Solar Energy in Seville

Solar Seville

Solar SevilleSeville, Spain is hosting the first commercial operation of solar tower technology, which features more than 1,000 freestanding heliostat mirrors, following the arc of the sun. In a process referred to as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), the mirrors reflect solar rays to the tower, where water is boiled, and steam generated in order to drive a turbine, that produces electricity. The electricity is then sold to the national grid.

To make this happen, Spain’s government has provided incentives and subsidies supporting the solar industry. The upfront investment is enormous, and most of the money goes into building the plant. The investor community tends to see solar plants as high risk. After the economics of scale are achieved, solar power is one of the cheapest sources of energy. The report also makes the argument that it is quite difficult to detect the value of solar power currently.

When conventional sources of electricity are subsidized, it succeeds at artificially making them appear cheap. The magazine GOOD reported that “concentrated solar power…will be a core element of the transition from dirty coal to clean energy.

Gus Schellekens of PricewaterhouseCoopers said:

“Solar has a huge role it can play, the fact that it’s an endless supply of energy…the one thing that’s needed to unlock much of that is the political leadership and will.”

Greenpeace says, “Facebook, Quit Coal!”

Vice President of marketing and sales at Verne Global, an Icelandic data center company, Lisa Rhodes recently said that:

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, data centers now account for 1.5 percent of all electricity consumption in the U.S. and by 2020, carbon emissions will have quadrupled to 680 million tons per year, which will account for more than the aviation industry.”

Greenpeace says that when companies do not choose environmentally friendly energy sources to fuel their servers, a huge environmental threat is posed. So who did Greenpeace contact, in order to get the ball rolling onto greener ground? Facebook’s Mr. Zuckerberg!

Greenpeace International communications manager, Daniel Kessler did compliment the social networking juggernaut for its energy-efficient data center, however, he called the choice of power supplier “terrible.”

Kessler, in a telephone interview with the New York Times said:

“Facebook is emblematic of a sector that is increasingly thirsty for energy but is satisfying that thirst with dirty fuels…Facebook and other I.T. firms can help to make the Internet green, but first they need to move away from coal.”

Facebook recently built a data center in Prineville, Oregon – powered by PacifiCorp, a company which gets 58 percent of its energy from burning coal.

According to Greenpeace advocate, Kate Ross:

“Storing and transmitting messages, pictures and other information through Facebook uses a vast and rapidly increasing amount of energy, as the network continues to expand. Its membership passed the 500 million mark in July this year.”

Well, Greenpeace told Zuckerberg, he will lose 500,000 of his “friends” (the number of Facebookers who support the Greenpeace campaign), if he continues to power the social networking site using coal. The campaign is encouraging Zuckerberg to switch to wind energy.

Flying on the Wind: The Alternative Energy Race Is On

Set for construction in the Golan Heights – that is Israel’s Northern-most point and border with Syria – a 155-megawatt wind turbine farm.

wind turbine in IsraelFinally given permission by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ministry of National Infrastructures, The Clean Wind Farm company has actually been pushing for construction since 2005 to erect the 80 large 2.5-megawatt wind turbines.

The 80 turbines will be 80 meters tall each and have blade diameters of 50 meters.

The turbines will use 300 square meters and be set 300 meters apart. The land will still be used for agricultural applications – in fact, according to an article in the Jerusalem Post, cows love to use the wind turbine poles to scratch their backs.

While Israel’s solar power is quite lucrative and effectual in a country so close to the equator, some are skeptical that the Jewish State does not have sufficient wind speeds to “sustain a robust wind power industry.”

Meanwhile in another ancient pastoral setting, the world’s largest-ever wind turbine farm opened off the coast of Southeast England last week! Operated by Swedish energy company, Vattenfall, the farm bearing the capacity to power more than 200,000 homes per year, has 100 turbines spread over 13.5 square miles.

The wind farm, which took more than two years to build and can generate 300 megawatts of electricity is visible from the coast in Kent, due to the turbines’ height of 377 feet each.

The British government claims that it aims to support the renewable energy industry to reach its goal to receive 15% of energy from sources like these wind farms by the year 2020.

Britain’s 260 wind farms account for 4% of England’s energy to date.

Vattenfall also operates 700 wind turbines in countries including Germany, Sweden, Poland and Britain.

