Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tidal Power Plant at Eastport, Maine, U.S. Coast Guard Station

Eastport, Maine, August 26, 2010 - Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) is installing the largest tidal power plant to date in U.S. waters. The Maine-based energy company is using the movement of tides to generate renewable power for the U.S. Coast Guard station in Eastport, Maine. The bay's five-knot tides provide a predictable, clean source of energy.

While tidal water moves more slowly than wind, it provides more force. Tide velocities peak four times a day, and one of ORPC’s innovations is developing the systems to harness that power as the turbine spins at different rates. The power plant will use advanced cross-flow turbines, a permanent magnet generator and a power electric system that transforms the generator’s energy output to grid-suitable electricity.

The barge-based plant uses the power from two turbines to charge large battery packs, which are ferried daily by skiff to the Coast Guard station in Eastport. The battery packs provide roughly 20 kilowatt-hours of power daily, about half of the energy needs of the 41-foot search and rescue boat docked there.

This plant is a small power plant, as it would take 25 such turbines to equal the rated capacity of one average wind turbine.

This “demonstration” project cost $4 million, including more than a million dollars of federal and state support. ORPC is using the data it is gathering to fine-tune a larger installation in Cobscook Bay, planned for 2011. That system, according to the company, should generate enough electricity to power 50 or 60 homes.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Feats of Clay

What is sustainability? Is true sustainability achieved at the local level, in small increments, or at the top with massive multinational corporations? Is sustainability linked to decentralization? Are some measure of sustainability and decentralization prerequisites to both democracy and the emergence of a vibrant civil society?

A case in point may be Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a craftsman based in Gujarat. Prajapati, a high school dropout, has been called a 'true scientist'. His Mitti Cool, a clay refrigerator that works without electricity, has turned the world's attention to simple steps in sustainability.

Presenting the national award to Mansukhbhai in 2009, India’s President Pratibha Patil appreciated his work and asked him for a Mitti Cool. Scientists and journalists from across the world have visited his unit to see how he makes eco-friendly products at a low cost. The simple and unassuming Mansukhbhai has been modestly successful financially, but his ambition is to make more low-cost and eco-friendly products for the masses.

"A good majority of Indians cannot buy a fridge as it is expensive. Besides this, electricity bills and maintenance costs are also high. Mitti Cool is an eco-friendly product which has no maintenance costs. It also retains the original taste of vegetables, says Mansukhbhai who has sold 1500 units so far.

Prajapati’s refrigerator cools naturally without using any electricity. It is ideal for rural areas with an erratic power supply. They are priced from Rs 2,000 (USD 44). The refrigerator has a capacity of 50 liters and its upper portion stores about 20 liters of water, while the section below the water tank has separate space to store fruits, vegetables and milk. The water in the tank keeps the temperature lower in the cabinet so that vegetables and fruits stay fresh for almost five days, while milk can be preserved for three days.

Armed with the success of the Mitti Cool refrigerator, Mansukhlal started experimenting with non-stick tawas (fry pans) and water coolers. For example, the clay water cooler comes with a 0.9 micron candle inside the water storage pot to filter water. Clay is a magical ingredient, Mansukhlal believes, because it's environment-friendly, and also because these natural products don't need electricity to function.

The hottest selling item today from Mansukhlal's Mitti Cool range is the non-stick tawa, which is substantially cheaper than other non-stick utensils. It is again made out of clay and has a Teflon coating, which seeps into the pores of the clay so that it cannot flake off during cooking. Unlike other non-stick cookware available in the Indian market, this one is priced affordably at Rs 50 (USD 1).

And of course simple clay is the very essence of sustainable materials.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

China Outpaces the US & EU Combined in Renewable Energy Investments

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, China is leading both the US and EU combined in Alternative Energy investment. Caulk it down to governmental certainty in policy matters.

Starting in 2010 China installed a law that requires its utilities to buy renewable power or face stiff penalties. That certainty has caused investors to bet heavily on China.

In the second quarter of 2010 foreign investment in Chinese of wind turbines, solar panels and low-carbon technology increased 72% to $11.5 billion. Investment in China’s Alternative Energy sector totaled $33.9 billion, inclusive of securities transactions, venture capital, private equity and finance, accounted for 33% of total global investments in this sector.

In 2009 China installed 14 GW of wind power alone, far outpacing any other country. This expansion has been fueled primarily with stimulus spending. US stimulus funds, if actually spent, are targeted to add 16 GW of all forms of renewable energy to the US grid. However, energy legislation has stalled in congress, adding to regulatory uncertainties investors have in considering such projects.

The Chinese law is interesting in that it allows citizens to produce and sell power into the national grid. Finland passed similar legislation decades ago with the result that its paper mills now provide 30% of the electricity on its national grid, by tapping into their produced heat on-site to generate electricity.

The lesson here is that stimulus spending alone will not work. Regulatory certainty combined with incentives for private producers are required to pull through Alternative Energy power into the national grid. If a government will loan you money to produce alternative energy, but will not require its power grid to buy it, why would you invest?

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Football Field-Wide Wind Power Blades

Norway & Sweden Order Giant GE Wind Power Turbines

Imagine a US football field. Now imagine it slowly spinning in the air over a fiord in Norway. That's about the size of the diameter of new GE wind turbines recently ordered. On Tuesday, GE announced that four 4-megawatt wind turbines will be installed in Rogaland County, on the southwest coast of Norway, in conjunction with the Norwegian energy companies Statoil and Lyse. Assuming that environmental impact studies and funding agreements are successful, GE predicts the turbines will be up and running in 2012.

GE's 4-megawatt wind turbine has a 110-meter rotor diameter. A NFL-regulation football field, including the end zones, is about 109.73 meters.

As with GE's 2.5-megawatt wind turbines, the giant 4-megawatt turbines have direct drive trains that require no gearboxes.

Richard Wottrich

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sustainability & Basic Human Needs

(Outside of Pune, India - Photo:RLW)

The next time you flush your toilet…

India has roughly 1.1 billion people. Well over 700 million of them do not have toilets in the privacy of their own homes. Over 30% of India’s 700,000 villages do not have access to a public latrine. This isn’t a problem for the men. They just walk out of doors whenever they want. It is a problem for women, as they cannot make such a display in public.

So Indian village women walk together in small groups to fields they do not own well outside their villages very early in the morning. Then they hold it all day until the fading light hides their journey in the evening. Often these groups will walk a quarter of a mile or further for privacy, which takes time away from their work day and their children. They cannot go alone, as the owner of the land might harass them, which is embarrassing. Often men will follow them and hide in the bushes and watch, which is humiliating.

This is such an indignity for Indian woman that brides have started to demand an unusual dowry item for matrimony – a toilet. These women see this as a human rights issue.

While in India I walked through several of these rural villages. You can feel the centuries pressing down upon you. I specifically told my Indian business hosts that I wanted to visit a village market and a few small villages. They were perplexed and asked me why. But of course they were men…

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, June 03, 2010

"Go Fly A Kite" Takes On New Meaning

Example of an AWE blimp

Wind turbine kites have taken to the skies as a form of Alternative Energy. Inventor JoeBen Bevirt of Joby Energy is mounting a test for a series of large kites that are designed to "harvest" high winds found at high altitudes. Airborne Wind Turbines are part of a wider Alternative Energy Sector known as Airborne Wind Energy Systems (AWE).

The Bevirt airborne wind turbines will fly to around 2000 feet (600m), where they will float, generating power that can be transferred to the ground via a tether.

