s energy needs while providing shade for nearly 800 of the 1,000 parking spots available at the zoo’s main entrance. The 6,400 solar panels will total 1.56 MW making it the largest publicly accessible urban solar project in the country. The zoo said the panels will save it millions of dollars off of its electric bills.

    “When we talk about the unknown future of energy policy and energy rates, we can know that 20 percent of our load is locked in and accounted for,” senior director of facilities, planning and sustainability Mark Fisher said. The zoo’s annual electric bill is about $700,000, reports.

    Melink Corporation developed the installation and will own and operate the panels. They will sell the electricity for about eight cents a kWh, about what the zoo currently pays FirstEnergy, but the price will be locked in for seven years, said.

    “Nowhere else has an array of this magnitude been placed in such an urban environment, allowing our visitors, and the general public at large, to be able to see firsthand what solar photovoltaic energy is all about,” Fisher added. “The education potential of this advanced energy project is off the charts.”

    Monday, March 28, 2011: Creative financing options for renewable installations inspire action and several whiffs of controversy.

    GreenSource, the magazine of sustainable design Denver International Airport (DIA) wants to get 3 percent of the airport’s power from an adjacent 28-acre solar farm to generate by spring 2011. The PV installation should reduce DIA’s carbon footprint by 5,000 metric tons each year. The system’s Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with third-party financing for the $16-million project will let the array immediately benefit the airport’s bottom line. “We’re actually making money,” says DIA deputy manager John Ackerman. See the upcoming April Sundial for more on financing options for energy projects.

    Denver airport’s PPA —their third for solar power—shows that property owners are becoming more savvy. At a glance the deal is textbook PPA: Denver solar developer Oak Leaf Energy Partners signed up Baltimore-based Constellation Energy to build and operate DIA’s latest array, while DIA committed to purchase the solar output for the next 20 years. Constellation will also capture federal tax breaks for the equipment, plus renewable energy credits that local utility Xcel Energy must purchase to meet Colorado’s renewable energy standard. Similar laws mandating utilities to increase renewables’ share of their power supply are on the books in 29 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, Alabama has no PPA provisions nor a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

    Total installed solar in the United States doubled in 2010, despite the recession, and it is expected to double again this year. Installing more solar harvesting capacity makes a lot more sense than building more nuclear power plants.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011: Construction equipment companies highlight higher fuel economy, environmental standards.

    Under the headline "Construction-Equipment Makers To Stress Fuel Economy," the Wall Street Journal (3/22, Hagerty, Tita) reports that at the Conexpo trade show taking place in Las Vegas this week, equipment manufacturers are acting on concerns about rising fuel prices by highlighting the increased fuel economy, as well as their products' reduced environmental impact.

    Saturday, March 26, 2011: First completed DOE-loan funded project goes online.

    Bloomberg News (3/25, Goossens) reports, "First Wind Holdings Inc., a closely held developer, said a 30-megawatt wind farm in Hawaii has gone into commercial service, the first renewable energy project to be completed with backing from the US Energy Department's loan guarantee program." First Wind, which received a $117 million loan guarantee in July, said "the Kahuku Wind project on Oahu has the largest installed battery storage system connected to a US wind farm." The power system "can absorb or release as much as 1 megawatt of electricity a minute, which 'manages output from the variable island winds and allows us to maximize the use of power generated by our project,'" according to First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor.


    Friday, March 25, 2011: Contest Challenges Students To Build Recycled Steel Structures.

    The Fort Payne Times Journal (3/23, Harrison) reports, "Students in the Fort Payne and DeKalb County school systems will soon have the opportunity to show their metal in a test of strength." The "Strength of Steel Challenge," sponsored by Nucor Corp. and its Vulcraft subsidiary, "will invite middle and high school students" from a number of states "to participate in teams of two to four to create a structure out of recycled steel that can be used to support another object or objects in the home, school or vehicle." The minimum amount of weight the structures must hold is "5 pounds, but structures with the ability to withstand greater amounts are highly encouraged."

    Thursday, March 24, 2011: Laboratory Seeks To Improve LEDs' Appeal To Consumers.

    The Washington Post (3/22, Service) reports on the Vision Science laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, run by Wendy Davis, which is "the only one of its kind in the world" and experiments with LEDs, a very efficient means of lighting. "Davis and her colleagues turned to the task of developing metrics to guide manufacturers, who need to make sure their lights make objects appear natural" and therefore appeal to consumers. "In her lab, scientists create lighting conditions to evaluate how subjects register colors, according to Yoshi Ohno, a group leader in the Optical Technology Division, who oversees Davis' project."

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011: Congress trying to block Bush era light bulb restrictions

    TEA-party inspired legislators are trying to block a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush which has driven manufacturers of traditional incandescent light bulbs out of the United States. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires that all 100-watt incandescent light bulbs to be almost 30-percent more energy efficient by January 1, 2012. Since that means higher production costs, manufacturers in America have stopped making the traditional bulbs. Some consumers have already started stockpiling the old-model bulbs, complaining that the replacements cast a unattractive light compared to the warmth of incandescent bulbs.

    Customer complaints are mainly due to misconceptions of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs. See for the story of the first-generation CFLs in my garage and how the technology has evolved. Perceived savings in purchase price will undoubtedly lead to significantly higher operating costs and energy inefficiency. My 12-year old, first-generation bulbs have already saved me a lot of money even considering the $11.00 initial costs. CFLs today cost much less and may produce light as pleasing as an incandescent bulb. LED lights can be greatly superior to the incandescent bulbs and even the new CFLs.

    The initial costs per bulb will be higher; a 100-watt incandescent bulb now costs about 60-cents, while a more energy-efficient CFL costs about $3.40. But since the new bulbs can last 6 to 10 times longer (12 years in my garage), industry supporters of the new regulations say this will benefit consumers. Kyle Pitsor with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association points out that “your operating cost over time is cheaper and you're keeping money in your pocket.” He says Americans still will be able “to buy an incandescent technology, it won’t be the same as today's technology it will be more efficient, and it will result in lower energy bills.”

    One light bulb won’t make much of a difference, but who has one light bulb in a house? Add up all the small power loads of your lighting (about ten percent of your total electric bill), and the 80-percent potential savings of CFL or the 95-percent potential of LEDs can quickly pay for higher purchase costs of the new lamps.

    Don’t be afraid of something new just because of the higher initial costs. Look to the future and make wise choices.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011: EPA Coal Pollution Proposals Expected To Cost $10 Billion, Save Thousands Of Lives.

    How much is one human life worth in the United States?

    As part of the continuing press coverage of the new pollution standards for power plants recently proposed by the EPA, the New York Times (3/18, Rudolf) reported in its "Green" blog that the new rules will cost power companies at least $10 billion. The blog further stated, "That it would take more than 20 years for federal regulators to finally propose toxic emissions standards for the power industry is testament to both the slow wheels of bureaucracy and the clout of the nation's utility and coal interests, which bitterly - and for years, successfully - fought the controls, even as other industries bowed under." John Bachmann, a former associate director for the EPA, indicated that the delay "cost thousands of lives." However, the report noted that "by the E.P.A.'s calculus, the pollution controls will prevent 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks per year once fully implemented."

    The AP (3/21) reports, "Environmental groups are praising new federal standards proposed to limit mercury and other coal-fired power plant air pollutants, saying the rules are a major step toward reversing damage to New York's lakes and helping loons and other wildlife, particularly in the Adirondacks." According to the report, the EPA's proposal "was in response to a deadline set in a US Court of Appeals decision in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of national health and environmental groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club." The AP goes on to mention that "Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said technology required by the new standard will cut mercury emissions from power plant smokestacks by 91 percent and also reduce fine particulate matter, low-level ozone and acid rain."

