Friday, March 28, 2008

Smart Clips: Nuclear Ghosts: On Anniversary, Three Mile Island Still Haunts Industry

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As nuclear power races back into the energy agenda, it keeps getting waylaid by old ghosts. Today is the 29th anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, when a partial core meltdown in one of the reactors led to five days of panic and 14 years of expensive clean-up.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which opposes the nuclear revival on safety grounds, invoked the accident this week: “Three Mile Island was almost 30 years ago so perhaps the industry and the NRC have forgotten about it,” said Dave Lochbaum, the director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project.


It’s doubtful either the NRC or the industry have, but no one else has for sure. When California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was in favor of using nuclear energy to help California meet its energy needs, he received a shower of editorial criticism. The L.A. Times, picking up on the Governor’s comments that Three Mile Island references are often just scare tactics, rebutted this week:

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mitsubishi touts 18.6% efficient solar cell


Mitsubishi Electric says it has built a multicrystalline silicon solar cell with a "record" conversion efficiency of 18.6%

Mitsubishi touts 18.6% efficient solar cell

Mitsubishi Electric says it has built a multicrystalline silicon solar cell with a "record" conversion efficiency of 18.6%, achieving the mark by adding a low-reflectivity surface texture, optimizing the p-n junction to increase electric current generation, and incorporating a new metallization process that reduces shade loss of front grid electrodes.

For highly efficient PV cells, a honeycomb-textured structure is typically seen as suitable to reduce surface reflectivity, but a challenge to incorporate into production. The company says it has developed a method to fabricate such a structure on the surface of a 150mm multicrystalline silicon substrate, combining laser patterning and wet etching.

Further, the company says it is using a shallower, lightly doped emitter (n-layer) to increase light gain and improve power generation efficiency. And it says using modified screens and front metal electrodes reduces shading loss of front grid electrodes by 25% vs. previous cells.

Mitsubishi Electric says it has 18 domestic and seven international patents pending for this work, which it will present at the 23rd European Photovoltaic Conference in September in Spain. Introduction into mass production of the company's photovoltaic modules is planned for fiscal 2011 (starting April 2010). The company also aims to combine the technology with its high-efficiency PV inverters to increase output of solar power generation systems.

Solar Glossary of Terms

Are you interested in solar electricity, but not sure what "photovoltaic conversion efficiency" means?
You're not alone.
Photo of two solar cars that were built by student teams from the University of Missouri.
we prepared this glossary of terms. In it you will find definitions of many important terms having to do with electricity, power generation, concentrating solar power (CSP), solar heating, solar lighting, and solar electricity, also known as PV.


Photovoltaic(s) (PV) — Pertaining to the direct conversion of light into electricity.

Photovoltaic (PV) Cell — The smallest semiconductor element within a PV module to perform the immediate conversion of light into electrical energy (direct current voltage and current). Also called a solar cell.

Photovoltaic (PV) System — A complete set of components for converting sunlight into electricity by the photovoltaic process, including the array and balance of system components.

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Photovoltaic Basics

Have you ever wondered how electricity is produced by a photovoltaic — what we often call a PV or solar electric — system?

PV Physics

In this section, you'll learn how sunlight can be converted into electricity.

PV Devices

Solar materials need to have certain important qualities. You'll first learn what these characteristics are.

PV Systems

you'll learn how solar cells are combined to become a larger photovoltaic system
Cell TechnologyEnergy Payback Time (EPBT)1 (yr)Energy Used to Produce System Compared to Total Generated
Energy 2 (%)
Total Energy Generated by System Divided by Amount of Energy Used to Produce System2
Single-crystal silicon2.710.010
Non-ribbon multicrystalline silicon2.28.112
Ribbon multicrystalline silicon1.76.316
Cadmium telluride1.03.727

Energy Payback Times for Photovoltaic Technologies

payback time (EPBT) is the length of deployment required for a photovoltaic system to generate an amount of energy equal to the total energy that went into its production
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Wind Powering America

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Wind Powering America is a commitment to dramatically increase the use of wind energy in the United States. This initiative will establish new sources of income for American farmers, Native Americans, and other rural landowners, and meet the growing demand for clean sources of electricity.

Through Wind Powering America, the United States will achieve targeted regional economic development, enhance our power generation options, protect the local environment, and increase our energy and national security.

