Renewable Energy Deals Hit Record High in 2011

There’s no question that our current energy sources aren’t sustainable. The scientists have sounded the alarm years ago now, and politicians along with businesses are slowly starting to catch up. Still, the transition to renewable energy sources is happening, and now new numbers from 2011 show that renewable energy deals hit a record high during this past year. These figures show some interesting improvement in how companies are rapidly switching around and adopting strategies that ensure new constructions and new projects use renewable energy.

According to the numbers that came out, global renewable energy deals climbed around 40% to a high of $53.5 billion last year, from $38.2 billion in 2010. This is a surprising amount, showing that more conversions were done than ever before. These figures include both solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency by those firms. It shows that spending has gone up, which may be due to several factors. Of course the realization that they can’t rely on gas and oil for much longer, but also the global economy slowly returning to normal levels, after a long depression, may contribute in this type of trading becoming more popular, and with more money spent. Often, new installations require these types of deals in order to get the needed solar arrays or turbines, since the fields are still pretty young.

This is all proof that the renewable market is maturing. What’s the future looking like? Last year, one in three deals were for solar energy, and with prices going down in the equipment needed to produce that type of energy, it’s likely that we’ll see that particular source take a more central role. However, not everything is looking green. China right now is having a lot of over production problems, and many factories are being left at overcapacity, which will reduce the cost of traditional energy, making renewable energy less attractive financially. It remains to be seen whether the companies that have been making a concrete effort to go into renewable sources will keep doing that when the financial situation changes, and it becomes much more economical again, at least for a certain time, to go with what China has to offer.

Overall, there’s no doubt that the renewable energy market will keep growing, and as such these numbers will keep going up. The only question now is how fast, and whether it will be enough to save the few natural resources we do have on the planet. Solar energy in particular will certainly prove a pivotal role in the way we produce and consume energy throughout the world, and the civilized countries will likely have to lead the way for the others to follow.

Apple into Renewable Energy

According to reports, Apple is increasing their investment in renewable energy. Recently, Apple was issued the necessary permits to prepare a site for a large solar farm on a 171 acre plot of vacant land near their data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

The data center, which is used for Apple’s new iCloud service, has been criticized in the past for its reliance on cheap, coal and nuclear-generated power.

Eric Smalley from Wired stresses that recent criticism of Apple’s environmental impact “raises the possibility that the solar plant is part of a greenwashing campaign aimed at blunting criticism from the environmental movement.” However, if the entire site is developed, it “could generate 25 to 35 megawatts of power, depending on the solar technology used.”

Notwithstanding Apple’s motives, the North Carolina solar farm is not the firm’s first foray into renewable energy. According to Apple’s Facilities Report, however, the company’s facilities in Ireland, Cork, Elk Grove, California and Austin, Texas are all powered completely by renewable energy. Apple insists they avoided releasing 27.5 million kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2010 by utilizing renewable energy sources.

Apple has been increasingly mum about their solar plans. The permit which Apple filed is solely for permission to reshape the lot’s terrain and only discusses erosion control measures during construction and plans for gravel access roads. Yet more facts are foreseen for when Apple applies for a building permit.

AppleInsider has images of Apple’s permit and reports that land clearing has already begun and is “bothering the neighbors.”

Earlier this year, Apple was criticized in China for “turning a blind eye as its suppliers pollute the country.”

Hawaii Renewable

After a disappointing commencement for a program permitting people to sell renewable energy to Hawaii’s power grid, it is now being revamped in an attempt to entice more interest and lessen the state’s dependence on imported oil.

So far there are only a few solar power projects which have gone online since the program started last November, making the state Public Utilities Commission to consider solutions making the initiative yet more attractive to independent producers.
Known as a feed-in tariff, the program sets standard rates where businesses and residents may sell their power to the utility, Hawaiian Electric Co.

Renewable energy advocates say that the program has been hindered because Hawaiian Electric is not required to buy power fed to the grid, and because the utility Tmight request that a power developer should complete an interconnectivity study costing thousands of dollars.

