US Consumer Support for Renewables – Highest Level Since 2010

by Silvio Marcacci.

Consumer approval of clean energy 2013 chart via Navigant Research
Consumer approval of clean energy 2013 chart via Navigant Research

Consumer attitudes toward clean energy technologies in America rebounded strongly in 2013 to reach their highest levels since 2010, countering several years of declines in favorability ratings between 2009-2012.

This good news comes from Navigant Research’s 2013 Energy and Environment Consumer Survey, and indicates clean tech may finally be established as a preferred option for consumers despite high-profile conservative attacks.

Overall support for clean energy swung from 2012’s low of 44% to a 51% average favorability in 2013. In fact, out of ten technologies ranging from clean energy to clean transportation to energy efficiency, only one – nuclear power – declined in popularity over the past year.

Consumer support for clean energy 2009-2013 chart via Navigant Research
Consumer support for clean energy 2009-2013 chart via Navigant Research

This Just In – Renewables Rule

Navigant’s survey is the latest in an annual series dating back to 2009, and surveyed over 1,000 people in representative samples across the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2013. Respondents were asked to share their feelings about each technology and their replies were then compared to previous years to show trends.

Without a doubt, this year’s headline simply reads: renewables rule, especially solar. 79% of respondents favored solar energy, a 10% surge compared to 2012 and just under the all-time high of 81% in 2009. Solar energy also had the lowest unfavorable rating at 6% and the highest “very favorable” rating at 50% – not a surprise if you consider 2013’s record-setting pace for new US solar installations.

Wind energy ranked second overall out of all surveyed technologies, coming in just behind solar in overall favorability (72%), “very favorable” (42%), and unfavorable (7%), despite the controversy over renewing the Production Tax Credit. When combined, these two renewable energy technologies appear to have cemented themselves among Americans. “Consumers consider these renewable energies to be important pieces in the power generation portfolio of the future,” says the survey’s white paper.

Clean Transportation Pulls Ahead

But positive attitudes toward clean energy aren’t just limited to our power sockets – they also extend to our highways and byways. Clean transportation options pulled ahead of the pack in 2013, led by hybrid and electric vehicles.

Hybrid vehicles ranked third in overall favorability with 67% of consumers supporting them, up an incredible 13% from 2012, and third lowest with just an 8% unfavorable response rate. Interestingly, the bulk of unfavorable responses for hybrids came from those with a high school degree or lower education.

While electric vehicles came in just behind hybrids at 61% favorability, they jumped 12% from just a 49% approval rate in just one year, hinting the increasing number of EVs on US roads could be making them more attractive to drivers.

Lack Of Understanding = Lack Of Support

Ironically, the same trend of consumers equating more solar panels and more EVs on the road to higher approval ratings may be the reason smart grid and green building concepts continued to rank poorly.

The concept of a smart grid was viewed favorably by just 37% of respondents, but unfavorably by just 6% of consumers – the same negative rank as solar energy. 57% of consumers said they either didn’t have an opinion or were neutral on smart grid technology, meaning the potential for support exists but educational efforts are lagging by utilities.

Smart meters in particular also showed the same trend as smart grid in general, with 43% viewing them favorable and 10% viewing them unfavorable but 47% saying they were neutral or unfamiliar with the technology.

Consumer awareness of LEED certification chart via Navigant Research
Consumer awareness of LEED certification chart via Navigant Research

This trend was most apparent, however, when it came to LEED certification. A massive 72% of all respondents said they were either unfamiliar (41%) or had no opinion (32%) of green building. While this is somewhat surprising considering green buildings could be half of all US construction by 2016, the potential is still bright considering those who knew about LEED supported it at a 4-to-1 ratio.

Seeing Is Believing For Clean Energy

Navigant’s annual survey generates multiple possibilities in the evolution of consumer support for clean energy technologies, but the underlying story is clear: When people learn about clean tech by seeing it in their everyday lives, they support it in large numbers.

That’s a powerful message to throw back at fossil fuel proponents or poorly informed media reports that argue support for clean energy is a mistake, and is a good omen for our potential to decarbonize and build a sustainable future.