"Global wind is a tremendous source of energy - carrying nearly 870 terrawatts in global tropospheric winds," says Bevirt. "In comparison, the global demand is 17 terawatts. Harnessing a tiny fraction will transform the way we power our civilization."

As of 2010 no commecially viable kite farms are in operation, but the concepts involved have been contemplated since the 1970s, but was not technically possible. Advances in materials, computing resources and unmanned aerial vehicles have brought the concept closer to reality. As a result, several companies are exploring harvesting wind power at high altitudes.

Magenn Power's Air Rotor System called (MARS) uses a helium filled blimp design. Sky WindPower is building flying electric generators. Kite Gen is focused on creating power kites.

Joby Energy's technology is based upon a large multi-winged kite, similar to a World War I multiwing airplane. Each kite is computer-controlled and can guided remotely to a desired altitude. Flight is controlled by its onboard computer system and harvested electricity is sent down a tether to a substation where it is converted from DC to AC power.

There are risks and limitations to contemplated AWE systems. Kites and 'helicopter' designs must be grounded when there is insufficient wind. Kytoons and blimps could allow fixed positioning. However, bad weather such as lightning or thunderstorms, could temporarily suspend use of the machines, probably requiring them to be brought back down to the ground and covered. Some schemes require a long power cable and, if the turbine is high enough, an aircraft exclusion zone. When the generator is ground-based, the tether need not be conductive.

Sky Windpower estimates that this technology will be capable of producing electricity for $0.02 per KWh, while a system of raising a kite to a high altitude while turning a generator on the ground, and then changing its shape so that it can be drawn back down with less energy than it produced on the way up, has been estimated to be capable of producing electricity for $0.01 per KWh - both numbers being significantly lower than the current price of non-subsidized electricity.

Richard Wottrich

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Tracking the Cosmos Via Crystal Clear Blue Ice

ICE CUBE neutrino array suspended in the Antarctica Ice Cap

The Wall Street Journal reported today that a new scientific instrument, called the Ice Cube, is under construction at the South Pole. The $271 million observatory built into the Antarctica ice cap is pointed towards the earth and utilizes it as a screen to stop all particles excepting neutrinos. Ice Cube is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Neutrinos are almost without mass, have no electric charge and thus can pass through matter "like a hot knife through butter." This means that neutrinos are not affected by gravity or radiation. Hence in theory they can be traced backwards to image the universe in a way that visible light and other forms of radiation cannot achieve. The trick is to see them.

Holes are being melted in the ice cap to a depth of one mile or more. Strings of spherical glass sensors are being hung down the holes like Christmas tree lights - there to freeze in place. Over 5,000 sensors are being suspended in a quarter cubic mile of pure Antarctic ice. The water in this ice is so pure than these sensors can pick up the tell tale miniscule flash of blue light emitted when a neutrino hits a water molecule from several hundred yards away.

The exciting mystery is that no one really knows what these neutrino images of the cosmos will look like.

Richard Wottrich

Saturday, May 29, 2010

From Teosinte to Maize to Corn to High-Fructose Corn Syrup in 9,000 Years

For most of the past 100,000 years Homo sapiens relied on gathering fruits, nuts, seeds, tubers and other offerings from nature in order to survive. It was a relatively recent 10,000 years ago that humans began to domesticate and raise animals and plant their own food.

Sean B. Carroll of The New York Times reported in an article on May 25th that the origin of domesticated maize has been determined through advances in DNA research. Corn has of course become an important food globally for humans, livestock and energy. Corn is the third largest food crop in the world behind rice and wheat.

In the past botanists have not found any direct ancestor of modern corn. The biological origin has thus been a bit of a mystery. However through DNA matching it is an unassuming Mexican grass called teosinte that is the Rosetta stone of this puzzle.

Teosinte of the genus Zea is a group of five grasses that grow in Central America and Southern Mexico. Its skinny ears have just a dozen kernels wrapped inside of rock-hard casings, like the tail of an armadillo. It is hard to imagine this plant as the ancestor of corn and in fact in the past it has been classified as closer to rice than to corn.

The DNA evidence taken from teosinte plants throughout its geographical range provides evidence that maize originated in the tropical Central Balsas River Valley in Southern Mexico. It is interesting that the geographical origin of maize is almost a template of the ancient civilizations of Mexico – Olmec, Zapotea, Teotihuacan, Maya, Toltecs and Aztecs. Maize was the mother food of these grand cultures and teosinte is the mother of maize.

It is amazing to me that small groups of people 9,000 years ago were able to select and grow the desirable features of teosinte and evolve it into a high yielding and easily harvested food crop. I thank them for the great American tradition of eating sweet corn with butter and salt on a summer day

And of course today huge industrial farms across our continent grow just a few highly bred varieties of corn for the production of ethanol, feed for cattle and other animals, and for the great crack cocaine food product of the 21st century – High-fructose corn syrup.

Richard Wottrich

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sustainability Begins With a Stable Population

When the United States was born in 1776 the world’s population was perhaps 700 million. At the end of our Civil War in 1865 our global population has grown to roughly 1.4 billion; doubling in less than 100 years. When I was born in 1946 the world’s population had exploded to 2.5 billion. By 1990 it had doubled again to 5.5 billion. It is expected that we will hit 7 billion humans on earth sometime in 2011. So we have grown by an order of magnitude (700 million to 7 billion) in just 235 years.

This might be fine if we were providing a reasonable standard of living for most humans on earth. But we are not. Over 1 billion people are starving to death at any point in time. Over 2 billion people do not have access to potable water or basic medicines. The fact is that almost 30% of humanity lives under conditions that any rational Western citizen would on its face deplore as unacceptable.

This is what makes the national debate about controlling illegal immigration and protecting our borders so puzzling. Any rational analysis would acknowledge that a sovereign nation must and should protect its borders. The United States has one of the most generous immigration policies in the world. We legally allow thousands of people into our country every year. And yet it is somehow deplorable to even mention the multitudes that enter illegally.

The government would have us believe that there are roughly 11 million illegal aliens in America. Even the most casual observer knows this is a laughable number. Other NGOs estimate that the figure may be as high as 20 million; roughly 6.5% of our estimated population of 309 million. Well here is a news flash for you. I would take very long odds that there are least 30 million people in this country illegally; 10% of our population. The sad fact is our government doesn’t know and doesn’t care to know.

Do the math. We just passed a health care reform bill that will dump 30 million people into the healthcare system. It is so big that nobody knows what the cost or long term implications will be. It very well may bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid. And right behind those 30 million people are another 30 million illegal aliens that congress will eventually get around to parsing into amnesty.

The United States is the third most populous nation on earth. For it not to control its borders and stop illegal immigration is folly, and a form of national suicide.
Richard Wottrich

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

Chart of optimum ocean temperature differentials for OTEC

Chicago — For almost one hundred years the concept of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) has been understood. OTEC generates electricity by utilizing the temperature differential between sun-warmed surface water and the cold ocean depths.

The concept of a heat engine is well understood in thermodynamics engineering, and much of the energy used around the world passes through a heat engine. A heat engine is a thermodynamic device placed between a high temperature reservoir and a low temperature reservoir. As heat flows from one to the other, the engine converts some of the heat energy to work energy. This principle is used in steam turbines and internal combustion engines, while refrigerators reverse the direction of flow of both the heat and work energy. Rather than using heat energy from the burning of fuel, OTEC power draws on temperature differences caused by the sun's warming of the ocean surface.

Surface water is pumped through a heat exchanger, where it heats a liquid chemical with a low boiling point, such as ammonia, which then expands as it vaporizes. The vaporized gas drives turbine blades that generate electricity. The gas is then piped into a condenser back in the cold deep ocean water, which chills it, returning it to its liquid state so the cycle may be repeated.

