13 Brilliant Energy Breakthroughs of 2013

by Guest Contributor Kiley Kroh.

Originally published on ThinkProgress.

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy are the true bright spots in the march towards a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are thirteen of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. Helped along by the Department of Energy’s loan program, Solana’s massive 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant came online in Arizona this October, with one unique distinction: the plant will use a ‘salt battery’ that will allow it to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. Not only is this a first for the United States in terms of thermal energy storage, the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.

2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.

Nissan Leaf shows Vehicle to Grid technology testing
Nissan’s groundbreaking ‘Vehicle-To-Building‘ technology will enable companies to regulate electricity by tapping into EV’s plugged into their parking areas. Image Credit: Nissan Leaf via Shutterstock.

Nissan’s groundbreaking ‘Vehicle-To-Building‘ technology will enable companies to regulate their electricity needs by tapping into EV’s plugged into their garages during times of peak demand. Then, when demand is low, electricity flows back to the vehicles, ensuring they’re charged for the drive home. With Nissan’s system, up to six electric vehicles can be plugged into a building at one time. As more forms renewable energy is added to the grid, storage innovations like this will help them all work together to provide reliable power.

3. The next generation of wind turbines is a game changer. May of 2013 brought the arrival of GE’s Brilliant line of wind turbines, which bring two technologies within the turbines to address storage and intermittency concerns. An “industrial internet” communicates with grid operators, to predict wind availability and power needs, and to optimally position the turbine. Grid-scale batteries built into the turbines store power when the wind is blowing but the electricity isn’t needed — then feed it into the grid as demand comes along, smoothing out fluctuations in electricity supply. It’s a more efficient solution to demand peaks than fossil fuel plants, making it attractive even from a purely business aspect. Fifty-nine of the turbines are headed for Michigan, and two more will arrive in Texas.

4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal. A single solar photovoltaic (PV) cell cost $76.67 per watt back in 1977, then fell off a cliff. Bloomberg Energy Finance forecast the price would reach $0.74 per watt in 2013 and as of the first quarter of this year, they were actually selling for $0.64 per watt. That cuts down on solar’s installation costs — and since the sunlight is free, lower installation costs mean lower electricity prices. And in 2013, they hit grid parity with coal: in February, a southwestern utility, agreed to purchase electricity from a New Mexico solar project for less than the going rate for a new coal plant. Unsubsidized solar power reached grid parity in countries such as Italy and India. And solar installations have boomed worldwide and here in America, as the lower module costs have drivendown installation prices.

5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves. With the nation’s first commercial, grid-connected underwater tidal turbine successfully generating renewable energy off the coast of Maine for a year, the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) has its sights set on big growth. The project has invested more than $21 million into the Maine economy and an environmental assessment in March found no detrimental impact on the marine environment. With help from the Department of Energy, the project is set to deploy two more devices in 2014. In November, ORPC was chosen to manage a wave-energy conversion project in remote Yakutat, Alaska. And a Japanese delegation visited the project this year as the country seeks to produce 30 percent of its total power offshore by 2030.

6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.

This year saw the announcement of Carnegie Wave Energy’s upcoming desalination plant near Perth, Australia. It will use the company’s underwater buoy technology to harness ocean wave force to pressurize the water, cutting out the fossil-fuel-powered electric pumps that usually force water through the membrane in the desalination process. The resulting system — “a world first” — will be carbon-free, and efficient in terms of both energy and cost. Plan details were completed in October, the manufacturing contract was awarded in November, and when it’s done, the plant will supply 55 billion litters of fresh drinking water per year.

7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records. Conversion efficiency is the amount of light hitting the solar cell that’s actually changed into electricity, and it’s typically 18.7 percent and 24 percent. But Alta Devices, a Silicon Valley solar manufacturer, set a new record of 30.8 percent conversion efficiency this year. Its method is more expensive, but the result is a durable and extremely thin solar cell that can generate a lot of electricity from a small surface area. That makes Alta’s cells perfect for small and portable electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, and the company is in discussions to apply them to mobile phones, smoke detectors, door alarms, computer watches, remote controls, and more.

8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power. Abundant and cost-effective storage technology will be crucial for a clean energy economy — no where more so than with electric cars. But right now batteries don’t always hold enough charge to power automobiles for extended periods, and they add significantly to bulk and cost. But at the start of 2013, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory successfully demonstrated a new lithium-ion battery technology that can store far more power in a much smaller size, and that’s safer and less prone to shorts. They used nanotechnology to create an electrolyte that’s solid, ultra-thin, and porous, and they also combined the approach with lithium-sulfur battery technology, which could further enhance cost-effectiveness.