And the Renewable Energy Technology Center of Israel, got the go-ahead to build a renewable energy technology center in the Negev and Arava deserts of Southern Israel, according to an announcement by ProSeed Venture Capital Fund.

The Israeli government has set a goal to generate 10% of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020 – just barely on the heels of Great Britain in the alternative energy race.

Solarex to Downsize Its Maryland Operations

solar panels

solar panelsSolarex was once a solar energy firm which opened shop in Frederick, Maryland in the 70’s. It was very much a pioneer company and far ahead of its time. Its high visibility plant located next to an interstate highway leading to and from Washington, DC, was partially powered by solar electric energy.

Today, what used to be Solarex is now part of the BP Solar chain of solar production facilities found scattered around the planet. Today, Solarex is beginning to fade into the sun.

BP Solar announced it has ceased silicon casting, wafering, and cell manufacturing at the facility. It has laid off approximately 320 out of 430 positions at the site. Research, sales and marketing personnel will for now remain in Frederick.

The company has been on a solar cost-cutting mission since the beginning of 2009. It cannot compete with high cost solar products in a world where solar prices have dropped between 40 and 50% since the beginning of the global financial crisis about two years ago.

Photovoltaic technology just might have advanced beyond BP’s silicon-based photovoltaic products. This tried and true technology, versions of which BP made in Frederick, are the most effective in terms of conserving energy. But if cost is a larger issue than efficiency, thin film solar, using other technologies such as Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) seem to be the new way to go for large scale projects in the megawatt-plus scale, utility grade Reyad Fezzani, CEO of BP Solar had this to say:

“The global solar market is expected to reach 12 GW in 2012 with the US growing to nearly 3 GW, and we are scaling up our supply chain to serve this rapid growth here in the US, in the European, and Asian markets…The company is bringing its worldwide experience gained over 37 years as a solar product supplier and developer to both develop larger scale projects ranging from 1-300 MW in size and supply distribution partners serving residential and smaller commercial segments.”

In 2009 BP Solar increased its sales by more than 26% and expects to grow sales by 50% in 2010.

The departure from high cost solar manufacturing, such as the Frederick shop, has helped BP cut unit costs by an impressive 45% making products more competitive in a global market.

High-Voltage Charging: Brining Tomorrow 15 Minutes Closer

Electricity is something which should be respected, not something to be feared. This is not a recommendation to stick your finger in the socket, that’s common sense.

What I mean to say is that there is a new ability out there that could accelerate the mass deployment of electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars, that is, High-voltage charging.

Respecting and not fearing high voltage electricity, and putting some faith in charging station developers to make their equipment safe, could help bring about clean, emission-free electric vehicles to the mainstream sooner than later.

Charging at 480 volts instead of 110 or 220 volts will reduce charging times from as long as overnight to under an hour, perhaps as little as 15 measly minutes. That is only slightly longer than it takes to fill up a tank with gasoline or diesel fuel. Fifteen minutes is time to grab a hot cup of coffee, make a call or two or send a text message while safely parked and watching that battery level meter rise.

Long charging times have been one of the hurdles to the mass commercialization, public acceptance and the adoption of electric vehicles. High-voltage charging can do away with this hurdle.

High-voltage, 480-volt charging, cannot be done in the home, of course. It’s safe to say most US homes have no more than 220 volts at the panel box and really old homes will have even less.

Aside being nearly equivalent in “fueling” time with liquid fuels, high-voltage charging may add at least two brand new dimensions to the scope of electric vehicle marketing.

1) It would create new business opportunities for liquid fuel filling station owners.

2) It would create the opportunity for electric vehicle charging in urban areas that do not have off-street parking or privately-owned parking spots and garages.

If there is a major hurdle to high-voltage charging it is the public’s fear of high volts. In the US people are comfortable with the 110 volts available from a standard wall outlet. Most of the world has 220 volt line voltage at wall outlets. What will the rest of world think of 480?

Coulomb Technologies and Aker Wade Power Technologies will be offering 480 Volt charging equipment later this year. Aker Wade Power Technologies CEO Bret Aker says:

“Field studies in Tokyo have shown that deploying fast chargers increase vehicle usage by more than 50 percent. And this is with first generation battery electric vehicles that were yet to be optimized for fast charging.With coming improvements in Li-ion technology charge times will be reduced to as little as fifteen minutes. This is the point where consumers will abandon gasoline for electricity. This is the tipping point for electric vehicles.”