Demonstration plants have been built over the years, but OTEC has never been put into commercial operation primarily because of its high cost.

The New York Times has reported this week on Pacific Otec and its efforts with OTEC. For OTEC to be efficient, the technology requires a temperature differential of at least 20 degrees Celsius (36 F), which is available over large expanses of tropical waters. “Every additional degree will help produce 15 percent more energy,” said Philippe Dubau, General Manager of Pacific Otec, a subsidiary of Pacific Petroleum, an oil product distributor in French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Vanuatu that has been moving into the renewable energy sector.

The attractive aspect to OTEC is that it would provide steady power over a 24-hour cycle in a never ending loop, as long as the temperature differential exists.

Pacific Otec, DCNS, the French government-owned naval architect and military shipbuilder, and Xenesys, a Japanese specialist in desalination and thermal energy conversion technology, are working on a feasibility study for a commercial OTEC plant in Tahiti. Financial backing for the project has been provided by the French and French Polynesian governments.

The project envisions building an offshore OTEC platform, with a 10 megawatt-hour generating capacity, which will be connected to the Tahiti power grid and could produce enough electricity to cover 10 percent of the islands’ needs, Mr. Dubau said. The offshore OTEC plant would be 25 meters (80 feet) high and submerged 25 meters below the surface to remain stable in heavy weather. One of the main attractive features of OTEC is the compact footprint it requires as compared to solar and wind power.

As reported by The New York Times, Mr. Dubau said. “This feasibility study is not about the technology; we know it works. We also know the design of the plant is correct. But what we need to do now is to design the optimal energy system, considering local environmental data; to design the integration of the process into the chosen platform type; and, of course, study the economic feasibility of the whole project.”

Richard Wottrich

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Who Pays For Alternative Energy?

Government-owned General Motors received huge taxpayer bailout funding, so it can roll out the Chevy Volt at a subsidized cost, to be financed with tax subsidized low interest rates from the old GMAC (now Ally Bank to confuse the public), so that the Volt buyer can receive up to $8,600 in federal tax subsidies when buying the Volt. QUIZ: What is the true cost of the Chevy Volt?

There seems to be a disconnect when politicians begin to wax eloquent on Alternative Energy and “saving” the American people money. Perhaps a look at the facts will help.

Government-owned GM will release its new gasoline-electric combination Volt automobile this year. Nissan will roll out its all-electric Leaf in December.

Pricing will be fairly modest for these cars – perhaps around $25,000 to $30,000. This is because you and I will be paying for the car with a $7,500 federal tax credit. Electric car buyers will also have to pay for a $2,200 charging station, but federal tax credits will pay for half of that cost as well. Various states such as California, Georgia and Tennessee will chip in as much as $5,000 in tax credits as additional incentive.

Thus is born another tax lobby to pressure congress to keep these subsidies up. This is regressive taxation, because all Americans pay for this while initially these cars are little more than toys for wealthy hobbyists.

The fact is that if you power your car with electricity from a coal-fired power plant, you will be releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere than if you owned a Hummer. And half of American electricity is produced from coal. The fact is if you want a more efficient automobile; just add one passenger and you increase its efficiency by 50%. Or drive less.

Meanwhile over in the wind power fantasy, the federal government has authorized the Cape Wind project off shore from Nantucket. Monday this project asked for authority to enter into a 15-year purchasing contract with the utility company National Grid at a price that will cause consumers in that grid to pay $1.59 more per month on an escalating price curve.

This works out to $443 million in extra energy costs, even though this project will contribute very little power to the grid. It does however help the state to meet an arbitrary alternative energy mandate enforced by the state’s Green Communities Act, so the consumer be damned.

And so it goes. Just as the ethanol industry has developed into a huge federal tax subsidy machine to generate profits for private companies, so too will electric vehicles and wind power. Facts are stubborn things.

Richard Wottrich

Friday, April 30, 2010

Center for Nanoscale Materials

This sequence of images demonstrates how nanoparticles linked to antibodies induced cell death in cancerous cells when researchers applied a light source. From the top row: cancer cells after no light, damaged cells 30 minutes after light and cell death 90 minutes after light. Image credit: Nanobio Interface Group at the Center for Nanoscale Materials (E. Rozhkova and I. Ulasov)

Argonne National Laboratory - Richard Wottrich attended a workshop and tour at the Center for Nanoscale Materials today at the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, IL USA. The sessions were limited to 20 participants from companies such as Nanophase Technologies Corporation, Cabot Microelectronics, NanoScale Corporation, Dendritic Nanotechnologies and Elevance Renewable Sciences.

Two presentations were made by the CNM’s Nanobio Interfaces Work Group:

Elena A. Rozhkova presented a review of their results and experiments in electron paramagnetic resonance and its application to treatments in cancer.

Elena V. Shevchenko presented a review of their results and experiments in 2- and 3-D nanoparticle assembly and its application to self-replicating crystalline tiling, lattices and applications thereof.

CNM is an extraordinary resource that presents opportunities for basic and advanced research, experimentation and commercialization of new nanotechnology concepts. Corporations interested in the dynamic interaction between CNM and appropriate funding sources should contact Richard Wottrich for further discussion.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let Them Eat ... Wind

America’s schizophrenic psychosis regarding energy will doom us to losing leadership in Alternative Energy unless we wake up. We all want cheap gasoline and low heating bills, but are not prepared to pay for sustainable energy sources. We would rather that some Third World country despoil their soil rather than drill in our own backyard. NIMBYism is alive and well.

The Obama administration just approved the nation’s first offshore windmill farm, the Cape Wind project. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the 25-square-mile section of Nantucket Sound for a 130 wind mill farm that will provide enough power for 200,000 homes in Massachusetts.

But it took nearly 10 years of fighting to arrive at this point, as everyone from the Kennedy family to local Native American tribes and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound have fought hand over fist to stop the project. Now that the project has the go ahead there are already groups vowing to file additional law suits. It may be another 5 to 10 years before this project is completed.

I have been in many European cities that have windmill farms. In particular Copenhagen comes to mind, where the sea panorama has a necklace of wind mill towers strung down the coast. Not only are these wind farms not intrusive, they actually add interest to an otherwise flat seascape. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And that is the problem really. If wealthy home owners are able to defeat any energy project just because they personally do not like it, then what kind of a national energy policy does that bespeak for America?

Richard Wottrich

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Professor Esther Duflo Wins John Bates Clark Medal

Esther Duflo, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has won the John Bates Clark medal, given to promising economists under the age of 40. Duflo, a 37-year-old native of France, is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT and a director of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Duflo has pioneered methods of analyzing antipoverty programs worldwide to uncover and determine effective ways to combat poverty.

In conjunction with Harvard University's Kennedy School and Stephen Ryan at MIT, for example, a program was implemented in India where certain teachers were given cameras with time and date stamps. They were instructed to take pictures of their students each morning and afternoon. Teacher absences in these schools dropped overnight and student test scores increased as a result.

In another notable study, Duflo, together with Banerjee and J-PAL’s executive director, Rachel Glennerster, found that the rate at which families in northern India will immunize their children jumps from about 5 percent to nearly 40 percent when parents are offered a small bag of lentils as an incentive.

Duflo founded the Poverty Action Lab in 2003, along with MIT colleagues Abhijit Banergee and Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainnathan.

In recognition of Duflo's accomplishments and humanitarianism, Centercut is delighted to add Esther Duflo to its Centercut Clear Thinker list of notable people who think out of the box.

