“Cool” Technology to Relieve Grid Lock

Kristine Wong is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is currently serving an internship at KQED Climate Watch.

Copper meets ice in the Ice Bear rooftop cooler. Photo: Kristine Wong

Copper meets ice in the Ice Bear rooftop cooler. Photo: Kristine Wong

Latest technology designed to improve grid performance, decrease peak energy demand
By Kristine Wong
When the hot weather hits town, everyone wants to cool off. Some down a cold drink, others take a dip in the pool. But most just turn on a switch–for the air conditioning or the fan. But when everybody jumps for the switch at the same time, the electrical grid is pushed to the max, which can lead to blackouts, as well as use of peak energy generators. Peak generators are used just a few times during the year but use more fossil fuels than other power plants.

Now, with the realization that climate change is upon us, along with advances in technology, there are new ways to stay cool while conserving energy and cutting carbon emissions at the same time. Several products showcased this week at the Edison Electric Institute conference  in San Francisco seem to have the potential to do just that.

Take SmartMeter, for instance. The program from PG&E will monitor and control home energy use by satellite, and adjust energy consumption accordingly by supply and demand via a few palm-sized monitors. Right now, it’s still in demonstration mode. But PG&E will offer voluntary enrollment in 2010, and aims to outfit all households by 2012, according to Peter Chan, a PG&E supervisor in Demand Response Operations (“demand response” is industry-speak for systems that can adjust electrical use at the consumer end). Redistributing energy as needed avoids the need to bring peak generators online. Customers lower their energy bills and can also override the system if, say, that load of laundry really needs to go into the dryer now.

The Ice Bear aims to reduce the energy needed to cool low-rise buildings (under 3 stories), using rooftop energy storage that works in conjunction with the building’s air conditioning system. Developed by Windsor, CO-based Ice Energy, a rectangular unit about the size of a sub-compact car sits on the roof and stores energy at night. It releases the energy during peak daytime periods.

The company claims that using off-peak stored power during peak hours reduces carbon emissions by 40%. And the key technology is–well, ice. Major components include a block of ice threaded with a network of copper coils designed to keep the ice from melting, a condenser that makes the ice, and a controller that achieves the building’s thermostat level most efficiently in conjunction with the building’s air conditioning system. The unit uses R410, a refrigerant which the company says is more efficient than more commonly used refrigerants such as R-22. The system comes with a price tag topping $8000 but utilities are apparently bullish on Ice Bear and have bought thousands of units–13,000-15,000 units can conserve up to 50 megawatts, according to company spokeswoman Therese Wells.

The conference also featured previews of potential “game-changing” technologies. PG&E panelist and Director of Emerging Clean Technologies Hal La Flash told the audience about a solar “nantenna,” a flexible panel that may replace solar panels in the future. And Mike Howard, Senior Vice President of Research & Development at the Electric Power Research Institute, spoke of being 5-to-10 years away from the debut of LED lighting that has the potential to be even more energy efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs.

California Not Catching the Wave…Yet

Tom Banse’s radio report on West Coast wave energy aired Thursday morning on The California Report. It’s also posted to the Climate Watch Radio section on this site.

A Crib Sheet for West Coast Ocean Energy

Every now and then when the government gets something right, it’s only fair to give credit.  So today we give props to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for making public records easily accessible.  Combined with our handy-dandy crib sheet, you can be the reporter and dig up all sorts of newsworthy nuggets.  We’ll get to some examples, but first the overview:

Wave energy buoys proposed for Reedsport, OR (artist's conception). Photo by Tom Banse.

Wave energy buoys proposed for Reedsport, OR (artist's conception). Image provided by: Ocean Power Technologies

Starting in 2006, there was a “gold rush” on the ocean to stake claims for wave energy sites.  Now the spray is settling and an industry shakeout is occurring.  Energy developers have given up on about a third of the wave power projects they proposed along the West Coast.  Some tidal power proposals are ebbing away as well.  When things go sideways, we rarely get a press release about it.  Often the news pops up first in a filing to FERC.

