Efficiency is widely considered the 'low hanging fruit' for improving the energy sector.
And while it is tempting to seek out gains via some mass market consumer push with hybrids and new lightbulbs, the greatest near term returns are to be found within the utility sector (electricity power generation) and among power hungry industrial clients.
Rocky Mountain Institute's consulting arm RMI ERT has identified US opportunities to 'close the electric productivity gap' around tremendous cost and carbon savings.
England, the Birthplace of Coal Power and the Industrial Revolution, will now build Europe's first advanced coal power generation plant based on a gasification process that should provide 90 percent overall carbon capture.
Honeywell's UOP has been awarded a contract by UK-based Powerfuel Power Ltd. to construct a 900 MW plant that transforms coal into a much cleaner syngas which is used to generate electricity.
The UOP Selexol(TM) process technology allows the operator to capture carbon (sulfur, et al) during the process of creating the hydrogen-rich syngas.
The Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant will be built adjacent to the Hatfield coal mining operation (picture) and should start operation in 2013.
Finding a way to talk about Coal Coal is not the future of energy, but it has a future. In recent years it has been the world's fastest growing source of energy, and is likely to gain market share in the years ahead even as renewables grow faster. We cannot just wish it away and there are no easy, short term solutions that satisfy either side of the coal conversation.
If 'Clean Coal' is not possible, then 'Cleaner' coal might be the middle ground. Some engineers are betting on shoving carbon into the ground, and construction of future gasification plants. Other biologists are betting that we can retrofit existing plants with bioreactors of algae/bacteria that 'eat' carbon and produce a usuable hydrocarbon fuel that can be used onsite to generate electricity, or sold as a liquid fuel of biomaterial feedstock.
The agreement is an early indicator of a new category for the energy sector based on a simple, but disruptive alternative to 'plugging in' - Refillable Packets sold over retail shelves that offer a real cost and performance alternative to the grid.
The Disruptive Power of High Density Storage Electron Economy via 'Streams vs Packets' In the years ahead, we could see the emergence of a new form of 'packet' based energy distribution that could undercut the grid's last mile, and the notion of 'plugging in' objects to a wall socket connected to a 'stream' of electricity.
The future of electricity depends on chemical storage. Batteries require us to 'plug in' and recharge. Fuel cells keep the 'fuel' (e.g. hydrogen/methanol) and oxidant separate offering a 'refill' platform. One is a storage device dependent on the wall socket, the other is its own 'power plant' that requires businesses to supply 'fuel' rather than direct access to the grid.
Instead of massive market populations around the world waiting for the electrical grid to arrive via a wall socket, why not sell them power packs next to bars of soap at the retail level. Imagine disposable batteries on steroids.
It is a simple but disruptive idea to the notion of end point grid access. What if Walmart could sell you a 20-pack of energy cartridges to fuel all of your home appliances and gadgets? Or electric vehicles (via solid hydrogen bricks)?
Why push for energy Packets? Learn from 'Streams' of Water vs 'Packets' of Bottled Water
The use of football-shaped 'Carbon 60' fullerene molecules, or 'Bucky Balls', could change how we look at the quantum flow of electricity over long distance transmission lines as well as within medical equipment and 'molecular electronics'.
Shape Matters: Carbon Buckyballs 'Squeezing' Electrons Liverpool Professor Matt Rosseinsky explains: "Superconductivity is a phenomenon we are still trying to understand and particularly how it functions at high temperatures. Superconductors have a very complex atomic structure and are full of disorder. We made a material in powder form that was a non-conductor at room temperature and had a much simpler atomic structure, to allow us to control how freely electrons moved and test how we could manipulate the material to super-conduct."
Professor Kosmas Prassides, from Durham University, said: "At room pressure the electrons in the material were too far apart to super-conduct and so we 'squeezed' them together using equipment that increases the pressure inside the structure. We found that the change in the material was instantaneous – altering from a non-conductor to a superconductor. This allowed us to see the exact atomic structure at the point at which superconductivity occurred."
60 Minutes recently aired a program on the future of coal power featuring Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (an advocate of longer term 'Cathedral Thinking' carbon reduction) and leading climate scientist James Hansen (an advocate of a moratorium on building coal plants).
