Not only will atomic power be released, but someday we will harness the rise and fall of the tides and imprison the rays of the sun. Thomas A. Edison

Monday, April 25, 2011

JEB Little Creek-Fort Story Celebrate Earth Day

As reported in last Friday’s Virginian-Pilot, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story commemorated Earth Day by commissioning three residential-style wind turbines. The units selected were the Skystream 3.7, rated at 400 kWh/mo. Therefore, the total rated capacity is 1200 kWh/mo of renewable energy. If the project simply stopped there, it might have amounted to a “feel good” project, but additional plans include the installation of photovoltaic arrays. This is a very small part of the U.S. Navy’s determination to derive 50 percent of its total energy needs met through non-polluting, renewable energy by 2020.

Small wind turbines represent an increasing segment of the alternative energy market. Of course, your site must be suitable for wind energy in order for anyone to derive any benefit. In the case of JEB Little Creek-Fort Story, these turbines are placed close to the shore, in line with consistent coastal breezes. In fact, initial readings exceed the rated capacity (500 kWh vs. 400).

According to Kevin Pepper, the base resource efficiency manager, the small wind turbines are merely a test project. As these systems prove themselves, the turbines will pave the way for more distributed power generation throughout the facility.

I looked into the manufacturer’s web site ( and found some interesting features. For one, the static inverter is housed within the nacelle. Control and monitoring is linked via wireless 2-way remote system that provides a simplified user interface on a personal computer. The system uses a down-wind turbine configuration, simplifying control. The entire set of three turbines cost $89,000.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Home Insurance for Those Living 'Off The Grid'

I don’t know about you, but homeowner’s insurance makes up a good chunk of that monthly expense I call “mortgage payment”. Uncle Sam does not have a monopoly on alternative energy “goodies” for those who cut utility puppet strings. Tax credits and deductions can provide a nice incentive to a homeowner, but you have to wait for April to see the benefit. Getting a discount on your homeowner’s insurance is something you can enjoy 12 times a year. Another great thing about insurer’s discount… it’s not funded by China… uh, the federal government.

The article below was found in the Fox Business web site (see link below). Lots of good information on how you can save money as a reward for energy independence.

Published April 22, 2011

As more homeowners unplug, they may find home insurance companies hooking them up with specialized coverage.

To save energy and money, many environmentally conscious homeowners recycle, compost, switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, take public transportation and use green materials in their houses.

And a growing number of Americans are taking an even bigger step to reduce their carbon footprint -- they're generating their own energy. Instead of hooking up to a public electric or gas company, they're taking their homes “off the grid” by using alternative energy sources.

Donegal Insurance Group, based in Marietta, Pa., is currently the only insurer to offer a discount for reducing reliance on public utilities. It gives homeowners a 5% discount on their premiums if they use solar panels or geothermal pumps to heat their homes.

But living “off the grid” doesn't mean going without power.

"If someone is living in a house with no heat and no water, that's not somebody we would like to insure," says Cyril Greenya, Donegal's chief underwriting officer. "If they have wood fireplaces or coal stoves, that's not something we want to insure. Now you're talking about a fire hazard. But geothermal and solar are different. They're safe."

To qualify for Donegal's discount, you must hire a qualified contractor to install the solar panels or the geothermal pump. In addition, the geothermal heat pump has to meet the federal government's Energy Star requirements at the time of its purchase. So far, Donegal hasn't written any homeowner policies for homes powered by wind, Greenya adds.

Donegal has been an environmentally conscious company for years. At the company's headquarters in southeastern Pennsylvania, for instance, lights automatically turn off when a room is not in use. "We want to be socially and environmentally responsible," Greenya says. "It's not in our mission statement, but it is one of the objectives in our business plan."

Home insurance discounts for going “green”
Over the last several years, many home insurance companies have offered their customers discounts for owning environmentally friendly homes. At the end of 2009, the Insurance Information Institute (III) reported that 22 companies offered 39 products and services for new green buildings or older buildings with green upgrades. Since then, more insurers have begun to offer green coverage to homeowners, says Michael Barry, an III spokesperson.

Barry says he isn't aware of any insurers besides Donegal to offer homeowners a discount for being off the grid.

