alternative energy

Biodiesel industry keeps rolling

Rich Gillis is selling his biodiesel plant.

But Gillis, president and chief executive of Watsonville, Calif.-based Energy Alternative Solutions Inc., intends to stay in the business. Once the sale is complete, he plans to focus on development of marketable biofuel crops like camelina, which requires very little water and has been grown successfully in the San Joaquin Valley.

"Biodiesel is taking off," he says. And camelina, which is harvested for its seeds, has a bright part in that future, he adds.
The biodiesel business certainly isn't putting the petroleum companies out of business. In fact, the market remains relatively limited with most sales going to fleets or established customers. However, its niche is extensive with more than 600 fleets using biodiesel blends in their vehicles and the military testing it as a 50 percent additive to jet fuel.

Gillis says he sees the fuel as an intermediary that will serve to ease dependence on petroleum until a substitute can be found. And that may take awhile.

The EPA has forecast through its Renewable Fuel Standard program a target of about 1 billion gallons of biomass-produced biodiesel this year. In 2006, 250 million gallons were sold, with more than 900 million projected to sell in 2011.

The EPA says biodiesel can help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and provide greenhouse gas emission reductions: "It reduces emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and sulfates, as well as hydrocarbon and air toxics emissions."

Derek Mead of greentechmedia.com calls biodiesel the workhorse of the biofuel sector. He writes that the "market is projected to continue to increase production and is still a stable sector."

Gillis' plant, which sits near the central coast in Gonzales, Calif. just south of Salinas on Highway 101, recycled 150,000 pounds of waste vegetable oil into biodiesel each week and has been on line since 2007. Over its history, the plant has produced more than 1 million gallons.

Biodiesel can be produced from vegetable oils, animal fats and used restaurant grease.

Gillis says the plant was built by Pacific Biodiesel, headquartered on Maui, Hawaii. "They are one of the oldest producers of biodiesel fuel and production plant builders in the country," he says.

Gillis says he'd like to see the plant bought and relocated to the nearby San Joaquin Valley where it would be close potential fields. He says "parties interested in relocating the plant to the San Joaquin Valley will be given a credit with a cap for the cost of disassembly and transport of the plant."

Gillis says that although a $1 per gallon tax credit wasn't renewed by Congress, renewable fuel credits are available through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "and remain an excellent source of support for producers of biodiesel. Cap and trade will also have a positive effect on the industry."

The tax incentive was enacted in 2004 as part of the American Jobs Creation Act and expired at the close of 2009.

The National Biodiesel Board says the industry generates substantial economic benefits. In 2008, the U.S. biodiesel industry supported 51,893 jobs, added $4.287 billion to the economy, and generated $866.2 million in tax revenue, it says.

Gillis says the elimination of the tax credit either eliminated or temporarily shuttered about half the jobs in biodiesel.

Gillis believes in biofuels and would like to see more jobs developed. He'd also like to find a buyer for his plant -- although he may have a line on it with a couple interested parties. He's got a list of the equipment for those who would like to know more. Price is negotiable, the list says.

California utility gears up for alternative energy

The Modesto Irrigation District is gearing up for clean energy in a big way and is closing in on its mandated California renewables requirement.

The small central California utility has built a modern power plant that has the flexibility to support the more sporadic energy generation supplied by the region's wind turbines and solar installations.

"Our projected 2012 green energy mix is 26 percent wind and 2 percent other green resources," says Melissa Williams, MID spokeswoman.

Williams says the "other" category includes Fiscalini Farms’ methane gas digester, which powers the specialty cheesemaker's operation and about 300 homes, and solar.

MID supplies power to an area dominated by Modesto, the largest of its communities with a population of about 201,000. Its service area includes smaller communities of Salida, Empire, Waterford, Mountain House and parts of LaGrange, Riverbank, Ripon, Escalon and Oakdale.

Williams says MID has "actively pursued and procured green energy" to comply with California’s mandated renewable energy portfolio standard of 33 percent renewables by 2020. Other utilities in California, including Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison and Sacramento Metropolitan Utilities District, also are vigorously pursuing the clean energy requirement.

The goal doesn't come easy. Renewable energy to a large degree energizes the electrical grid only when the sun shines or the wind blows. Only hydropower and geothermal can be regulated more like plants fired either by fossil fuels or nuclear fission.

MID built its Woodland 3 Reciprocating Engines Generation Plant with six 20-cylinder Wartsila 34SG units that operate on natural gas. Helsinki, Finland-based Wartsila Corp. says it specializes in technological innovation and efficiency.

Williams says the 49.6 megawatt power plant "provides us with flexible, economical, clean and fast-starting peaking generation to balance and back up our green energy resources like wind and solar." She says the Wartsila engines can run at 50 percent capacity with very little loss of fuel efficiency, and the plant can ramp up half an engine at a time to fill in any gaps in wind and solar generation.

The concept is to ensure adequate power for MID's customers. Williams also says the plant is quiet and that the facility has advanced emission controls and very low water use.

"The Wartsila units will be the backstop for MID, helping us maintain reliable, dependable service to our customers even with the substantial influx of non-traditional, intermittent resources like wind and solar," says Richard Smith, the utility's project manager for the Woodland 3 Project, in a statement.

Williams also notes that her utility's overall 2012 projected power mix includes 10 percent hydro, most of which comes from its Don Pedro powerhouse at Don Pedro Reservoir. The project is shared with the nearby Turlock Irrigation District.

The hydropower doesn’t count as green in California.

There's a big rush in California by solar operators. A recent look at a list supplied by the California Public Utilities Commission shows dozens of installations proposed.

Many come online with very little fanfare. For instance a 45-megawatt plant just opened in Avenal in PG&E territory. And more are coming. The community of Corcoran plans to lease land for a 15 megawatt plant near its waste water treatment plant, for example.

Williams says the economy is playing a role. 

"Some are making small energy efficiency home improvements, but with the depreciation of home values many are hesitant to move forward with more expensive energy efficiency measures," she says.

Yet, Williams says MID has seen steady interest in solar and strong commitments from its commercial and industrial customers to make energy efficiency retrofits and pursuing more sustainable policies similar to the model set by leaders like Wal-Mart.

Photo: Courtesy MID 2004 annual report.

Vegas ought to bet on clean energy

Spending time in Vegas gave me an opportunity, yet again, to experience the power of the almighty dollar.

But it's not the gambling I'm referring to. Although the din of the slots, cries of anguish at the craps games and cool stares from packed blackjack tables are something to behold.

No, it's the Vegas thirst for electrical power that gets me thinking. Massive voltage travels from the grid into the various mini cities on the Strip -- like the new Palazzo resort hotel, which with the Venetian has about 8,000 rooms. That energy flows into the MGM Grand, Caesar's Palace, the Flamingo and all the rest. Just the air conditioning bill would crush a third-world country. Toss in the rest of the operations, high-definition billboards and lighting that can be seen from the space shuttle, and it's enough to keep Nevada Power Co. one of the most stable and profitable investments of all time.

But imagine this: What if Vegas went big for alternative energy and energy efficiency? It's a risk, sure. But where else can you bet on a Wizard of Oz slot, get beer delivered and take a leak just 10 paces away? Vegas thrives on risk.

And while energy efficiency retrofits have proved their value, renewables still have a way to go. For instance, Forbes' Devon Swezey predicts a clean tech crash. "The reason is simple," Swezey writes. "Clean energy is still much more expensive and less reliable than coal or gas."

And the economy bites, subsidies are dying and public sector budgets look like a two-egg breakfast left overnight outside in the hall at the Paris. So what?

That's really not what's driving the industry right now. For instance, go outside on the Strip in Vegas and breathe the air. Accompanying the constant stale stench of fried food, ambiance of public urination, sweat and other gross stuff is a good dose of pollution. That isn't fresh air. And it isn't just Vegas.

The truth is the air is nasty in most big cities. Sure, beautiful Fresno has some of the worst. I was introduced to asthma here. Nothing like it, especially on a long run. Might as well get punched in the face. There's a cost to that. Coal and gas may be cheap per kilowatt, but that energy becomes very costly just multiplied by 100 million people trouping into pharmacies for treatment of allergy-related ailments.

And then there's the whole carbon debate. Fox News may try to sidestep the issue, but it's pretty clear we've got a serious problem.

"Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act," says Al Gore in a piece for Rolling Stone.

I tend to believe it. And I'm not the only one.

Tom Daykin of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal writes about Fritz Kreiss and Catherine McQueen, whose 19-room Green Leaf Inn in rural Delavan, Wisc. uses a wind turbine, geothermal energy and solar power to produce a nonexistent carbon footprint.

And tax and audit company KPMG LLP has announced it leveraged a 22 percent carbon reduction in overall operations over three years. That's KPMG, hardly a tree-hugging hippy, and its pursuing a plan to improve the environmental performance of its business.

I collected a relatively long list, but I'll keep this rant somewhat short.

So where else but Vegas would clean energy be better showcased? A silly town in the desert nobody thought would be successful. Heck, if that were the case, it really would've dried up during this "recession." But no, the World Series of Poker was a huge success this year, and people flocked despite unreal dinner prices.

So dress that next casino hotel resort with solar panels, tap some geothermal and go LED crazy. Yeah, in Vegas baby.

Energy efficiency scores big, and there's growth on horizon

An increasing number of public and private organizations are realizing the importance of energy savings and picking up on the philosophy pioneered in 1970s California by the Godfather of Green, Art Rosenfeld.

While Rosenfeld, a nuclear physicist and California energy commissioner, started the movement that saved the state having to build many new electricity generating facilities, he's no longer the Lone Ranger.

For instance, the Manteca Unified School District reportedly shaved $2.2 million from its energy bill over 19 months through energy efficiency.

DTE Energy, which operates Detroit Edison, reported that its energy efficiency programs saved customers $31 million in 2010 with lifetime savings estimated to be about $520 million.

And 16 members of the American Chemistry Council saved enough BTUs through energy efficiency measures in 2010 to power all the homes in a city the size of Akron, Ohio, for one year.

To quote Donald Trump: "That's huge."

Energy efficiency operates through a simple premise: install devices that use less power to save energy and, more importantly, money. Another benefit is a reduced greenhouse gas footprint. But that benefit is more esoteric and generally lost on Joe Consumer, especially with fuel prices taking an extra share of his resources.

Many of the cities and counties we're working with at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization are doing the same thing. Although the only recognition they're likely to get is whatever I write in this post and others that follow.

One of them, the City of Delano recently purchased 250 ecostrips for employee work stations. These power strips enable workers to turn off various electronic devices when not in use to reduce what many in the business call "vampire" power. This siphons off electricity for unneeded functions.

According to my calculations, which show the average ecostrip can save about 12 percent of energy used, the savings for Delano can save about 36,180 kWh a year. Not bad for something that costs $24.95. The project is just the start, and the city has much more planned.

And Tulare County, which is gearing up to launch an $826,000 energy efficiency lighting upgrade of about 17 of its buildings, could rack up savings of about 900,000 kWh. And that's just by replacing light fixtures and bulbs.

In fact, SJVCEO's work with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which includes Tulare County and 35 other jurisdictions, amounts to potential savings of 5.5 million kWh. The savings on electricity bills and in CO2 should be noticeable.

When I started working for this organization about a year and a half ago, energy efficiency hardly seemed tangible. Sure, I knew about using less power. In fact, I had nothing but a swamp cooler in my home despite summer temperatures in the Valley pushing past 100 degrees 40 to 50 days a year. Evaporative coolers use a fraction of the power an AC unit does.

And I knew about turning off lights. My father, the light cop, also wouldn't turn on the furnace until the mud puddles outside started to freeze at night.

But my experience working with utility and state engineers on energy audits and my own research has shown what an important role energy efficiency can play on a national scale. Buildings use an estimated 80 percent of the nation's generated power.

Cut that by a third, and dividends come not only in reduced emissions but in national security. Less reliance on imported energy means less exposure to fluctuations in oil prices.

Extending that argument into renewable energy further bolsters the national security benefit while reducing pollution.

Some of the biggest drivers in this sector are institutions of higher learning.

For instance, universities in the Big 10 purchased 256.6 million kWh of green power in the 2010-2011 academic year, earning a first-place conference ranking in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's College and University Green Power Challenge. The University of Pennsylvania in the Ivy League won for best individual college with 200.2 million kWh purchased.

Gazing into my imaginary crystal ball, I see energy efficiency gaining increased importance on all fronts. Yet, I also see people responding more favorably to renewable energy, especially as prices for alternatives drop. If solar does become economically favorable even without subsidies, the decentralized power generation system envisioned by Al Weinrub will become a game changer.

And I see the EPA's annual greenhouse gas inventory gaining importance. The recently released 16th annual report shows a 6.1 percent decline in overall emissions for 2009, largely due to a stalled economy.