    The Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader (3/21) also covers the story in an editorial, which states, "A bipartisan majority of Congress in 1990 ordered the EPA to get to work on nationwide standards for toxic emissions from power plants. If people should be alarmed about anything, it's that it's taken so long and that the health of so many has suffered during the delay." The editorial notes that according to the EPA, the rules will add $3 to $4 per month on power bills; while also mentioning that "the health and environmental benefits would exceed $100 billion a year."

    By my calculations, the utility and coal lobbies believe one American life is worth less than $30,000, or at least it will be over the next 20 years. Gee! I thought I was worth more than that.

    Monday, March 21, 2011: Greenopolis has come to Huntsville!

    The Greenopolis machine in front of Huntsville City Hall at 308 Fountain Circle is the first in Alabama. Bring qualifying recyclable items to City Hall and get rewards for being “green!” Hopefully by bringing awareness to this great program, more businesses will catch up and we will hopefully have them all over Huntsville and across Alabama, so that everyone can easily stop by to recycle and earn! Here is what you do to participate:

    1. Go to and Join (it’s free) and you get 10 points just for joining!
    2. Go to the Greenopolis Recycling Kiosk at City Hall to recycle your beverage containers to earn points! You will get a Kiosk Receipt that you will then come back to and enter it into your account.
    3. Cash in your points as discounts and coupons for entertainment, dining, travel, personal services and much more from nationally recognized names like Marriott, Johnny Rockets, Domino Pizza and Blockbuster, located right here in Huntsville.

    Waste Away, a subsidiary of private trash hauler Waste Management, calls the kiosks "a whole new approach to recycling that can help change the way our 'throwaway society' views its trash - that is, as a valuable resource rather than something useless."

    Of course, recycling is only your third best option. Try first to Reduce, Reuse, and only then Recycle.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011: An Israeli resident will speak in Huntsville on the quest for energy independence and life on the embattled West Bank of Israel.

    Eliezer Braun lives in the West Bank of Israel. He is speaking at a private reception in Nashville on Saturday night. He has offered to share his story of life on the West Bank, their struggle for survival, and their efforts toward energy independence. We can hear him speak at the Hampton Inn at 4815 University Drive NW, Huntsville at 3:00 PM on Sunday, March 20.

    Please contact Morton or call 256-658-5189 if you need any more information.

    Saturday, March 19, 2011: WSJournal Praises House Bill To Overrule EPA Carbon Rule.

    In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal (3/15) praises the House bill to overrule the Environmental Protection's Agency's proposed rule to regulate carbon. The Journal says this is an example of democratic self government, and criticizes EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for suggesting that the effort would undermine science.

    Friday, March 18, 2011: ASA celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day in spectacularly "green" fashion.

    In the morning, we piled into the back of Al Orillion’s antique pickup truck sporting new banners that said, “Green year round, Alabama Solar Association.” We got an very warm response to our pleas to the crowd to “Think Green.” One viewer asked, “Does that truck run on solar power?”

    “Yes,” I replied. “The sun grew the plants that the earth compressed into petroleum that was distilled into the gasoline that powers us.” After all, all energy comes directly or indirectly from the sun.

    In the evening, we got another warm response from the North Alabama Sierra Club to our presentation, “Going Green.”

    March 17, 2011, was a sunny, very “green” day in Huntsville.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011: House Panel Approves Bill Curbing EPA Powers.

    Several newspapers and news agencies Tuesday reported that a bill seeking to curb the power of EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, mostly along party lines. The committee "passed the bill, known as the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, by a vote of 34 to 19," with "three Democrats, Representatives John Barrow of Georgia, Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike Ross of Arkansas," voting "with the unanimous Republican majority," reports the New York Times(3/16, A20, Broder). The paper notes that GOP members vowed to put the bill to a vote on the House floor before the Easter break. President Obama, however, "has promised to veto any measure to limit E.P.A. authority," the Times adds.

    "Republicans argued that action by the EPA, coming after Congress failed to pass a climate and global warming bill, would impose burdensome and unnecessary rules on industry," according to the Miami Herald (3/15, Hennessey). The paper said the bill, "introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.," is "a reaction to a 2007 Supreme Court decision holding that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases if they were found to danger to health."

    AFP (3/16) reports, "If ranking Democrat Henry Waxman's House amendment had been approved it would have put Congress on record that it accepts EPA finding that 'warming of the climate is unequivocal' and would have allowed EPA, under the Clean Air Act, to introduce regulations on greenhouse gases emissions in order to address climate change." Committee chairman Fred Upton "warned that EPA regulations could cause a further rise in oil prices -- already under pressure in part because of unrest in Libya."

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011: New York Times proposes digging up energy savings right in your backyard,

    New York Times (03/08/11) Kreahling, Lorraine

    Ground-source heat-pump geothermal systems take advantage of the earth's nearly constant temperature below the frost line to heat and cool buildings. The technology is best known in the Midwest and the South where the Department of Energy reports two-thirds of the nation's geothermal systems are located. The trend is steadily upward, according to Steven Chalk, chief operating officer of the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The 115,442 heat pumps that shipped from manufacturers in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available, was "triple the number from a decade earlier," according to Clark, who adds that 3.5 percent of homes built that year installed geothermal heat pumps. "Cost savings are specific to the area of the country, and depend on whether you are competing with natural gas or propane or electric resistance," says Gordon Bloomquist, a retired senior scientist at Washington State University. "If electricity costs 10 cents a kilowatt, a heat pump will cost you 2.5 cents for the same amount of electric heat," he says.

    Bloomquist says the growth of the geothermal market has been hampered by the lack of proficient engineers and installers, which in turn contributed to the high cost of the systems. The Energy Department dedicated $1,077,500 of Recovery Act funds to create national certification standards for architects, engineers, HVAC specialists, drillers, and other trades involved in geothermal installation. Also, $61.9 million of Recovery Act money has been directed to cost-sharing geothermal projects in schools, hospitals, government and commercial buildings in an effort "to show the economic feasibility of ground-source heat pumps," notes Chalk. The federal government has also begun to address the other major hurdle faced by consumers who want a geothermal system: the upfront cost. Legislation passed by Congress in 2009 offers homeowners a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of any geothermal system that is installed by Dec. 31, 2016. Commercial projects may deduct 10 percent.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011: Minnesota cracks Top Ten In Green Building List.

    Twin Cities (MN) Business (3/7, Anderson) reported, "Minnesota has been named a leader in environmental design, ranking 10th for green building practices" in the annual list developed by the US Green Building Council. The top three were the District of Columbia, Nevada and New Mexico. In Minnesota, "the USGBC called attention to the Edina Crosstown Medical Building in Edina," which "recently was named a winner of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) awards of excellence."

    Monday, March 14, 2011: Japan continues to worry about while meltdowns, while American politicians focus on drilling for more oil.

    We’re all for more locally produced energy, but we feel at least some effort should go to renewable sources. Solar doubles in 2010 during a recession. We need sustainable energy sources, and something cleaner wouldn’t hurt either.

    Partial Meltdown Possible at Japan Nuclear Plant Fox News (3/13/2011) Tokyo Electric Power Co. says three workers have been injured and seven are missing after an explosion at the earthquake and tsunami stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, where officials are working to stave off a possible meltdown.

    Petrochemical Companies Want Clear Energy Policy. Bloomberg News (3/9, Landress) reports, "US petrochemical producers want a clear federal energy policy to ensure the continued domestic shale-gas supply before they make large investments in steam crackers that utilize the feedstock." Doug May of Dow Chemical Co. said, "A little concern for us is that the supply of natural gas has not kept pace. ... Policy makers need to realize that this natural gas change is an important part of petrochemical, but it is a national opportunity as well."

    A clear policy would be to give renewable, clean energy sources the same value of subsidies given to the fossil fuels.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011: "Partial Meltdown” Likely Under Way at Japan Nuclear Plant.

    A top Japanese government official says a 'partial meltdown' is likely under way at the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant which suffered a cooling systems failure after an explosion, as nearly 170,000 people flee the area. This has to make folks in the Tennessee Valley worry about the two nuclear reactors in North Alabama and the news ones TVA want to build.

