Solar powered flight will reach a new milestone this week as the Solar Impulse makes a transcontinental voyage. The solar powered airplane has already completed the first leg of its journey with a 17 hour trip from their base in Switzerland to Madrid. The final destination of this trip is for the plane to fly on to Morocco.
Solar Impulse has previously completed a 24 hour flight, but that was done largely by circling in place. The current flight extends the Solar Impulse team's activity to address issues such as logistics and storms in the flight path. All of this is in preparation for the eventual around the world flight planned for 2013.
Once upon a time, ex-oil baron T. Boone Pickens was one of wind energy's biggest proponents with plans for the world's biggest wind farm in Texas and massive transmission structure to get that clean power into our homes. He also backed natural gas as an alternative fuel for cars and trucks. He had a plan to save America and he was passionate, well, until it wasn't making him money like he thought it would.
Three years ago, he backed away from his commitment to build the giant wind farm and transmission lines when the economy took a downturn. Then he completely abandoned his wind energy aspirations when the market just wasn't working for him. Now he's doing the same with natural gas, taking himself out of the alternative energy game completely.
In an interview with Marketplace, Pickens explained that the low price of natural gas was basically keeping him from making money and because the country (namely Congress) was dragging its heels on coming up with a solid energy plan he said he'd "had about all this I want to fool with."
While we were never as excited by his natural gas plans as the grand ones he had for wind energy, we kept hoping that this billionaire oil man would surprise us all and deliver some really big wind projects. But now, if natural gas is too risky for him, there's no way he's ever coming back around on wind. So long, Mr. Pickens. We enjoyed your enthusiasm while it lasted.
Nevada's Stillwater geothermal plant has added a solar array to become the world's first hybrid solar-geothermal plant. Enel Green Power North America installed more than 89,000 solar panels with a capacity of 26 MW to the site. The plant's combined capacity is now 59 MW of clean energy capable of powering more than 50,000 homes.
Solar and geothermal are a match made in heaven. Both are great sources of clean energy, but solar power needs a backup for when the sun isn't shining (whether nighttime or a cloudy day). That's where geothermal is a great partner. It's a consistent form of energy that can smooth out the gaps in solar power and during the day when demand is greatest, you have the benefit of receiving power from both sources.
The project received $40 million in tax support from the Department of Energy through the Recovery Act. Stillwater is one of 14 geothermal sites in Nevada and Utah that received investments from the DOE to accelerate geothermal power development.
DOE Secretary Steven Chu says “As the first of its kind in the world, this project demonstrates how we can tap renewable energy sources to provide clean power for American families and businesses and deploy every available source of American energy."
Saudi Arabia is making a major push make renewables, especially solar power, a bigger part of its energy mix. The oil-rich country is aiming to have 41 GW of solar power capacity installed by 2032 as well as a host of other renewable energy projects like wind, geothermal and waste-to-fuel plants.
The country is planning to install 16 GW of solar photovoltaic power and 25 GW of concentrated solar power. This breakdown makes sense with CSP being very well suited for hot desert environments.
The country hopes to cut down on its oil use and increase its presence in the solar power industry. Saudi Arabia is opening up bidding for the projects in two different rounds with project sizes ranging from 5 MW and up to determine who will build the installations.
When we first wrote about the Tres Amigas SuperStation back in 2009, it was a well thought-out concept that seemed far off from becoming a reality, but an influx of new investments has pushed it forward and the project is set to break ground this summer with the transmission hub being operational in 2015.
The SuperStation will connect the three major grids in the country: the east, west and Texas grids. It will cover 22 square miles near Clovis, New Mexico and open the door for transferring renewable energy from one part of the country to another. Now wind power generated in Texas and the Great Plains can be sold to markets on the East Coast and solar power generated in California can make it to Texas.
Getting that renewable energy from the remote areas where large projects are often located to population centers has been one of the main hurdles to really powering this country with renewables. Tres Amigas could create a nationwide market for the power generated by renewable energy projects, boosting demand and helping the industry to grow.
Beyond just helping fuel renewable energy, the hub could also make the nation's power system more reliable if all the major grids are interconnected, though smart grid technologies will also be necessary to really modernize and secure our power system.
Tres Amigas will initially only be able to transfer 750 MW between the eastern and western grids, but that starting point is better than we what we have now.
A new, small-scale wind turbine suitable for rooftop use is under development in Australia. The Windpod looks more like a cylindrical, vertical-axis wind turbine, than a 'pinwheel' horizontal-axis turbine, but is deployed on its side.
The Windpod G1 has a diameter of 450mm and a length of 2200mm (about 18 inches by 86.5 inches) and can produce up to 1 kilowatt of power. However, the cut-in wind speed seems to be around 4 meters/second (about 9 mph), and full power is not reached until a wind speed of 12.5 meters/second (nearly 28 mph). Locations with strongly directional prevailing winds would be suitable for this system, but with the high wind speeds necessary, it's unlikely this approach will replace other types of wind turbines.
We've seen other rooftop turbines that aim to use the slope of a residential roof as a wing to help drive more air through the turbine and increase its power output. The Windpod is also proposed for installation at the ridge of a sloped roof or at the roof or corner edge of a larger building, where increased wind effects are strongest. Unlike some other roof-edge turbines we've seen, the Windpod seems particularly well suited for this kind of application, although it's a fairly limited and specialized use.
Installed cost for the Windpod in Australia is estimated to be AU$7,000-7,500/kW (At current rates, the US and Australian dollar are almost on par with one another).