Electricity from Trees? Not so Much, but a Bit

It began with a finding from researches at MIT that trees can generate a current of up to 200 millivolts. That’s one fifth of a volt, which isn’t so much, but starting hooking it up and storing it, and you can get a bit of power out of an array. To give you an idea, your standard AA battery is 6 volts, and your car battery is 12.

Electric TreeSpecifically, it is the big leaf maple that generates the most electricity. Scientists attached the tree to a booster that stored the energy for later use, and eventually got the charge up to 1.1 volts, which is enough to fun low-power electronic equipment.

As for the implications of the experiment, they are so far not so far-reaching, but for now it’s the concept that is important. It’s also hard to say how extracting electrical power from trees would effect the growth and health of the tree itself. But scientists do believe they could use tree-powered equipment self-monitor the health of forests. Another possibility is that they could use forest-powered equipment to detect forest fires in progress and catch them early on. That could save a lot of good acreage.

“Normal electronics are not going to run on the types of voltages and currents that we get out of a tree,” one of the researchers said. “As new generations of technology come online, I think it’s warranted to look back at what’s doable or what’s not doable in terms of a power source.”

In the most baseline of conclusions, this at least shows us that energy is available all over, in every living thing. The question is, how to make it useful.

Organic Plastic Conducting Electricity

Only a few weeks ago, we reported on the new technology of organic computers. Here’s something similar: organic plastic that conducts electricity. Why plastic? Because it’s cheaper, thinner, lighter, and faster than silicon. This technology is already available in some gadgets. One is the new Sony Walkman.

organic circuitWord to the wise: “Organic” here does not mean that it was farmed using sustainable methods. It means, simply, that it is carbon based, which is the actual scientific definition of the term organic, since way back when in the 18th century, people thought organic material could only be extracted from organs. Well, it can, but it can also be synthesized. Hence, “organ”ic. We’ve since kept the term.

What’s going on now, though, is that the material is being refitted with something that allows both positive and negative charges to run through it. For some reason I do not pretend to understand since I am not an electrical engineer, until now it could only carry negative charges. But we all know that without positivity, the world isn’t such a happily charged place.

“The organic semiconductors developed over the past 20 years have one important drawback. It’s very difficult to get electrons to move through,” said Samson Jenekhe, a professor of chemical engineering. “By now having polymer semiconductors that can transmit both positive and negative charges, it broadens the available approaches. This would certainly change the way we do things.” Uhh…good. Whatever that means. Just keep the good news coming.

One kind of plastic can transmit protons, and another, electrons. Making a material that can transport both requires carefully layering two complicated patterns on top of one another, but now they’ve figured out how to do it with just one material.

The material would allow organic transistors and other information-processing devices to be built more simply, in a way that is more similar to how inorganic (usually meaning silicon based) circuits are now made. The group used the new material to build a transistor and the results show that both electrons and protons move through the device quickly.

The results represent the best performance ever seen in a single-component organic polymer semiconductor
This means much faster, lighter, cheaper computers. And then of course maybe Judgment Day and Nuclear War a la the Terminator series, but whatever. That’s a long way off.

Using Bacteria to Purify Water & Produce Electricity

While we’re all freaking out about swine flu and other bacterial microbes that have the potential to make us seriously ill or worse, the scientific community has figuring out how to use bacteria to purify salt water into drinkable fresh water. Sounds crazy? It is. The world is crazy, and don’t expect it to slow down.

bacteria electricityThe idea is based on the concept of a microbial fuel cell. “The idea of a microbial fuel cell is based on taking organic waste and turning it into a source of energy,” said Bruce Logan, a scientist at Penn State and co-author of a paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
“In this newest discovery, we figured we would desalinate water by modifying the electricity generated by the bacteria.”

Here’s how it works. You start with a cup of water from any natural source. That water has bacteria. Some of the bacteria in that water, and scientists know exactly which ones, will naturally produce electrons and protons inside their cells and transport them outside themselves. Electrons and protons are charged particles. Other bacteria scavenge those free electrons and protons and use them to create hydrogen, methane, or other energetic chemicals.

