renewables

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Green Light for Feed-in Tariff to Spark L.A. Renewable Energy

City Council OK’s demo program to buy power from small-scale renewable generators

Kimberly Ayers

Feed-in tariffs from private solar arrays like this one enable the world's largest source of renewable energy.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) now gets to ramp up a pilot phase that could add up to 150 megawatts of renewable electricity after 2016 — enough to power 22,000 homes — all with an eye toward hitting the state-mandated goal of 33% of its power from renewables by 2020. The measure awaits the mayor’s signature, expected late next week.

A common example of the new program would be a commercial real estate or large warehouse owner installing a rooftop solar power system and selling that power back to the local utility. The simplest definition I’ve found comes from another city that just approved a similar program for solar energy, Palo Alto: “Feed-in tariff programs involve a utility paying a fixed price, a “tariff,” for the power that is “fed into” their electric grid from local generation systems.” Continue reading

How to Capture the Power of High-Altitude Winds

High altitude winds may have more than 100 times the energy needed to power civilization.  But as this video from KQED’s QUEST explains, capturing that power is going to take some very creative  solutions.

By Chris Bauer

A dreamer stares up into the sky, watches the clouds slowly pass by and ponders what could be. From da Vinci to Newton to the Wright brothers to the little kid down the street, sometimes there’s a fine line between the day-dreamer and the visionary. And now a group of innovative thinkers are looking at those same passing clouds in a whole new way.

Looking up at the jet stream, Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist from the Carnegie Institution of Global Ecology at Stanford University says, “We find that there’s more than 100 times the power necessary to power civilization in these high altitude winds.” 100 times the energy to power the world is going to get people’s attention.

The global need for clean energy is pushing scientists and engineers to search for new, untapped sources of energy. “To solve this problem we need a real revolution in our system of energy development,” continues Caldeira, “We need huge amounts of power, and the things that can provide huge amounts of power include fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas; nuclear power, solar power and wind.” The strongest and most consistent winds are found in the jet stream as high as 30,000 feet above the earth. But how do you harness the wind power from that high? Now the race is on to find the answer to that question. Continue reading

Officials Call for Federal Clean Energy Standards

In Las Vegas, politicians and industry leaders point to California’s lead

Gretchen Weber

Gov. Jerry Brown with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

In his keynote address at this week’s National Clean Energy Summit, Vice President Joe Biden said America is at a crossroads when it comes to energy, and that the choice is clear.

“If we shrink from deciding that we’re going to lead in the area of alternative energy, renewable energy, then we will be making the biggest mistake this nation has made in its entire history,” he said.

The Vice President was joined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, California Governor Jerry Brown, and other political and industry leaders at the summit, which is in its fourth year and is sponsored by several entities, including the Center for American Progress and Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

“If we don’t lead in this new energy technology, we’re going to follow, and I’d hate like hell to be trading the importation of oil, for the importation of new technologies,” said Biden. “Neither is very acceptable.” Continue reading

A Sneak Peek at “World’s Biggest” Solar Project

Gretchen Weber

Construction of one of three planned solar thermal towers at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, Ivanpah Dry Lake, CA

Construction of the Ivanpah site is reportedly on-schedule for completion in 2013

The National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 opens in Las Vegas on Tuesday, bringing policy makers and industry leaders from around the country together to “chart the course for the future of energy in America.” It’s also attracting lots of media, which is why on Monday Oakland-based BrightSource Energy opened the gates to the construction site of its 3,500 acre Ivanpah Solar Complex, which lies just over the California border, 45 minutes southwest of the Las Vegas Strip.

About 15 reporters donned hard hats and safety goggles in 100-plus temperatures to tour the active construction site in the Mojave Desert, along with officials from BrightSource, San Francisco-based construction company Bechtel Corp., and NRG Energy, which, along with Google, is the project’s main investor. Continue reading

Making Renewable Energy from Farm Waste

Katrina Schwartz

Cast off walnut shells await the "biogasifier." Lester has more than enough for an entire year stored in his warehouse.

By Katrina Schwartz

California is just a few votes away from changing the rules to allow farmers to connect machines that create bioenergy to the electrical grid, a privilege that has thus far been reserved for farm-generated wind and solar energy.

Passage of the bill — SB 489 — would mean they could use the byproduct of their crops as fuel to create electricity.

Russ Lester, the owner of Dixon Ridge Farms, has been leading the charge to get the rules changed. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to shrink the carbon footprint of his organic walnut farm and processing plant in Yolo County. Brian Jenkins of the California Biomass Collaborative at UC Davis calls Lester the “guinea pig” of bioenergy. Continue reading

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

Report: Solar Panels Boost Home Prices

Photo: Shuka Kalantari

A new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab could help California’s homeowners decide whether or not to “go solar.” Researchers found that on average, homeowners who recently installed solar photovoltaic (PV) panels recouped most or all of their investment when they sold their homes.

“A house that has a PV system compared to a house that doesn’t have a PV system is expected to sell for more,” said Ben Hoen, the lead researcher on the study and a principal research associate at Berkeley Lab. “This is for systems that are relatively new – between 1.5 to 2.5 years old.”
Continue reading

Brown, Chu Tout New Renewables Law

(Photo: Lorie Shelley, CA. State Senate Photographer)

California’s utilities now have their marching orders: to provide one third of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Now that the “33-by-20″ target is a mandate backed by state law, supporters say it will lure more renewable energy investments to California. There’s evidence that it already is.

Calling it a “breakthrough,” Governor Brown signed the bill into law at the dedication of a new SunPower Corp. manufacturing plant in Milpitas, near San Jose. And he laid down a challenge:

“Last year six thousand megawatts of solar installations were produced by China and one thousand by the United States. Now, are we up for changing that? I think we are.” Continue reading

Wind Farm Forecast: More & Bigger

How much wind energy do we need to make California’s goal of 33% clean electricity by 2020? Whenever I put this question to one of the experts, the answer is always: “It depends.” But under almost any scenario, thousands more windmills will dot the California landscape in years to come.

Cattle and wind turbines dot the Solano County landscape. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Those who don’t see them on a daily basis might be surprised to learn that there is already something on the order of 13,000 commercial wind turbines operating in California. Ryan Wiser, who tracks wind energy trends at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, does a rough calculation that meeting that state-imposed threshold of 33% renewable energy could take 5,000 more, in order for wind to do its share. That’s based on an estimated 10,000 megawatts of new wind power, using the current standard two-megawatt turbine. While most of these will be concentrated in a few major “wind resource areas” (there are currently four big ones in the state), numbers like that almost ensure that wind turbines will become a more familiar feature of the California landscape. Continue reading