renewable energy

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Making Wind Power More Efficient: Lessons from Fish

A possible game changer in wind technology with an unlikely inspiration

John Dabiri

Vertical-axis wind turbines at a CalTech test site in northern Los Angeles County.

Most of the wind turbines you see driving throughout the deserts and hill country of California look pretty much the same: soaring towers hundreds of feet high with massive, pinwheel-like structures on top, blades churning (or not) as the wind blows (or not).

But there’s another design for generating wind power that, if new research proves correct, could eventually become a far more common sight as California ramps up its portfolio of renewable energy. Vertical axis wind turbines look a little like upside-down egg beaters. They tend to be smaller than traditional turbines, and therefore less powerful. But according to John Dabiri, head of Caltech’s Biological Propulsion Lab, they can be far more efficient at generating power than traditional turbines are when they’re used together in just the right way.

Dabiri said the problem with standard turbines is that the turbulence or “wake” from the turning of one turbine disrupts airflow and reduces the performance of surrounding turbines.  Locating them within 300 feet of each other can reduce performance by 20-50%, said Dabiri. That means standard wind farms need a lot of land. Continue reading

Clean Energy Target Still Unmet, PG&E Signs More Renewables

Craig Miller

California’s three big utilities have another two years to reach their mandated target of having 20% of their electricity generated from renewable sources, and today PG&E announced two new deals that could inch the company closer to that goal:

  • Wind:  An agreement with NextEra Energy Resources, for 25 years of wind power from the company’s 163 megawatt North Sky River project in Tehachapi, CA.  PG&E says the energy from this project could meet the needs of about 90,000 typical homes.
  • Solar:  A 25-year contract with Sempra Generation for 150 megawatts of solar power from an expansion of the Copper Mountain Solar complex near Boulder City, NV.  Just under 2/3 of that power is expected online in 2013, with the remainder available by 2015. Ultimately, the company says, this project could power 45,000 homes.
  • Continue reading

Support for Climate Policy High in California

Craig Miller

Three-quarters of Californians believe climate change is a serious threat to the state’s economy. And a majority thinks we need to act now to reduce emissions, rather than wait until the economy improves. These are among the findings of a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California

“Californians really believe that in our state there’s an opportunity to have a better environment and a better economy through addressing climate change,” concludes Mark Baldassare, who directed the survey and says Californians believe — by a two-to-one margin — that climate change policies, like requiring more renewable energy, will create jobs.

The survey also finds overwhelming bipartisan support for requirements mandating more fuel efficient cars (81%), “greener” buildings and appliances (74%), requiring utilities to increase renewable energy sources (82%), and for requiring industry to reduce emissions (82%). Continue reading

Roofing It: Brown Stumps for Distributed Solar

Craig Miller

Governor Brown moves forward with plans to encourage more local solar generation in the state.

California has been on something of a solar frenzy recently, approving permits for more than 4,000 megawatts of new solar power in 2010 alone. Most of that is in the form of large, industrial-scale installations, which will provide lots of power, but also will require transmission infrastructure to get the clean energy from the desert sun to where its needed, primarily, the coastal cities.

This week Governor Jerry Brown is focusing on the other kind of renewable energy: the local kind that is smaller in scale and doesn’t require transmission to get where it’s needed. Continue reading

Boom Times for Field Biologists

Big wind and solar buildouts spur a “bio-boom” in the California desert

Field biologists like Mike Sally live a windblown, nomadic lifestyle, surveying sites for renewable energy projects. (Photo: Sarah McBride)

By Sarah McBride

I’ve reported on bubbles in plenty of stocks and commodities, but my springtime visit to the Ivanpah Valley was the first I’d heard anyone talk about a bubble in field biologists. The guy who used those words, Alex Mach, is a field biologist himself — and he was only half kidding.

Mach is one of dozens of field biologists who are out in the desert working to protect threatened animals and plants from solar and wind development projects. They’ve tapped into the rich vein of desert tortoises, whose habitats coincide with many of the areas scientists say are best positioned for solar plants — including Mach’s worksite at the time, BrightSource Energy’s solar plant in Ivanpah Valley, near the California-Nevada border. Continue reading

CA Moves Forward with Renewable Goals

33% by 2020: It’s (almost) The Law

After two failed attempts, California is moving ahead with the most aggressive renewable energy goal in the country. Today the State Assembly passed SB 2x, a bill that requires utilities to get 33% of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, by 2020.

By all accounts, utilities will need to add an unprecedented amount of renewable energy to meet the goal. Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council says that will spur new technology and green job opportunities. “There’s worldwide competition to lead this industry, which is the growth industry of the 21st century,” said Miller. “And this moves us, I believe, to the front of the pack.”

If the 33% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) doesn’t sound new, that’s because it isn’t. The goal was originally set by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 2008 executive order. Supporters knew that an executive order could be overturned by a future governor, but two previous bills aiming at cementing the goal failed to make it into law. Continue reading

Report: “Stalled” Energy Projects Costing Us

Business group says delays are costing thousands of jobs, billions in lost economic benefits

The US Chamber of Commerce says it’s taking too long to green-light energy projects — not just in California but across the US — and that it’s putting a drag on economic recovery.

Map shows energy projects that are facing permitting or court challenges, 31 in California. (Image: US Chamber of Commerce)

The pro-business group issued a report that attempts to quantify the opportunity cost of projects that were in permitting or litigation limbo during March of 2010. That “snapshot” includes 31 projects in California. Continue reading

Renewables Standard One Step Closer to Law

Bill to require one-third renewable energy sails through state senate

(Photo: Craig Miller)

That next gust of wind you hear may be a collective sigh of relief from the renewable energy industry. By a margin of more than two-to-one, state senators have approved a bill to cement California’s requirement that utilities draw at least a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

Dan Kalb of the Union of Concerned Scientists says that while the bill still has to clear at least three committees in the assembly, it could come up for a floor vote in that house within two weeks. Continue reading

Ask the Experts: Obama Energy Goals Realistic?

During his State of the Union speech last evening, President Obama articulated two national goals that jumped out at me: 80% of electricity from “clean” energy by 2035 and one million electric vehicles “on the road” by 2015 (just five years from now).

Keeping in mind that California’s goal of 33% renewable energy by 2020 is considered extremely ambitious, I put the question to a few experts in the renewable energy/alternative fuels field: Are these goals realistic? I’ll post their responses here as they come in. I’ve had to condense some of the replies for space considerations. Let’s take the 80% clean energy challenge first: Continue reading

CA Doubled Pace of Renewables Last Year

California Regulators say the state’s utilities about doubled the growth of new renewable energy sources last year. The California Public Utilities Commission says developers added 653 megawatts of capacity in 2010, nearly twice the pace of 2009.

Recently erected wind turbines at the Solano County Wind Resource Area. (Photo: Craig Miller)

For all that, utilities did not quite make the state-imposed requirement that they get 20% of their electrical generation from renewables by last year. That requirement was affirmed by the legislature. In September of last year, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger moved the goalposts to 33% by 2020. But that mandate is backed by an executive order, not by state law. Continue reading