Toyota unveiled the all-electric RAV4, the first all-electric SUV to hit the market, at the Electric Vehicle Symposium 26 in Los Angeles on Monday. The EV is the result of a partnership between Toyota and Tesla Motors, which provided the electric drivetrain and battery technology.
The electric RAV4 looks a lot like its gas-fueled counterpart, but has some EV-only specs. The body was tweaked to deliver better aerodynamics and the headlights, daytime running lights and rear combination lights are all LEDs. The interior features an eight-inch touchscreen display for navigation, EV drive information and settings controls.
Drivers can choose between driving in Sport or Normal mode, with the former choosing performance over efficiency, taking the vehicle from 0-60 in just 7 seconds and has a max speed of 100 mph. The Normal mode slows things down with a max speed of 85 mph and goes from 0-60 in 8.6 seconds to preserve battery life. The RAV4 is expected to have a range of 100 miles and have a charging time of six hours.
The price has been set at $49,800, though tax credits and incentives will likely lower the price quite a bit. It will launch in late summer in four California markets -- Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego -- with a wider roll-out to follow. Toyota expects to sell about 2,600 units over the next three years.
As part of its People's Car Project (PCP) in China, Volkswagen has developed a concept car based on a crowd-sourced idea for an all-electric hover car that it will debut at the Beijing Auto Show.
The car is a two-person city car that hovers above the ground and travels via electromagnetic roadways. The Hover Car looks a lot like a flattened fish bowl with its circular design and large glass panels. Simon Loasby, Head of Design at Volkswagen Group China, said "The creative ideas from the ‘People's Car Project' give us a valuable insight into the wishes of Chinese drivers. The trend is towards safe cars that can easily navigate overcrowded roads and have a personal, emotional and exciting design."
Out of 119,000 submitted ideas, the other two picked by Volkswagen to become concept cars were The Music Car, which features OLED lights that create light shows to the driver's music and The Smart Key, which is just what it sounds like -- a car featuring a touchscreen key that provides information on the car's fuel level, security and more.
None of the cars will go on to become production models, but Volkswagen says they will use the people-designed vehicles to inspire features in future car models. Darn. I really wanted that Hover Car.
Ernest Callenbach died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 83. You may not recognize his name, but his book, 'Ecotopia' was an extremely influential early novel of environmentalism. It has been translated into a dozen languages and has sold nearly a million copies since it was first self-published in 1975. I would have to say that I am the EcoGeek that I am because of Ernest Callenbach.
'Ecotopia' presents an alternative future where Northern California, Oregon, and Washington State have seceded from a collapsing United States that is choked with pollution. The new country has isolated itself from its parent country, and the book is presented as the journal of the first reporter from the US to visit, some 20 years after secession, to see how Ecotopians live. The Ecotopian lifestyle was more connected to the land, more interpersonal, and more conscious of environmental effects. It may not be a realistic possibility, but it offers a compelling vision for what could be aspired to.
I had a brief email correspondence with Ernest Callenbach for a possible interview for EcoGeek (to be part of the EcoGeek of the Week series). I had only done a few of these interviews; a couple of them went well; a couple others less so (and never got published). Ernest Callenbach was a hero to me, and I didn't want to screw that one up, and I wanted to ask good questions. I have the first part of that discussion, but things telescoped and other things came up and the interview was never finished. What follows is that interview segment.
A group of eight major German and American automakers are teaming up to demonstrate a new single-port, fast-charging technology for electric vehicles at the Electric Vehicle Symposium 26 in Los Angeles. BMW, Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler and Porsche will all be showing off the system that can recharge a battery in as little as 15 minutes.
The system can accomodate AC and DC charging and has been chosen as the International Society of Automotive Engineers' official standard for fast-charging. The system will go on sale by the end of the year and will allow American and German EVs outfitted with the port to recharge at most public charging stations and at quick-charging stations. EVs featuring the new port will start going on sale in 2013.
Having a standardized charging port is a huge step in creating a mass market for EVs. This allows all German and American automakers to conform to a single style of port that supports both AC and DC chargers. This means EV charging companies can start developing and selling more fast-charging systems because the cars on the road will be equipped to use them and if potential customers know that fast-charging is an option, they will be more willing to opt for the EV over the gas-fueled car.
Japanese automakers have come up with their own fast-charging standard, but hopefully the two groups can come together and all EVs will feature the same charging port soon.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released a map that shows which states have the highest concentration of renewable power. The map compares 2001 to 2011 and displays the share of total net generation of non-hydro renewable energy for each state.
As you can see, Maine, South Dakota and Iowa all are getting over 15 percent of their power from renewable sources. Maine got 27 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2011, South Dakota 21 percent and Iowa 17 percent.
The entire country has seen a major jump in renewable energy share, but the Dakotas, Wyoming and Iowa and other states in the Midwest had the most impressive growth over 2001 when virtually no renewables were in place. The reason for the growth in many states is due to renewable energy standards that require utilities to get a certain percentage of their power share from renewable sources. States like California, Colorado and Vermont have strict ones in place, while the entire region of the Southeast have no standards or much less strict ones and you can see how those states lag behind on the map.
If you add hydro power back in, Idaho, Washington and Oregon win with 93 percent, 82 percent and 78 percent coming from renewables, respectively.
Of course, this map shows renewable energy generation from just one perspective: percentage of total electricity generation. When it comes to total capacity, the winners are a bit different. According to the EIA, here's the top six in 2012 in that category: