Wind Turbine Technology in the Baltic Sea

solar energy

The most powerful energy source of all — our Sun — offers the tantalizing solution to mankind's energy needs. Costs remain stubbornly high, but demand is soaring, even causing a worldwide shortage of processed silicon. The potential is vast, as this article makes clear.

If We Were Serious About Energy, Wouldn't We Be Supporting It?

National energy policy has emphasized the need for broadening our portfolio of sources. Over the last few decades, we have substituted for oil in our electric generation plants, but today's thinking suggests further steps to conserve natural gas and reduce the greenhouse gas output from use of coal. Solar power offers an attractive option — after all, the sun's rays are free The Big Sky: For our report on the vast potential of solar, click here. and all we need to do is perfect the technologies for conversion at large scale. But if it were that easy, wouldn't we have done it by now? There are promising technologies ranging from photoelectric conversion to the use of solar to boil water for turbine power.
     Of course, it isn't that easy. To bring on the capacity needed, there are two key ingredients needed — accommodating policies and economic support. Entrepreneurs see the opportunities in alternative energy, but they need to reduce their risks through greater certainty about market opportunities and they need to know that the alternative energy will have a reasonable chance to compete in the market place.
     Government actions are needed in both cases, and some have been taken. At the state level, legislation has been enacted requiring utilities to provide a percentage of their output using renewable sources such as wind, solar or biofuels. Congress considered a national standard earlier this year, but concerns about regional competition blocked it in the Senate.
     A standard alone is not enough. Time is the enemy of innovation, and government needs to assure the innovator that his or her product can come to market in a reasonable time frame. The nature of the Federal commitment to support innovation is put to the test by recent developments at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management. As the steward of federal lands in the West, the BLM is the permitting agency for major solar installations that would seem tailor-made for location in deserts and badlands. But the BLM is required to follow set processes for these permits, including a thorough environmental review to support their permitting decisions.
     These reviews are detailed and time-consuming, given the need to achieve a level of certainty that will withstand legal challenge. Recently, the BLM concluded that pursuit of the reviews on a project-by-project basis was insufficient and called for a moratorium on new permits while they carried out a programmatic environmental impact study on the broad effects of solar power. As the political impact of this moratorium, which would have allowed BLM to continue processing of 130 applications covering more than a million acres, became evident, the agency backtracked and indicated that new applications will be taken during the study period. But even this action casts doubt on the pace of action. To the extent that agency lawyers need to balance energy and environment with the expectation that their actions will be taken to court by one side or the other, the likely outcome is delay.
     The competitive price of alternative energy is also at risk. New technologies such as solar are recognized as needing some level of subsidy to be competitive with cheap oil and coal, at least for their incubation period, and perhaps as long as coal and oil fail to pay their full environmental costs. Recognizing this need and reflecting the private sector involvement, our public policy response has been to provide tax support for the entrepreneurs, generally in the form of tax credits or low cost financing, either of which can be reflected in the price of their product. However, at the federal level, these credits for alternative energy will “sunset” at the end of September. The requirement to review so-called “tax expenditures” on a period basis is a sound public policy position, but can lead to political problems. In the current Congress, political gridlock has made it impossible to enact significant legislation of any kind, and particularly tax bills. The House and the Senate have opposite views on whether tax decreases must be “paid for” with compensating increases in other parts of the tax code. Even where there is substantial agreement on a particular set of provisions, the broader debate about the Bush tax cuts and the Alternative Minimum Tax confuses the issues. And, within the Senate, the ever-present threat of filibuster and the Republican reaction to Majority Leader Reid’s parliamentary tactics add to the gridlock. As evidence of this gridlock, the Senate found it impossible to add energy tax credits to the recent Housing bill, even though they were supported by 88 out of 100 Senators. And even though 80 Senators supported the underlying Housing bill, it too fell short of enactment before Congress left on its 4th of July recess.
     At the end of the day, some form of compromise is likely to occur, with at least temporary actions to push the issues past the election and into the next Congress and Administration. But in a broader sense, one still must ask whether we have the resolve to put forth a coherent policy and enact the measures needed to implement it.
     - Mort Downey

