Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Israeli Researchers: Generating Electricity from Road Traffic

by Zalman Nelson
(Israelnationalnews.com) Researchers at Haifa's Technion Institute of Technology have started testing a new system for generating electricity from road traffic on a 30-meter strip of highway near Tel Aviv.
The system is based on piezo electricity, which uses pads of metallic crystals buried over hundreds of meters of road to generate electricity when put under the pressure of quickly moving traffic.
"The name of the game is harvesting," team member Chaim Abramovich told Sky News. "Harvesting means energy which is available but is going to waste."
While the concept is not new, the application is a novelty. According to Abramovich, one truck can generate 2,000 volts which could already be used to power traffic lights or street lamps. A kilometer of “electric road” could gen
"The name of the game is harvesting"
erate enough power for 40 houses, and progress in the technology could generate enough electricity to feed the national power grid.
A company called Innowattech is working with the team to develop the technology.
Future plans include placing the crystal generators in railways. Trains are advantageous in that they are guaranteed to apply pressure in the same place over and over again.
Piezoelectricity refers to the ability of some materials - most notably crystals and certain ceramics, including bone - to generate an electric potential in response to applied pressure. The word is derived from the Greek piezo or piezein, which means to squeeze or press.
The first demonstration of the piezoelectric effect was in 1880 by the brothers Pierre Curie and Jacques Curie using crystals of tourmaline, quartz, topaz, cane sugar, and Rochelle salt (sodium potassium tartrate tetrahydrate). The strongest effect was found in quartz and Rochelle salt.
Piezoelectricity is used in the production and detection of sound, generation of high voltages, electronic frequency generation, and everyday uses such as cigarette lighters and push-start propane barbecues.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Seven Ways To Solve The Energy Problem

By Chris Nelder on PV

I have dished out a healthy share of criticism about the paths we are taking into the energy future, so perhaps it’s time I offered some paths of my own. I will outline them as simply as possible, since the data and thinking behind them could fill a book.

First we must know where we’re going.

Credible models show that by the end of this century, essentially all of the fossil fuels on earth will be consumed—oil, natural gas, and coal. Presumably, whatever fuels do remain at that point will be reserved for their highest and most valuable purposes like making crude oil into plastics and pharmaceuticals, not burning it in 15% efficient internal combustion engines.

Consider the following world model for all fossil fuels:

Source: “Olduvai Revisited 2008,” The Oil Drum, by Luís de Sousa and Euan Mearns. Cumulative peak of fossil fuel energy is 2018. Data sources: Jean Laherrère for natural gas, Energy Watch Group for coal and The Oil Drum for oil. [This is an exceptional study and I recommend it to my readers!]

By the end of this century then, a mere 90 years from now, we’ll need to have an infrastructure that runs exclusively on renewably generated electricity, biofuels, and possibly nuclear energy. That’s where we’re going.

Fortunately, there is more than enough available renewable energy to meet all of our needs, if we can harness it. Unfortunately, we’re starting from a point at which less than 2% of the world’s energy comes from renewables like wind, solar and geothermal.

Hydro provides about 6%, and nuclear about 6%, but for reasons too numerous to get into here, some of which my longtime readers have already heard, I don’t believe either source will increase much in the future, and both could actually decline.

Our challenge then is to make that 2% fraction grow to replace about 86% of the world’s current primary energy, in 90 years or less.

We are currently at peak oil, a short, roughly 5-year plateau which goes into terminal decline around 2012. All fossil fuel energy combined peaks around 2018, less than a decade from now.

All strategies for accommodating the fossil fuel decline require decades to have any significant effect. The now-iconic study “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management” (Hirsch et al., 2005) demonstrated that it would take at least 20 years of intensive, crash-program mitigation efforts to meet the peak oil challenge gracefully. Another study, “Primary Energy Substitution Models: On the Interaction between Energy and Society,” (C. Marchetti, 1977) showed that it generally takes decades to substitute one form of primary energy for another, and 100 years for a given source of energy to achieve 50% market penetration.

Therefore, we are going to have to accomplish most of the renewable energy revolution in a scenario of ever-declining fuel supply. In just 50 years, we’ll be working with about half our current energy budget. So in fact we may only have about 50 years to build most of the new renewable energy and efficiency capacity we will need to get us through the end of the century.

Another important factor is that exports will fall off much faster than total supply. (See my article on the oil export crisis from last year.) Foucher and Brown (2008) have shown that the world’s top five oil exporters could approach zero net oil exports by around 2031. Net energy importers like the US could be increasingly starved for fuel as decline sets in and accelerates, and net energy exporters could wind up shouldering much of the burden of new manufacturing. This factor means that we will have to front-load as much of our development as possible.