The CBS report was solidly mainstream in framing coal as central to the conversation on energy, environment and global economic development- but it failed to move the conversation beyond ideas that have existed for several decades.
Time for Big Ideas, not Big Battles Coal is the world's fastest growing source of energy due largely to growth outside the United States. And despite all the rapid growth rates expected with wind and solar, coal is likely to gain global market share in the years ahead.
So this is not just a conversation about US policy and US-based utilities! And there is no way to just 'wish' coal away. We must develop low cost carbon solutions that can be applied around the world within existing power plants. And everyone agrees - these low cost solutions do not exist today!
CBS Producers missed an opportunity to introduce more advanced non-geoengineering strategies to carbon neutralization and left viewers stuck at ringside watching the same old 'pro' vs 'anti' battle.
Carbon's Molecular Dance between Oxygen and Hydrogen Carbon is a 'sticky' molecule that interchangeably binds with oxygen and hydrogen based on its journey through biochemical pathways or via human induced energy conversion (e.g. power plants and combustion engine).
Human beings have a choice to approach carbon solutions through geo-engineering (shoving it underground), or as bio-engineers who can bind carbon with hydrogen for use as a hydrocarbon fuel (for transportation or onsite electricity generation) or a bio-feestock for industrial applications. CBS viewers would have been better off understanding the long-term view of carbon rather than watch a debate without a viable solution. (Continue Reading Below).
Today, the lights are still out for nearly a half million people in Houston, Texas- the ‘energy capital of the world’.
Business Week is reporting that ”...13 days since Hurricane Ike ripped through Texas, and nearly one-quarter of the residents of the fourth-largest U.S. city still don’t have electricity.” (Reporting by Christopher Palmeria)
Is the problem electricity production?
No. The power plants are fine.
The problem is the wires. The grid itself
The network is too vast to repair quickly in the fall out of Hurricane Ike.
The problem is storage.
We have no viable way of storing vast amounts of electricity at the local level.
The solution? Making energy storage a priority and create systems that support a local ‘Electron Reserve’.
What are the big energy lessons from Hurricane Ike?
The modern architecture for electricity grids is antiquated and fragile. Central power plants connected to home wall sockets need to be re-invented around software and storage.
Lesson #1 – Don’t assume the lights will always be on!
Today we just assume that the electricity will always be there. But only five years ago we assumed that the cheap oil would always be there. But how vulnerable is the stream of electrons?
In the US and Europe national electricity grids are aging and in much worse shape than most people might recognize. The current grid structure is highly vulnerable to overloads, bottlenecks and events that can shut down major sections of the grid. And over the next twenty years energy grids will be forced to carry more electricity, not less.
Geothermal energy could emerge as a vast resource for the next century if we can engineer next generation systems.
Geothermal power generation gained considerable attention in 2007 following the release of the MIT’s study‘The Future of Geothermal Energy’ which estimated that within the US alone 100 MW of energy could be established by 2050. Apparently the US government is now taking this recommendation seriously.
Yesterday the US Department of Energy announced support for 21 Research, Development and Demonstration Projects tapping $78 million in public-private partnerships. The DOE’s goal is to prove the technical feasibility of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) by 2015.
The Earth Policy institute reports that in 2008 total worldwide installed geothermal power capacity passed 10,000 megawatts producing enough electricity to meet the needs of 60 million people. The US leads the world in geothermal energy power generation with 2,900 MW followed by the Philippines, Mexico, Indonesia, Italy, Japan and a dozen other countries.
While the global outlook for geothermal remain positive, the US market is receiving considerable attention due to its growth prospects in the years ahead. Nordic bank Glitnirestimates that ‘the overall number of projects has increased and projects currently underway would expand installed capacity in the U.S. by a 100-130% in the years to come.’
It is possible that geothermal energy sector will never become a darling of the energy sector as the list of award recipients hints at the no-frills futures to geothermal energy. Extracting this form of energy is an engineering intensive job and there is still a considerable amount of academic field work ahead to make EGS feasible. While the majority of funds went to universities and research institutes, there are some familiar energy industry names including Baker-Hughes (Houston, TX), GE Energy (Niskayuna, N.Y.), Chevron and Schlumberger (Sugar Land, TX). Given the potentially high returns on tapping geo-engineering skills we might see more ‘Big Energy’ developers throw their resources into expanding geothermal capacity around the world.