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Where There's Light There's Also Heat:

Major Venture Will Use Sun to Power Turbines

Ausra Inc., a developer of solar thermal technology has emerged from "stealth mode", having raised between $40 million and $50 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures through the issuance of Series B Preferred stock.
     The company says it intends to build the largest solar thermal plant in the U.S. "We should be entering the permit process for our first 175-megawatt project in the next thirty days," Ausra Chief Executive Peter Le Lievre said in an interview.
     Ausra said that the plant is to be located in California and that they intend to use project financing to finance its construction.
     The venture capital investment, which closed in February, was one of the largest that Khosla Ventures had made in an early round financing, according to Ausra executives. The exact amount of that financing was not disclosed, though a regulatory filing from Ausra in March
showed that the company was offering up to $43.2 million in Series B preferred stock.
     Solar thermal technology uses the sun's heat, not its light, to generate electricity. In essence, sunlight is concentrated using parabolic reflectors to heat a fluid, which is then is used to produce high temperature water vapor under pressure. That vapor becomes steam as it powers a turbine, which generates electricity.
     This process is simpler and cheaper than photovoltaic technologies that convert sunlight into electricity, Ausra executives said. "Low-cost solar thermal becomes a solution to a lot of the problems that we're facing when you look at global warming," said CEO Le Lievre.      - Douglas Ayer

Washington Mall Goes Residential:

Competition Puts Energy-Efficient,
Solar-Powered Houses on Display

Sprouting as fast as a Las Vegas subdivision, 20 small houses were rapidly assembled on the Washington Mall by university finalists in the 3rd Solar Decathlon. The competition, sponsored primarily by the U.S. Department
Jim Tetro, Solar Decathlon
This University of Illinois entrant cost a mere $160,000 to
build. Its solar system was even used to power the tools
that built the house.

of Energy, requires teams to design and build houses no larger than 600-800 square feet that are powered entirely by solar energy.
     Solar systems in each house must run dishwashers, wash and dry clothes, heat and cool the interiors in a range of 72 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit, control humidity within 40% and 60%, and even charge an electric vehicle. One of the competition's awards went to the team that traveled the furthest miles.
     Whether in different solar approaches or novel building materials, the diversity was striking. Universidad Polytecnica de Madrid used electrochromic
Jim Tetro, Solar Decathlon
Second place went to this University of Maryland
house with solar panels even on walkways.

windows that darken or lighten to block or admit the sun's rays. Several, such as 3rd place Santa Clara University, used computers to sense interior and exterior conditions and adjust energy system usage. Team Montreal's computer reads weather forecasts to predict the amount of energy the house will produce and recommend settings. The Georgia Tech house has walls that are a sandwich of two sheets of polycarbonate filled with aerogel, a translucent substance that allows light into the house while simultaneously acting as an insulator. The University of Missouri finished the exterior with Paperstone rain screen, which the team says is ultraviolet resistant. An indoor
Jim Tetro, Solar Decathlon
Louvers in the doors supply the energy that powers this
first prize house by Technische Universitat Darmstadt.

waterfall helps control humidity in the University of Maryland's 2nd place house.
     Houses were judged by ten categories: energy efficiency, livability, marketability, and aesthetics among them. First prize went to Technische Universitat Darmstadt. It uses photovoltaic cells applied as sheeting on louvers of its accordion doors; software adjusts the louvers to take best advantage of the sun's position. But the advanced technology is pricey. The house cost $600,000, but in Germany one can sell
Kaye Evans Lutherodt, Solar Decathlon
The scene at the National Mall, with the Capitol in the background.

excess electricity to the grid for quicker payback. That only a patchwork of states offer this option contributes to slow adoption of solar in the U.S., where only 250,000 or so homes are thought to use solar in some form.
     The contest is meant both to inspire builders to incorporate solar in their housing developments, while at the same time create a market by educating consumers. Some 200,000 people came to the open house event. The next is in 2009.
     - Stephen Wilson