    We prefer nuclear power from that power plant 93 million miles away we call "The Sun."

    Saturday, March 12, 2011: Industry Report Finds US Solar Industry Saw Record 67-percent Growth in 2010.

    In its "Green House" column, USA Today (3/11, Koch) reports that according to a study by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, "the US solar power market grew a record 67% last year, making it the fastest-growing energy sector." The study finds that the industry's market share increased from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6 billion in 2010. It indicates that federal tax credits and declining technology costs have contributed to the industry's growth. The column adds, "Achieving such amazing growth during the economic downturn shows that smart polices combined with American ingenuity adds up to a great return on investment for the public. The bottom line is that the solar energy industry is creating tens of thousands of new American jobs each year."

    Bloomberg News (3/11, Goossens) reports that according to the industry group's report, "the amount of new solar energy capacity in the US doubled last year and may double again in 2011 because of government incentives, stronger demand and falling prices." Shayle Kann, GTM Research's managing director of solar research, said that "another doubling of US installations in 2011 is likely, even in the absence of a substantial mid-year price decline."

    The Minneapolis Star Tribune (3/11, Marcotty) also covers the industry report, adding that the solar sector "was the fastest growing energy sector in the US economy, contrasting overall US GDP growth of less than 3 percent."

    Americans are scrambling to find more oil, even if they have to borrow it from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) set aside for emergencies. I have no problem calling the current oil shortages an emergency, but borrowing from the SPR and even drilling more in the United States are temporary solutions. This is a perfect opportunity to work on a long-term, sustainable solution. If solar power can double during a recession, we certainly can move forward during better times. Let’s keep thinking innovative sustainability instead of choking more-of-the-same fossil energy dependence.

    Friday, March 11, 2011: Rockford, Illinois, Wastewater Plant Powered By Own Sewage

    WTVO-TV Rockford, IL (3/9, Stevens) reported on its website that the sewage brought in by Rockford's wastewater treatment plant is used to help fuel the plant. The plants uses its co-generators to "take the gas and use it to generate electricity and heat," but the generators are only online part of the time. WTVO-TV explains, "When electricity prices rise during the day... the switch gets thrown on for these three generators. They turn turbines producing electricity and waste heat." These actions help the city save $30,000 a year by providing its own power.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011: China could have 26.7% renewable energy by 2030

    Renewable Energy Focus (3/8/2011) reports that Renewable energy could supply 26.7% of China’s energy consumption by 2030, although the more probable middle scenario sets the share at 20-22%, according to the Centre for Renewable Energy Development (CRED).

    China wants to expand their renewable portfolio from three sources providing a little more than six percent of the country’s energy to a dozen sources providing more than a quarter of China’s needs.

    The sun rose in a brown haze over Nanchang, China, every morning for the week we were there in October 2003. See the last photo on the ASA "Photos: page, Coal-fired electric generation plants made the Chinese air so unhealthy, that Beijing officials shut off the worse offenders for the Olympics in 2008. Even then, participating athletes from around the world reported diminished performances.

    China has good reason to want to improve air quality and reduce energy dependence. If china can make this progress, why can’t the United States?

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011: Tidal Power System to be Connected to the Grid.

    The AP (3/8) reports Ocean Renewable Power Co. "says its prototype underwater power system has passed all of its tests, paving the way for a commercial unit to be connected to the region's grid by year's end." The system is reportedly causes "no harm to marine life" and can generate 150 kilowatts. Ocean Renewable Power "intends to install more of the units in coming years, increasing capacity to 3.2 megawatts by the end of 2014."

    That's not just "Solar" power, that's "Solar" and "Lunar" power!

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011: SPR to ease gas prices?

    The Obama administration is considering answering repeated calls to open Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to counter the current oil price spike. The SPR is for emergencies, and it is only a temporary fix.

    If we recognize the current oil shortage as an emergency, then we should recognize that it is time now to begin working on a long-term solution. Electric cars powered by photovoltaic carports and garages offer one solution. Bio-fuels such as Hoover’s ethanol-powered police cruisers and bio-diesel powered-equipment—both made from waste—offers another.

    It’s time to put the brains of the North Alabama that took us to the moon and back to work solving energy problems here at home.

    Monday, March 7, 2011: IBM Officials See New Jobs Stemming From Smarter, More Efficient Buildings.

    Computerworld (3/2, Thibodeau) reports, "The need to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and the reliability of utilities has created a multi-billion dollar market opportunity for IBM, along with new job opportunities for IT professionals, executives say." The company is busy "developing systems that can turn vast amounts of data collected by sensors, GPS and RFID systems in buildings and infrastructure systems into information that can be acted on to save energy and improve efficiency," which it is marketing as part of its "Smarter Planet" campaign. Officials said the integrated infrastructure and IT systems will require professionals skilled with both. Such programs already exist. "In 2004, Carnegie Mellon University has created a graduate program on advanced infrastructure systems," which exposes civil engineers to research "that requires collaboration with the school's computer science and electrical engineering department."

    Sunday, March 6, 2011: EPA Report Touts Benefits of Clean Air Act.

    Bloomberg News (3/2, McQuillen) observes that an EPA report said "Cutting ozone pollution using the Clean Air Act will have saved $2 trillion by 2020 and prevented at least 230,000 deaths annually" The report also found "tougher Tougher emission restrictions adopted in 1990 helped avoid more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost work days and 1.7 million asthma attacks last year." EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson remarked, "The Clean Air Act's decades-long track record of success has helped millions of Americans live healthier, safer and more productive lives."

    We certainly agree with the value of clean air. Humans can live weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without oxygen. The picture that the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-125) crew took from orbit May 22, 2009 ( shows what a thin blue line our atmosphere occupies around Earty. That’s all that keeps us alive.

    March 5, 2011: University of Arizona Engineers Designing Solar-Powered Desalination Systems for Navajo Reservation.

    The Green Valley (AZ) News and Sun (3/3) reports, "The University of Arizona is working with the US Bureau of Reclamation and the Navajo Nation to develop" a treatment process for well water in the reservation's more remote areas, which often "has a high saline content" as well as "unsafe concentrations of uranium and arsenic." Because access to the electrical grid is scarce, "Wendell Ela, a professor of engineering at the University of Arizona, said a solar-powered desalination system could be the answer." Ela and a group of students "are testing a prototype system on the roof of the UA Civil Engineering Building" that would use solar power and a membrane to purify the water. The engineers say their process is more efficient than using reverse osmosis.

    Cheap gas. Energy independence. More power from wind and solar. Many Americans want these things, but do they want to pay for them with tax dollars? See how your taxes support both “Green” and “Brown” energy efforts.

    Here's a look at some energy subsidies in President Obama's 2012 Fiscal Year budget:


    • $3.6 billion for Oil and gas
    • $800 million for nuclear
    • $452 million coal


    • $457 million for solar
    • $340 million for bio fuels
    • $126 million wind

    When you add them all up, for all energy sources including ethanol, Taxpayers for Common Sense President Ryan Alexander says taxpayers lose billions each year. "We need a level playing field and the easiest way, the cleanest way would be to eliminate all energy subsidies," says Alexander. But that is unlikely. Industrial giants, oil and coal corporations have been sucking off the federal feeding bottle for more than a century, and their lobby in Washington is no less influential today.

    Read more: on the Fox News website.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011: Geologists believe Arkansas earthquakes may be caused by “fracking.”

    The sudden swarm of earthquakes in Arkansas—-including the largest quake to hit the state in 35 years-—is very possibly an after effect of natural-gas drilling, experts warn. At issue is a practice called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in which water is injected into the ground at high pressure to fracture rock and release natural gas trapped within it.