Richard Wottrich

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sustainability of Humans & World Hunger

Sinhagad Fortress, near Pune, India (Photo:RLW - click on picture)

All this talk about sustainability and alternative energy is rather moot if we cannot even feed the people we have on earth. Over one billion people suffer from chronic hunger, lack of potable water and extreme poverty globally. And these people have children who suffer along with them - the very definition of a living hell on earth.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private charitable foundation in the world and it targets these basic problems head on. In 2009 its endowment was worth roughly $33.5 Billion. Warren Buffett has committed to contribute the bulk of Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which should add another $30 billion.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, joined representatives of the governments of the United States, Canada, Spain, and South Korea at the U.S. Department of the Treasury today to launch a global trust fund to help the world’s poorest farmers grow more and earn more so they can lift themselves—and their countries—out of hunger and poverty.

Initial contributions to the fund total nearly $900 million, including a $30 million commitment from the foundation. Proposed by the G20 last year after the economic crisis and rising food prices pushed the number of hungry people to 1 billion, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program is a concrete step to translate $22 billion in food security pledges into action.

“Investing in small farmers is an incredibly effective way to combat hunger and extreme poverty—history has proved it many times,” said Gates, whose foundation has committed $1.5 billion to date to agricultural development. “The launch of this fund is an important step forward, but only a first step. Other countries meeting at the European, G8 and G20 summits in June, and at the U.N. Summit in September should join the four founding partners and make good on their pledges. If we all sustain focus until the job is done, hundreds of millions of people will lead better lives.”

This is worth tracking - worth helping - worthwhile...

Richard Wottrich

Monday, April 19, 2010

FloDesign's wind turbine

(Click on image)

FloDesign Wind Turbine Co. has developed new wind power technology that will shape and shake the industry for years to come.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), - Design Flaws

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva, is the world's largest collider, which measures more than 16 miles in circumference. It is expected to usher in a new era of particle physics research, enabling scientists to replicate conditions immediately after the Big Bang.

With a budget of 9 billion US dollars (approx. €6300M or £5600M as of Jan 2010), the LHC is the most expensive scientific experiment in human history.

However, it would appear that simple silver soldering design flaws have shelved the collider's full power capabilties until at least 2013. One such connection failed recently and blew a hole in the collider wall, shutting down operations. A detailed analysis last summer revealed several more bad connections, and CERN now says that it will take a year to correct the problem throughout the machine. As a result, the LHC will not run at its full collision energy of 14 tera-electronvolts (1012 eV) until around 2013.

Design flaws article:

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, March 25, 2010

China Walks the Walk, America Talks

(Wind farm off the coast of Shanghai)

It appears that the political rhetoric in the United States about Alternative Energy investment is not matched by it actions. A report from the Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that China overtook the United States in 2009 in investments in wind, solar and other sources of Alternative Energy.

U.S. clean energy investments were $18.6 billion in 2009, roughly half the Chinese total of $34.6 billion. Five years ago, China's investments in clean energy totaled $2.5 billion.

The United States was 11th in clean energy investment as a percentage of GDP, behind Canada and Mexico.

The Pew report pointed to a factor constraining U.S. competitiveness: a lack of national mandates for renewable energy production or a surcharge on greenhouse gas emissions that would make fossil fuels more expensive.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, "It's certainly the case that the countries and areas with higher investment in clean energy will be able to produce more jobs," said Chris Lafakis, an economist at Moody's, which is working with Pew in tracking the green economy and jobs. Lafakis said investment was the No. 1 factor in green job growth.

Germany in particular has done an excellent job in leveraging private clean energy investment, in part, by supporting wind and solar power with sustained financial incentives. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates, German subsidies from 2004 to 2008 amounted to about $74 billion.

However it is in China where the combination of its dominant manufacturing base and comprehensive government policies has promoted clean energy technology. This salient fact has drawn significant American corporate investment in China. (See “Follow the Money Winds", March 18, 2010)

Pew reported that the U.S. still leads the world in clean energy innovation and venture capital funding in the sector. It is important that a national energy policy is created to leverage these strengths, if the United States is to be a world leader in the quest for clean energy.

Richard Wottrich

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Your Government in Action, or the Nuclear Option

By STEVEN CHU, U.S. Secretary of Energy

America is on the cusp of reviving its nuclear power industry. Last month President Obama pledged more than $8 billion in conditional loan guarantees for what will be the first U.S. nuclear power plant to break ground in nearly three decades. And with the new authority granted by the president's 2011 budget request, the Department of Energy will be able to support between six and nine new reactors.

What does all of this mean for the country? This investment will provide enough clean energy to power more than six million American homes. It will also create tens of thousands of jobs in the years ahead.

Perhaps most importantly, investing in nuclear energy will position America to lead in a growing industry. World-wide electricity generation is projected to rise 77% by 2030. If we are serious about cutting carbon pollution then nuclear power must be part of the solution. Countries such as China, South Korea and India have recognized this and are making investments in nuclear power that are driving demand for nuclear technologies. Our choice is clear: Develop these technologies today or import them tomorrow.

That is why—even as we build a new generation of clean and safe nuclear plants—we are constantly looking ahead to the future of nuclear power. As this paper recently reported, one of the most promising areas is small modular reactors (SMRs). If we can develop this technology in the U.S. and build these reactors with American workers, we will have a key competitive edge.

Small modular reactors would be less than one-third the size of current plants. They have compact designs and could be made in factories and transported to sites by truck or rail. SMRs would be ready to "plug and play" upon arrival.

If commercially successful, SMRs would significantly expand the options for nuclear power and its applications. Their small size makes them suitable to small electric grids so they are a good option for locations that cannot accommodate large-scale plants. The modular construction process would make them more affordable by reducing capital costs and construction times.

Their size would also increase flexibility for utilities since they could add units as demand changes, or use them for on-site replacement of aging fossil fuel plants. Some of the designs for SMRs use little or no water for cooling, which would reduce their environmental impact. Finally, some advanced concepts could potentially burn used fuel or nuclear waste, eliminating the plutonium that critics say could be used for nuclear weapons.

In his 2011 budget request, President Obama requested $39 million for a new program specifically for small modular reactors. Although the Department of Energy has supported advanced reactor technologies for years, this is the first time funding has been requested to help get SMR designs licensed for widespread commercial use.

Right now we are exploring a partnership with industry to obtain design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for one or two designs. These SMRs are based on proven light-water reactor technologies and could be deployed in about 10 years.

We are also accelerating our R&D efforts into other innovative reactor technologies. This includes developing high-temperature gas reactors that can provide carbon-free heat for industrial applications, as well as advanced reactor designs that will harness much more of the energy from uranium.

Just as advanced computer modeling has revolutionized aircraft design—predicting how any slight adjustment to a wing design will affect the overall performance of the airplane, for example—we are working to apply modeling and simulation technologies to accelerate nuclear R&D. Scientists and engineers will be able to stand in the center of a virtual reactor, observing coolant flow, nuclear fuel performance, and even the reactor's response to changes in operating conditions. To achieve this potential, we are bringing together some of our nation's brightest minds to work under one roof in a new research center called the Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Hub.

These efforts are restarting the nuclear power industry in the U.S. But to truly promote nuclear power and other forms of carbon-free electricity, we need long-term incentives. The single most effective step we could take is to put a price on carbon by passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Requiring a gradual reduction in carbon emissions will make clean energy profitable—and will fuel investment in nuclear power.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Follow the Money Winds

An old mentor of mine, long since passed away, used to instruct me to "follow the money winds." Indeed so, especially if we pay attention to China.