FERC is the agency that oversees wave and tidal power projects in state waters (up to 3 miles offshore).  The agency’s webmasters set up an “eLibrary” to archive project applications and correspondence.

You can see on the crib sheet that FERC dismissed three ocean energy projects in California waters last month.  The simple explanation is that the three projects ended up on the wrong side of a bureaucratic turf battle.  The Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) won jurisdiction over all energy development on the outer continental shelf, defined in this case as more than three miles offshore.  Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company president Burt Hamner explained in an e-mail:

FERC has cancelled its entire preliminary permit process for projects located on Federal ocean waters, and thus dismissed our seven pending applications for preliminary permits (as well as those of a few others).  The new MMS framework says that applicants for wave projects must first get a MMS lease for space, then apply to FERC for a commercial hydropower license.  But, MMS is prohibited from issuing leases in national marine sanctuaries.  Two of our projects, San Francisco and Hawaii, are in sanctuaries.  Therefore these are terminated because there is no way to get a lease or permits there.

At the City of San Francisco, utility specialist Randall Smith said the FERC dismissal of the city’s preliminary permit for the Oceanside project “doesn’t put us back to square one, but does force a step back.”  Smith elaborated, “The difference with MMS is getting a lease.  That’s a little more protracted.”

One wave power project was proposed for waters off San Francisco's Ocean Beach (upper right).

A wave power project proposed for waters off San Francisco's Ocean Beach (upper right) is in limbo.

The voluminous dockets for PG&E’s WaveConnect projects off Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, and the Green Wave Mendocino Wave Park suggest those are the ones moving ahead the fastest.  PG&E recently secured $6 million to pay for environmental studies, design work, and permitting.  The utility started its community outreach by scheduling two town meetings–in Eureka on May 19 and Ft. Bragg on May 21–both scheduled for 6 pm.

And now, the secret code: An easy way to keep tabs on a marine energy project is to make note of the applicant’s docket number (the one that starts with P-xxxxx) and then periodically plug that number into a “Docket search.”  (Click on “Submit” rather than the more prominent “Search Consolidated Dockets” button.)Here are all of the West Coast wave energy projects proposed to FERC, listed from north to south, as of this week:

P-12751 Makah Bay (Finavera)  license surrendered  4/09

P-13058 Grays Harbor Ocean Energy (Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company)  11/2007

P-13047 Oregon Coastal Wave Energy (Tillamook Intergovernmental Dev. Entity) 10/2007

P-12750 Newport OPT Wave Park (Ocean Power Technologies)  permit surrendered 3/09

P-12793 Florence Oregon Ocean Wave Project (Oceanlinx)  4/2007, withdrawn 4/08

P-12713 Reedsport OPT Wave Park (Ocean Power Technologies)  3/2006

P-12743 Douglas County Wave Energy (Douglas County, OR)  9/2006  (oscillating column device on Umpqua River jetty)

P-12749 Coos Bay OPT Wave Park (Ocean Power Technologies)  3/2006

P-12752 Coos County Offshore (Bandon, Oregon) (Finavera) permit cancelled w/o objection 6/08

P-12779 Humboldt County WaveConnect (PG&E)  2/07

P-12753 Humboldt County Wave Energy (Finavera) permit surrendered 2/09

P-13075 Centerville OPT Wave Park (Ocean Power Technologies)  11/2007

P-12781 Mendocino County WaveConnect (PG&E)  2/07

P-13053 Green Wave Mendocino Wave Park (Green Wave Energy Solutions, LLC)  10/07

P-13377 and P-13378 Fort Ross Project- N & S (Sonoma County Water Agency)  2/09 pending

P-13376 Del Mar Landing Project (Sonoma County Water Agency)  2/09 pending

P-13308 San Francisco Ocean Energy Project (Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company, LLC)  10/08 Dismissed 4/09

P-13379 San Francisco Oceanside Wave Energy Project (City and County of SF)  filed 02/09 Dismissed 4/09