The proposals for improving the feed-in tariff for large-scale projects up to five megawatts are due on September 6, and regulators will be considering recommendations.

The program received a “tepid response” in the first five months, having launched only three projects in that time. Since then, a few more projects have begun.

However, the feed-in tariff is picking up steam. Seventy different applications are pending for Oahu, which will eventually produce 10.3 megawatts of electricity.

One plausible solution is preserving the utility’s concerns about reliability while providing assurances to solar power developers that they would get paid.

Renewable power producers are financially compensated for the times when Hawaiian Electric decides that it will not accept their power onto the grid.

“Curtailment or the threat thereof is so overwhelming that it makes these projects basically unfinanceable. It causes uncertainty of the revenue stream,” said Champley, a former executive from Detroit utility DTE Energy now living in Maui. “If there were more certainty, one could plan or adjust accordingly.”

Businesses need assurances that their renewable power can reach the grid before they make their investments.
One of the terms that you would probably see in a feed-in tariff is a very simple statement saying, if you sign this contract, we will gladly accept the power. Curtailment is probably the most critical issue which is slowing the implementation of the feed-in tariff program in Hawaii.

Another energy program aimed at smaller renewable power producers like businesses and homes with solar panels on the roofs have met with much greater success.

Net energy metering gives to customers the opportunity to subtract the amount of power they feed to the grid from their personal bills however, the system is limited to projects that are smaller than 100 kilowatts each.

Roughly 3,600 net energy metering installations currently generatemore than 20 megawatts of electricity on Oahu, Hawaii.

Billions Secured For Energy Sector

One multibillion dollar fund for renewable energy and a review of fuel taxes will prove to be crux concessions for green lobbyists from the government in exchange for agreeing to spare petrol from price of carbon.

With the full pollution price package pending announcement in the coming days, Julia Gillard promised petrol would be let go.

She said:

”The design of this scheme is that petrol pricing will be out now and out for the future,’

The exemption, however, will only apply to lighter vehicles used by motorists cars and trades people, as well as small businesses and not necessarily to heavier commercial vehicles like big trucks, grrrr,grrrr, zroooom!

Tony Sheldon, national secretary of the Transport Workers Union has blasted the government for being obsessed with the carbon tax, saying that it risks wasting more of the Labor heartland unless ”it shows signs of life in other policy areas”.

Mr Sheldon fears the cost pressures on the transport industry created by the carbon price, would simply increase pressure on truck drivers already forced to meet ”impossible deadlines” and waiting for promised government measures to assuage this.

Usually, if fuel were to be subject to this carbon price, it would be levied at the refinery stage with refiners dishing out money for emissions and then passing on the cost at the pump.

The government will explain this week how it wants to exempt petrol, however, differentiate among road users.

Race to Bio-Diesel

For almost every type of vehicle, stock cars to Formula One to tractors, the racing season has arrived across the globe, and a special kind of renewable diesel and biodiesel could be the key to winning. Teams will put Neste Oil’s NExBTL renewable diesel made from hydotreated vegetable oils and waste oils to the test at the ADAC 24-hour race at the Nurburgring circuit. In a special 24-hour race in Germany the tuning Akademie team will use an Audi A6 engine, and the other team, Four Motors, will run what they call a “bioconcept car.”

The third-generation bioconcept car, powered by the TDI engine, is filled with rapeseed B100, though, for the competition the vehicle gets fueled with 93 percent of NExBTL and 7 percent biodiesel. In concert with other components, the car’s body is sourced from biobased materials. The Four Motors team has a few bioconcept cars such as a Scirocco 2.0 L TDI, a Megane Trophy made in alliance with Renault, a Volkswagen Beedle TDI and a Mustang GT RTD and.