Perhaps in a few years, that decline will be attributed to efficiencies and alternatives.

Photo: Pre energy efficiency at old Lathrop School. Courtesy Manteca Unified School District.

Earth Day: Don't mind the maggots

OK, OK. So I used a Rolling Stones "Some Girls" reference in the headline.

But my point is -- if I have one -- that on the eve of Earth Day 2011, debate over the environment appears as contentious as ever. For instance, on the late-night lineup of cable channel ABC Family, the Rev. Pat Robertson appeared questioning climate change as junk science. (My son had it tuned to the channel.)

Really? Pat Robertson? (He's still alive?) I shouldn't be surprised. The brutal economic downturn and televised armed conflict invading American living rooms on a daily basis have most of the country on edge. Politics is more heated than ever.

Environmental protections, climate change and clean energy look like luxuries easily jettisoned by people more interested in keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. There's no fault in taking advantage of unease to push political agenda. Heck, leverage is the American way.

Yet, the issue transcends the conservative-liberal divide. Clean energy is not limited to the granola-crunching Sierra Club member anymore. Wal-Mart is a huge proponent of sustainability and renewable energy. And Raytheon Co. just won an Energy Star Award for Sustained Excellence from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for "reducing energy intensity by 3 percent in 2010 and by 22 percent since 2007" and cutting more than 2 million kWh in 2010.

That's right, Raytheon, the Waltham, Mass.-based defense contractor that produces "missiles, smart munitions, close in weapons systems, projectiles, kinetic kill vehicles and directed energy effectors for the armed forces of the U.S. and other allied nations," according to yahoo.com finance.

Soon, I believe, a lot more of this clean energy stuff will make sense to J.Q. Public. Already, energy efficiency is moving into the corner hardware store in the form of light-emitting diode and compact fluorescent technology and programmable thermostats. Heating and air conditioning companies are even getting into the solar mode, advertising exactly what it would cost the consumer to install 10 modules.

Honest. In the Fresno Bee, which I still read despite being a casualty of its shrinking newsroom, an ad showed a system for $12,000. Tax incentives and rebates drop that by about $4,000, according to the company. That's approachable pricing, especially with summer AC power drains coming up.

On earthday.org, the site is trying to get people, organizations and corporations to embrace its "A Billion Acts of Green" campaign. The idea -- to pledge to live and act sustainably -- has reportedly received 45 million "actions" to date and seeks to register 1 billion in advance of the Earth Summit in Rio in 2012.

And why not? Many of these cost nothing.

For instance, T. Boone Pickens went big for wind power and now is investing in natural gas, joining with investment group Perseus in a $160 million deal to build a natural gas powered vehicle, according to a story by Katie Fehrenbacher at earth2tech.com.

Natural gas is abundant. We've got a lot of it up on Alaska's North Slope (just wait for Sarah Palin to start talking about the gas pipeline) and huge domestic reserves in the Lower 48 that can be accessed by the increasingly controversial method of hydraulic fracturing.

There may be traction on the natural gas front soon. Deirdre Shesgreen reported in ctmirror.org that Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., is working with Pickens to "promote legislation that would provide billions of dollars in tax incentives to spur the development and purchase of natural gas vehicles."

One of the first goals of the bill, dubbed the NAT GAS Act, should it pass would be to drive development of commercial trucks away from diesel and into the fold. But expect more stations around the country offering the fuel and more natural gas powered Honda Civics using them.

"It's abundant, it's accessible, it's American," Shesgreen quoted Larson as saying. "The events in the Middle East and the events that have happened tragically in Japan only further underscore the urgency behind this."

Ah yes. Security. There's the immediacy. Pickens also touts energy independence. Just check out his Pickens Plan website.

Advances also are being made in algae fuel, cellulosic ethanol and isobutanol. None of this should be partisan. It's just really interesting and could pay off with huge dividends.

And by dividends, I mean jobs.

That's what it's all about. Opportunity in this industry for me is personal. We're working to assist teachers to train the next generation for jobs in clean energy through the Valley Legacy Grant. The resources come from the Workforce Investment Act. I'd like to see the kids from rural San Joaquin Valley communities with 20-plus percent jobless rates get a leg up in a growing industry. For more, check out our site, http://www.wiasjvceo/.

But to get there, this nation's gotta chill on the rhetoric. And it comes from both sides. I can rip on the Republicans, but the greenies do the same thing.

In a story on Huffington Post by Brenden DeMelle, executive director of desmogblog.com, about climate-related dangers of methane emissions from shale gas fracking, a commenter who goes by the name gdauth provided perspective. DeMelle called his post "Highway to Hell," and I do appreciate the AC/DC Bon Scott reference.

"Let's see," writes gdauth. "Can't use natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear, hydro; what is left? Wind? Nope can't use that it kills birds. Geothermal­? Don't have any in Florida. How about solar? The Chinese own all the factories, besides a hail storm and a tornado wiped out the solar farm that looks like h*** anyway. Besides the Chinese own all of the battery factories so what o we do at night? I guess I will go home to my cardboard box under the bridge and cook my spam over a candle."

Yep, take a bite of the big apple. Just don't mind the maggots. It's a big issue and maybe we'll figure out how to get it all down.

Photo: Courtesy earthday.org

Carmaker GM To Invest Millions in Green Technology


General Motors, the iconic car maker that is getting a do-over with a new IPO, is also going to be a large investor in green technology.

The company said today that it will invest $40 million in programs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Among the possibilities: energy-efficient technology such as smart energy sensors and solar panels to schools and other community-based facilities; wind and solar farms; capturing flammable methane from landfills to deliver clean energy; and forestry projects.


Chevy, which has introduced the Volt electric car, says it wants to set an example for other businesses, according to this story in The Sacramento Bee.







Biofuel & batteries bolster Golden State

Manufacturers of sorghum biofuel, electric trucks and lithium-ion battery packs are among eight to receive about $9.6 million in grants from California, reportedly producing a potential 2,500 jobs.

The money comes from the California Energy Commission's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Transportation program and is reported to be beefed up with $11,969,855 in private funds.

Energy Commissioner Anthony Eggert said in statement the idea is to tap partnerships to rebuild California's manufacturing base. The projects, he said, "will improve California's economy and its environment by fostering green, clean advancements in transportation."