    Geologists don't believe the fracking itself is a problem. But Steve Horton, an earthquake specialist at the University of Memphis and hydrologic technician with the U.S. Geological Survey, is worried by a correlation between the Arkansas earthquake swarm and a side effect of the drilling: the disposal of wastewater in injection wells. "Ninety percent of these earthquakes that have happened since 2009 have been within 6 kilometers of these salt water disposal wells," he told The timing is too coincidental to ignore, Horton said. Salt water is a common by-product of the fracking process, and the simplest solution is to inject the toxic wastewater back into the ground. But that can lubricate the surrounding rock, experts warn, possibly leading to quakes.

    In 2009, the small town of Cleburne, Texas, experienced the first recorded earthquake in this Texas town's 140-year history, quickly followed by another four shortly afterwards. Was natural gas drilling—-which began in earnest in 2001 and brought great prosperity to Cleburne and other towns across North Texas—-causing the quakes?

    Horton also pointed to quakes in West Virginia, noting the same pattern of unusual seismic activity where previously there had been none.

    Read more on the Fox News website

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011: "Net Zero" House To Be Built In Gaithersburg, Maryland

    The Washington Post (2/26, Fleishman) reported that a test house is being built "on a federal research site in Gaithersburg," Maryland that scientists hope will prove the notion that it is possible to achieve a net zero in energy usage. The "house will have state-of the art energy-saving insulation, windows, ductwork, efficient heating and cooling units, Energy Star appliances, a solar photovoltaic array and solar thermal panels on the roof. They generate electricity by capturing energy from the sun during the day and feeding excess energy to the electricity grid. At night, the house can draw power from the electric grid." The house will also be occupied by a simulated family of four. says A. Hunter Fanney, chief of the building environment division, said that the goal of the project is "to demonstrate that net-zero energy usage can be achieved in the typical American home, not just in high-end homes or home designs that might not appeal to the typical buyer" The house cost $600,000 to build.

    "Net Zero" homes are popular in California, but they have not caught on across the nation. One problem is the price tag. A recent survey showed that 82 percent of American consumers want “Green” products, but only 18 percent are willing to pay extra to get it. Guess that confirms the old 80 – 20 rule.

    We need to design smarter, now that energy prices are skyrocketing.

    Monday, February 28, 2011: Oil and gas is on the minds of engineers everywhere.

    Ten of the 18 articles highlighted in the February 25th National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE, "Daily Designs" briefings were about oil and gas. Prices and safety seemed to be of primary concern.

    Sunday, February 27, 2011:

    Small Wind Turbines (SWT) are wind turbines with a rated capacity up through 100 kW. Used for a diverse range of applications, SWT technology has grown at a rapid pace becoming more readily available for consumers and the general public. Whether used to display environmental commitment, or to offset energy costs, SWTs have the potential to make meaningful contributions to energy security, strategic technology, and long-term economic growth in the United States.

    This webinar will provide a general overview of small wind technology and 12-step program for a small wind project, covering topics including zoning, interconnection, and the economics of small wind. A small group of experts from the SW Division will be available to answer questions from Chapter members.

    Register now at

    Saturday, February 26, 2011: Increase In Crude Oil Prices May Imperil Some Refiners.

    The Wall Street Journal (2/25, Gilbert) reports that some oil refiners will be imperiled by unrest in the Middle East because they will be unable to pass along higher prices for crude for fear that demand for gasoline will drop. If some go out of business, the US will become even more dependent on imported gasoline, according to the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. The Journal adds that even big refiners stand to be hurt in an environment that looks to be low-margin for some time, and they will have to lower production costs to stay healthy.

    This sounds to me like an excellent opportunity to brew more bio-fuels. Alabama A&M University in Huntsville is making excellent progress on converting used cooking oil to bio-diesel. A Hoover policeman reports that his ethanol-powered cruiser runs “like a scalded dog,” when he mashes on the accelerator.


    Friday, February 25, 2011: Lawsuits Threaten Solar Industry.

    On the front page of its Business Day section, the New York Times (2/24, B1, Woody) reports that "a storm of lawsuits and the resurgence of an older solar technology are clouding the future of the nascent industry" and underscore "the growing risks of building large-scale renewable energy plants in environmentally delicate areas." The lawsuits aim to block the construction of five projects, which have the potential to power more than two million homes and create thousands of jobs, on environmental grounds, because many of the areas planned for solar development "are in fragile landscapes and are home to desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and other protected flora and fauna."

    The obvious solution seems to me to avoid the big projects in favor of a lot of small ones. The big projects generate electricity that has to be transmitted long distances to get to where it is needed. Rooftop solar, both PVB and thermal, generates the energy right where it is needed. Of course, any excess can go into the grid, but it likely won’t have to travel far to find a use.


    Thursday, February 24, 2011: Oil prices soar! We need more renewable energy now.

    As the price of crude oil breaks $100 per barrel, the highest price since 2008, Americans are sure to feel the impact in their pocketbooks. Experts predicted price spikes even before the unrest in the Middle East. This is like Katrina, but with more uncertainty.

    As currently written, HR1 is likely to kill more nascent clean energy projects than the Loan Guarantee Prograam has helped launch. In fact, the bill will probably kill all clean energy projects with pending loan guarantee applications, causing huge job losses. In addition, the dozens of companies that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in solar projects in good faith reliance on existing law would probably lose their investment and face possible bankruptcy.

    Of course, the nation must face up to its fiscal challenges and reduce budget deficits; no-one denies this. But the projects enabled by the Loan Guarantee Prograam bring great benefits to the economy and the job market, as well as cleaner, greener power to the grid. Every one of these projects has been identified by the Department of Energy as viable, creditworthy and much needed by our power grid.

    When cutting expenditures in times of fiscal restraint, the place to make cuts is not where good jobs are being created and from where our energy future will spring.

    Please send a message to your U.S. Representative and make him or her understand why HR1 must not be allowed to kill the Loan Guarantee Program.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011: New York City Is Looking at Sewage Treatment as a Source of Energy

    New York Times (02/09/11) Navarro, Mireya

    New York City is casting its sewage treatment plants and the vast amounts of sludge, methane gas and other byproducts of the wastewater produced by city residents as a potential sources of renewable energy. The city is looking at its waste as an untapped resource as it seeks to reduce both the costs of sewage treatment and disposal and the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted in the process. Heating fuel can be extracted from sludge and butanol, an alternative fuel to gasoline, from the algae generated by wastewater. Sewage treatment plants could sell methane gas to provide power to homes.

    The city’s Department of Environmental Protection is seeking vendors to find uses for the daily yield of 1,200 tons of sludge, a residual that is currently sent to landfills in Suffolk County, N.Y., and Virginia. The biggest potential source of energy, officials say, is the methane gas from sewage treatment plants' digesters. About half of the methane produced by the city's plants is already used to meet about 20 percent of the energy demands of the city's 14 sewage plants, whose electric bills run to a total of about $50 million a year. The city now wants to market the other half, which is burned off and wasted.

    Through a partnership with National Grid that is already in the works, the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn is expected to add enough methane gas to the city's natural gas network next year to heat 2,500 homes. City environmental officials say they are also seeking private partners to develop a plant to produce both electricity and heat or steam near its Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant; the power would heat the plant and be sold to the market. The agency is also studying proposals for solar and wind projects on Staten Island.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011: Free viewing of Food Inc. at the March meeting of “Green Drinks”

    Join “Green Drinks” on March 5, 2011 from 1:00 - 2:00pm at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens.

    In Food, Inc., lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health.

    Monday, February 21, 2011: The Colonel goes green

    KFC claims to be as committed to the environment as they are to the food and to their customers. They are proud of the steps taken so far to reduce their environmental footprint and are committed as a brand to do even more in the in future. It’s an ongoing journey that we’re on and we want to keep their customers informed along the way.

    In 2010, KFC introduced fast food’s first reusable food container. They replaced plastic plates with paper serving boxes. It is part of their plan to reduce the use of non-renewable resources and to reduce the amount of Styrofoam from KFC restaurants

    By 2011, KFC will reduce its use of foam by 62% and total plastic use by 17%.

