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.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Only 6% Of Coal In The Biggest Beds Can Be Pulled Profitably

Only 6% Of Coal In The Biggest Beds Can Be Pulled Profitably
Jay Yarow|Jun. 8, 2009, 9:22 AM|comment3

There's a vast supply of coal in the United States, but only a sliver can be pulled from the ground profitably. Just 6% of the coal that exists in the primary coal beds in the U.S. can be extracted at prices even higher than today's, the Wall Street Journal reports.

What's it mean? For the nation at large, not too much. Individual power companies could be stung, though.

As it stands now, the EIA says that the U.S. has enough coal to power the country for 240 years. David Rutledge, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, who studies coal says it might only last 120 years. Projecting anything 100 years into the future is pretty silly.

In 120 years the mix of energy in this nation will be considerably different. So, unlike oil, there isn't a pressing need to change course quickly. The current plan to diversify through wind, solar and nuclear, should work well in the next 100 years.

As for the power industry:

In the field, challenges are becoming more apparent. Mining companies report they have to dig deeper and move more earth to extract coal from aging mines, driving up costs. Utilities have grown skittish about whether suppliers can ship promised coal on time. American Electric Power Co., the nation's biggest coal buyer, says it has stepped up its due diligence to make sure its suppliers can make deliveries after some firms missed shipments last fall. It even bought a mine to lock down supplies.

"We are very much concerned, and it's getting worse," said Tim Light, senior vice president for AEP.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fuel Cells Will Have To Slum It With Forklifts Now That The World Loves Electric Cars

Ten years ago, the centerpiece of any conference on fuel cells would have been the hydrogen car and its glitzy promise to replace dirty gasoline engines in the not too distant future.

Fast forward to 2009 to an actual fuel cell industry meeting in the West Coast city of Vancouver and sleek hydrogen cars are jostling for space and attention with the humble industrial forklift, and there is little talk of the imminent death of the internal combustion engine.

The "zero-emissions" cars remain a sexy drawing card -- a fleet of 12 arriving in Vancouver from California on Wednesday after traveling 2,700 km (1,700 miles) drew a large crowd. But their earlier massive promises have disappointed and forklifts are where the money looks to be for now for fuel cells.

Three years ago Ballard Power Systems Inc, for many years the poster child of the automotive fuel cell industry, did what many would have thought unthinkable during the hype years of the late 1990s when its stock rocketed to C$200 on the then-promising technology: it decided to get out of the business.

Instead of continuing to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into trying to develop an efficient, economical fuel cell for the car of the future it turned its eye to more pedestrian markets like forklifts and back-up power systems where the technology could find commercial use now.

"The problem that we came to grips with (was) ... what type of investment over what timeline would be required to bring down the cost of that new propulsion system technology to the point that it would be a commercial reality?" said Ballard Chief Executive John Sheridan.

"The reality seemed to develop pretty clearly from all sides that this was still a very long-term proposition," he said.


Fuel cells are devices that convert the chemical energy of a fuel, like hydrogen, into electricity. In hydrogen cars, the electricity then powers an electric motor and water is given off as a by-product.

Supporters thus hail them as being the most environmentally friendly alternative to the tailpipe emissions of the internal combustion engine.

Car makers including General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp told conference delegates in Vancouver this week that they are targeting 2015 as the date for a small, initial roll-out of fuel cell cars to the public.

The automakers themselves acknowledge that major obstacles -- the same one that have been around for years -- continue to dog the hydrogen car industry.

First and foremost is the lack of filling station infrastructure, a massive cost if the hydrogen car economy is to succeed but a chicken-and-egg problem for the industry.

"Cars will arrive in relatively small batches but the stations need to be there or the vehicles will stop coming," said Michael McGowan, head of hydrogen solutions at Linde Gas North America and Chairman of the U.S. National Hydrogen Association.

Other troubling questions include where the hydrogen fuel will come from, where it will be stored and how it will be distributed. The high cost of fuel cells is another bugbear.

Ballard's Sheridan believes the 2015 target could well be optimistic, given the financial woes of recession-battered car makers in Detroit and elsewhere.


Instead, Ballard is now selling fuel cells to warehouse operations for use in forklifts.

Early orders are small but the Vancouver-based company believes these will ramp up as the materials handling industry sees the benefits of fuel cells over the incumbent lead-acid battery technology.

Fuel cell-powered forklifts can be refueled in minutes, according to John Tak, President and Chief Executive of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, unlike the hours it takes to recharge a battery.

Battery packs need to be stored somewhere taking up valuable space on the warehouse floor. Fuel cells also operate for longer and don't present the same disposal problems as a toxic battery at the end of its life.

Ballard's Sheridan says there are many in his company who were sorry to give up the automotive fuel cell dream.

"I would love to see the technology (work). The technology could do a lot at a critical time for the environment, but in terms of the commercial reality we just don't see it," he said.