The projects include:

Great Valley Energy LLC gets about $2 million to test sweet sorghum as a biofuel crop. The salt-tolerant crop needs one-third less water than cotton or corn and can yield as much ethanol per bushel as corn. Match funding of about $2 million will help install a pilot sorghum separation and testing facility in Hanford. "If the testing is successful, the team will consider building smaller-scale ethanol plants distributed across the Valley to be close to the sorghum fields to lower transportation costs," officials said. Each of the commercial refineries could create an additional 20 jobs. By 2020, Great Valley Energy estimates it could have 15 small dispersed plants. Total annual production would be more than 47 million gallons.


TransPower, based in Escondido, Calif., gets $1 million to study the feasibility of manufacturing large electric-drive trucks in or near San Pedro by 2013. "By combining several processes and companies under one roof, the (facility) would combine the building of components like advanced converters or battery modules with their assembly into electric drive systems. These would then be installed on-site into mass-produced truck bodies made elsewhere," officials said. The private match is another million, with a goal of 2,500 trucks by 2020, creating 1,500 high-paying jobs.

San Francisco-based Mission Motor Co. gets $505,381 to help produce prototype electric vehicle components for commercial production of electric motorcycles, scooters, cars, buses and even outdoor power equipment. Match funding is $623,581. The money will help create an assembly facility in downtown San Francisco that should be capable of producing 30,000 battery packs and motor control systems each year by 2015 and creating as many as 100 jobs.

Alameda County-based Electric Leyden Energy Inc. gets $2.96 million to help it "create a production line capable assembling its lithium ion cells into 10 battery packs per month for its partner in the project, electric vehicle manufacturer Green Vehicles of Salinas," officials said. The two companies will match the funding. The project will create 11 jobs immediately, with another 500 anticipated.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System gets $500,000 to help speed refueling its growing fleet of compressed natural gas-powered buses with larger, higher capacity fueling compressors. The Federal Transit Administration will provide about $1.2 million.

The City of San Jose gets $1.9 million to build a new system that turns trash into natural gas for transportation fuel. Match is $4,214,624 to create a facility to produce methane at the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant. The fuel could save the city $450,000 a year by using natural gas in its vehicles. The project would create about 15 construction jobs and an undetermined number of workers needed to operate the plant.

East Bay Municipal Utility District gets $1 million to make an estimated 300,000 gallons of biodiesel each year at its wastewater treatment plant in Oakland. "The process will utilize waste fats, oils and grease, a feedstock that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 88 percent compared to regular diesel," officials said. Match is $1,575,000.

Western States Oil Co. gets $69,233 to the to convert an 8,000-gallon retail gasoline tank into one that can dispense wholesale biodiesel. "Because the tank is immediately adjacent to the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Terminal in San Jose, delivery trucks leaving the terminal will be able to easily access the biofuel," officials said.

Photo: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics Sorghum field.

Is filling up with algae fuel a decade away?

The prospect of tapping pond scum for fuel may not be so far off.

While significant hurdles remain -- algae-produced fats aren't as readily transformed into energy as, say, Texas tea -- many have joined the pursuit of commercialization and a recent study says plants could come on line in the next four to six years producing product competitive with conventional fuels.

Imagine driving down to the corner quick-rip grocer and filling it up with a little homegrown green.

A decade from now that might be possible.

Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research reports that by 2020, "production of biofuels derived from crude algae oil will reach 61 million gallons per year." Writers of the Pike Research report, industry analyst Mackinnon Lawrence and Pike President Clint Wheelock acknowledged the amount was "barely a drop in the bucket for biofuels" but said the potential production would represent a market value of $1.3 billion.

Cruise the online data provided by Oilgae, a biofuels support organization based in India, and you'll start believing the hype. The industry-supported research group reported that significant investments into the sector have come from Exxon Mobile, Shell, BP and even Bill Gates. Oilgae calls algae "the only biofuel that can completely replace fossil fuels."

The Associated Press reported this week that South San Francisco-based Solazyme recently sold the U.S. Navy 150,000 gallons of algae-produced fuel for testing in ships and jets and that the company received a $21.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a refinery in Riverside, Penn.

Algae definitely has its supporters. Rachel Ehrenberg of sciencenews.org reported earlier this year that microalgae "have become a fledgling favorite in the renewable energy sector."

In January, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $44 million in funding for the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts. Led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo., the organization will seek to develop a method for commercializing algae-derived biofuel and related products. The agency is hedging its bets in the biofuels realm, giving $33.8 million to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to investigate and develop processing options for other types of "advanced biofuels."

Lawrence and Wheelock of Pike Research say the ultimate threat comes from over-hype. The industry, they say, lacks large-scale projects to substantiate claims and needs significant investment to reach widespread
commercialization. "If early-mover companies and pilot projects run into serious setbacks, expect a retrenchment among private capital interests," the researchers say.

In the renewables pantheon, biofuels, mostly developed from corn in this country, often get the sideways glance. They require energy to produce, still must be burned and because of that create greenhouse gasses. On the plus side, they aren't foreign oil.

U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a steady increase in domestic biofuels consumption, following current trends. The agency projects the strongest growth for renewable fuels used to generate electricity and those used in the transportation sector, citing programs like the federal renewable fuels standard. "Although fossil fuels continue to provide most of the energy consumed in the United States over the next 25 years ..., their share of overall energy use falls from 84 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in 2035," the agency said.

The Renewable Fuels Association in its 2010 outlook said that despite economic challenges, the U.S. ethanol industry has continued to expand. Production in 2009 reached an estimated 10.6 billion gallons, helping "support nearly 400,000 jobs in all sectors of the economy."

The association's outlook said "no fewer than 28 advanced biofuel companies are currently developing the much-needed technologies that will greatly expand ethanol production." Those facilities under development represent more than 170 million gallons of production and much more if they prove commercially successful, the report said.

The association said many employ cellulosic and advanced biofuel technologies and "hold the promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 100 percent compared to gasoline."

Ehrenberg of sciencenews.org highlighted the research of a team from University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which examined the energy costs and environmental impacts of producing algae for fuel. The team, she wrote, found that "algae farms must minimize use of fertilizer and freshwater to compete with other biofuel plants."

Ehrenberg said the team suggested a solution would be placing algae operations next to "wastewater treatment plants or facilities that emit carbon dioxide."

Makes sense. I recall the "septic system" at our first place in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1969 was a pit in a tree-studded section of tundra. Great place for growing single-celled pond scum back then.

Now? Who knows?

California's green power movement flexes muscles

California's standing as the nation's clean energy leader received more than a boost of federal cash this week.