    Sunday, February 20, 2011: Boulder, Colorado May Change Drought Strategy.

    The Boulder Daily Camera (2/13, Urie) reported, "Boulder may soon take a new approach to regulating water use during a drought. The City Council will consider the first reading of an ordinance that would incorporate a revised drought response plan into the city code. While the plan provides a number of ways for the city to regulate water during a drought--including restricting lawn irrigation, filling swimming pools and washing vehicles--a proposed change would give the city manager the ability to reduce water budgets during a drought." The Daily Camera also states "The city's drought strategy calls for reducing the overall amount of water that Boulder uses--including residential, commercial and government uses--by up to 40 percent during the most extreme water shortages. A 'moderate' drought, the lowest level of an official drought declaration, calls for citywide water reductions of 8 percent."

    This is just one more indication of how important water may be to future growth and development.

    Friday, February 18, 2011: California Water Supplier Must Reduce Usage By 20%.

    The North County (CA) Times (2/13, Fikes) reported because water agencies are required to reduce their usage by 20% in less than a decade, in order to meet this "ambitious goal, Southern California's biggest water supplier, Metropolitan Water District, is looking at lessons from the power industry." The state's "per-capita water use is supposed to decline by 20 percent from a 1995-2005 baseline by 2020, under California's '20x2020 Water Conservation Plan,' which sets targets for meeting the state's Water Conservation Act of 2009." "Metropolitan is still in the early stages of considering market transformation approaches," according to Deven Upadhyay, manager of Metropolitan's Water Resource Management Group, but the company is planning "changes in retail water rates and enforcement of conservation ordinances" by local retail water agencies.

    We can live weeks without food but only days without water. Access to potable water may soon be more critical than is energy.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011: The U.S. House may cut green energy loan guarantees from the federal budget.

    This week the U.S. House of Representatives is fighting a pitched battle over HR1, the fiscal 2011 spending bill. The House majority is proposing budget cuts in the order of $61 billion, and appears intent on cutting the foundations from a program that helps finance solar projects around the country.

    The program is the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program (LGP). It exists to help low-carbon energy projects meet the challenge of obtaining affordable long-term commercial financing, and does this by underwriting large private loans. To date, the LGP has committed over $25 billion in loan guarantees, securing some $40 billion of private investment. The projects covered will create almost four gigawatts of clean energy, three manufacturing facilities, and tens of thousands of jobs across 19 states.

    The LGP will more than pay for itself while creating thousands of jobs, reducing dependence on foreign oil, and cleaning the air we breathe. It is a program that just makes sense.

    Please contact your congressman today and urge him to keep the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program in HR1.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011: Device Turns Brewery Waste Into Fuel.

    The AP (2/14, Curran) reports on MIT mechanical engineer and inventor Eric Fitch, who "has invented a patented device that turns brewery waste into natural gas that's used to fuel the brewing process. The anaerobic methane digester, installed last year at Magic Hat Brewing Co. in Vermont, extracts energy from the spent hops, barley and yeast left over from the brewing process -- and it processes the plant's wastewater," which in turn "saves the brewer on waste disposal and natural gas purchasing." Many US breweries incorporate some sort of waste or energy recovery technology in their process, but Fitch's "PurposeEnergy says its digester is the first in the world to extract energy from the spent grain and then re-use it in the brewery, and all in one place."

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011: Alabama A&M converts used cooking oil from Toyota plant cafeteria into bio-diesel.

    Toyota has sent more than 220 gallons of used cooking oil to a lab at Alabama A&M to develop an efficient method of converting the used oil into bio-diesel. Rudolf Diesel designed his compression-ignition engine to run on peanut oil in 1897. Cheap petroleum soon replaced the nutty crops as the source of diesel fuel. As you may have noticed, petroleum-based diesel is no longer cheap.

    Scientists have been working for years on bio-fuels to replace the ever increasing dependence on foreign oil and disturbing environmental trends of local production. The problem is how to create a bio-fuel that doesn’t compete with our food chain. The City of Daphne began collecting home cooking oil to reduce sewer clogs from grease dumped down the drain; they brew the used oil into bio-diesel for city trucks. People gladly drop off their used oil at Wal-Marts and local gas stations, and sewer clogs have vanished. Hoover, Alabama, collects oil to brew bio-diesel for city trucks and equipment. The A&M program will turn a waste product that constitutes a disposal problem into a cheap energy asset.

    Some of the oil has already been tested in private vehicles. Executives at Toyota have now asked that diesel shunt trucks and a diesel generator at their own plant be used to test the fuel.

    "This is a good partnership for us," said Mark Brazeal, the general manager of administration at the Toyota facility, which builds V6 and V8 engines for Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks and Sequoia full-size sport utility vehicles. "Our environmental philosophy is reduce, reuse and recycle."

    Monday, February 14, 2011: TVA announces rate increases

    TVA announced today that the scheduled closing of a nuclear reactor will result in higher rates. The typical TVA customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month will see an increase of $1.50 to $3.50 as the utility has to substitute more expensive fuel to make up the shortfall. Perhaps customers can offset the increase by reducing consumption. Check our green tips at for ideas of little things you can do to save energy and money.

    Expect energy prices to keep going up this year as the recession eases and demand increases. There’s never been a better time to begin taking small steps to change to renewable energy.

    Sunday, February 13, 2011: BP Estimates Energy Demand Will Rise 40 Percent By 2030.

    Oil giant BP projects that world primary energy demand will grow an average of 1.7% per year from 2010 to 2030 with the sharpest demand before 2020. Coal demand in China will likely no longer be rising toward the end of the next two decades, and China will likely become the world's largest oil consumer.

    OPEC's share of global oil production is likely to increase to 46%, a fraction not seen since 1977. Improved fuel efficiency, fear of dependency on foreign suppliers, and the increased use of biofuels should reduce US demands for oil and gas.

    Oil, excluding bio-fuels, should grow relatively slowly at 0.6% per year; natural gas should be the fastest growing fossil fuel increasing 2.1% per year or more than triple the rate of oil. Coal should increase by 1.2% per year. By 2030, coal is likely to provide as much energy a petroleum-based oil. Biofuels will likely replace much of the crude oil we now import.

    Wind, solar, bio-fuels and other renewables continue to grow strongly, increasing their share in primary energy from less than 2% now to more than 6% projected by 2030. Biofuels will provide 9% of transport fuels and nuclear and hydropower will grow steadily and gain market share in total energy consumption.

    In its "Green House" blog, USA Today, (1/19, Koch) also reported the story, but in contrast to Bloomberg News, it reported that the BP report said "from 2010 to 2030...renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels) will increase their contribution to energy growth from 5% to 18%." USA Today also noted that "the analysis is the first that BP, criticized for its key role in the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill last year, has published," and that new CEO Bob Dudley is "trying to burnish the company's reputation." He said, "One of our responsibilities is to share the information we have, to inform the debate on energy and now on climate change. ... We are not as optimistic as others about progress in reducing carbon emissions," and that "it is a wake-up call" for him "personally."

    Saturday, February 12, 2011: Chicago Awards Contract For Installing 280 EV Charging Stations.

    The Chicago Tribune (2/11, Wernau) reports, "Chicago has awarded a $1.9 million contract to" 350 Green LLC "to install 280 electric vehicle charging stations in Chicago and surrounding suburbs by the end of 2011." The money will come equally from "state and federal dollars though a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act." Under the contract, 350 Green "will install, own, operate and maintain 73 plazas where drivers will be able to plug in to either a quick-charging station, which is expected to be able to fully charge electric vehicles in under 30 minutes, or one of two 220-volt Level 2 charging stations." Overall, the installation of the stations is expected to cost $8.77 million and "the company did not answer questions about the extent to which funding is in place or who had invested in the project, and the contract did not provide those details."