Research and Development spending (R&D) has been moving to China from all points worldwide in an accelerating trend.

General Motors has a huge and growing auto research campus in Shanghai.

Applied Materials has just completed one of its largest research labs near Beijing and has another in Xian.

Xian, a city 600 miles southwest of Beijing, has 47 universities and other learning institutions, graduating thousands of engineers whose starting pay is as little as $730 per month.

Thermal Power Research Institute is based in Xian; the world leading laboratory on perfecting cleaner coal.

Future Fuels is buying $100 million in licensing equipment systems from the institute.

NatCore Technology just reached an agreement with a Chinese consortium of Chinese companies to begin mass-production of its solar panels in Changsha.

The GE China Technology Center (CTC) based in Shanghai is home to more than 20 research labs, working on technology for a number of GE businesses both in China and around the world.

DuPont China Research and Development Center (Shanghai) and Microsoft Research Asia (Beijing) are examples of other substantial R&D operations in China.

Additionally Motorola Chinese Research Institute (capital investment of US$155 million), Lucent Chinese Research Institute (capital investment of US$200 million), Microsoft Chinese Research Institute (capital investment of US$80 million) and IBM Chinese Research Institute are all 100% self-owned capital R&D centers.

The list continues, including 3G-related mobile communications companies like Nokia, Ericson, Alcatel, Lucent and Siemens, automotive-related R&D centers for Nissan, and R&D activities by pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Roche as well as by chemical companies like Dan Chemical, DuPont and others.

Young people often ask me for career advice. My answer is simple. Follow the money winds.

Richard Wottrich

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Strong Results For Renewable Energy in 2009

The annual Clean Energy Trends 2010 report from the Clean Edge Inc. research firm shows strong growth for Renewable and Alternative Energy in 2009, despite the raging recession worldwide.

Driven by government stimulus funding, globally business and governments spent $63.5 billion on wind farms and turbines last year, up 23.5 percent from 2008. The global biofuel market rose 29 percent, hitting $44.9 billion

However solar revenues declined in 2009, as surging manufacturing capacity (especially in China) dropped the price of solar panels. Combined global revenues for photovoltaic companies fell 20.3 percent to $30.7 billion, the first drop since Clean Edge began tracking solar sales in 2000.

According to the report, about $100 billion of the $787 billion US stimulus package is being devoted to clean energy. The stimulus program has helped get large US renewable power projects launched, as it offers companies grants worth up to 30 percent of each project's total cost.

China is spending $440 billion to $660 billion on the industry in the next 10 years, in a state-sanctioned bid to be the dominant player in green technology.
The report estimates that by 2019, the global biofuel market will top $112.5 billion. Wind power revenue could reach $114.5 billion, while solar hits $98.9 billion.

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, March 11, 2010

World's First Commercial Wireless Electric Vehicle

SEOUL, South Korea, March 11 UPI reported today that South Korea has unveiled what is considered the world's first commercial wireless electric vehicle.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has introduced an online electric vehicle, which can run up to 24.8 miles per hour. Power strips are buried one foot under the surface and connected to the national grid provide electromagnetic power to the OLEV wirelessly, charging an on-board battery and powering the bus's electric motor. The vehicle was introduced Tuesday at the Seoul Grand Park as one of the theme park's seven shuttles operating on a 1.37-mile beltway.

The Seoul government said it hopes to apply the technology to city buses as early as next year after trial operations. Buses account for about 30 percent of Seoul's traffic, with some 56 miles of bus lanes operating throughout the city.

The institute says the technology, in addition to reducing pollution, reduces problems often associated with hybrid vehicles such as weighty batteries, lengthy charging times and limited range of power. Whether running or stopped, the OLEV constantly receives electric power through the underground cables.

There is no similar project under way in the US at this time.

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Senate Discovers That It's a Global World After All...

Chinese New Year

(Chicago, IL USA) Senators are balking at stimulus spending on several wind power projects that seem to be subsidizing jobs overseas in China and elsewhere. They apparently are surprised to find that major manufacturing companies worldwide are already building world class components for Alternative Energy.

This startling discovery by our worldly senators began after a planned Texas wind farm with substantial Chinese investment announced it would seek a $450 million stimulus tax credit. The developers initially said the project would support 3,000 jobs in China and about 300 in Texas (a Red state). Several Democratic senators, led by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, are pushing legislation to make such projects ineligible for stimulus funds if they don't have a "substantial" impact on U.S. employment.

Under the terms of the $787 billion stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), the Texas project would qualify for a portion of its $32 billion in Alternative Energy grants and guaranteed loans, however the turbines would be produced by a Chinese company, A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd.

The project's developer, the U.S. Renewable Energy Group, is doing a quick two-step dance to avoid the deadly scrutiny of savvy senators. They now say that 70 percent of the turbine components would come from the U.S.

This blogger has warned repeatedly that gains in Alternative Energy in countries such as China will give them a head start on such projects. It is nice to see that the senate is finally getting ahead of the power curve - killing projects to spite the noses on their collective faces.

Richard Wottrich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Bloom is a Bloom is a Bloom...

"Pick a card, any card." Bloom Energy CEO K. R. Sridhar displays Bloom Energy Fuel Cells

Last week 60 Minutes featured Bloom Energy in a breathless rock star treatment of the company's CEO, K.R. Sridhar. As reporter Lesley Stahl fawned over Sridhar, he showed off a tiny square box composed of fuel cells supposdly capable of powering an Amercian home. Few other facts were evident or presented.

Just out of frame lurked John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), preening like a new father celebrating his first baby boy. KPCB has somewhere between $100 million and $400 million invested in Bloom Energy, depending upon who you listen to.

Too good to be true? Perhaps, but here are the real questions:

When will it be ready for prime time - the home market?
What will it cost?
How durable will it be?
Do you buy it or lease it?
Can you get off the grid, or sell energy to the grid?
If it's this good, then won't energy consumption spike up?

And last but not least, why are so many celebrities endorsing the Bloom Box? That's enough to scare Warren Buffett.

Richard Wottrich

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Paint goes nanotech

An IIT Mumbai and Jadavpur University alumnus has made an eco-friendly, long lasting product.

By Ritwik Mukherjee,

Arup Kumar Chatterjee has used nano technology to produce a new paint for your walls made, which he claims, is robust, long lasting and offers high resistance to impact and abrasion. It has high water repellency, is anti-fungal, bactericidal, UV protective and, above all, environment-friendly. Chatterjee is an alumnus of IIT Mumbai and Jadavpur University.

“While conventional paints and coatings are made of large molecules where water, dirt and other particles can leach into the gaps and erode the surface, the nano-engineered paints are densely packed with robust molecules that act as a penetrative and functional barrier,” Chatterjee, who is an M Tech said.

Nanotechnology is the chemical manipulation of functional paints and coatings at the molecular level to create highly resistant, longer lasting and environment friendly products. Chatterjee’s invention from the stable of his own company—I-CanNano (Innovation Center for Applied Nanotechnology) has been certified by the Paint Research Association as being 99.99 per cent bacteria free and an eco-friendly paint.

“This is low cost paint compared to any other available. And all these paints are now being manufactured at a new state-of-the-art plant at Baruipur, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal,” said Chatterjee.

Chatterjee’s clientele already includes Godrej & Boyce, Parryware Roca, Mahindra, Shapoorji & Pallonji and more. “Although everything at ICanNano is indigenously developed, we are working in close collaboration with Caneus Jet Propulsion Lab, USA, National Research Center, Canada, Neumann-UK and Bell Helicopters,” said Chatterjee.