Programs by Intel Corp. and San Francisco to purchase energy from renewable sources won national recognition by federal regulators while $300 million in federal funding went to improve and green up aging water and wastewater infrastructure and fund energy efficiency improvements. Cities with projects include Fresno, Merced, Atwater and Tehachapi in the San Joaquin Valley.

The cash will "create jobs now when we need them the most,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement.

Recognition also may serve to bolster the fast and furious growth of the state's clean energy movement. Santa Clara-based chip maker Intel and the green-thinking City by the Bay were among 18 big electricity consumers to get kudos from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership program. Both were recognized at the Renewable Energy Markets Conference this week in Portland, Ore. Other honorees include a New Haven, Conn. printer, global financial services provider BNY Mellon, Kohl’s Department Stores, Motorola and Whole Foods Market.

“We applaud the leadership shown by San Francisco and Intel by ditching polluting power sources and switching to green power,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, in a statement. “Their responsible energy should be a model for all cities and corporations in the fight to solve climate change.”

San Francisco nabbed an EPA Leadership Award for generating its own green power -- more than 25 million kilowatt-hours from solar and biogas. This augments 1.7 billion kilowatt hours of energy the city generates each year through its Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System.

“San Francisco’s commitment to clean energy is producing green jobs and real benefits for our city today,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom called economic advantages of a green economy "very tangible."

Each week appears to bring another announcement of something big in the state -- not to mention elsewhere in the country. In fact, Monday, on the heels of a University of California Merced report that says clean energy could produce 100,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley, came the Southern California Edison announcement that a solar power plant being built near Porterville will create about 125 construction jobs.

The solar array of 29,400 panels is being built on 32 acres of city land next to the Porterville airport. It will generate enough electricity to power 4,000 houses in the area.

This trend could continue. Imagine an increasing number of homes and businesses with solar panels all contributing to a smart electrical grid, generating more power than regional plants. Coupled with fewer fossil-fuel needs, the air could clear.

Innovation is moving forward. Algae may provide fuels and electricity, solar generation could move to any surface imaginable and scientists may still find a way to tap into celestial energy. Of course, pigs could fly. But I prefer the optimistic approach. Offshore wind, for instance, was once a far-fetched idea that's now taking hold off Nantucket and in Lake Erie, not to mention many other locations.

Even oil companies are switching their stance, evolving into energy companies with investments that back up the subtle name/image change.

Whether that translates to tangible jobs remains to be seen.

Newsom is sold on the concept. "We can feel the effects of clean energy in the air we breath; with each solar panel, day-by-day, we’re fueling San Francisco’s transformation into a green economy powered by increasingly clean, renewable energy,” he said.

EPA's profile of Intel provides a clue to corporate America's role. It is one of only 10 organizations in the country to receive the agency's Leadership Award for green power purchases. Intel purchases more than 1.4 billion kilowatt-hours of green power annually, more than 50 percent of its electricity consumption.

Said Marty Sedler, Intel's director of global utilities and infrastructure: “It’s good for our shareholders, customers, employees and the environment.”

A recent report by San Francisco-based Clean Edge Inc. listed California just ahead of Massachusetts in a study listing the top clean energy states. It listed innovation in multiple sectors as a key to developing a green economy. And in another report, the group showed that money invested in clean energy is a good call, creating "two to four jobs for every one job created if the money were spent on fossil fuel industries."

Pushing forward, renewables face gray areas. The future isn't straightforward. A report last year by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory exploring supply and demand for green energy said it's a mixed bag with some oversaturation. "If trends hold, renewable energy deficits are projected for New England, New York, and the Mid-Atlantic areas, with notable surpluses in the Midwest, the Heartland, Texas, and the West," it says.

That just means more need to adopt the concept that green energy is a good thing. Heck, energy independence could be an offshoot. You never know.

Biggest Solar Plant Approved in California


The approval of a solar thermal plant by the California Energy Commission is the latest in a string of similar proposals that, if developed, could deliver more than 1,500 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 1.5 million homes.

Energy commissioners just licensed the Blythe Solar Power Project a concentrated solar thermal electric-generating facility with four adjacent and identical solar plants of 250 megawatt each that could produce up to 1,000 megawatts.


Todd Woody, in this New York Times blog, calls it the world's largest solar thermal plant.

The project, which still awaits major financing, would use arrays of parabolic mirrors, similar to those in the photo, collect heat energy from the sun to create steam and then energy. The site is about two miles north of U.S. Interstate-10 and eight miles west of the City of Blythe in an unincorporated area of Riverside County.


The total area that will be disturbed by project construction and operation will be about 7,030 acres. The area inside the project's security fence, within which all project facilities will be located, will occupy approximately 5,950 acres.


That's big. And Woody noted that an additional 2,829 megawatts of solar power is on the drawing boards and facing at Dec. 31 approval deadline. We've written about some of that here.






Water Conference Planned For Tulare



The state of water in the Central Valley, current and proposed policies and renewable energy generation will be among the topics when Southern California Edison hosts a water conference Sept. 29 in Tulare.

The event will be from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. at SCE's Agriculture Technology Application Center (AgTAC).

Speakers will include California Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare; Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Authority; and Cynthia Truelove, senior water policy analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.

Truelove will be the luncheon speaker. Her topic: "Emerging Policy Frontiers in the Water and Energy Nexus: From Renewable Energy to Funding Innovation in the Water/Wastewater Sector."

Breakout sessions in the afternoon will focus on renewable energy generation. Electric utility incentives, agricultural efficiency, cool planet projects and energy partnerships will be among the topics.

For more information or to register call 1-800-772-4822 or 559-625-7126. Online registration is at www.sce.com/workshops.

Renewables win 2, lose 1

Renewable energy in California took some punches to the gut and scored some victories some this week and last.

On the upside, the California Public Utilities Commission appears poised to launch an incentive program meant to boost renewable energy projects and San Luis Obispo County moved the 250 megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch a big step forward by issuing a draft environmental impact report.

On the downside, the California Legislature failed to pass a renewable energy bill and the industry still faces the potential passage of Prop. 23, which would roll back 2006 climate change laws.

The proposed CPUC decision issued this week would require California utilities to purchase power from solar and other renewables that produce from one megawatt to 20 megawatts. A megawatt is about the amount consumed by 1,000 homes.

The measure would establish what is known in the industry as a feed-in tariff, which essentially gives renewable energy generators about what it costs to produce power.

Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, hailed the CPUC decision. He said in a statement that the proposed measure would assist mid-sized solar projects, helping them secure support similar to the state's "robust policies for developing large, utility-scale solar power plants and for putting smaller systems on homes and businesses."