    While we applaud the efforts to promote electric vehicle use in Chicago, a better solution would be to incorporate grid-tied photovoltaic-roofed charging sheds with trickle-charging options like those TVA is developing. Drivers could park vehicles in them while drivers work leaving the hot summer sun slow charging the vehicle batteries instead of turning the interior into a solar oven. Any electricity not needed by the electric vehicles can go back to the grid during peak demand hours.

    Friday, February 11, 2011: Firm Seeking FHWA Grant For Snow-Melting Solar Roadways. FOX News (2/3) profiles the firm "Solar Roadways," whose CEO Scott Brusaw "has a novel idea for dealing with snowy roads: replace them with a glass surface embedded with solar cells that generate power from the sun and store it in batteries for use at night. In his view, such a proliferation of solar cells could also help solve our ongoing dependence on fossil fuels, because they could feed excess electric power into the grid." Brusaw has applied for a $750,000 FHWA grant to "help him build a large-scale prototype to test new materials and electronics, and hopefully prove that his invention works." However, a "respected automotive expert...says that the government really needs to explore more intelligent roadways that provide clues about the conditions of the road and the upcoming traffic conditions" instead.

    That sure would have come in hand around the Tennessee Valley this past winter. While we may never get five snow events in one winter again, we do often get ice that closes bridges and mountain passes.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011: Solar Companies' Earnings Signal Future Industry Boom.

    AP (2/3, Press) reports, "Solar power companies shined brighter on Wall Street Wednesday after positive financial results and signals that US and foreign governments will invest more in alternative energy." The AP notes that in last week's State of the Union address, President Obama called for 80 percent of the nation's electricity to come from clean energy by 2035. Jeffrey Bencik, an analyst with Kaufman Bros. LP, said in a research note Tuesday that his forecast for global solar installations in 2010 would show a growth of 120 percent over the previous year.

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011: Companies find tangible benefits in greening their operations.

    The New York Times (2/3, B8, Witkin) reports, "'Sustainability' and 'going green' are buzzwords that get overused, but many business owners are discovering that looking at their operations through a green lens can help them reduce costs, rethink long-held business practices and open doors to new opportunities." The article offers "some tips on getting started," such as easy fixes that conserve resources but "cost nothing or very little to apply," and anecdotes from companies that have benefitted from following these guidelines. It also offers a set of "quick tips" and a list of suggested resources.

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011: Check out the new ASA “Join or Donate” webpage

    Steve has worked very hard to make this page more friendly. You can now join ASA, pay dues, make a donation, and more without leaving our website. You now have the option of paying directly from your PayPal account. You can even establish a new PayPal account from our page. See what Steve has done to make it easier for you.

    Monday, February 7, 2011: Check out the new ASA “Classes” webpage listing upcoming training on solar and other energy-saving subjects.

    Classes usually include professional development hours and are often free. Come learn how you can save money while reducing your carbon footprint.

    Saturday, February 5, 2011: Solar Companies' Earnings Signal Future Industry Boom.

    AP (2/3, Press) reports, "Solar power companies shined brighter on Wall Street Wednesday after positive financial results and signals that US and foreign governments will invest more in alternative energy." The AP notes that in last week's State of the Union address, President Obama called for 80 percent of the nation's electricity to come from clean energy by 2035. Jeffrey Bencik, an analyst with Kaufman Bros. LP, said in a research note Tuesday that his forecast for global solar installations in 2010 would show a growth of 120 percent over the previous year.

    Friday, February 4, 2011: The US Department of Energy is offering a free lighting webinar February 15th.

    Engineers, architects, and builders will learn how to use Commercial Lighting Solutions (CLS) a free interactive web tool that makes high-efficiency lighting projects easier. You can put the tool to work on your next project to achieve high levels of energy savings and qualify for incentives. Participants may participate in a demonstration of CLS using a case study of a real 90,000 square foot office building. In this hands-on webinar, the presenter will specify the lighting design for an actual building, beginning at the conceptual phase. You will also see how to analyze the energy performance of the proposed design compared with an existing baseline and the code-defined baseline.

    Register online at the event website.

    Thursday, February 3, 2011: A comprehensive conservation and demand management program in Ontario has local distribution companies searching for answers amid the twin-tipped requirements to reduce electricity consumption and peak provincial electricity demand.

    Approved by the Ontario Energy Board in September and scheduled to be implemented later this month, the program will continue through 2014. The board set individual targets for roughly 80 distributors.

    To help local distribution companies navigate the new code, American power industry trainer EUCI will present the conference “Conservation and Demand Management in Ontario: CDM Performance Codes in Action” Feb. 23-24 in Toronto. The event will feature insight and perspectives from industry and governmental leaders on the new code.

    The CDM effort is a performance-based incentive with rewards given once the distributor reaches at least 80 percent of both targets. Overall program targets are set at 1,330 megawatts (MW) of provincial peak demand persisting at the end of the four-year period and 6,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of reduced electricity consumption accumulated over the four-year period.

    Read the full article at: the ECUI website .

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011: Huntsville City Hall to test machine that rewards recyclers

    The City Council voted to place a "Greenopolis" kiosk on the landing outside City Hall to reward citizens for recycling and reduce waste headed for the incinerator an the landfill. Waste Away Group, the company behind the technology, is allowing the city to test it out for free for up to three years.

    About the size of a Coke machine, Greenopolis identifies recyclable materials from their UPC bar codes and then spits out a deposit ticket with reward points. The points can be redeemed for discounts at "thousands of restaurants, theaters and other retail establishments," including Marriott, Blockbuster, Domino's Pizza and Johnny Rockets, according to the Greenopolis website (

    Waste Away, a subsidiary of private trash hauler Waste Management, calls the kiosks "a whole new approach to recycling that can help change the way our 'throwaway society' views its trash - that is, as a valuable resource rather than something useless."

    The City Hall Greenopolis machine will be the first in Alabama."It's a fun way to recycle," Joy McKee, the city's landscape management director, said Thursday. "Waste Away came to us because they know we're one of the green cities in the state that wants to be greener.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011: Coskata-supported biorefinery selected will receive $250 million loan guarantee from USDA for plant in Alabama. Guarantee will support a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility.

    Warrenville, IL (January 20, 2011) – Coskata Inc., a developer of technology for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals, was notified by the USDA of their intent to provide a $250 million loan guarantee in support of a commercial biorefinery that will utilize Coskata’s technology. This is a project financing mechanism defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 9003 Biorefinery Loan Guarantee Program. The guarantee will be the largest ever awarded for a biofuel facility, and will allow the Coskata supported facility to move forward with financing the construction of a 55 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol facility in Greene County, Alabama.

    “Today’s announcement by the USDA sends a clear message about the Administration’s commitment to advanced biofuels, and provides further validation that Coskata’s technology is ready for commercial scale,” said William Roe, CEO of Coskata, Inc. “This is a critical first step that will facilitate Coskata working with the USDA, and proceeding to raise the balance of the capital needed for the project.”

    The facility is currently the largest planned cellulosic ethanol facility in the country and is expected to bring approximately 300 construction jobs and 700 direct and indirect jobs to Boligee, Greene County, Alabama. The Crossroads of America Industrial Park was chosen based on its proximity to an abundant supply of sustainably produced wood biomass, and because of the resolute support for the project by state and local officials, including the Greene County Commission and Industrial Development Authority, former Governor Bob Riley, US Senator Jeff Sessions, US Senator Richard Shelby, and former Congressman Artur Davis. The company will be working with GovernorRobert Bentley to bring this project into reality in the state of Alabama. The facility will create cellulosic ethanol, a high octane renewable fuel, with a superior environmental footprint compared to gasoline.

    “We look forward to working with the USDA and investment partners throughout 2011 to get the financing closed, so that this facility can proceed to construction, and help reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, and create significant economic growth for the people of Alabama,” said Roe.

