U.S. Department of Defense Goes Big On Wind, Solar, and Biomass

by Tina Casey

We’ve been following a massive $7 billion renewable energy buy that the Department of Defense kicked off a while back, and the program is really picking up steam.

In the latest round of developments, yesterday the US Army Corps of Engineers paired up with the Army Energy Initiatives Task Force (EITF) to announce contracts with 20 more companies.

Renewable Energy. Solar installation at Fort Carson courtesy of USACE.
Renewable Energy. Solar installation at Fort Carson courtesy of USACE. The brigade and battalion headquarters building, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, features an on-site solar array, which supplies approximately 62 percent of the building’s electrical power needs.

If that Army task force rings a bell, we just noted yesterday that EITF swung a deal for Fort Drum in New York to get up to 100 percent renewable energy 24/7 from the company ReEnergy, which refitted a coal fired plant at the facility to burn local biomass.

20 New Military Renewable Energy Contracts

The Army Corps of Engineers contracts are awarded under a streamlined process typically used for architecture and engineering projects called Multiple Award Task Order Contract. The winning companies are eligible to bid on upcoming projects, which is why we can’t tell you what the specific projects are. However, we do have a list of the awardees.

The $7 billion renewable energy program covers solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal, but geothermal was left out of this round. That still left plenty of renewable energy goodies to go around.

Solar was the big winner, with 15 contracts spread among Ameresco Inc. (also known for wastewater-to-biogas), Chevron Energy Solutions Company (more on that later), Constellation NewEnergy, Distributed Sun LLC, EDF Renewable Energy, Energy Ventures LLC, First Solar Development, FLS Energy, ABM Government Services LLC, RE Independence CO LLC, SunEdison Government Solutions, SunEdison LLC, SunWize Technologies Inc., TransGen Energy Inc., and the aptly named Victory Renewables LLC.

Another three projects went to wind power. Despite some initial concerns over radar interference, the Defense Department has been dipping a toe into the wind market (here and here for example) where possible.

Ameresco nailed one of the three wind contracts and the other two went  M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Associates, Inc. and Infigen Energy US Development LLC.

That leaves two contracts for biomass, one of which was scored by Ameresco (there they go again) and the other by Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc.

All together, the $7 billion initiative now covers 79 contracts. It’s also worth noting here that the entire program is financed by third parties under power purchase agreements, so no taxpayers were injured in the making of all this renewable energy.

That financing structure also insulates the program from the conservative Republican budget axe, enabling the US renewable energy market to keep growing despite repeated attempts to cut it off at the knees (the fight over the wind power tax credit being just one notable example).

What Is Chevron Doing In The Solar Market?

Yes, that Chevron. Better known for its fossil fuel activity, the company purchased PG&E’s retail unit back in 2000 to form Chevron Energy Solutions, later bringing in Viron Energy Services.

It has been humming along ever since, mainly in solar with some fuel cell, smart grid, geothermal and wastewater/kitchen grease-to-energy thrown in.

For the record, aside from a series of major renewable energy projects with governments and schools, Chevron is also using solar energy to power its oil operations.

What John Kerry Said

Speaking of fossil fuel extraction, the Defense Department’s aggressive pursuit of renewable energy began a few years ago, so it predates US Secretary of State and well known climate hawk John Kerry. Kerry has more than picked up the ball, most recently with a barn burner of a climate change speech in Indonesia to kick off this week. Here’s one nugget:

When I think about the array of global climate – of global threats – think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.

Even without the climate change angle, that list resonates right here in the US, as the impacts of fossil fuel extraction continue to wreak havoc on local communities. On top of ongoing issues with mountaintop coal mining and oil/gas fracking, the last week alone has brought yet another coal spill to West Virginia, gas pipe explosions in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and a second leaking pipe under a coal ash dump in North Carolina.

In the context of military renewable energy, our troops are working to prevent the growth of local threats right here at home, so it would be nice if they got a little more support from certain federal representatives who seem more intent on letting things go to pot than helping to protect public health and safety.

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This article, Department of Defense Goes Big On Wind, Solar, And Biomass, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. Tina CaseyTina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

Top 10 Most Interesting Energy and Environment Articles From October

by David L Roberts

Elevated radiation levels of US
Elevated radiation levels in the U.S.A.

Here’s my latest monthly report of the “Top 10” most compelling clean energy, climate, and environment-related news stories encountered last month. These articles may have an impact on your business, your life, and the world we live in. Or, at the very least, might surprise you about what’s going on.