Browning said his organization looks forward to working with the CPUC to finalize details of the measure.

The "CPUC proposal is designed to unlock that missing piece, providing an additional opportunity for solar market and job growth and for quickly bringing massive new amounts of clean energy to the state,” he said.

The San Luis solar project is bound for 1,900 acres in the Carrizo Plains, an environmentally sensitive region known for endangered wildlife. Eric Wesoff of greentechmedia.com wrote that the environmental impact report, or EIR, involved 60 biologists and 30 biological surveys.

The EIR goes through a public comment period before heading back to county government for possible passage. Wesoff said trucks commissioned by developer San Jose-based SunPower could begin rolling by next summer.

The renewable energy bill ran out of time in the senate by the midnight deadline Tuesday. SB 722 would have turned an executive order signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger last year requiring that 33 percent of California's energy come from renewable sources by 2020 into law.

The failure disappointed supporters. Lauren Sommer of kqed.org quoted Laura Wisland, a clean energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, as saying, "We think not establishing a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard this year is a huge loss to California's environment and economy."

Algae research taps electricity, fuel

Algae is more than just pond scum.

It's a potential power source. The green glop that forms in fetid pools and in nutrient soaked ground fed by overflowing septic systems increasingly is being investigated for properties beyond the "ugh" factor.

At Stanford University, a team of scientists has figured a way to extract a tiny portion of electrical current from algae cells. Gwyneth Dickey at the Stanford News Service wrote that the team was "able to draw from each cell just one picoampere, an amount of electricity so tiny that they would need a trillion cells photosynthesizing for one hour just to equal the amount of energy stored in a AA battery."

The power comes from photosynthesis, the process through which a plant converts sunlight to energy.

Dickey quoted WonHyoung Ryu, the lead author of the paper published in the March issue of Nano Letters, as saying he believes the Stanford team is the first to extract electrons from living plant cells. However, Ryu said there is a long way to go to put such power generation to any commercial use. "We're still in the scientific stages," he said.

However, in Nano Letters, he offered a more effusive account: "This result may represent an initial step in generating 'high efficiency' bioelectricity by directly harvesting high energy photosynthetic electrons."

University of California, Merced graduate student Patrick Wiley is also investigating the power potential of algae.

Wiley will work in Santa Cruz cultivating algae in ocean-floating bags and with a University of California, Berkeley group also developing ways to generate power with algae.

Here's what Elliott told us in a past post: "The synergistic opportunity that is most apparent to me for the Valley is between wastewater and algae biofuels. Finding cost-effective ways to produce algae biofuels is a real challenge. The San Joaquin Valley may be a good place to think about economic solutions where existing algae wastewater ponds can be combined with algae biofuels production."

And last month, Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research said algae is among the substances being investigated with "significant investments" for commercial production of cellulosic ethanol.

Research into algae, especially as it relates to biofuels, has been going on for years and is expected to continue. UC Berkeley Professor Kris Niyogi said the amount of energy required to produce fuel from algae is an important question, as it is for any type of alternative energy.

"Inevitably, there are going to be energy inputs that are necessary to produce a fuel from algae, just as there are for other biofuels, such as corn ethanol," he said in an interview with Nova on PBS last year. "For algae, energy will be needed to build the ponds or photobioreactors, to mix the water and provide carbon dioxide and other nutrients, to harvest and concentrate the algal cells from large volumes of water, and to make and transport the biodiesel product.

"I don't think there is a clear answer yet for algae. A lot of engineers are hard at work trying to minimize the energy inputs and maximize the net energy output."

Photo: Courtesy Wilson Lab at Auburn University.

Will clean energy dump the perception that it's too costly?

The concept that clean energy costs more than fossil fuels appears to be getting more holes by the day.

Energy efficiency retrofits provide companies near immediate relief, and even the feds predict the apples-to-apples price of solar will reach grid parity -- as in costing the same as run-of-the-mill utility power -- within five years.

But nothing offers the crystal clarity of this statistic, spelled out in big bold numbers by the International Energy Agency in a report released this summer. The IEA says its analysis has revealed that fossil fuel consumption subsidies amounted to $557 billion in 2008.

That's big money. Really big money.

Green energy, by comparison, gets a pittance. London-based research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance says, "governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits."

Perspective is everything. And the amount attached to fossil fuels is likely quite conservative. The IEA didn't factor in the cost of wars, environmental degradation and human suffering, not to mention the huge amounts traditional energy companies spend lobbying governments for favorable treatment.

Andrew Winston, author and environmental strategist, laid it all out on Huffington Post. "That 12-to-1 ratio of dirty-to-clean subsidies is surely understated," Winston wrote, also pointing that "the notion that fossil fuels do not rely on subsidies is absurd."

Winston argues that the fear that a green economy will kill existing jobs is short-sighted. He said that indeed some jobs will suffer -- those in the oil and coal industries perhaps. But studies have shown green energy has the potential to produce millions of new jobs.

Surveys of private sector corporations and small business show increased spending on energy efficiency and about a third hiring to beef up environmental departments. A study showed building green costs about the same as conventional methods and that more companies and businesses are signing on.

And earlier this year, a U.S. Department of Energy-funded report titled "Energy Efficiency Services Sector: Workforce Education and Training Needs" said the "green" sector will grow four-fold by 2020 to about 1.3 million jobs.

Many people out there may be wondering when and where, especially those out of work or in jobs that pay a fraction of their former salaries. The answer is uncertain and depends on a number of unpredictable variables.

But something will happen.

For instance, a recent story in Time says Recovery Act stimulus funds -- although slow to reach the public in many forms -- have served as a giant venture capital fund.

Michael Grunwald writes, "The Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S.

"The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet."

Grunwald acknowledges the poor performance of the weatherization program, which has so far show paltry progress, especially in California with .03 percent of stimulus funds spent as of earlier this summer. But he says its effect is unprecedented in the green sector.

Also joining in on the private sector have been big players like Wal-Mart. It pledges to seek sustainability and urges all its suppliers to do the same. It's a business decision.

"Creating new technologies and products, building greener buildings and businesses, and just plain using less energy to do it all: those actions will make almost all companies more profitable," Winston said.

Solar costs to drop by half in five years?

Quite a bit has been said about the price of solar. Even I was turned off by the up-front costs of between $20,000 and $26,000 to add panels to the roof of my house.

However, new data show the price of electricity generated by the sun could soon could cost no more or less than electricity from the grid, according to a report touting Recovery Act spending released by Vice President Joe Biden this week.