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This article, US Consumer Support For Clean Energy At Highest Level Since 2010, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio MarcacciSilvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Renewable Grid Augmentation, a solution for long-distance transmission leakage?

by John Brian Shannon

Electrical grids perform two main functions. They carry electrical current from the power producer to the end-user and they regulate the electrical current that is being transported through the lines.

On one end of the line, the electrical current might be generated by a hydro-electric dam, coal, nuclear power, or a renewable energy power plant such as wind or solar power. At the other end of the line, the homeowner, business, industry, or government, receives all the AC electricity (Alternating Current) they need at exactly the right voltage (Volts) and cycles per second (Hertz). In North America, this usually works out to 110 (or 120) Volts AC power @ 60 Hertz.

Along the route, through the hundreds or even thousands of miles of high tension lines and towers (called ‘pylons’) significant but naturally-occurringelectrical current losses of up to one-third of the original output are experienced — which must be covered by 1) sending more current than is needed to ensure the required amount reaches the city after the losses are factored in 2) the installation of costly substations, with their hugely expensive transformer systems to recover and re-modulate the current.

Illustration below depicts just one example of the many kinds of current leakage found in all electrical grids, worldwide.

479px-Fluorescent_tube_under_electric_line
A fluorescent tube glows in the electromagnetic field under high tension lines, from so called “navigated voltage” which happens near energized High Voltage wires. Image courtesy of Wikipedia (BaronAlaric).

There are more substations in North America than you can possibly imagine, and these help to regulate the electrical current and manage leakage. Even the tiniest substations cost several million dollars, have an appreciable land footprint, are often located on expensive land next to residential or commercial/industrial areas, and they are hazardous locations for pets and kids who may ‘jump the fence to take a look around.’ I know this, because in my youth this was a favourite pastime, and my friends and I ‘inspected’ entire substations wondering what role each component performed. After lightning storms, we always looked around for pieces of fried metal that we could proudly take home to show Mom.

SOLAR POWER GRID AUGMENTATION

Small-scale solar installations placed along high tension line routes could compensate for current leakages, and add surplus solar power to the grid as the current flows towards the end users.

The land required for such installations would be tiny, and in fact, that land is already bought and paid for (or leased) and this land is known as electrical power transmission company ‘right-of-ways’ wherever the high tension wires and the pylons which support the wires high above the ground, crisscross the countryside.

The next logical step for power producers and their partners the power transmission companies (now that solar panel costs have hit all-time lows) should be the installation of 1MW solar arrays every 50 or 100 miles along high tension wire right-of-ways to compensate for the electrical current that is lost in transit. A tiny substation at each solar array along the routes could transmit the solar generated power directly to the lines in real time, to make up for the electrical current that is normally lost in transit.

As most electricity demand occurs during the daylight hours, solar panels would add power to the grid exactly when it is experiencing its highest rate of electricity demand and leakage.

WIND POWER GRID AUGMENTATION

In Northern latitudes, wind power might be the preferred Grid Augmentation method. Installing a 1MW wind turbine every 50 miles along high tension wire routes would cover existing electrical current leakages, as well as adding surplus power to the grid.

New and sophisticated vertical axis wind turbines could be installed close to existing high-tension lines with no danger of them ever hitting the wires or pylons.

MAKE MINE A MODULAR!

By employing a modular approach to such installations, results could be seen right away, as a new design/engineering/construction method would not required for each installation. We can simply decide to add a 1MW block of solar or wind power every 50 miles (or whatever is required to cover the average current loss per 50 miles) and start pouring the concrete bases to mount the panels or turbines. This is not rocket science, this can be done.

Electrical leakage results in a huge cost to electrical producers, electrical power transmission companies, and especially to end-users. It is a well understood factor in the course of moving electrical power over long distances and merely adding electrical current to the grid at regular intervals — of a kind which has no fuel cost, no production cost, and is not operator-assisted — will solve the problem, completely.

I look forward to new and innovative uses for renewable energy which complement electrical power producers — instead of competing with them. Using renewable energy in this way could make our grids and the huge, otherwise empty tracts of land they occupy, 30% more efficient in less than two years, if we immediately begin to deploy Modular, Renewable, Grid Augmentation.