"Alternative energy coverage is a niche business," he says. "But as more homes are being built that are so-called eco-friendly, and as more homeowners take an interest in them and as more builders build them, you will see more insurers cater to this audience."

Roughly 750,000 American households are off the grid, according to a 2010 Christian Science Monitor article. Nick Rosen, author of Off the Grid: Inside the Movement With Space Less, told the publication he estimates that this population increases 10% a year. One of the most well-known persons who lives off the grid may be Ed Begley, Jr., an actor and environmentalist, whose quirky life is chronicled in the "Living With Ed" series on the Planet Green cable channel.

Most Insurance Quotes Ignore Alternative Energy
While the nation's leading home insurers don't offer lower insurance quotes for homes that use alternative energy sources, they do sell insurance for them. For years, State Farm has underwritten policies for homes that are not hooked up to a power company. Jeff McCollum, a company spokesperson, says the insurer treats these homes like any other property: The risk and insurance premium for each is evaluated on an individual basis.

"We have no problem insuring homes that are off the grid," McCollum says. "We've been around more than 80 years, so we were insuring homes that were off the grid before there was a grid."

No Need to Buy Additional Home Insurance Coverage
You do not have to buy additional riders for policies to cover either solar panels or geothermal pumps. The equipment value is included in your home's total replacement cost. But you should make certain that your policy accurately reflects the current replacement cost to rebuild or repair your home.

Barry says that as alternative energy becomes more popular, more insurers might start offering “off the grid” discounts in order to gain a competitive edge.

"As homeowners migrate toward green buildings, home insurers are going to go with them," he says.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

U.S. Navy Predicting Cost-Effective Biofuels By End of Decade

I've said it before and it bears repeating, sources of alternative energy can be either a curiosity in a science fair or a real solution to our energy needs. The difference is "marketability". Most people will make purchases based upon their own self-interests (maximum utilization of limited funds). In other words, sales of alternative fuels will take off when the public sees more "bang for the buck". In the accompanying article, Grace Jean (writing for National Defense at reports on how the U.S. Navy green initiative will benefit the entire marketplace.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy's goal is ambitious: By 2020, half of the service’s total energy requirement will come from alternative sources. To meet the challenge, industry must produce 8 million barrels of alternative fuels annually, Navy officials said April 12 at the annual Navy League convention.

“The question is can the market do that? Can they respond in quantity? Can they respond in price points to meet our needs? ... We feel the answer is a resounding ‘yes,’” said Thomas W. Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy.

When the Navy first began exploring the viability of alternative fuels for use across the fleet, officials worked with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management to calculate price points at which biofuels would be competitive with petroleum-based products.

The resulting study revealed that cost parity with the existing price of oil would occur slightly after 2020, said Rear Adm. Philip H. Cullom, director of the Navy’s energy and environmental readiness division.

“If there are incentives from government to move things, to scale up in industry, then it could happen much more quickly,” he said. The parity point could be as early as 2018, or earlier, depending on the level of incentives, he added.

“We’re looking for something sooner than later,” Hicks told National Defense. “This is a role that the government has played in the past, in terms of moving markets, helping to mature markets,” including coal and nuclear power, he said. “We’re going to lead the way here as well. Doing so in constant communication with industry, with commercial aviation, with maritime industry, we’ll really be able to advance this and get the fuels that we need, I am convinced, if not by 2020, then earlier and at the right price points we need to really power the fleet.”

President Obama last month directed the Navy to work with the Agriculture Department, the Energy Department and the private sector to create an advanced biofuel market capable of powering not only military fighter jets, but also trucks and commercial airliners.

“We’ve been working closely with USDA and DOE over the last weeks and months to build to this effort. We are very excited about the path that we have forged,” Hicks said.

Both Energy and Agriculture have loan guarantee programs and grant initiatives at their disposal that Navy officials hope to leverage to advance biofuel production across the country. That would enable the Navy to stay on track with its plans to demonstrate next year a carrier strike group operating locally on alternative fuel.

“To do that demo, we need about 8,000 barrels of alternative fuel — biofuel, roughly split 50-50 with F-76 and JP-5,” petroleum-based fuels, Hicks said. When that strike group, powered solely by alternative energy, deploys for real-world operations in 2016, the number of necessary barrels climbs to 80,000.