9. New age offshore wind turbines that float. Offshore areas are prime real estate for wind farms, but standard turbines require lots of construction and are limited to waters 60 meters deep or less. But Statoil, the Norwegian-based oil and gas company, began work this year on a hub of floating wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. The turbines merely require a few cables to keep them anchored, and can be placed in water up to 700 meters. That could vastly expand the amount of economically practical offshore wind power. The hub off Scotland will be the largest floating wind farm in the world — and two floating turbines are planned off the coast of Fukushima, Japan, along with the world’s first floating electrical substation.

10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.

New USB technology
New USB technology will be able to deliver 100 watts of power, spreading DC power to more low voltage personal electronics.

Alternating current (AC), rather than direct current (DC) is the dominant standard for electricity use. But DC current has its own advantages: its cheap, efficient, works better with solar panels and wind turbines, and doesn’t require adapters that waste energy as heat. Facebook, JPMorgan, Sprint, Boeing, and Bank of America have all built datacenters that rely on DC power, since DC-powered datacenters are 20 percent more efficient, cost 30 percent less, and require 25 to 40 percent less floorspace. On the residential level, new USB technology will soon be able to deliver 100 watts of power, spreading DC power to ever more low voltage personal electronics, and saving homes in efficiency costs in their electricity bill.

11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here. Ethanol derived from corn, once held up as a climate-friendly alternative to gasoline, is under increasing fire. Many experts believe it drives up food prices, and studies disagree on whether it actually releases any less carbon dioxide when its full life cycle is accounted for. Cellulosic biofuels, promise to get around those hurdles, and 2013 may be when the industry finally turned the corner. INOES Bio’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Florida and KiOR’s cellulosic plant in Mississippi began commercial production this year. Two more cellulosic plants are headed for Iowa, and yet another’s being constructed in Kansas. The industry says 2014′s proposed cellulosic fuel mandate of 17 million gallons will be easily met.

12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people. In DC, the first ever property-assessed clean energy (PACE) project allows investments in efficiency and renewables to be repaid through a special tax levied on the property, which lowers the risk for owners. Crowdfunding for clean energy projects made major strides bringing decentralized renewable energy to more people — particularly the world’s poor — and Solar Mosaic is pioneering crowdfunding to pool community investments in solar in the United States. California figured out how to allow customers who aren’t property owners or who don’t have a suitable roof for solar — that’s 75 percent of the state — to nonetheless purchase up to 100 percent clean energy for their home or business. Minnesota advanced its community solar gardens program, modeled after Colorado’s successful initiative. And Washington, DC voted to bring in virtual net metering, which allows people to buy a portion of a larger solar or wind project, and then have their portion of the electricity sold or credited back to the grid on their behalf, reducing the bill.

13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels. “We’re now seeing power agreements being signed with wind farms at as low as $25 per megawatt-hour,” Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley’s Head of North American Equity Research for Power & Utilities and Clean Energy, told the Columbia Energy Symposium in late November. Byrd explained that wind’s ongoing variable costs are negligible, which means an owner can bring down the cost of power purchase agreements by spreading the up-front investment over as many units as possible. As a result, larger wind farms in the Midwest are confronting coal plants in the Powder River Basin with “fairly vicious competition.” And even without the production tax credit, wind can still undercut many natural gas plants. A clear sign of its viability, wind power currently meets 25 percent of Iowa’s energy needs and is projected to reach a whopping 50 percent by 2018.

This article, 13 Huge Clean Energy Breakthroughs Of 2013, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Nissan Leaf fleet can power offices and homes

by Nicholas Brown.

nissan leafs power office building
Nissan Leaf fleet powers office building in Atsugi, Japan.

Originally published on EV Obsession.

You may have heard of the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concept in which electric vehicles can supply their battery power to electricity grids during peak hours and other electricity shortages. Nissan recently decided to apply a somewhat similar concept to the Nissan Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi City, Japan. The company calls it “Vehicle-to-Building.” During peak hours, when electricity prices are highest, the vehicles supply their battery power to the building, enabling them to avoid this peak charge.

Wait… doesn’t the battery power come from the grid anyway?

Yes, it does. However, the energy stored in the car batteries is cheaper, as it is obtained during off-peak hours, when electricity prices are lowest. Nissan said it achieved this without affecting workers’ commutes, and the electric vehicles‘ batteries are guaranteed to be fully charged by the end of the day.

According to Nissan, this will also be applied to homes. The company calls this “Leaf to Home.”

It is a win-win situation because power grids get to sell their surplus electricity, and homes/buildings get to enjoy cheaper electricity.

Why Does All This Matter? Why Is Electricity More Expensive In The Afternoon?