Over a thousand articles were reviewed across various energy platforms and 40+ were found to be of particular interest, which were sent to my private reader list. This newsletter is available upon request. The 10 most interesting to me are shown here, with a startling #1 article at the end.

10. A report from three Bay Area companies paints a positive outlook for investment in cleantech, stating that cleantech accounts for 25% of all investment capital today. Now that cleantech expectations are more in line with capabilities, many large multinational companies are stepping in as investors, both for their own energy efficiency (carbon footprint) goals as well as venture capitalist–like goals.

9. Denmark is striving for 100% power generation from renewables by 2050, and it has been announced that it will receive a WWF Gift to the World award for this leadership. Other nations planning to be carbon neutral are Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Tuvalu, Bhutan, The Maldives and Costa Rica.

8. Navigant Research estimates the currently small global market for energy storage (today at $150 million) will rapidly expand to $10 billion by 2023 due to acceleration of wind and solar installs.

• California currently mandates 33% of utility power be derived from renewables and is now considering mandating energy storage as well. To address inherent intermittency, this evolving industry is seeing growing commercialization of many technologies including batteries (lithium-ion and sodium-sulphur), flywheel, molten salt, and pumped hydro storage.

7. Scientists from Potsdam Institute (PIK) forecast the planet is on path to increase global temperature 9 degrees F in a century through GHG emissions, creating a scenario of floods and droughts that would place 1 billion people at risk — 13% of the global population.

• The Asian Dev. Bank reports that, by 2035, Asia will increase its energy consumption by 67%, representing half the world’s energy demands — and half the world’s GHG emissions. The bank soberly estimates that coal will account for 83% of this growth and that CO2-emitting gasoline cars will remain dominant.

Here’s one view of global climate change in 25+ years, with predictions of more droughts, floods and impacts on over 1 billion people as a result of rising sea levels — with island nations, coastal cities, and tropical zones most vulnerable.

6. While a national cap-and-trade program has been illusive, the New Jersey legislature is considers rejoining the 9-state (eastern) regional carbon-trading program, RGGI. RGGI is the oldest such program in the US, but a similar program now exists in California, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. The western regional carbon and GHG emissions trading program hopes of to expand to surrounding states at some point.

5. The Energy Information Administration reports that the US produced 3.8% less CO2 in 2012 (vs. 2011), continuing a recent downtrend of GHG emissions since 2007. Some of the main credits for the drop in emissions are considered to be a slowed down economy, power plants converting from coal to gas, increasing use of renewable energy, and an improvement in “energy intensity” — a macro energy efficiency measure of energy usage per unit of GDP.

• Notably, however, the switch from coal to gas, while reducing CO2, increases the (risk of) emissions of methane, which is 20 times more harmful than CO2.

4. A report from the UK predicts that advanced (drop-in) biofuels such as butanol will begin to play a large long-term role in reducing GHG emissions. Compared to hydrogen or electric vehicle formats, the benefit here is the fact that biofuels can be used in international combustion engines. Since internal combustion engines are expected to dominate for the foreseeable future, many argue that advanced biofuels are sorely needed.

CEFC is the first to make and distribute the advance biofuel biomethane, called Redeem, thru a network of 35 fueling stations in CA. It is made from methane from landfills (and other sources) and is available both compressed and in liquid form.

3. T. Boone Pickens and Waste Management are two notables committed to “renewable” natural gas that’s an alternative to fossil gas currently produced via tracking. Redeem is renewable since it’s a natural by-product of decomposing biodegradable materials (methane et al), such as that found in landfills.

Some communities are now capturing methane gas naturally produced in land fills (aka “garbage dumps”) and selling it to intermediaries to produce electricity.

2. China’s Harbin City (11 million) was closed down due to an excessive pollution index of 1000, which the WHO states is over 3 times the 300 index it considers “hazardous.” WHO considers an index of 20 to be “safe.”

The #1 Energy Story Of October

1. In case you’re wondering about the effects of Fukushima, here’s a frighteningly well documented report about doses of cesium 137, iodine 131, and strontium 90 that have already infected wildlife all along the west coast of North America, including my favorite — wild caught Pacific salmon. This may affect human health for generations.

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This article, Top 10 Most Interesting Energy & Environment Articles From October, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

David L Roberts is a marketing consultant to renewable energy startups.