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This map shows the installed wind capacity in megawatts.  As of December 31, 2007, 16,596 MW have been installed. Alaska, 2 MW; Hawaii, 63 MW; Washington, 1163 MW; Oregon, 885 MW; California, 2439 MW; Idaho, 75 MW; Utah, 1 MW; Montana, 145 MW; Wyoming, 288 MW; Colorado, 1067 MW; New Mexico, 496 MW; North Dakota, 345 MW; South Dakota, 98 MW; Nebraska, 72 MW; Kansas, 364 MW; Oklahoma, 689 MW; Texas, 4296 MW; Minnesota, 1258 MW; Iowa, 1115 MW; Missouri, 62 MW; Wisconsin, 53 MW; Illinois, 733 MW; Te

Wind Energy Projects

Use Interwest Energy Alliance's project locator powered by Google Maps to find grid-connected wind projects in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

The American Wind Energy Association provides a clickable map to find installed and future projects in your state as well as state installed wind power rankings.

Use the American Wind Energy Association's clickable map to find installed and future projects in your state as well as state installed wind power rankings.

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Wind Energy

To help meet America's increasing energy needs while protecting our Nation's energy security and environment, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working with wind industry partners to develop clean, domestic, innovative wind energy technologies that can compete with conventional fuel sources. DOE's Wind Energy Program efforts have culminated in some of industry's leading products today and have contributed to record-breaking industry growth.
Photo of three wind turbines with a rainbow.
The following links will provide you with more information about wind energy and the Wind Energy Program's research and development efforts. Some of the documents are available as Adobe Acrobat PDFs. Download Adobe Reader.
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cashing in on the Green Leap Forward: Cleantech in China

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We wrote earlier about China’s unbridled enthusiasm for wind power and the risks that appetite poses for other wind developers around the world. But every coin has two sides.
As General Electric boss Jeff Immelt said last week, American technology companies have plenty of potential customers around the world, even if U.S. energy policy lags. And as Washington senator Maria Cantwell said on her own China junket this week, American clean-technology companies should embrace China’s recent greening as an opportunity.
One who’s trying is American Superconductor Corp
China’s own domestic wind industry has burst on the scene in recent years, and two Chinese makers are now in the global top-ten
wind turbines accounting for $36 billion in capital outlay last year, according to the global trade group
American Superconductor, which will start local production this year, designs wind turbines “from soup to nuts,”
“We give them the razor and then sell them the blades.”
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Statement from U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy on the National Academy of Sciences Report: Review of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership

Read more by following the links.
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“With the President’s leadership, DOE’s FreedomCar and Fuel Partnership serves to provide consumers with smarter, more energy-efficient and appealing options in the interest of reducing emissions and our nation’s dependence on oil.
“I am proud of the Department’s work with our industry partners and we look forward to expanding and diversifying the collaborative research, development, and deployment in an effort to bring online greater domestically produced energy sources that will help this nation achieve a cleaner, more secure and sustainable energy future.” 

Learn more about DOE’s FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

These greenhouses grow from friends of the earth

John Eriksen admits it. He's obsessed with energy consumption.
When he flips on the eight-bulb light fixture in the bathroom of his Okeechobee home, the hand-held tracking device in his grip shows his costs per kilowatt hour spike from 2 cents to 10 cents.
On the metal roof of his house, ultra-thin laminated strips of photovoltaic cells collect power from the sun. Eriksen gets a kick out of watching the watts stream in. And he gets a credit on his monthly Florida Power & Light Co. bill for the 10 kilowatts or so he generates daily, a little less than what he uses.
Eriksen expects rebates and incentives to cover $12,000 of the $17,000 to $18,000 costs of the solar system and other green elements he built into his 1,600-square-foot home. Since the solar power will shave roughly $30 to $35 a month from his power bill, he estimates the remainder will pay for itself in about a decade.
John Eriksen, behind his solar-powered Okeechobee home
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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Future of Energy

I attended a seminar on solar and wind power at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, ACUA, clean energy plant
On the way back I drove into the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County, NJ
There are armed guards outside the nuclear plant
There are watchtowers, presumably with armed sentries
There are no armed guards at the clean energy facility
There are wind turbines, photovoltaics, and operators. The operators are happy to talk, to show you how much power the plant is generating, and tell you how the plant works
The various alternative technologies to generate that power offer choices about the society in which we live
On the one hand: polluting fuel based technologies of the past - nuclear, coal, oil, natural gas. On the other: renewable and sustainable clean energy technologies of the future - solar, wind, geothermal, hydro
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Newark rooftops could be used to yield a fifth of city's electricity needs