    Coskata has been demonstrating the commercial viability of its process for over a year at the company’s integrated biorefinery, located in Madison, Pennsylvania. The process leverages proprietary microorganisms and efficient bioreactor designs in a unique three-step conversion process that can produce fuel-grade ethanol from virtually any carbon-based feedstock, including wood and wood waste, agricultural waste, energy crops, and municipal solid waste. The process produces approximately 100 gallons of fuel from each dry ton of biomass.

    With two-thirds of Alabama covered in pine forests, there should be a good supply of woody biomass for the plant. Gasoline prices now 28 cents per gallon above those of last year and still going up should make alternative fuels more attractive.

    Learn more bout Coskata, Inc. at

    Thursday, January 27, 2011: Creating a cleaner environment has its costs and President Obama said in his State of the Union speech Tuesday that he hopes oil companies can help foot the bill.

    In advancing his recurring theme of the need for American innovation, the president will push for the expansion of the use of biofuels. "We need to get behind this innovation," the president said. "And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own," he quipped.

    Mr. Obama and Republican leaders alike have discouraged American dependence on foreign sources of oil, but the president has had a fluctuating position on off-shore oil drilling. His stance was complicated by last year's BP oil spill. In the end, the president settled on a path of restraint, much to the chagrin of many lawmakers and industry leaders.

    American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard has already weighed in on the State of the Union speech, saying the president's remarks were a missed opportunity. "The president focused on job growth through federal spending, but was silent on one of the best ways to create jobs: allow more energy development. Natural gas and renewables are important components of our energy mix, but we will need our nation's vast oil resources for decades to come."

    Referring to oil as "yesterday's energy" the president suggested a new course. "With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015," he said.

    The president has long advocated green jobs as a way of creating more US jobs and begin cleaning up our environment. "Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling," Obama said.

    Read more on the Fox News Website. <

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011: TVA, Electric Power Research Institute Installing EV Charging Stations.

    The New York Times (1/25, Wald) reports in its "Green" blog, "A transition to electric cars isn't just a matter of the cars, but also of the infrastructure." Tuesday, "the Electric Power Research Institute and the Tennessee Valley Authority plan to cut the ribbon...on a prototype of a new kind of charging station." The initial station "has six parking stalls...with carport roofs covered with solar panels." If a car is not being charged, "electricity from the cells will flow to the grid," while cars being charged will take power from the solar panels, the electric grid and the station's large batteries. The station "is expected to cost $50,000 to $100,000 per space," and "the institute and the T.V.A. hope to have about 125 parking stalls in place, most of them by the end of this year and mainly in the Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga areas."

    Sunday, January 23, 2011: Steps Needed To Attain 100% Renewable Energy By 2030 Outlined.

    The Hill (1/18, Restuccia) E2 Wire blog reports that in order to "switch the country's entire energy infrastructure to renewables like wind and solar by 2030" it would take "about 4 million massive wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants and a four-fold increase in production of a rare earth metal that is a major component of key renewable energy technologies," according to National Geographic. "The magazine outlined the findings of new research on the question of transitioning to an all-renewable energy economy by 2030 as part of its energy policy series." While "the roadmap is largely theoretical" and "lawmakers are struggling to pass legislation that would require 20 percent of the country's electricity to come from renewable sources, and efforts to pass a broad climate bill have collapsed," the "research has provided one of the first pictures of exactly what it might take to rely fully on renewable energy."

    Saturday, January 22, 2011: Energy storage is key to renewable energy replacing fossil fuels.

    The Financial Times (1/14, Harvey) reports that developing viable ways to store energy is key to realizing renewable energy companies' hopes of replacing fossil fuels. Chris Stubbs, director of WSP, an environmental consultancy, told the Times that energy storage could surmount intermittency issues associated with renewables. The Times reports that cheap and reliable energy storage could also help to propel the "smart grid", a new type of electricity system that enables energy companies to control energy levels more efficiently. The Times notes that pumped storage, harnessing the power of fleets of electric vehicles, using fuel cells, and tidal energy systems are some of the ideas that are being considered for storing energy.

    Friday, January 21, 2011: Tennessee Solar Plant Scheduled To Begin Generating Power for TVA

    The 5.5-acre solar farm at Jackson, Tennessee, will soon be supplying electricity to the American Olean and Dal-Tile plant.

    One section of the farm will supply electricity directly to the TVA grid through power lines provided by Jackson Energy Authority. The TVA will pay the daily market rate for the electricity produced by the solar panels and also for renewable energy credits. Under the TVA Generation Partners program,, TVA will usually purchase all of the solar energy output at a rate of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour as a premium payment above the retail rate and any fuel cost adjustments.

    The grid-power section of the solar farm contains 4,704 Sharp solar panels manufactured in Memphis, said Robbie Thomas, president of Efficient Energy of Tennessee, the system installer. Each panel can generate 224 watts that can produce a total of 1,000 kilowatt hours of direct current hourly, he said.

    The other section of the solar farm contains 210 panels capable of producing 47 kilowatts of DC power each hour. This section of panels will be connected directly to the former Dal-Tile warehouse to supplement electrical power provided to the building, Thomas said.

    The total cost of the solar farm is about $5 million, he said. The federal government will reimburse 30 percent, or about $1.5 million, in federal grants, Thomas said. No state or local grants were provided to offset the cost of installation, he said.

    The building is in a highly visible industrial park with a railroad spur, and Interstate 40 is nearby. The addition of the renewable energy source that will help offset the daily cost of operations should make finding future tenants for the building even easier, Katz said.

    "Jackson is the hub of an automotive nexus that seems to be reasserting itself," he said, "and renewable energy sources are now a big part of a company's strategy."

    With the coming spike in energy prices, perhaps other companies in the Tennessee Valley will follow suit. Success here will undoubtedly lead to success in the rest of the Southeastern United States. It’s high time we catch up with the rest of the developed world.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011: Pay ASA dues and make donations soon with PayPalTM.

    Steve, your Information Director, has established a PayPalTM account for the Alabama Solar Association. He will soon add a link to the “Join” page to let you pay dues and make donations online with PayPalTM. We are still trying to resolve the issue of people using this payment method without establishing a PayPalTM account.

    Look for more on this soon.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011: IBM, Google, Microsoft Join 'Gold Rush' to Make Buildings Greener

    Computerworld (01/10/11) Betts, Mitch, reports that a new Lux Research Inc. study forecasts that the next wave of green IT will not only improve the energy efficiency of office buildings, it will also set up intense competition among the current makers of building-control systems and IT vendors. They include Cisco, IBM, Google, and Microsoft. In a race to capture the "smart buildings" market, these IT vendors will be vying with such building-control giants as Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Siemens, and Schneider Electric, along with appliance makers, lighting suppliers, utilities, and literally dozens of start-ups.

    According to Lux Research analyst Michael LoCascio, the building technology market will likely see a boom-and-bust cycle similar to that of the dot-com market in the late 1990s. This means an initial "gold rush" of entrepreneurs and acquisition activity, followed by a shakeout in 2015.

    The market research firm further stated that "conventional buildings unnecessarily consume a lot of energy as lighting, climate control and ventilation are all powered with little or no regard for the changing number of occupants, or the surrounding environmental or ambient conditions." To this end, smarter controls and sensors can reduce overall building energy consumption by 20 percent, or as much as 60 percent for specific functions like lighting.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011: Desalination Plants Are Looking To Go Green.

    Slate Magazine reported, "Humans have been distilling freshwater from the ocean for centuries, although early desalinators were looking for salt, with freshwater being just a byproduct. Most technological advancement, however, has happened in the last couple of decades." There are two main ways to desalinate water: "With heat or with high-tech membranes. It's pretty easy to understand the basics of thermal distillation, as the heat-based method is known. Take some seawater, boil it, and then catch the salt-free vapors that rise from the pot." Yet membrane desalination is more modern, as "it works by forcing saltwater through a semipermeable material that blocks salt and other dissolved solids. Membrane desalination became popular in the 1990s, and now represents 56 percent of global capacity." The article explains that "thermal desalination plants can take steps to reduce their energy footprint," noting, "More-efficient desalination plants can also use vacuums to decrease energy requirements."