Thermoelectric materials can convert waste heat into electricity, or use electricity for cooling systems. Now European researchers have uncovered new insights into molecular ‘nano cages’ that might make this process of solid state energy conversion efficient.
Researchers at the University of Århus, Risø-DTU and the University of Copenhagen Niels Bohr Institute stand jointly behind new data, published in Nature Materials, that describes thermoelectric materials that could lead to breakthrough practical applications in improving engines, industrial machines, and also advance eco-friendly cooling systems for refrigeration and electronics.
Capturing waste heat – the ultimate in conservation
When we imagine ways to conserve energy and reduce waste, the real measurable gains for the planet have little to do with changing light bulbs. The area which holds the greatest potential is waste heat recovery from industrial processes, combustion engines and cooling systems. These are the most energy intensive and wasteful forms of energy conversion in the modern world.
Thermoelectric materials can be assembled into mechanical structures, which can transform the thermal difference to electrical energy or vice versa – electrical current to cooling.
Nano-cages or molecule trapping clathrate cages
The European researchers studied promising thermoelectric materials in the group of clathrates, which create crystals full of ‘nano-cages’.
“By placing a heavy atom in each nano-cage, we can reduce the crystals’ ability to conduct heat. Until now we thought that it was the heavy atoms random movements in the cages that were the cause of the poor thermal conductivity, but this has been shown to not be true”, explains Asger B. Abrahamsen, senior scientist at Risø-DTU.
“Our data shows that, it is rather the atoms’ shared pattern of movement that determines the properties of these thermoelectric materials. A discovery that will be significant for the design of new materials that utilize energy even better”, explains Kim Lefmann, associate professor at the Nano-Science Center, the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.
News about thermoelectric materials is admittedly geeky when compared to stories about advances in solar and wind. But these systems are extremely important to transforming the dominant wasteful energy systems that already exist in our world. And this research adds to the growing list of recent fundamental breakthroughs that could help improve the world’s energy systems.
Ohio State University researchers have designed a new conductive plastic material that absorbs all the energy contained in sunlight, and loosens electrons in a way that makes them easier to capture.
Why is this important?
This materials breakthrough could help expand the efficiency of solar energy. One of the major obstacles in solar power generation is that most photovoltaic systems only capture visible light which is a small portion of the entire light spectrum.
The colors that we see with our eyes are really different energy levels. Most solar cell materials capture only a small range of these frequencies of light. The Ohio State material is the first that can absorb all the energy contained in visible light at once.
Solar panels create electricity when entering light excites the atoms of the material knocking some of the electrons in those atoms loose.
The team of chemists combined electrically conductive plastic with metals including molybdenum and titanium to create the hybrid material which could change how we look at solar-electron reactions.
SolarWorld has opened North America’s largest solar cell manufacturing facility in Hillsboro, Oregon. The facility is expected to reach a capacity of 500 megawatts (MW) by 2011.
Oregon’s Cleantech / ‘Green’ Jobs
The cloud covered Pacific Northwest is not the first place one might think of ideal for a solar manufacturing base. But there is tremendous local talent in technology and higher end manufacturing. The region is ideal for German-based SolarWorld.
The company and Oregon leaders are hoping to tap growth in the solar industry as it grows to $74 billion in 2017 from $20
billion in 2007, according to a projection by Clean Edge Inc., a market research firm focused on clean technology.
SolarWorld’s 480,000 square foot facility will develop integrated solar silicon wafer and solar cell production facility will fuel this burgeoning market. The company expects to employ 1,000 people at the Hillsboro, Oregon facility by 2011.
Headquartered in Germany and founded in 1977, SolarWorld has production facilities in Germany and the United States,
including in California, Oregon and Washington, and is establishing a joint venture for module production in South Korea. The company delivers its products to market from sales offices in Germany, Singapore, South Africa, Spain and the United States.