Global Wind Power Industry adds 241 Gigawatts by 2017

Wind farm in Sweden
Lillgrund Wind Farm in the Sound between Copenhagen and Malmö. Image courtesy: Mariusz Paździora

With the addition of 44.9 gigawatts in new installations in 2012, world wind power capacity grew to approximately 285.7 GW, an increase of 18.6 percent in the total wind power installation base. Average annual growth over the past 5 years has been 17.8 percent, achieved during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, even with traditionally large markets for wind power in economic recession in both North America and Europe.

Image courtesy of: Delphi234
Global growth of wind power. Image courtesy of: Delphi234

According to a recent report from Navigant Research, however, market growth will fluctuate over the next several years: 241.6 GW will be added between 2012 and 2017, at an average growth rate of 5.1 percent annually, the study concludes.

“The wind power industry continues to demonstrate its ability to rapidly evolve in order to meet new demands in markets that face a variety of challenges,” says Feng Zhao, managing consultant with Navigant Research. “Wind turbine vendors are designing specialized machines for maximum energy production in low wind speed areas and for operation in high altitudes, in cold climates, and offshore. Nevertheless, a slowdown in wind turbine sales is anticipated, with a decrease of more than 10 percent in 2013 compared to 2012.”

That decrease will be reflected in the U.S. market during 2013, as a result of 2012’s last‐minute one year extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC). The U.S. market will likely face additional political uncertainty when the PTC expires again later this year. Established European wind power markets, such as Spain and Italy, are expected to decline in coming years, while China, the world’s largest wind market, will remain in a state of transition from a period of breakneck growth to one of more stable development.

The report, “International Wind Energy Development: World Market Update 2012”, is the 18th edition of this comprehensive, annual wind energy market report. The report examines the state of the wind power industry today and provides forecasts for the market through 2017. Including more than 80 tables, charts, and graphs, the report highlights a number of trends for the industry through 2022, including the relative rankings of top countries for wind power installations; rankings of the top ten wind turbine suppliers; the evolution of wind power market structures; and the penetration of wind power in the world’s overall electricity supply.

An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the Navigant Research website.

Source: Business Wire

Over the Top! Global CO2 hits 400ppm

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Following an upward trend that began with the Industrial Revolution, the parts per million (ppm) concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere has soared from 278 ppm in 1760, to 400ppm in 2013 — while the average global temperature has seen a corresponding temperature increase of 2 degrees celsius during that timeframe.

Here is a nice infographic from Climate Central

(Climate Central)
Infographic courtesy of: Climate Central

Prior to the year 1760, CO2 levels moved from 185ppm to 278ppm over a 3 million year timespan — while the average global temperature saw a corresponding temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius during that timeframe.

From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages to about 280 during the warm periods between.

The evidence shows that global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

For the entire period of human civilization, roughly 8,000 years, the carbon dioxide level was relatively stable near that upper bound.

But the burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though they expect far larger changes in the future. – Justin Gillis, New York Times, Environment reporter

Human activity (primarily burning of fossil fuels and large-scale livestock and agriculture production) has changed our planetary climate. Almost as much change has occurred over the past 253 years, as occurred over the previous 3 million years!

It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem. — Pieter P. Tans, Program Monitoring Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were tolerable thresholds. — Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego

Did I mention that sea levels were 20 metres higher (66 feet) than they are nowadays, due to the completely-melted icecaps?

As global warming accelerates, most of the world’s cities could be under water before the end of the century, as many of them are already at or near, sea level now.

Did I mention that the CO2 we are putting into the air will stay in the atmosphere for up to 100 years and it will continue to help increase the global temperature the entire time?

The CO2 that was put into the air in 1960, could still be around for up to another 47 years. Almost without exception, every new year we put more of it into the atmosphere than the year before.

In 2012, we put 36 billion tons (36 Gigatons) of man-made CO2 into the atmosphere — and the Earth systems were only able to absorb half of that. This basic ratio has been occurring for many years now.

In 2013, we added more than 37 Gigatons of greenhouse gases to the air-mass that surrounds the Earth.

What is even worse, and is not being discussed in all of this, is that Oxygen, the one gas that is absolutely necessary for all animal life on the planet, is slowly being replaced by CO2. Oxygen is consumed when fossil fuels, or almost any fuel combusts (burns), and CO2 is what is left over after the Oxygen is consumed.

Professor Ian Plimer of Adelaide University and Professor Jon Harrison of the University of Arizona concur.