"The cost of solar is forecast to reach grid parity over the next five years in many parts of the country," the report said, citing information from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Technologies Program. "This means homeowners, who pay an average retail cost of about 10 cents per kilowatt hour, or kWh, for electricity from the grid, and utility companies, which have average wholesale power costs closer to 5 cents/kWh, can use solar power without paying a premium over fossil-based electricity."

Much depends on development of solar thin-film technology, which comes in two main varieties: cadmium telluride, or Cd-Te, and copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS. The report, "The Recovery Act: Transforming the American Economy Through Innovation," said this would cut existing prices for solar power in half.

Further price reductions are expected, they could take years.

"If breakthroughs in technology can bring costs down to $0.06/kWh by 2030, solar power will be cheaper than retail electricity from the grid, even without government incentives," the report said. "At that cost, an average household with rooftop solar panels could save more than $400 each year in electricity bills."

By 2030, I'll be 70. Wonder if I'll still care? Probably.

Stephanie Powers of investopedia.com takes on the topic in a recent post. Her conclusion: It's still too expensive. Citing a U.S. Energy Information Administration report, she wrote, "The average cost of solar power is almost four times as much as traditional coal burning electric generation. The costs are difficult to compare due to the widely disparate nature of individual technologies but the net result is that startup costs are steep."

Many consider coal a viable option with about 30 new electricity-producing plants planned. It's dirtier, but cheaper and at this point obviously makes economic sense to those putting up the cash.

We burned coal in Fairbanks, Alaska (city motto: "We're way cooler than Fresno") our first winter in 1969, and it left a layer of gray dust on everything. We moved from the rented two-car garage into a new log cabin we had built with thick walls, doubled-up multi-paned windows and wood heat. Much cleaner.

Wood was a little more expensive, but spruce and birch smelled better than the sub-bituminous coal from the Usibelli Mine just up from Mount McKinley Park.

The same analogy could be used on solar: a little more costly but it doesn't dust you up with guilt.

But solar's making headway. While the U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest figures released this month show that just 0.6 percent of California's power comes from solar -- and 3.7 percent from wind -- a post by my colleague Sandy Nax says a bunch of new projects could obliterate that number in the state.

And Katy Rank Lev of Mother Nature Network wrote earlier this month about a study by researchers at Duke University in North Carolina that says solar power has become cheaper than nuclear power. She writes, the researchers "found that the cost of 'producing photovoltaic cells has been dropping for years ... at the same time, estimated costs for building new nuclear power plants have ballooned.' Thus, it's cheaper to put solar panels on houses than to build a new nuclear power plant to service them."

So, while solar is about twice the price now of electricity from the grid, it is expected to drop. But it needs people to buy in. Demand drives innovation and all that. And I'm not even bringing up the not-so-hidden environmental cost of fossil fuels.

We'll be watching.

How shale gas is changing the world

Say something like "We've got gas" in a crowded room and you may send the wrong impression.

I'd get "the look" from my wife.

However, in this case, having gas -- lots of it -- is a good thing.

New technology has improved the ability to extract natural gas from very hard sedimentary rock called shale. Improvements in hydraulic fracturing in which the rock is split in the depths of the earth and injected with sand to provide a conduit for trapped gas reservoirs coupled with horizontal or directional drilling have given producers the tools to economically bring product to market, said Chris Jent, a spokesman for independent oil and natural gas producer Triple Diamond Energy Corp. in an article on ezinearticles.com. Triple Diamond is based in Addison, Texas.

"Much of the gas in the Texas Barnett Shale is lodged beneath the City of Fort Worth," Jent said. "Horizontal Drilling has helped create a financial windfall for the city."

These developments are such a big deal that they have given the United States an entirely new source for fuel.

"The U.S. shale gas phenomenon has transformed global energy markets," said David L. Goldwyn, U.S. State Department coordinator for International Energy Affairs at a briefing on the Global Shale Gas Initiative Conference in Washington, D.C. today. "Because we have discovered and we have the technology to develop efficiently large quantities of gas from shale, global prices of liquefied natural gas have decreased.

"Gas has become cheaper. Gas is now competitive with coal on a BTU basis, which means that countries that might use coal can now not make an economic choice, but on a competitive basis choose gas for their next level of power generation."

The conference drew representatives from 20 countries and a number of U.S. regulatory agencies. The purpose was to help other countries develop their own resources "safely and efficiently," Goldwyn said.

In light of the Gulf Oil Spill, safety has morphed into an even bigger concern when extracting underground resources.

Goldwyn called shale a terrific boon for global energy security. He also said many countries and hundreds of millions of people need access to electricity and diversity of energy supply -- making the issue of great concern to the State Department.

Another benefit, he said, is improving the climate.

Goldwyn said 10 percent of U.S. production comes from shale gas and that reserves have increased eight-fold over the past 10 years. He said projections from the National Security Council show about 30 percent of future gas supply in the United States, Canada and China coming from unconventional sources such as shale-type gas and coal bed methane.

"For the U.S., this has been a game-changer in the sense that we thought we were on the decline and now we’re very significantly on the rise," he said.

Graphic: lngpedia.com

How I ripped off my roof and learned about solar

Earlier this summer, my wife said it was time: Rip off the roof and put on a new one.

Simple right?

Hardly. I'm still not done.

But it got me thinking: With a fresh, new 30-year composition shingles, what would it cost to put a solar system on the roof? Hmmm... So I called Julie at Solar City. I told her some of the details of my house -- that it's 1,278 square feet, that my kWh consumption according to my PG&E bill never exceeded 900 per month and that I was only looking to pick her brain for information.

Not a great way to get information, but at least I was straightforward. Julie told me a number of things I missed but did say I'd be spending between $20,000 and $25,000 for a system and that I could get a 30 percent tax incentive. One thing I would have that she said was important: a new roof.

Or at least I will have a new roof. Some day. Anybody ever watch an asphalt shingle melt in your hands? Not a pleasant experience. That means, when it's hot, don't roof.

That's -- mostly -- another story.

Solar panels affix to a roof with a series of hardware. Bolt them in, caulk up the mounts and you're off. The panels instantly convert the sun's rays into direct current, which is fed into an inverter, converted into alternating current and distributed throughout the house. At their peak, the panels can produce enough power to send excess back to the utility.

There are multiple styles and companies. You've got to choose your system, financing and installer. Or you can do it yourself. But there's a lot to know. Size matters. Do you want 18 75-watt panels or fewer 150-watt panels? Does your roof offer enough south-facing surface or will you need to convert north-facing area with complex hardware?