The technology is “ripe” for industry to produce biofuels in quantity, said a General Atomics representative as he stood behind vials of switchgrass and jars of algae and biofuel on display in the exhibit hall. It’s only a matter of having enough funding to scale up the pilot plants and processes, he said. The San Diego-based company, today better known as the manufacturer of the Predator and Reaper family of military drones, has capitalized on its original roots in energy to develop several processes to grow and produce algae-based biofuel. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding an expansion of its half-acre phototropic algae production facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The larger facility will house eight acres of algae ponds and associated equipment to scale up its production of biofuels by the end of the year. A commercially viable facility would require 1,000 acres to 5,000 acres to produce biofuels adequate to meet the demand.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Industry Leaders: SunShot's $1 per Watt Goal Feasible

"We have the technology now! We should make people use it!" I rush to my roll of duct tape to wrap my head to keep it from exploding. After I calm down a bit, I simply ask how that person feels about having choices taken away from them. What if you could only watch those movies or play "approved" games on your X-box... what then? If the state can't keep you from pushing the speed limit, how do you expect it to force your will upon your neighbors?

The bottom line is that we live in a free society; the alternative is either collectivism or fascism. It matters little which of the two you wind up with because liberty is sacrificed for the cause du jour. When you legislatively mandate or tax your will on the people, one builds resentment (not a good business model).

If you want people to consume products or services, impassioned appeals to responsibility to the environment or energy independents will only reasonate with those with disposable cash to do so. Most consumers are faced with choices on how to get what they want with limited resources (money). Any attempt to change the way people get their energy MUST meet them where they live... in their pocketbook. The best way to change public buying habits is to provide better alternatives that are less expensive than the undesirable outcome.

This is why the greatest challenge to alternative energy is not technology to provide electricity, but the technology to produce, market, and deliver those products at a COMPETITIVE COST.

Industry Leaders: SunShot's $1 per Watt Goal Feasible

By Robert Crowe, Contributor April 11, 2011

Economies of scale, technological advancements needed.

San Antonio, Texas, USA -- Rapid growth in solar photovoltaics fueled a space race that has brought installation costs within sight of $1 per watt for large projects and closer to competing with fossil fuels.

Prices still hover around $3 per watt currently, so it will take multiple breakthroughs in technology, public policy and manufacturing processes before reaching the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot goal of $1 per watt by 2017.

Industry leaders say a lot can happen in six months, let alone six years, so that goal might even be achievable without a major technological breakthrough.

“Freefall is the only way to describe solar energy prices in the last couple of years,” said Ryne Raffaelle, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Center for Photovoltaics.

That “freefall” has been driven by the growth of solar installations, which is no longer a small business – it is a $100 billion industry worldwide, he said. The cost reductions are so dramatic, that Bloomberg recently reported that solar energy could soon rival coal, while it has also become competitive during peak times in Japan and California.

“Conventional wisdom said our current approaches, materials and efficiencies and cost structures couldn’t get us the metrics ($1 per watt) we were looking for,” Raffaelle said. “That’s changing.”

Economies of scale with incremental, but more rapid and consistent technological improvements, could soon drive costs down to $2 per watt. Bloomberg estimated costs would fall to $1.45 a watt by 2020.

“From our standpoint, if you ask us globally, we believe you can get it down to $1 per watt,” said Helena Kimball, Yingli Solar spokeswoman.

Yingli is among China’s emerging solar giants, many of whom have rapidly lowered costs through vertical integration. Those companies stand to benefit from more scaling since the Chinese government has announced it could double solar capacity from five to 10 GW by 2015 in an effort to replace some nuclear power with sun power in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis.

Though the United States has been behind the curve, it is starting to nip at the heels of Asian and European manufacturers with the NREL’s PV Technology Incubator program and private sector research and development.

GE recently announced that PrimeStar Solar Inc., a startup that GE invested in three years ago and now owns, recorded a record-high 12.8% efficiency for CdTe thin film solar panels. GE plans to take those panels to market, announcing last week that it plans to build a 400-MW American manufacturing plant.