The final and most important factor is population. The few population models that actually take fossil fuel depletion into account assume that global population increases roughly out to the global fuel peak, and then stabilizes at that level or declines naturally while economic development promotes lower fertility rates and renewables and energy efficiency increase to fill the gap of declining fossil energy. I understand why this assumption is made—because the alternative is too ghastly to contemplate—and for the immediate purpose of this article I will go along with it. I will note however that history and scientific observation of populations suggest some sharp episodes of decline are more likely, and in my estimation we will end this century with a considerably smaller population than anyone forecasts, at some level well below today’s.

How, then, can we replace or offset through efficiency at least 40% of our current energy supply with renewables in the next 50 years, while fuel prices are rising and the global economy is flat or shrinking due to a lack of fuel?

A proper model for achieving this goal would be a very large undertaking, the sort of thing that should be done by a team of experts with a budget. (Is anybody at the Department of Energy listening?) But I can identify some key pathways that are, in my estimation, no-brainers. Because the solutions going forward will be quite different for each country, I will limit my recommendations to the US.
Seven Paths to Our Energy Future →

1: Rail. Rail should be Priority 1, and should be granted the largest portion of public funding.

2: Rooftop Solar PV. Utility scale projects like giant solar farms in the desert and giant wind farms in the Midwest (or offshore) all face serious hurdles in siting, permitting, environmental impact, and transmission capability. Rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar systems face no such issues and can be deployed right now, building capacity incrementally over time.

3: Alternative Vehicles. Since reconfiguring our urban topology around transit and deploying light rail will take decades, we will need some transitional solutions that still allow us to get around in cars for a good many years.

4: Efficiency. Most of the efficiency gains we can make are thermal: reducing the energy it takes to heat and cool buildings.

5: Utility Scale Renewables. We’ll need large solar plants across the Southwest, and huge wind farms in the Midwest and offshore.

6: A Beefier, Smarter Grid. The good news is that we already have most of the technologies we need in this area. All that we lack is the will and the funding to put it in place.

7: Keep Drilling. If we back off too much too soon from oil and gas production, it could leave us without adequate or reasonably priced fuel to accomplish this transformation, and sink the entire effort.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wind Power Won't Save Us: Global Warming Might Be Cutting Back On Wind Speeds

By Jay Yarow
Here's a weird one. Preliminary research coming out of Iowa State University is showing that peak wind speeds have been slowing since 1973 across the East and the Midwest.

The slow down in wind speeds is bad news for anyone hoping to get more electricity from wind turbines. According Jonathan Miles, of James Madison University (who didn't write the study), a 10% drop in wind speed is equal to a 30% drop in how much energy can be gained.

Strangely enough, there might be a relationship between the rising temperature of the planet and dip in wind speed. Wind races across ice much quicker than it does across water. On the Great Lakes, there is less ice now, which could be part of the reason for a slowing in wind speeds.

It's not just a local phenomenon. Wind speeds are slowing globaly, and a heating planet might be causing this as well. The temperature difference between the poles and the equator is shrinking, which means a drop in air pressure. That means wind speeds could decline.

The relationship between global warming and wind speeds is not definitive, but it's an idea that's floating out there.

Studying change in wind speeds is fraught with complications. The locations where wind information is gathered are victim to possible changes like trees growing to block wind, which could affect the data.

The full study will be released in August in the peer-reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tal-Ya Water makes the most of dew

Karin Kloosterman June 04, 2009

The ancient Israelites used stones to collect dew from the air, now the modern ones are taking the idea further. A new Israeli company Tal-Ya Water Technologies, which launched in May, promises to squeeze dew from the air for watering crops where water resources are precious or scarce. This new invention has a number of ecological benefits that go beyond simple water savings. For about $1 a piece, per plant, a square serrated tray made from a special plastic composite sits directly on the ground. The reusable tray is fitted with a hole in the center for a plant to grow. Using non-PET recycled and recyclable plastic with UV filters, and a limestone additive, Tal-Ya's trays do not degrade in the sun or after the application of pesticides or fertilizers.

An aluminium additive helps the trays -- about 70 cm by 70 cm for a pepper plant -- respond to shifts in temperature between night and day. When a change of 12 degrees centigrade occurs, dew forms on both surfaces of the Tal Ya tray, which funnels the dew and condensation straight to the plant and its roots.

The trays are also made in larger sizes for trees, Avraham Tamir, the company head and inventor tells ISRAEL21c.