Rooftop solar panels could provide Newark with more than a fifth of the city's total electricity, a University of Delaware researcher said Friday.
Researchers from UD's Center for the Energy and the Environment used mapping software and a solar energy assessment program to determine how much rooftop space was actually usable for solar panels.
They used aerial images to determine which houses would be best for panels, eliminating those with too much shading from trees, chimneys, nearby buildings or other obstructions.
Flat-roofed buildings are ideal for solar, Zhou said, and Newark has plenty, with UD's many buildings and the city's industrial sector. South-facing roofs are also best, to catch the sun's rays most often.
The team found that Newark has 5.8 million square feet of suitable, available rooftop real estate. Solar panels on that area could generate 77.9 gigawatts per hour of electricity, or 21 percent of the city's power usage in 2006, Zhou said.
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Green energy is making big money

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The alternative energy business is starting to make real money
Worldwide sales for companies specializing in biofuels, wind farms, solar panels and fuel cells grew 40 percent in 2007 to reach $77.3 billion
Revenue in the wind power industry alone jumped 68 percent
individual oil companies report annual sales greater than $100 billion
"Clean energy has moved from the margins to the mainstrea

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Green energy is making big money

The alternative energy business is starting to make real money.

Worldwide sales for companies specializing in biofuels, wind farms, solar panels and fuel cells grew 40 percent in 2007 to reach $77.3 billion, according to an annual report issued Tuesday by Clean Edge, a research firm that studies the green technology industry.

That's significant revenue for an industry crowded with startups, many of which don't yet have finished products to sell. But other companies - including major corporations such as General Electric - have waded into the field, selling their wind turbines and solar panels around the globe.

Revenue in the wind power industry alone jumped 68 percent in 2007 to reach $30.1 billion as new wind farms sprouted across the United States and China. Sales of ethanol and biodiesel, together, grew about 24 percent to hit $25.4 billion. Solar photovoltaic sales grew 30 percent, totaling $20.3 billion.

As imposing as those figures might seem, they're small by the standards of the traditional energy business, especially when individual oil companies report annual sales greater than $100 billion. But for green tech, the increasing revenues suggest that the young industry is gaining traction.

"Clean energy has moved from the margins to the mainstream, and the proof is in these numbers," said Ron Pernick, co-founder of Clean Edge. The firm, based in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., provides research to businesses and investors looking to profit from the green tech industry.

Alternative energy companies are riding a wave of interest started by the rise in the price of oil, which has more than tripled in five years. Their fortunes also have been buoyed by concern about global warming, which most scientists blame on the carbon dioxide that comes from burning fossil fuels. Investors have been pumping money into alternative energy companies, many of them based in the Bay Area.

With oil setting yet another all-time price record Tuesday - topping $108 per barrel - the report's authors expect alternative energy's rapid growth to continue. Clean Edge projects that the industry's annual, global revenues will hit $254.5 billion by 2017, while the industry will continue to soak up venture capital investments.

"As the price of oil goes up, up and up, that obviously makes investments in clean energy alternatives more attractive to investors of all shapes and sizes," said Clint Wilder, one of the report's authors.

And yet, alternative energy revenue remains a small piece of the world's overall energy market.

For a sense of scale, look no further than the oil industry, which many alternative energy enthusiasts would love to replace. Exxon Mobil, the world's largest international oil company, reported $404.5 billion in sales last year - more than five times the entire alternative energy industry combined. And that's just one company.

Alternative energy revenue "is a tiny fraction of what we spend on oil," said James Sweeney, an energy economist with Stanford University. "And that's not counting what we spend on natural gas and coal."

But that disparity is one of the reasons entrepreneurs and investors are delving into alternative energy. They see room to grow.

"People see these market niches available, and they're still niches, but niches have this wonderful way of growing over time," Sweeney said.

Just how much they'll grow is difficult to predict.

A lot will depend on federal policies concerning energy and climate change. The Clean Edge report's authors warned that if Congress doesn't renew tax credits used by renewable energy developers, companies that specialize in solar and wind power will be hard hit. The House has approved an extension, but the Senate so far has not.