“We are quite happy and satisfied with these nano-engineered product,” says B J Wadia, president of Godrej & Boyce. “We had always been looking at hit conductivity in paints and there is no denying the fact that hit conductivity has improved significantly through this new-found technology.”

He is not the only one. Head of contracts at Shapoorji & Pallonji N D Tarapore said, “The whole world is going green, or atleast aspiring and trying to go green. We have been able to move in this direction with the help of these research-based nano technology engineered paints & coatings and composites. The quality and durability have also gone up substantially.”

At the company, former president and scientist APJ Abdul Kalam wrote in the comment book: “This is affordable nanotechnology for common man”.

The claims of the company appear to have been validated by Paint Research Association, UK. The recent PRA study shows that ICanNano’s paints are not only anti-fungal but also anti-bacterial and UV stabilised.

Chatterjee’s company wants to commercially take this technology to the common man. I-CanNano is driving industrial nanotechnology scenario across various industries in construction, automotive, biotech, renewable energy and filters. Paints and coatings is one of the first areas chosen for commercialisation, where nanotechnology impact is early.

In industrial segment, his product portfolio includes heat conducting paints, high electrically insulating paints that withstand 5,000V, high anti-corrosive paints, pollutant adsorbant paint, high impact and scratch resistant paints, high temperature resistant paints and clear coat paints.

“Besides, we have already started working towards commercialisation of composites. I-CanNano is envisaging development of world’s largest carbon nano-fiber manufacturing facility in India catering to not only light weight/high strength composites for aerospace, wind blade, automotive structures but also for high abrasion resistant rubbers, conducting inks, and electrodes,” Chattrejee said.

I-CanNano already has one US patent on fuel cell electrode and one Indian patent on super-capacitor electrode to its credit. It has research interest in hydrogen storage and fuel cell development.

The centre has also developed process technology for industrial scale manufacturing of nano-materials that are tunable in size and structure, scalable and pure in terms of quality.

Said Chatterjee, also a visiting scientist at IIT Mumbai and a governing body member of Calcutta University: “We have not restricted its activity in the field of nano-materials but also graduated to development of applications in various areas of paints and coatings, composites, filters, catalysts, electrodes and drug delivery. This development of nano-products is due to graduation from first generation to third generation nanotechnology.”

In nanotechnology, entry barrier is high and once a product gets developed dissemination is fast. ICanNano does not envisage any entry barriers where products are technologically and commercially competitive, yet affordable. Currently, I-CanNano has its foothold in USA, UK, Africa and UAE and is planning to expand further.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Proposal to Link the Nation's Grid Sparks a Debate

By PETER BEHR of ClimateWire

The Tres Amigas transmission project in New Mexico, which seeks to link the nation's three power grids to share wind power across the United States, has attracted both eager allies and some determined foes.

Scandia Wind Southwest LLC, a venture led by Norwegian wind power developers, has proposed to build an initial 2,250 megawatts of wind power in the Texas Panhandle, with a potential capacity of 10,000 MW. That amount of power, the equivalent of 10 large nuclear power plants, could move into the Eastern and Western grid interconnections, and to Texas' independent grid, over the Tres Amigas transmission linkage.

The Tres Amigas project would operate three power switching hubs connected by several miles of superconducting direct-current lines, on a 22.5-square-mile section near Clovis, N.M., adjoining Texas and Oklahoma. The hubs would direct power flows in and out of the three regions, whose electrical systems are not synchronized, creating bridges for electric power to flow across the entire country, wherever transmission capacity permitted.

Tres Amigas has strong support from New Mexico's Democratic Governor, Bill Richardson. The American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association support the concept of uniting the three non-synchronized grids. Landowners in the Panhandle area -- such as Crosby County Wind Farm LLC, a Dallas-based company with 100 landowners and 30,000 available acres -- are behind the project. A subsidiary of ITC Holdings, the Michigan-based independent transmission company, is interested in building lines to the Tres Amigas project.

No one, perhaps, is more enthusiastic than Harald Dirdal, a partner with Havgul Clean Energy, a Norwegian company that is developing several thousand megawatts of onshore and offshore wind power projects in its country. Dirdal said that he and his partners were prospecting for wind power opportunities in the United States when they learned last year about the Tres Amigas venture, led by Phillip Harris, former head of the PJM Interconnection, the grid operator in much of the mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions.

"We thought if we could do a big development in the Texas Panhandle, a really big development, we could interconnect into the three national grids ourselves," Dirdal said. "We had no clue about Tres Amigas' existence whatsoever. So literally I was jumping up and down in Oslo when I heard about, for about half an hour, in pure joy."

But lined up against Tres Amigas are units of Occidental Petroleum, the fourth-largest U.S. oil and gas company, whose sales totaled $24 billion in 2008 and $15 billion last year. Through its subsidiaries, Occidental is a major purchaser of power for its chemicals, hydrocarbon and manufacturing businesses, and a marketer of electricity, as well.

A transmission 'game changer' collides with 1930s law

As Harris has said, Tres Amigas is a "game changer," a facility that could move large amounts of power in any direction among the three grids, with potentially big impacts on prices and profits that existing generators now receive, as well as consumers' electricity costs. Tres Amigas' financial plan depends on selling its transmission access to generators and power marketers who would take advantage of the connection to buy cheaper power in one of the grids and sell it in another when prices are higher. That makes it a competitive outsider in parts of the established markets.

Occidental is the most vocal opponent of Tres Amigas' requests for two rulings from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it says are essential. The project is seeking FERC approval to charge negotiated transmission rates for access to its network.

And it asks FERC to disclaim jurisdiction over any Texas transmission line owners that connect with Tres Amigas, a crucial procedural step that would maintain the independence of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the grid in three-quarters of the state. Texas created its own grid in the New Deal to keep from being regulated by Washington's new Federal Power Commission, FERC's predecessor.

Occidental has filed several 50-page-plus broadsides with FERC against the Tres Amigas plan, and has brought forward an expert witness to challenge Harris' technical arguments on why his project's engineering design would keep Texas' electrons from "intermingling" with outside grids. Keeping the electrons separate means that the Texas system would not be linked to its neighbors as a policy matter, keeping it clear of FERC's jurisdiction over interstate wholesale electricity markets, Harris argues.

Harris stated that intermingling does not occur because the alternating-current energy flowing into the Tres Amigas "superstation" would be converted to direct current at each of the project's three hubs linked with the three grids. "Nothing is mixed," Harris said.

Occidental's expert, Songhoon Yang, with the consulting firm Bates White LLC in Washington, D.C., argued in a FERC filing that it is obvious that electric power will be moving among the grids through the Tres Amigas facility, so Harris' argument that the project's engineering interrupts the flow is not valid.

FERC has not ruled yet on either of the Tres Amigas petitions. Several of the parties that have commented in the commission's two dockets, ER10-396 and EL10-22, are urging the commission to take its time, because of the project's uniqueness and the difficulty of assessing its impact.

The Electric Power Supply Association, representing merchant power producers, said it took no position on the fate of the Tres Amigas project but urged FERC to move with care.

Is Texas wind power being undermined or efficiently shared?

The Public Utility Commission of Texas noted that it is in the midst of ruling on new transmission projects that would connect 18 gigawatts of wind power to the state's urban areas -- the result of lengthy renewable energy planning. It wants to see a stronger legal case made at FERC to ensure that it stays independent. Texas Industrial Energy Consumers, another Tres Amigas opponent, says the massive transmission investment Texas is planning to bring its wind resources to market could be undermined by Tres Amigas.