“Our plan to open a U.S. solar manufacturing facility further demonstrates our confidence in this technology,” said Victor Abate, vice president of GE’s renewable energy business. “We’re not only excited by the efficiency milestone, but also by the speed at which our team was able to achieve it.”

More U.S.-based startups are advancing technology with private investment and government support through the DOE’s SunShot initiative, which has provided $50 million to small businesses under the PV Technology Incubator program since 2007. NREL officials say the private sector has invested an additional $2 billion in those incubator companies.

Lower Manufacturing Costs

First Solar’s manufacturing costs per watt fell 75.5% from $2.94 in 2004 to 75 cents in 2011, according to spokeswoman Michelle Friedman. First Solar also increased efficiency of its thin film and glass solar panels to 11.2% this year from 10% in 2009.

The company’s roadmap calls for reducing the cost per watt to 64 cents by 2014. Friedman said First Solar does not discuss the costs of installing its panels, however. First Solar anticipates production of 2.9 gigawatts by 2012. It has expanded multiple facilities and also plans to build a new manufacturing plant in Arizona.

China’s Suntech has targeted 2015 for grid parity in global markets. In 2001, the average levelized price of solar electricity was 75 cents per kWh, according to Suntech spokesman Walker Frost. Solar electricity now costs less than 10 cents per kWh in some regions with abundant sunlight, he added. Suntech is reducing costs by using less expensive materials that are more abundant.

“The technology also allows us to use copper in the metallization process, which has the same conductive properties as silver but is less expensive,” Frost said.

Suntech also reduced energy and water use at production plants and invested heavily in building up to 1,200 MW of wafers in-house. Wafers typically account for 50% of a solar panel’s cost. Chinese competitor Yingli also produces much of its raw materials in house, including about 3,000 metric tons of polysilicon in-house.

There has been talk of an oversupply in the photovoltaic market, but NREL’s Raffaelle said that does not appear to be the case because unmet demand is keeping prices up.

“Demand continues to exceed supply, which drives costs up,” Raffaelle said. “The reality is [that] we use a lot of power. It’s hard to wrap your mind around terawatts of power. There is still much more solar PV manufacturing necessary to put a dent into terawatts of power,” which is currently generated by coal, natural gas and nuclear.

Technological Advances

While economies of scale seem to be driving cost reductions, researchers are still looking for “disruptive” technologies to increase efficiency and ultimately lower costs. NREL tests show 40% efficiencies for some concentrated photovoltaics (CPV). The CPV market is expected to grow from 1.5 to 75 MW in the next five years. That growth was historically limited to desert regions with consistent sun exposure.

The tracking and optical devices required for most CPV have also posed problems. Santa Barbara, Calif.-based HyperSolar Inc. claims it can achieve the same results minus the optical devices by installing an acrylic top sheet onto PV panels.

Researchers are also closing the gap in manufacturing PV “champion cells” with 20% efficiencies. Researchers, however, had difficulties in translating those high efficiencies to the largest panels. In 2009, the large panels could only get 12 percent efficiencies. Some companies are now demonstrating 14 to 17% efficiencies.

Policy Changes

As manufacturing costs decrease, solar panels will no longer be the “long pole in the tent,” Raffaelle said. Industry leaders are searching for ways to reduce costs related to labor, installation and public policy.

SunRun, a solar leasing and installation firm, recently said in a report to the DOE that installation costs on residential solar power could be cut by 50 cents per watt by instituting a standard permitting process. While the industry and NREL are targeting a $1 per watt installation cost for large-scale installations, residential and rooftop solar accounts for 70 percent of all PV deployed last year, Raffaelle said.

“Most of the action has still been in small, distributed stuff,” Raffaelle said. “That in itself poses a lot of challenges because our power system existed under large centralized power station models since its inception.”

Advocacy organizations, such as Solar San Antonio in Texas, have been working with utility companies, municipalities and local media to encourage solar-friendly policies and permitting processes that encourage use of distributed systems via feed-in tariffs.

“We think policy changes can go a long way toward reducing costs,” said Lanny Sinkin, executive director of Solar San Antonio.

Multiple megawatt installations can also benefit from consistent policies, incentives and permitting processes, experts said.

“We’ve found that solar installations areas are actually going up in some parts of the United States while they are going down in others,” Raffaelle said.