The day long race will prove the endurance of the teams and will be open to both sports and production cars. More than 200 teams – that is 700 drivers – will compete on the 15.5 mile course. Both teams will be running 100 percent renewable biodiesel and diesel blends, this year’s event, June 23 to 26, will be the first ever where a team will solely run on biofuels.

Numerous different field tests have confirmed the performance of NExBTL renewable diesel and the benefits it offers in terms of lower emissions…this will be the first time that it will be tested under competition conditions. We are very excited that this will take place at the renowned 24-hour race at the Nurburgring circuit…has been the showcase for the latest automotive technology for decades


Tribute to a Green Pioneer

Byron Washom Since taking the job as UC San Diego’s first director of strategic energy initiatives in September 2008, Byron Washom has worked to turn the 1,200-acre campus into a model of sustainability, a “living laboratory” he calls it.

This includes renewable energy, greenhouse-gas reduction, energy management, energy storage systems and greening the campus transportation fleet. The university impressively generates 80% of its own electricity.

“The only thing we’re looking at, at the campus, are quantum improvements…It’s not just to install the next incremental step; it’s to put in the next breakthrough. What I’m doing with my colleagues is going to have a global impact…I’m so anxious to put the different pieces of the puzzle together…Learning patience is the only negative part of the job.”
Though born in Maryland, Washom was raised in Hawaii and on the isolated Midway Atoll. His father, a retired naval officer, went into the electric-supply business distributing utility products and his mother worked as an account executive for a newspaper agency.

Living in the middle of the Pacific on a bird and marine sanctuary roughly the size of UC San Diego was for him a firsthand education in sustainability. The 400 residents of the atoll relied on a monthly supply ship, diesel generators and a desalination plant. With only two passenger cars, most people rode on bikes. “Using renewable systems was a way of life…You lived within your means. It was a radically different world.”

Washom, now 60, graduated from Honolulu’s Punahou School in 1967, more than a decade before Barack Obama graduated from the same school. He left for USC just as Hawaii was opening its first freeway. He earned a bachelor’s degree in management and finance (with a minor in oceanography) in 1971, and then an MBA the next year. In 1976, he completed his postgraduate studies in ocean engineering at MIT.

After working on solar energy for Fairchild Stratos Corp., Washom founded Advanco Corp. in 1980. Four years later, Advanco set the world record for the most efficient rate of converting solar energy to electricity, using a technology that NASA later considered using to power the International Space Station.
In 1989, Washom founded the energy and environmental technology consultant firm Spencer Management Associates and served as president for 20 years.

He has also advised the World Bank, the Energy Department and the International Finance Corp.

An avid surfer since childhood, Washom credits this sport for his risk-taking business style:

“That’s when my greatest genius comes out, at the end of the branch of a tree…It’s a culture to me. The element of risk was also combined with the grace and athleticism of surfing a wave, so you were scared and performing at the same time.”

Fungus Has a Libido, Force it to Horizontal Mombo for Renewable Biofuels

Fungus SexThere’s a problem with biofuels. The problem is, in order to make them, you’ve got to grow crops like mad, break down the crops into oil and alcohol, and stick the juice in your car. If you grow crops like mad, you’ve got to use enormous amounts of fertilizer, which pours into ground water and into oceans and depletes oxygen supplies, creating oceanic dead zones, which are way scary. No life can live in them The picture isn’t good. So scientists are looking for a way to use organisms to break down plant waste so we can use bio garbage as bio fuel instead.

The organism they’re focusing on is Trichoderma reesei, pictured above in an electron microscope. It’s especially effective in eating organic material, witnessed first in the Solomon Islands during World War II eating soldiers’ clothing and tents.

The reason they didn’t use it until now was that they didn’t think they could breed the fungus to produce genetically superior consumers since it was asexual, but now, they’ve discovered that, voila! The mushroom does have sex, and thank God for that. Researchers actually made it have sex. (With our culture, who would doubt it?)