Solarexpert.com does a good job of explaining the types of solar panels:

  • Single crystal modules are the most efficient (10% to 17%) and the most expensive. The technology has been around longer than any other and has demonstrated long-term, 30-year stability and can produce power in everything from deep space, hot desert and marine environments. They are usually recognizable as the modules with polka dots or octagons.
  • Poly or multicrystalline units are less expensive but demonstrate lower efficiencies (9% to 14%). Polycrystalline modules are pure blue and its size is about the same as its more efficient polka-dotted single-cell cousin.
  • Amorphous or thin film cells are manufactured by vaporizing and depositing silicon on either glass, ceramic or steel. The process to manufacture this module is simple and cheap, but efficiency (5% to 7%) is so low that a very large area is required to produce the same kind of power made by the single or polycrystalline modules. This technology is most often seen in toys and calculators as well as in building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV), where the solar module is actually built into the roof or structure.
In the San Joaquin Valley, there are many companies offering the service. In addition to Solar City, the list includes REC Solar Inc., Unlimited Energy, Lifestyle Solar, Nova West Solar, Real Goods Solar, SolarWorld, ACRO Energy Technologies, SunPower Corp., Suntech Solar Inc., Arise Solar, Green Energy Consulting and a number of others.

Here's an hour-long video I found interesting in which a Google research scientist talks about his efforts to install solar with others in the industry. One speaker talks about doing it himself.

As for my own roof, I'm on the fence. I just got AC after four years of a swamp cooler, and keeping the house 78 degrees cost me $250 in July, about half that for June. Hard to make solar pencil.

Farmers, Rural Businesses Eligible for Energy Grants

Farmers and businesses in rural communities interested in installing renewable energy systems are eligible for grants of up to $50,000 through The Rural Energy for America Program.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials expect to approve 110 awards totaling $3 million. The filing deadline is Oct. 5.

"This grant is an excellent opportunity for rural businesses and farmers to take advantage of federal funding to reduce costs and upgrade their energy infrastructure. The California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley is very support of such measures of sustainability and growth for our rural partners," said Mike Dozier, director of the Office of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State University.

Eligible applicants are agriculture producers and rural small businesses. The farm companies have to generate at least 50% of their income from agriculture operations. The grants are to be used for feasibility studies for renewable-energy systems.

The Rural Energy for America Program is designed to help farm companies and rural small businesses reduce energy consumption and costs, and to help meet the nation's critical energy needs.

For more information, here's the link to the Federal Register.

Report links national security to energy independence

A report released today links national security to energy independence and says the U.S. Department of Defense stands the best chance of guiding development of alternative sources of power and defusing the growing threat caused by relying on other countries for fuel.

"America's current energy posture undermines our economic security and constitutes a serious and urgent threat to our national security," said officials of CNA, a not-for-profit research and analysis firm based in Alexandria, Va. that released the report.

The Defense Department is uniquely positioned to spur clean energy innovation "because of its size, the considerable amount of energy it consumes and its extensive experience in technological innovation," says the report, issued by CNA's Military Advisory Board. "DoD is in a position to help drive this change -- for itself and the nation as a whole."

CNA says the board is made up of 15 top-ranking admirals and generals.

The report, Powering America's Economy: Energy Innovation at the Crossroads of National Security, says that without a strong economy, the United States has neither a strong defense, nor effective international influence.

"We need to remain competitive in the world as we move toward a future of green, sustainable energy," said Gen. Charles F. "Chuck" Wald, USAF (Ret.), in a statement. "The biggest motivation to do it is national security."

The report draws similarities of the race to get a man into space back in the 1960s between the U.S. and USSR. It lists China, Spain, Germany and even the United Arab Emirates as pushing forward with greater gusto and success than the United States in the realm of green energy innovation. Failure to develop its own technology would again require the U.S. to depend on foreign nations to meet future energy needs, the report says.

U.S. military might could eliminate that concern. "Numerous widely adopted technologies, including the jet engine, gas turbines, solid-state electronics, and the Internet were pioneered by the United States military," the report said.

The report also said the Defense Department should partner with the U.S. Department of Energy for that agency's "robust research and development capability for energy technologies and vast knowledge base."

Gen. Gordon Sullivan (Ret.), chairman of CNA's Military Advisory Board, said, "The DoD-DoE partnership, which has been successful in the past, could be instrumental in the move away from fossil fuels if there is a willingness to empower this team to seek clean, renewable, and economical sources of power for domestic use."

The report said the U.S. government "should take bold and aggressive action to support clean energy technology innovation and significantly decrease the nation's dependence on fossil fuels."

The CNA Military Advisory Board also produced the 2007 report "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change" and the 2009 report "Powering America's Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security." Its roster includes retired 2-, 3- and 4-star flag and general officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard and Reserve. The board includes a former Army Chief of Staff, commanders of U.S. forces in global regions, and leaders in logistics, procurement, research and development, engineering, nuclear energy and ocean management.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Market for biomass energy to grow 18% in next decade, study says

Energy generated from agriculture waste, manure and other wastes and feedstocks should reach a market value of $53 billion by 2020, a study released today says.

Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research in its report Biomass Markets and Technologies cited continued "significant investments" in biomass research and development and the pace of commercializing new technologies. Advances made in cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from relatively cheap to produce switch grass rather than corn, and algae are among those advances.

“Biomass will continue to be the leading source of renewable energy,” said Clint Wheelock, Pike Research managing director, in a statement. “While it does not have the celebrity appeal of solar, wind or other emerging technologies, biomass is an affordable and reliable form of power generation. In addition, we expect continued growth in the adoption of biofuels during the next decade, as well as a proliferation of bioproducts such as plastics and chemicals.”

That may be good news for Sacramento-based Pacific Ethanol, which has an idled plant in Madera County and whose stock is hovering around the 50 cents-per-share mark. The company is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy but reached an agreement with creditors in June and expects to restart its idled plants soon.

Biomass, as defined by Pike for the purposes of its report, also includes corn and grains, plants and forest resources, construction and industry waste, food industry wastes and municipal waste.

Wheelock said applications for biomass range from power generation to heating, transportation fuels, chemicals and plastics. He said development of the biomass industry is driven by government policies and mandates and, "while world governments are likely to back away from some of the aggressive targets set a few years ago, Pike Research anticipates that biomass will continue to be a significant focus for energy policymakers."

Photo: Courtesy Pike Research.