Like most other scientists they accept that oxygen levels in the atmosphere in prehistoric times averaged around 30% to 35%, compared to only 21% today – and that the levels are even less in densely populated, polluted city centres and industrial complexes, perhaps only 15 % or lower. – Peter Tatchell, “The oxygen crisis” Could the decline of oxygen in the atmosphere undermine our health and threaten human survival?” The Guardian

In humans, failure of oxygen energy metabolism is the single most important risk factor for chronic diseases including cancer and death.

‘Oxygen deficiency’ is currently set at 19.5 percent in enclosed spaces for health and safety [6], below that, fainting and death may result. – Institute of Science in Society (ISIS)  Living with Oxygen (SiS 43)

Not only are CO2 levels rising dramatically and warming the planet — potentially flooding huge rural areas and cities before the end of the century, but Oxygen levels worldwide are falling.

Oxygen Depletion

Our civilization is at a critical juncture. 

Are we up to the task of making the right decisions, or will we take a pass — thereby forcing our grandchildren to wear oxygen masks every time they leave our airlocked houses to walk to their airlocked school, while we work in office buildings with airlocks and drive cars with oxygen bottles in the passenger compartment, to boost-up the breathable oxygen inside the car, so we don’t fall asleep from breathing higher levels of CO2 and lower levels of life-sustaining oxygen? This scenario is no longer science fiction, but an eventual reality if we don’t change course.

To our credit, we now realize that excessive atmospheric greenhouse gas levels equates to and is directly-linked to excessive consumption of oxygen caused by fossil fuel use and other combustible materials being burned, and we know that CO2 stays in the atmosphere for up to 100 years.

All of which means that much sooner than we may realize, some very serious choices must be made regarding our future fossil fuel burning and combustion-based civilization.

Why are Environmentalists excited about the Natural Gas boom?

Why are Environmentalists excited about the Natural Gas boom? | 18/03/13
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which is the cleanest fossil fuel of all?

You guessed it! Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel – and by significant margins as data from the Environmental Protection Agency illustrates in the chart below.

Fossil Fuel Emission Levels in pounds per billion Btu of energy input. Source: EPA Natural Gas Issues and Trends 1998
Fossil Fuel Emission Levels in pounds per billion Btu of energy input. Source: EPA Natural Gas Issues and Trends 1998

Natural gas, as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, can be used in many ways to help reduce the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere.

Burning natural gas in the place of other fossil fuels emits fewer harmful pollutants, and an increased reliance on natural gas can potentially reduce the emissions of many of the most harmful pollutants. — naturalgas.org

After investigating the externalities associated with conventional sources of energy and cognizant of their commitments towards clean air, many nations have begun to embrace natural gas as a stepping stone towards a cleaner energy future.

In the U.S.A., as far back as 2003 when coal supplied more than 50% of America’s electrical power, coal-fired plants have been retired more quickly than new ones have come online. By 2012, coal supplied only 38% of U.S. electricity.

Nine gigawatts of U.S. coal-fired power generation was shut-down in 2012 alone, and replaced by an almost equal amount of natural gas power generation. Emission levels from those comparably-sized replacement natural gas power plants are less than half of those retired coal-fired plants!

Many more U.S. coal-fired power plants are scheduled for complete shutdown, or conversion to natural gas over the next few years totalling 35 GigaWatts (GW) according to the experts.

Chart courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Administration — shows carbon emissions dropping as a result of switching from coal to natural gas,  2005-2012.

U.S. Carbon Emissions by Sector. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
U.S. Carbon Emissions by Sector. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Carbon emissions of all end-use Sectors have decreased since 2005 in the United States.

The largest reductions appear to be due to the Electric Power and Transportation sector’s emissions, followed by the Industrial, Residential and Commercial sectors.

[Of all sectors] “the largest reduction to carbon emissions is due to coal-to-natural gas ‘fuels switching’ and construction of higher efficiency power plants. 

Expansion of renewable power, overwhelmingly due to expanded wind power, has been the second largest factor to reduced Power Sector carbon emissions.” – theenergycollective.com

Many expert studies show CO2 emissions dropping as a result of the combined effects of many countries switching from coal to natural gas and/or renewables, 1990-2100.

Chart depicts probable CO2 levels, depending on the choices we make. Image courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell 'New Lens Scenarios'
Chart depicts probable CO2 levels, depending on the energy choices we make. Image courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell ‘New Lens Scenarios’

The change-up to renewable energy will vary by country as OECD nations continue to take the lead in renewable energy between now and 2100. Even so, total worldwide emissions will drop dramatically and the switch from coal to natural gas is one big step towards a cleaner environment.

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