"If these credits are not extended by the time they expire at the end of this year, we could see the growth of solar and wind come to a standstill in the U.S.," Pernick said.

All three leading presidential contenders have called for limiting carbon dioxide emissions and letting companies buy and sell credits to emit the gas. That kind of cap-and-trade system would increase the cost of energy derived from fossil fuels and make alternative energy sources more attractive.

"What that will do to the economics of all these companies is it will make them all much more competitive," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group and author of a new book on the alternative energy business, "Earth: The Sequel." Krupp was not involved in the Clean Edge study.

"I would predict that the revenue growth is going to continue to explode," he said.

The report also included a list of alternative energy trends to watch in 2008:

-- Interest in the next generation of electric vehicles will continue to grow, driven in large part by innovations from small companies, not the major automakers.

-- Geothermal power, which uses the Earth's heat to generate electricity, will continue its recent renaissance, particularly in the western United States.

-- And foreign companies will become an increasing presence in the American wind power industry, building wind farms and manufacturing plants in the United States.

E-mail David R. Baker at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

DOE To Fund New University Research Efforts

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced plans to invest up to $13.7 million over three years (fiscal years 2008 - 2010) in 11 university-led projects that will focus on developing advanced solar photovoltaic (PV) technology manufacturing processes and products.
"These projects will not only bolster innovation in photovoltaic technology, but they will help meet the president's goal of making clean and renewable solar power commercially viable by 2015."
The schools chosen for DOE funds are Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of Delaware Institute of Energy Conversion, University of Florida and University of Toledo. (The University of Delaware and University of Toledo each have two separate projects to be backed by DOE funding.)
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Secon Develops New Production Technology For Photovoltaic Cells

Austria-based Secon says it is now offering dry chemical plasma-etch equipment for photovoltaic cell production that helps yield more power per cell, boost production volumes and minimize silicon usage
Textured multicrystalline material, either cut from ingots or in the form of thin substrates pulled out of silicon melt, yields better absorption of light due to reduced reflectivity caused by uniform texturing (surface roughness)
the lack of mechanical stress in production steps yields better use of material due to a drastic reduction of wafer breakage, and the processing of very thin products preserves silicon
The equipment is also designed to operate in an environmentally friendly manner
There is no need for acids and hydroxides, which eliminates difficult and expensive disposal methods and does not result in negative greenhouse effects, as in wet chemical production
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Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Monday, March 10, 2008

Mass transit use hits 50-year high on pump prices

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The number of Americans hopping buses and grabbing subway straps has climbed to the highest level in half a century as soaring gasoline costs push more commuters to take mass transit.
Mass transit use increased by more than 2 percent in 2007 to the highest level in 50 years, with Americans taking more than 10 billion trips on public transport while the number of vehicle miles traveled was flat in the first 10 months of the year.
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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Where is Iraq's oil money going?

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Two senators are asking congressional investigators to look at Iraq's oil revenues and see if the war-ravaged nation can pay for its own reconstruction, an effort that has been bankrolled to this point mostly by U.S. taxpayers.
Government Accountability Office that Iraq has "tremendous resources" in banks worldwide but is doing little to improve security and reconstruction efforts.
We believe that it has been overwhelmingly U.S. taxpayer money that has funded Iraq reconstruction over the last five years, despite Iraq earning billions of dollars in oil revenue
Using numbers from the U.S. State Department and Iraqi Oil Ministry, the senators said Iraq hopes to produce 2.2 million barrels of oil a day this year. Weekly averages suggest that the number has climbed as high as 2.51 million barrels a day.
That kind of oil production could earn Iraq a projected $56.4 billion this year
we believe that Iraq will accrue at least $100.0 billion in oil revenues in 2007 and 2008
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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Spray-on solar cells being developed


PAINT that could generate as much electricity as 50 wind farms is being developed by Welsh scientists.

Materials experts at Swansea University are working alongside steel giant Corus on developing a method of spraying solar cells onto steel used for cladding buildings.

If the work is a success it could lead to houses and offices becoming giant solar energy converters powering their own lighting, heating, televisions and computers.

And if the material was sprayed onto car and lorry roofs they could eventually use solar power to split hydrogen from water.

That would allow vehicles to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells at no cost to the environment.

Unlike conventional solar cells, the materials being developed at Swansea University are more efficient at capturing low light radiation, meaning they are better suited to the British climate.

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