So it’s as simple as this: Instead of letting other bacteria suck up the electrons these bacteria spit out, put two thin pieces of plastic that harness the electrons and gases produced, and draw them to a cathode and an anode to create an electric current.

It’s so simple it’s beautiful. The electricity produced heats up the water, which gets filtered and purified. But here’s the REALLY exciting part: Using the apparatus requires almost ZERO energy. The energy is already present in the water you’re trying to purify! Energy could even be PRODUCED in the process. That means free purified water.
Humanity is advancing people.

Let’s cheer it on!

Nissan Turns a New Leaf

Nissan Leaf

Looks like the world is waking up from it’s gasoline gorging party. Slowly, but surely. The latest step happened just today, with Nissan’s unveiling of its 2010 Leaf. (Get the title now?) It’s a cute little hatchback, but it’s not a clown car, as it comfortably seats 4 to 5 people (depending on tush size, of course). While electric cars have been around for years as concept cars, this signals a serious change because they are just now approaching economical and mass produced, with Nissan hoping to get the Leaf up to 100,000 units produced a year.

It can go about 100 miles on one “tank,” and with 80% of US drivers traveling less than 100km a day, the Leaf fits most potential consumers in terms of distance. But let’s talk about the charge cycle for a second. The battery is 50 kW and can do a fast-charge in 30 minutes. The executives are working with local governments in the States and around the world to help build supporting infrastructure, though they’re not going to maintain them with their own wallet. That’ll be the cities’ job.

Now for costs. As for the cost of the car, Nissan’s keeping a gag rule on that. Let’s say the upscale gasoline cars are about 48 miles per gallon. At 1000km (620 miles), that’s about $63 a month. The cost of charging a Leaf to go the same distance is about $13 by those numbers.

Leaf Electricity Plug

For countries with no power infrastructure for these cars, people who still want one can always charge up at home, and even program it to charge in the middle of the night to take advantage of lower energy costs.

The batteries, however, are prohibitively expensive at $10,000 for a replacement. To take care of that little glitch, Nissan plans to lease the batteries to Leaf owners and exchange them for new ones as part of a maintenance fee.

Zero X electric motorcycles: a clean air transportation solution

Zero x electric motorcycle
It looks like an ordinary street or dirt bike, and TV personality Jay Leno owns one. But compared to a gasoline driven one it’s a very different set of wheels. The Zero X totally electric motorbike may help solve our desire for clean, environmentally friendly transportation. Developed in California, where environmental transportation problems have been around for years, the Zero, a product of Zero Motorcycles Inc, Santa Cruz Ca., is also one of the lightest motorcycles around. The qualities of this motorbike which can get you around for up to two hours at 50 KPH, and with top speeds over 95, it’s no wonder this environmental friendly cycle is attracting so much attention.
This new entry into the transportation field can reach reach 50 Kph in only two seconds! What’s more, the total weight for the bike’s 300 parts is only 140 pounds (68 kgm), including the specially designed lithium cell battery, which its makers say is 100% recyclable.

The low weight of either the X dirt bike or S street bike frame is due to their being manufactured of specially designed aircraft aluminum. Each cycle has a unique suspension system that makes it an absolute pleasure to ride.
And being totally electric, the bike will run for pennies due to the very low electricity rates that can be generated by solar and wind bower. Those interested in simply a low cost transportation solution will like the S street bike as it can get them around for hours on one charge. The X dirt bike, will zip riders up and down sand dunes, river bottoms, and hills on an engine that delivers 50 ft pounds of torque – enough to satisfy any weekend dirt-biker. And it also comes with fully adjustable suspension and hydraulic disc brakes.

Price for the X model dirt bike is $7,450 and $9,900 for the S model street version. Both versions come with the special Z-Force™ Li-Ion Power Pack battery and Z-Force™ Li-Ion Fast Charger. They can be shipped anywhere in USA by UPS for only $300, or worldwide, as per prevailing shipping prices. For worldwide customers, all inclusive prices, including customs duties and other taxes are available on request.

The new motorbike may be an environmental godsend for large cities with high air pollution problems, such as Cairo Egypt, Mexico City, and Bangkok Thailand. And perhaps the same technology can also be incorporated into an electric car that is both light weight as well as non-polluting. After all, if there is already an X Bike, why not an X-Car?