How did they do it? They probed their DNA (pun intended), and pinpointed the genes responsible for mating. Though they found those genes, they couldn’t force the fungus to assume a female role. So instead they took the fungus’ cousin, Hypocrea jecorina (like your cousin, except more fungal), and mated that with two mutant Trichoderma reesei strains that are especially good at breaking down organic sludge.

Eventually, they hope to produce a strong, healthy, sexually capable strain that breaks down organic waste fast enough to fuel cars.

We wish them Godspeed, and a happy forced fungal mating.

Obama’s Ambitious Energy and Environment Plans

President Barack ObamaU.S. President Barack Obama may still be trying to sort out the American economy, but he hasn’t gone back on his promise to use his executive powers and influence to develop renewable energy programs as well as those more friendly to the environment. In a speech he gave on March 19th, the President said:

“So we have a choice to make. We can remain one of the world’s leading importers of foreign oil, or we can make the investments that would allow us to become the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy.”

The new administration has already taken steps in the right direction by drafting the American Recovery and Investment Act which has earmarked $60 Billion for projects that will not only help stimulate the economy, but to do so with projects which will be more environmentally friendly while saving tax paying dollars. Some of these projects include:

  • $ 11 billion for constructing energy saving electricity grids for urban environments, as well as more efficient electricity meters in homes
  • $ 5 billion to better “weatherize” low income homes
  • $4.5 billion to make federal building more “green” to save further on energy bills
  • $ 600 million for “green” job training programs
  • $2 billion for developing the next generation of more efficient storage batteries

In addition, fuel economy standards on motor vehicles are to be raised, to require new cars and trucks to be more fuel efficient as well are burning cleaner. Special incentives are to given for developing vehicles like hybrids and totally electric ones; as well as increasing efficiency standards for electrical appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers.

On Earth Day 2009, the President announced a program that would involve developing projects in the oceans off America’s coastline to utilize the energy of waves, ocean currents and wind power. Solar energy projects are also high on the President’s list for clean, alternative energy.

Emphasis on renewable and alternative energy projects is hoped to reduce pollution caused by carbon based fuels, as well as reducing dependence on foreign oil Energy independence appears to be at the top of the list as well as creating a cleaner environment. Let’s all hope these projects will result in a much cleaner environment as well as be beneficial to the economy.

Walmart and Microsoft Cleantech Planning

Walmart, America’s largest discount retailer, and Microsoft Corporation, plan to integrate clean tech technologies into their operations to cut down on pollution and wastes, as well as conserve energy. At a recent meeting investors, government officials and various executives both companies outlined plans they have cut down on the use of paper and plastic products, adapt renewable energy sources into their operations and integrate the use of Cleantech products and services into their operations.

wmlogoBoth plan to work together with the Cleantech Group to make their operations more environmentally friendly and with less reliance on conventional use of energy. Walmart plans to reach a “zero-waste” solution to the huge amounts of plastic, paper, and other waste products that originate their network of stores and eventually wind up in landfills and other waste dumping sites. While admitting that these policies were originally adopted as a “defensive measure” due to pressure from environmental groups, company executives now see that not only will these measures reduce wastes and other pollutants, but will save the company millions of dollars in the long run.

Some of these clean tech measures include recycling of cardboard and plastic materials (saving the company as much as $10 m a year), installing low heat lighting in its food refrigeration and freezing units (a $2.5 m annual savings), saving between 15 – 20% on fuel costs on it’s truck fleets by installing auxiliary power units (to cut down fuel waste by idling engines), and saving another $1 m by removing light bulbs from employee soft drink machines (doesn’t seem like much but it all adds up in the end).

Microsoft executives admitted that their company has very different Cleantech priorities than a company like Walmart, and besides reducing wastes when manufacturing and packing its software products ( for which it will undertake recycling measures like Walmart does) it plans to work with the thousands of independent vendors the company deals with to help them find solutions to their own environmental problems. In addition, the company is also embarking on projects to encourage information technology students it works with to create and develop environmentally friendly software and Cleantech awareness programs for the millions of users of Microsoft products.