Typical thermal power plants (coal, natural gas steam, and nuclear) are slow to adjust to fluctuations in power demand. Therefore, when electricity demand spikes during the peak hours mentioned, they cannot scale up in time, and in some cases, they can’t scale up at all, due to a lack of generation capacity. Therefore, peaking power plants are used instead, as they can start quickly to prevent blackouts and brownouts. There is a catch, though. Peaking power plants are expensive, which is why electricity is expensive during peak hours.

Similarly, excess electricity supply from thermal power plants at night results in very cheap electricity at night. In regions where prices are based on this demand and supply balance (like in the story above), if you have the ability to “buy low and sell high,” you can make some serious cash.

For more Nissan stories, visit our Nissan channel.

Image Credit: Nissan

Follow me on Twitter at @Kompulsa

This article, Nissan Leafs Can Power Both Offices & Homes, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission

About the Author

Nicholas BrownNicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.

All New Non-Hybrid Taxis In NY Will Be The NV200

by Important Media Cross-Post

Originally published on Gas2.
By Andrew Meggison.

The Taxi of Tomorrow is most likely coming to New York City. As it stands, on October 28th, all new non-hybrid taxis in the city will be a Nissan NV200, though there are still those opposing the program. New York, get ready for a Nissan invasion.

The Nissan NV200 is more of a van than a traditional sedan that is routinely used as cabs, and was the winner of the Taxi of Tomorrow contest. The Nissan NV200 was designed from the inside out using input from New York taxi drivers, medallion holders, and passengers. The NV200 vehicles offer interesting features such as more space for passengers, increased cargo room, and even a transparent roof so passengers can look up at the city. An electric version is even in the works specifically for taxi and delivery use.

So how is the NV200 on gas mileage? Well, about 24 miles per gallon in the city, which isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. The NV200 will only be replacing non-hybrid cabs in the city however, and some NYC taxi driver operators aren’t happy with being told what to buy.

Lawsuits to prevent implementation of the Taxi of Tomorrow have been filed, claiming the vehicle is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is not wheelchair accessible, although the Nissan NV200 can be retrofitted. Additionally, a few NYC taxi fleets have planned to retire their current no- hybrid cabs early and purchase new cabs that are not Nissan NV200s, likely using the old Crown Vics for as long as possible. With these new cabs in operation before the deadline, implementation of the 3 to 5 year plan could take much longer.

So why all the fuss over the NV200s? Well historically it seems that any change that impacts the The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade is met with opposition – these are the guys who fought mandatory air conditioning in cabs. Concerning the NV200, it is one part money and one part politics. The Greater New York Taxi Association, a group of medallion owners that oppose the plan, is flat-out accusing NYC of exceeding its authority by mandating that operators buy a Taxi of Tomorrow. They don’t want to be told what cars they have to buy, and they have a point.

As for politics, Bloomberg is on his way out of office, so any delay of the Taxi of Tomorrow implementation by a court of law could push the project off to the next administration, where it might get struck down or just lose traction and fall flat. The kicker here is that the Taxi of Tomorrow was selected by taxi operators and users. People who use cab services want this vehicle!

The good news is the people will most likely get what they want; even with the opposition mass production of Nissan NV200 began in August at Nissan’s assembly plant in Cuernavaca, Mexico. That is a good indication that the vehicles will soon hit the roads. As October 28th approaches keep your eyes open in NYC, your next ride could be in a Taxi of Tomorrow.

Source: NYTimes.com

This article, All New Non-Hybrid Taxis In NY Will Be The NV200, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Important Media Cross-PostCleanTechnica is one of 18 blogs in the Important Media blog network. With a bit of overlap in coverage, we sometimes repost some of the great content published by our sister sites.

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Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt Both Break Their US Monthly Sales Records

by Zachary Shahan — Special to JBS News

The month of August was a good one for plug-in electric car companies. Two of the three leading electric cars (in terms of sales) broke their US monthly sales records last month (we don’t have monthly sales numbers for the other one).

The Nissan Leaf’s new all-time best is 2,420, while the Chevy Volt’s new all-time best is 3,351.

nissan-leaf-sales

The August sales results also now put the Chevy Volt (14,994) ahead of the Nissan Leaf (14,123) in cumulative 2013 sales. The two cars have been trading places at the top for the past few months or so. It feels like the last stretch of an important race in a Hollywood movie, IMHO.

2013 Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt sales are leagues above their 2012 sales. As regular readers know, the US Leaf tantalized the market with a $6,400 price cut in January (thanks to the start of production within the US, which cut costs tremendously), while the Chevy Volt finally did the same last month with a $5,000 price cut (which may not have been as warranted as the Leaf’s).

volt-production

I’ll have a full August 2013 electric and hybrid car sales update here soon. Hold on tight, it might be an interesting one. Overall, though, as I think you’d guess, it looks like August was a record month for plug-in electric cars.

This article, Nissan Leaf & Chevy Volt Both Break Their US Monthly Sales Records, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

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