The American Public Power Association said that while it appreciates Tres Amigas' "bold vision," FERC needs to conduct its own analysis of the project's impact on electricity prices. "It should not simply rely on Tres Amigas's assertions that it 'cannot cause prices to rise above competitive levels' because power buyers would go elsewhere," the association said.

Three Occidental companies and Texas Industrial Energy Consumers have asked FERC to order discovery and hold a "contested evidentiary hearing" on the Tres Amigas project -- a lengthy process that advantages the side with the deepest pockets, attorneys note.

However FERC rules on Tres Amigas' two requests, the project may still face hurdles unless new policies are forthcoming from Congress or FERC to support the siting and financing of transmission projects for renewable power, energy experts say.

Dirdal, who has spent much of the past year traveling to potential wind power sites in the United States, has been in that field since 1995 but said he is still learning about U.S. energy politics.

He argued that linking the grids would permit the greatest possible sharing of wind power originating in different time zones and different climate regions, substantially smoothing out the effects of wind's variability and intermittency. The result would be a stronger wind energy network less in need of expensive backup generation, he said. But the venture does challenge the existing order on the grid, and that is evidently a force to be reckoned with, he said.

Copyright 2010 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

For more news on energy and the environment, visit

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Wind energy job growth isn't blowing anyone away

Wind farm near Palm Springs. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times / January 29, 2007)

Despite record growth in generating capacity, the industry is creating few employment opportunities overall.

By Jim Tankersley
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

America's wind energy industry enjoyed a banner year in 2009, thanks largely to tax credits and other incentives packed into the $787-billion economic stimulus bill.

But even though a record 10,000 megawatts of new generating capacity came on line, few jobs were created overall and wind power manufacturing employment, in particular, fell -- a setback for President Obama's pledge to create millions of green jobs.

Obama has long pitched green jobs, especially in the energy, transportation and manufacturing fields, as a prescription for long-term, stable employment and a prosperous middle class.

But those jobs have been slow to materialize, especially skilled, good-paying, blue-collar jobs such as assembling wind turbines, retrofitting homes to use less energy and working on solar panels in the desert.

On the campaign trail, Obama promised to create some 5 million green jobs over a decade. The stimulus bill approved last year allocated billions of dollars to the clean-energy sector. And the president continued to set high expectations for green-job creation in last week's State of the Union speech.

Administration officials admit that they are nowhere near that pace. Last month, government economists released their first tally of clean-energy jobs created or saved by the stimulus: 52,000.

Several factors accounted for the slow start, some of them linked to weakness in the overall economy. Electric power demand fell nationwide last year. Electricity from coal and natural gas is still by and large cheaper than wind or solar power. Renewable energy companies, faced with limited demand, often used parts and equipment in stock or imported renewable technology instead of building turbines or solar cells domestically.

Industry analysts and energy company executives said job growth is also hampered by lingering uncertainties in federal energy policy. Those include questions about when or whether existing tax breaks will expire and whether the Senate will pass a climate bill that would make fossil fuels more expensive -- and renewable energy more competitive.

The federal stimulus bill spared the wind and solar industries steep job losses last year, executives said.

In the wind industry, the bill saved about 40,000 factory, installation and maintenance jobs, according to the American Wind Energy Assn. The industry had gained as many as 2,000 installation and maintenance jobs in producing the record megawatts of new capacity, but wind power manufacturing lost just as many jobs, the trade group said.

Clean-energy leaders and many outside analysts added that green companies won't begin hiring in large numbers until the federal government mandates renewable power consumption nationwide and dramatically upgrades the nation's electric grid.

Wind turbine manufacturers "need more certainty" to add shifts and factories in the United States, said Elizabeth Salerno, director of data and analysis for the wind industry trade group.

"Demand is the trigger," she said. "But it has to be long-term, stable demand."

Obama's advisors said the biggest clean-energy benefits of the stimulus are still to come, and that they have planted the seeds for a green-job proliferation by financing worker training and leveraging tens of billions of dollars in private investment in green technology. The Energy Department projects that U.S. renewable power generation will grow four times faster from 2008 to 2012 than it would have without the stimulus.

"A lot more has to be done if we're going to realize the president's vision for a truly transformative clean-energy economy," said Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's chief economist. "Our administration will pick up where [the stimulus] leaves off and finish the job. The president is completely committed to that."

Others said the administration's efforts, including stimulus grants and tax credits that fund some applicants but not others, may have pushed clean-energy investment dollars overseas, particularly to China. Since 2008, China has approved more solar-power capacity than the United States has installed in its history.

"The inconvenient truth for America's economic recovery is that China's Communist Party has cultivated a more favorable, predictable and hospitable market for private investments in clean-energy technology and energy infrastructure than the federal government of the United States," said Alexander "Andy" Karsner, a fellow at the Council on Competitiveness.

Energy Department officials said that instead of focusing on one or two technologies, they have funded a "portfolio of technologies" that will battle for a share of a growing domestic and global market.

"We are not in the business of picking winners," said Matt Rogers, a senior advisor at the Energy Department who oversees stimulus spending. "We're creating competition among innovative approaches in the marketplace."

Global clean-energy competition worries many of the staunchest champions of green jobs in Washington, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chaired a hearing on solar jobs in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week.

Among the executives testifying was Robert Rogan, senior vice president for ESolar Inc. in Pasadena. Rogan's young company secured contracts last year for 3,500 megawatts of solar power. One of its projects is set for California; another, in New Mexico, will create hundreds of construction jobs this year.

But the bulk of ESolar's power installations will come in China, which also provides some components of its solar plants.

In an interview, Rogan credited the stimulus for helping clean-energy companies through a "very bad" year in the American private finance market.

He insisted U.S. solar companies are poised for "explosive" growth, but that to maximize it, they need longer-term incentives and better transmission lines to link solar hot spots, such as the Southwest, and demand centers, such as the East Coast.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Oil Bigs to Obama: Get Real - That's Just the Way Davos Rolls

Aramco Oil Production Command Center

Adam Lashinsky, Senior Editor at Large

The CEO of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, lashed out at the Obama administration Thursday, lamenting the oversupply of “rhetoric” from major oil-consuming nations regarding energy independence. Without naming the U.S. president directly, Khalid Al Falih couldn’t have been clearer who he was referring to. He called pervasive talk from nations that want to wean themselves from an addiction to foreign oil, a common trope in U.S. environmental circles, “unachievable and misleading to the public.”

Al Falih anchored an extraordinary collection of representatives of major oil producers at a morning session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Chaired by consultant and prizewinning author Daniel Yergin, the panel provided a heavy dose of reality into a debate often dominated in Western media and policy circles by a hopeful yearning for alternative energy.

Some highlights:

Tony Hayward, group chief executive of BP (BP), said that though the recession certainly had crimped energy demand in developed countries, BP is forecasting a 40% increase in energy consumption among non-OECD nations over the next 20 years. Furthermore, for all the development initiatives in alternative energy, oil and gas will remain predominant. “Even in the most aggressive climate change legislation perceived, hydrocarbons will represent 80% of energy consumption over next 20 years,” Hayward said. He also said that while gasoline demand is now in “structural decline” in Europe and won’t again exceed 2007 levels, that decline will be more than offset by increased demand in China alone.

Peter Voser, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, also offered his view of energy “realism.” Change in the energy industry, he said, doesn’t work like an on-off switch. “It takes 25 to 30 years to gain 1% of global market share from the moment we start investing in a major project,” he said.