A smarter grid, courtesy of renewable energy!

 

Related Information is courtesy of Wikipedia:

New Compressed Air Storage Deals Fatal Blow To Zombie Lies About Wind And Solar

by Tina Casey – Special to JBS News

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Isothermal CAES courtesy of SustainX.

We don’t expect the wind and solar naysayers to give up any time soon, but new utility-scale energy storage solutions are beginning to come on line, and they will put to rest this whole notion that intermittent energy sources (namely, wind and solar) can’t provide a significant proportion of reliable power to the national grid.

The latest development comes from a company called SustainX, Inc. The technology is called an isothermal compressed air energy storage system, and since we’ve been following its progress for the past several years we’re happy to tell you that SustainX has completed construction of its first utility scale system. It was hooked up to the grid earlier this month and it’s now in the process of revving up to speed.

An Isothermal Compressed Air Energy Storage System

We first took note of SustainX back in 2009, when it spun out of Dartmouth College. The goal was to store four megawatt-hours worth of energy in transportable 40-foot long containers, while achieving a 70% reduction in the amount of energy needed for conventional compressed air energy storage (CAES) systems.

Last year, the company took a big leap forward by entering a technology licensing agreement with the University of Minnesota.

Isothermal refers to storage of compressed air at a constant temperature, which is a key element in the improved energy efficiency of the system.

The new SustainX CAES system is located in New Hampshire, at the SustainX headquarters. As SustainX describes it, the new system represents a next-generation improvement over earlier CAES systems dating back to the 1970′s which typically are located underground and run on fossil fuel.

The SustainX system was designed to run on grid-supplied electricity, so depending on the local grid mix it can potentially run exclusively on emission free sources including wind and solar. That also means that it is not dependent on caves or other geological quirks for site selection.

Some patented, cutting edge tweaks by SustainX make all the difference, but other than that, the entire system consists of practically nothing but steel, water, and air. Here’s how it works:

A mechanical drivetrain utilizes an electric machine and a crankshaft…This efficient mechanical link powers a two-stage, mixed-phase (water-in-air) heat-transfer process within pneumatic cylinders. During piston strokes, water is sprayed into the air-filled chamber of each cylinder, allowing heat to be transferred from water to air during expansion or from air to water during compression. The same ICAES power unit provides both isothermal compression and expansion, eliminating the cost of separate compressor and expander subsystems.

We Built This CAES!

If the new facility proves successful we taxpayers can all do a group hug because SustainX received a $5.4 million award from the Department of Energy to help accelerate the project, as part of the Obama Administration’s Smart Grid initiatives.

The project, which also includes private sector investors, appears to be on track. Completion of the test phase  is due by the end of this year and a final technology report is due in 2015.

CAES and other new storage technologies fit into the Smart Grid concept partly by eliminating the need to construct new peaking plants. Peaking plants, which typically run on natural gas, are designed to come on line quickly to address demand spikes, but most of the time they sit idle, which means that they are a very expensive way to provide for variations in local energy consumption to say nothing of their dependence on fossil fuel sources.

In terms of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE, not to be confused with EROI), a mechanically simple system like the SustainX solution has some clear advantages over building new peaking plants, including the potential for far lower operating, maintenance and repair costs in addition to lower fuel costs.

In the past, CAES systems were primarily sited to take advantage of caves and other geological quirks, so the Smart Grid goal of developing more geographically flexible, above ground systems is also critical if CAES is to play a major role in the national grid.

The Future Of CAES

Coincidentally, just last month CleanTechnica covered a new report by the consulting firm Navigant, which predicted a burst of growth in the CAES market as new technologies climb out of the R&D stage including scalable, modular systems.

In that regard, we’re following a company called LightSail, which has developed an energy efficient, mist-cooled system that enables above-ground storage. Last we heard, LightSail had secured $5.5 million in private funding for its CAES project from A-list investors including Bill Gates and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

The underground storage approach is also still worthy of development in certain regions, as evidenced by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has been researching the potential for storing compressed air in porous rocks in the Northwest.

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This article, New Compressed Air Storage Deals Fatal Blow To Zombie Lies About Wind And Solar, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Tina Casey Tina 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+.