P-13052 Green Wave San Luis Obispo Wave Park (Green Wave Energy Solutions, LLC) filed 10/07 pending

P-13309 Ventura Ocean Energy Project (Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company)  10/08 Dismissed 4/09

Total proposed wave energy projects since 2006: 21

Total projects scrubbed by developer: 5

Total projects rejected by FERC: 3

For extra credit – Noteworthy tidal energy projects:

P-12585 San Francisco Bay Tidal Energy Project (Oceana Energy)  10/08

P-12672 Columbia River Tidal Energy Project (Oceana Energy) Permit surrendered 3/08


Can There Be This Much Climate News?

"Reports to the Contrary" by Chester Arnold

"Reports to the Contrary" by Chester Arnold

Some weeks it seems like KQED could fill up its entire “news hole” with climate-related stories (thank goodness we don’t). Last week was a prime example.

Monday: A keynote speaker at U.C. Berkeley’s annual Energy Symposium said that we need a “Fed” for energy policy. John Hofmeister, a former executive at Shell Oil and founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy, told the lunch crowd that the only way to overcome the current two-year “policy cycle” (the length of a congressional term) is with an autonomous policy group like the Federal Reserve Board, which can take a longer view.

Tuesday: PG&E announced a massive new solar power initiative (it was brought to my attention this week that no news story is complete these days without the word “massive”–at least when there’s no opportunity to use “deadly”). If approved by state regulators, the project will provide 500 megawatts of photovoltaic energy by 2015. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the plan is that instead of, say, taking over huge tracts of the Mojave, the project will rely heavily on “solar infill;” making use of property already owned by the company, where they can conveniently access the grid.

Wednesday: Senator Barbara Boxer chaired a hearing of the Energy and Public Works Committee to update members on the latest climate science. They heard testimony from four experts, including Christopher Field of Stanford, who essentially said things are worse than you think. Ranking minority member James Inhofe of Oklahoma seized the moment to decry a $6.7 trillion “climate bailout,” a reference to upcoming federal climate legislation and costs associated with an aggressive plan to fight global warming. You can watch the entire two-and-a-half hour webcast for the gory details.

And of course also on Wednesday, the Coen Brothers rolled out their TV ad for The Reality Coalition, assailing the concept of “clean coal.”

Thursday: The California Air Resources Control Board rolled out new regulations to control some of the lesser known (but highly potent) greenhouse gases, including sulfur hexaflouride, used in the manufacture of computer chips. CARB says a pound of it has the same atmospheric warming potential as ten metric tons of CO2. The board also unveiled a new drought page on its website.

Friday: The Governor issued the latest in a series of drought declarations, this one proclaiming a state of emergency and called on cities to reduce their water use by 20%.

And this week wasn’t all that unusual.

Monday, another week begins with the winter’s third survey of the Sierra snowpack. While recent storms will no doubt have raised the water content from last month’s 61% of normal, it should be something of an anticlimax, especially given that the Governor didn’t wait for the numbers to make his drought declaration last week.

PG&E Proposes New Solar Initiative

PG&E plans to produce up to 500 megawatts of new solar power over the next five years according to a plan announced by the California utility on Tuesday.  The project will focus on northern and central California and by 2015 is expected to deliver more than 1,000 gigawatt hours of power each year, equal to the annual consumption of about 150,000 average homes, according to the company. solar-panel

The proposal, which needs approval from the state Public Utilities Commission, calls for half of the new solar power to be generated by PG&E and the other half and to be built and owned by independent developers.

Rather than establishing a giant solar array in the desert and then having to transmit the energy huge distances before it can be used, this project takes a “solar infill” approach, which uses small or mid-sized installations located within PG&E’s service area to minimize the cost and delays of connecting them to the grid.

PG&E estimates that the project will meet 1.3 percent of the utility’s energy demand and will add $.32 to each PG&E customer’s monthly electricity bill.

For more, see this in-depth article from Greentech Media.