Ilham Aliyev, president of major oil and gas producer Azerbaijan, said 85% of the country’s GDP is now industrial – as opposed to energy — up from zero when Azerbaijan became independent of the Soviet Union. He didn’t say it, but his country’s achievement is in marked contrast to Russia, which remains heavily reliant on oil revenues.

The sole representative of energy consumers was Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical (DOW), which bills itself as the largest energy customer in the U.S. He said Dow’s energy costs jumped from $8 billion to $32 billion when the price of oil spiked. Interestingly, Liveris flagged the impact of oil-price volatility on his business. Normal hedging, he said, becomes impossible in such a climate, which in terms crimps investment given the uncertainty produced by an inability to hedge. Liveris said he supports neither a carbon tax, which merely would be passed on to consumers, nor cap and trade, which would reward speculators. He said he supports carbon pricing that changes behavior, but he didn’t supply his preferred method.

BP’s Hayward also gave an update on his company’s efforts in Iraq, where it is in the process of redeveloping an oil field BP discovered in 1953. The field is producing 1 million barrels of oil per day now, he said. BP intends for its investments in the field to boost production to 3 million barrels by 2020. Overall, Hayward predicted Iraq will be producing 10 million barrels a day in 10 years. That would be a five-fold increase and a gigantic accomplishment.

The star of the show by far was Aramco’s Al Falih. He believes the “peak oil” debate is dead, though it caused damage in the form of price increases and volatility. He said Saudi Arabia has 4 million barrels per day of idle oil capacity at the moment and that the country continued to invest in its fields through the recession, adding 2 million barrels of capacity last year despite the global decline in demand. His beef is that though Saudi Arabia continues to invest in production, “we don’t see reciprocal assurances from customers, by which I mean policymakers, to signal to us a long-term commitment.”

There was no discord on this panel of the global oil elite. With no time for Q&A, if anyone sympathetic to the Obama administration’s energy policy was in the room, they had no opportunity for rebuttal.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Our Ultimate Sustainability: More funds required to protect Earth against killer asteroids

(Painting: Don Davis)

New York, January 23 -- NASA will not be able to detect the potentially devastating near Earth objects (NEOs) by 2020, concluded a report released Friday.

Explaining the reason, the report titled ‘Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies’ stated that the government has not provided enough money to carry out the searches to track asteroids or comets.

In 2005, the government had ordered a survey to track nearly 90 percent NEOs, about 140 meters in diameters.

Unfortunately NASA will not be able to complete the survey as searches, though mandated, have not been funded by the Congress.

Focus on large asteroids

The Earth has always been subject to threats from comets and asteroids, and these cosmic collisions have played a major role in the mass extinctions.

Scientists have over the years focused on large asteroids but the impact by these asteroids or comets is very rare. The last worst impact was 65 million years ago when an asteroid, around 10 kilometers in diameter, hit the Yucatan peninsula on the east coast of Mexico, leading to extinction of the dinosaurs.

Russians scientists had last month confirmed that an asteroid named Apophis is heading towards Earth and it could hit the planet in 2030s, leading to catastrophic disaster.

Having more than 20 years of warning about the potential impact, the Russian scientists are not sitting idle. In fact, they have already started making plans like to avert the menace.

More threat from small objects

But the report states that space rocks as large as that head towards Earth on very rare occassions, it is the smaller asteroids that pose more threat. The scientists at the National Research Council argued that currently the nation spends $4 million a year to search for NEOs but this amount is insufficient.

There are more than 2 million space objects that have a near-Earth orbit. Though it is normal for such objects to pass to pass Earth within the distance of a moon about once a week, asteroids could prove devastating if they strike the planet.

An object of about 50 to 75 meters in radius could lead to destruction equal to devastation created by nuclear explosion. In order to avoid the wreckage, it is imperative for the government to fund the survey so that NASA can launch space probes to the orbit of Venus to track the threats posed by Earth’s neighborhood.

As this could prove expensive, the cheaper option is that government should fund telescope so that the scientists can detect the 90 percent of asteroids by 2030.

Since a lot of planning is required to launch spacecraft to divert the path of an asteroid heading towards Earth, the nations should focus on organized evacuations and other civil defense efforts to deal with small asteroids, states report.

The Money Times

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wal-Mart completes a megawatt solar project in Apple Valley

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. keeps moving ahead with its plan to shift its power supply to renewable energy with the completion of its largest solar-power project yet.

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart completed three other solar projects in Paramount, Baldwin Park and San Bernardino.

This time, the mega-corporation has wrapped up the installation of more than 5,300 solar panels across nearly 7 acres at its Apple Valley distribution center. The setup will generate 1 megawatt of power, the equivalent of the supply needed by 175 homes.

The company’s solar initiative was first announced in May 2007 and expanded in April 2009 to aim for 10 to 20 solar facilities in California over 18 months. A month later, in May, a San Bernardino Superior Court judge blocked the discount retailer’s plan for a Yucca Valley supercenter, in part because Wal-Mart’s proposal did not include solar-power provisions.

Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times

Photo: The entire Apple Valley solar array. Credit: Wal-Mart

Monday, January 18, 2010

Twisted Physics: Scientists Create Knots of Light

Like your shoelaces or electrical cords, light can get twisted into knots. Now, scientists have used a computer-controlled hologram and theoretical physics to turn a light beam into pretzel-like shapes.

Like your shoelaces or electrical cords, light can get twisted into knots. Now, scientists have used a computer-controlled hologram and theoretical physics to turn a light beam into pretzel-like shapes.

The twisted feat not only led to some pretty cool images, but the results have implications for future laser devices, the researchers say.

"In a light beam, the flow of light through space is similar to water flowing in a river," said lead researcher Mark Dennis of the University of Bristol in England. Even though the light from something like a laser pointer travels in a straight line, it can also flow in whirls and eddies, Dennis explained.

These swirls of light are called optical vortices. Along the vortices the intensity of light reaches zero, or no light. "The light all around us is filled with these dark lines, even though we can't see them," Dennis said. "Our work actually twists dark filaments within the light beam into knots."

The researchers knew these optical vortices could be created with holograms, which direct the flow of light. By using so-called fibered knot theory, a branch of abstract mathematics inspired by everyday knots, Dennis and his colleagues created customized holograms and reflected a regular laser beam from them.

"The hologram acts like a filter for incoming light, similar to the stained glass window in a church," Dennis told LiveScience. "After going through a stained glass window, the light has taken on the pattern of colors of the window." But there's a difference: "Whilst the stained glass window manipulates color, the hologram manipulates the phase of the light wave."

So each point on the hologram, like a small pane of window glass, changes the point of the wave's cycle in that part of the light beam. They created a hologram that would change the phase of light so that it flowed around a dark knot.

Then, the team scanned a camera through the laser field to get images of the knots. (A computer program applied before the team had created the hologram essentially made the field around the dark knot appear bright.)

Their results, detailed online Jan. 17 in the journal Nature Physics, are "firsts" for a couple of reasons. While so-called knot theorists have studied mathematical equations similar to dark knots, the new research created these knots with math functions that followed rules of propagating light. In addition, unlike other dark knots created that have been tangled up with other knots, Dennis and his colleagues produced isolated dark knots within the light beam, he said.

"For me, it shows how physicists can adapt existing pure mathematics, such as knot theory, and find it manifest in physical phenomena," Dennis said. "It also shows how finely we can control the flow and propagation of laser light using holograms. This degree of control is likely to find applications in future laser devices."

For those wanting to make their own knots, Dennis said all you would need is their hologram and a laser beam.

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