Weeds out weeds, uses less water and fertilizer

"Using our system has a number of benefits," Tamir says. Farmers don't need to worry about weeds because the trays block the sun, so weeds can't take root. "Farmers need to use much less water, and in turn much less fertilizer on the crop," he explains. Less fertilizers and pesticides means less groundwater contamination.

Locking together like pieces of LEGO, special sections of the tray make space for irrigation and watering equipment to fit into the solution.

Field tests in Israel with the Ministry of Agriculture suggests whopping water savings of up to 50 percent of irrigated water by using the Tal-Ya system.

"Dew collection starts at night," Tamir says. "The critical mass goes down below," he explains while pointing to the serrated edges of the trays. If it rains, we can amplify 1 mm of rain so that it equals 27 mm."

Protection from extreme temperature change

Water from dew and condensation is in effect distilled water. Adding this to the soil alleviates the salinity from irrigation, says the company. The trays also protect crops from extreme shifts in temperature, like in Canada or the United States where late and early season frosts put some crops at risk.

Of course, "the amount of water collected depends on location," Tamir points out. Humidity factors, temperatures and precipitation are important to consider.

Founded four years ago and based in the village of Gan Yoshiya in Israel, research collaboration to help build Tal-Ya which means "God's dew" in Hebrew, came from the Hebrew University, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Volcani Institute and Ben Gurion University.

Tal-Ya launched its new product at the Agritech exhibition in Tel Aviv. Tamir says he is now selling his product to Israeli farmers, and looking forward to international buyers from America.

Everybody Wants A Solar Panel On The Roof

Everybody Wants A Solar Panel On The Roof
Jay Yarow|Jun. 9, 2009, 5:28 PM|comment1

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - U.S. demand for residential solar power installations is surging despite an economic recession, thanks to government financial incentives, some easing in credit availability, and increasing public recognition of its environmental benefits, industry executives said Tuesday.

Companies represented at the PV America solar conference in Philadelphia said the volume of their installations as much as tripled in 2008 and they see further gains this year as more people recognize that they can cut their electricity bills by at least 15 percent with an array of solar panels installed on the roof of their homes.

Geogenix LLC, a New Jersey-based residential solar company with 20 employees, installed about 150 systems in the first six years of its existence until 2008, and expects to do about that number this year alone, said managing member Gaurav Naik. He predicted the company would install at least 300 systems in 2010 when it plans to expand into Pennsylvania and some surrounding states.

"There is unprecedented demand for residential solar systems," he said.

Faced with a cost of about $50,000 for installation of a 7-kilowatt system on a typical 2,500-square-foot house, a New Jersey homeowner can defray the expense with a $12,500 rebate from the state and a federal tax credit of $11,000, Naik said.

After the first year, the homeowner can also expect a refund check for about $3,200 from the local utility in return for installing the solar panels, Naik said. The owner can expect to save about $1,700 a year in electricity bills, and should recoup the initial investment within five to eight years, he said.

According to industry trade group the Solar Energy Industries Association, there was an overall 16 percent increase in solar capacity, including commercial installations, in 2008.

Jeffrey Wolfe, chief executive of Vermont-based installer groSolar, said the market has also been boosted by lower prices for solar panels due in part to an increase in the supply of the polysilicon, the raw material used for their construction.

Wolfe argued the industry is benefiting from a cultural change that is more accepting of the need to find alternatives to fossil fuels, in part because of last year's surge in gasoline prices to more than $4 a gallon.

"People have seen what energy prices can do, and they have come to the end of their rope in denying climate change," Wolfe said.

Companies are also getting creative in bringing the upfront costs of solar power down for customers. groSolar, for one, is providing financing to customers who are unable to front the $40,000-$50,000 price tag for a typical solar installation. Wolfe's company now operates a lease program requiring a down payment of $1,000 and then regular monthly payments for use of the system.

In California, Arizona and Oregon, SolarCity installs systems without any down payment from the customer, who then pays a lease fee which typically ranges from $25 to $60 a month, said David Arfin, vice president of customer financing. The company owns and maintains the system but the homeowner benefits from the reduced utility bills, he said.

Arfin said the company's business tripled in 2008, and it is hiring 100 new installers to help meet "massive" demand.

Naik of Geogenix said financing for solar installations has gotten easier for qualified borrowers since the first quarter of 2009. He cited one client with a high 740 credit score who needed to borrow $38,000 and secured a 10-year loan at prime plus 2 percent by working with a financial institution that had previously done business with the company.