    The Israeli-built desalinization plant on the island of Ebeye uses the waste heat discharged from an adjacent diesel generator station as its prime energy input. The only other energy requirement is electric power for process, heat recovery and seawater supply pumping at about 9.5 KWH/1,000 gallon (2.5 KWH/m3).

    The desalination plant consists of a 12-chamber low temperature multi-effect distillation unit, operating at a top brine temperature of 158°F (70 °C) with simple polyphosphate feed pretreatment. Heat is recovered from the diesel's exhaust gases, jacket cooling water, lube oil and compressed air after coolers. The plant produces 300,000 US GPD (1,100 m3/day) of pure distilled water.

    Ebeye is the most populous island of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as well as the center for Marshallese culture in the Ralik Chain of the archipelago. Many of the island residents work at the US Army Regan Test Range on nearby Kwajalein Island.

    Friday, January 14, 2011: More experts predict sharp increase in energy prices for 2011. Will it be a boon or a bane for renewable enrgy?

    Former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister believes gas will be back to $5 a gallon in 2011, or about $2 per gallon more than the $3.05 current average price.

    The Department of Energy. blames increases on the weather. Unexpectedly harsh winters here and in Europe have created a higher-than-usual demand for heating fuels. Add to that the increased demand for fossil fuels in places like China and India and the depreciation of the U.S. dollar and the sky-high prices seem inevitable.

    Demand for oil will increase sharply in 2011. Will we meet it by drilling or importing more oil, or will we use proven green resources?

    Thursday, January 13, 2011: Martha Stewart, KB Home Partner To Offer Green Houses.

    The Wall Street Journal (1/12, Wotapka) reports Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia has partnered with homebuilder KB Home to sell Martha Stewart-branded green homes that offer a variety of ecologically friendly features. Over a thousand homes have already been built in several northeast states under a more general, preexisting partnership. While the Martha Stewart brand aided home sales in the past, industry experts are uncertain if the green angle will pay off. "I'll build the greenest house in the world if the market demands it," said LGI Homes CEO Eric Lipar. But, he added, "we're not losing customers because other builders offer green options."

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011: Limited Reauthorization of ARPA-E Program Seen As "A Win."

    In its "Energy Source" blog, Forbes (1/11, Swezey) reports, "Last week, President Obama signed into law the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, a critical reauthorization of the landmark 2007 competitiveness bill that authorizes increased funding for critical science and technology agencies including the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Science and Technology." But, blog says, "the endorsement of clean energy priorities is mixed," because, "while the legislation continues to authorize funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) – an innovative agency of particular importance to solving our large-scale climate and energy challenges – the authorization of about $300 million per year is less than the $1 billion annual funding envisioned by the original COMPETES bill." However, "the new reauthorization is still a win for science and technology agencies in an era of (perhaps increasingly severe) fiscal constraint."

    Sunday, January 9, 2011: The Alabama Solar Association will award the first annual Stuart Peck Sustainability Award to the Alabama Future City Competition™ team that best designs sustainability, energy independence, and carbon reduction into their vision of a future city. The first award will be presented on Saturday, January 15 th.

    Stuart Peck believed in the environment and in harnessing solar power. He enjoyed taking his family on camping and boating trips across America, and he wanted future generations to enjoy the same experiences.

    Stuart Peck was an innovator. He had a remarkable ability to fix or resourcefully adapt anything and was eager to share his know-how with anyone. Neighborhood kids often drew from his patient teachings.

    The annual Stuart Peck Sustainability Award will encourage today’s students, tomorrow’s leaders, to enable the United States to harness the sun’s power to protect the environment and life on earth.

    Come join ASA at the Alabama Regional Future City CompetitionTM at the UAHuntsville Shelby Center on Saturday morning, January 15th to see what these amazing Alabama middle school students plan for the cities in their future.

    Friday, January 7, 2011: Higher Prices at Gas Pump Spark Calls for U.S. Oil Production

    By Darrell Proctor, EUCI

    Analysts often talk about the impact of energy prices on consumers when discussing the U.S. economy.

    And while much of the current discussion centers on pricing for natural gas and its effect on power generation (futures prices for natural gas this week hit their highest level since August), it’s the price of crude oil and its effect on the cost of gas at the pump that has economists concerned as a new year begins.

    Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, told USA Today this week: “Oil prices ripple through every part of the economy. I think it’ll be the second-highest year for oil prices on record.”

    Former Shell CEO John Hofmeister last week predicted U.S. motorists would be paying $5 a gallon for gas in 2012 as global demand for oil grows while U.S. production shrinks. The effect of higher prices at the pump (experts say gas prices are likely to approach $4 a gallon this summer) would include increased costs for many products and be a blow to U.S. economic recovery.

    Instead of drilling for more oil, how about harvesting more sunshine or considering bio-fuels?

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011: Inline Electric presents there free 2011Energy Efficiency Expo February 22nd.

    The 2011 Inline Electric Energy Efficiency Expo will introduce you to the latest the electrical industry has to offer in energy efficient products and design strategies and provide on-site demonstrations as well as educational opportunies. Industry experts will be available to answer questions and provide information on the current technologies.

    Helping us achieve improved energy efficiency for our facilities is the Inline goal.

    This excellent, free event will be held in the Davidson Center of the US Space and Rocket Center, Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Alabama on February 22, 2011.

    Throughout the day there will be presentations on new products and speaking sessions that will help you meet your continuing education requirements while learning to save money while you reduce your carbon footprint. Some of our speakers include representatives from companies such as: Daybrite, Lutron, Universal Lighting and other leading manufacturers of energy saving products.

    Register online at

    Saturday, January 1, 2011: German engineers unveil plans to sail around the world on solar power alone.

    What its makers say is the world’s biggest boat powered by the sun was unveiled in Germany ahead of its planned circumnavigation of the globe in 2011 — the first under solar power.

    “This is a unique feeling to see in front of me today a boat which I so often dreamed about,” said Raphael Domjan, the boat’s future skipper.

    The sleek, 31- by 15-meter (100 by 50 foot) catamaran, known as PlanetSolar, 35 meters by 23 meters when flaps at the stern and the sides are included, will be “silent and clean,” say its makers, also called PlanetSolar.

    The futuristic-looking vessel is topped by 500 square meters (5,380 square feet) of solar panels, with a bright white cockpit sticking up in the centre. It will be able to achieve a top speed of around 15 knots, (25 kilometers per hour), and can accommodate 50 people on its round-the-world voyage. Constructed at the Knierim Yacht Club in Kiel in northern Germany, its state-of-the-art design also means it will be able to slice smoothly through the waves even in choppy waters.

    PlanetSolar will be launched in late March before starring at Hamburg port’s 821st anniversary celebrations in May and undergoing testing between June and September. The world tour will then start in April 2011.

    Silent and clean circumnavigations of the planet were achieved centuries ago using sail power, and PlanetSolar acknowledges that solar power is not about to become the main power source on modern cargo ships. But instead PlanetSolar says it wants to use the voyage primarily to promote solar power and other non-polluting sources of energy, and to show what can be done. “PlanetSolar wants to show that we can change, that solutions exist and that it isn’t too late. Future generations are looking to us; our choices will mark the future of humanity,” it said.

    “PlanetSolar is a boat equipped with classical technologies available on the market.”

    The two-person crew on the 60-ton PlanetSolar plan to stick as close as possible to the Equator in order to maximize the amount of sunlight to power the vessel. The roughly 40,000-kilometer journey is expected to last around 140 days, with organizers assuming the boat can keep up an average speed of around eight knots. The planned route foresees the boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean, slipping through the Panama Canal, crossing the Pacific and then the Indian Ocean, before passing through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. Stopovers are planned along the route including in New York, San Francisco, Darwin in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Marseille in southern France.

    News from 2010

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