wind energy

Believe it or not: setting sail on solar

So, believe it or not, this isn't the first post on sailing and solar; back in February my brother-in-law shared how he and my sister keep the Play Actor green on the big blue (you can link to their blog here).  However, I think this tech is beyond what Bud has going on their Baba 35!

Japanese tech company, Eco Marine Power is working on and experimenting with EnergySail which would be a renewable energy driven sail that could be fitted to traditional fuel powered vessels.  Anything from large carriers to patrol ships could one day be powered by the sun!  

The device is being tested in a lab in Osaka with focus on control systems and command interface testing.  EnergySail could see open seas as early as 2013.

Original CNET story here.

Photo credit: Eco Marine Power

Believe it or not: world's longest turbine blade

When Dee saw this headline she was so impressed she whipped out a quick BION post, which means I have Thursday off!  Thanks, Dee! 
Siemens, a manufacturer out of Germany, has found a reason to build this incredibly large off-shore wind turbine, and has plans to build a total of 300. This reminds me of something my brothers would have enjoyed working on as kids. The blades on these puppies are incredibly large (75 meters) that’s equivalent to just over 246 feet. 
Hummm, to put this into prospective let’s just say the blades are about the same size of 2 and a half football fields, 1 and a half Olympic size swimming pools or almost three times the height (at its highest point) of the Golden Gate bridge. Now, double that for a whopping 154 meter span but still weights less than more typically produced blades by using lightweight materials during construction. The entire blade is made of a single piece of “glass fiber-reinforced epoxy resin and balsa wood”. Balsa wood? Yes, that’s right, balsa wood.
Not knowing my wood that well, I had to look up what the heck balsa wood was and if it was a renewable resource. Come to find out it is native to southern Brazil and northern to southern Mexico, but is found in other countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea. The best part is that it is a pioneer plant (or as my dad would have said, it’s a volunteer), plants itself in clearings in forests, wither man made or where trees have fallen, or in abandoned agricultural fields. It grows extremely rapidly which explains the lightness of the wood, lower density even than cork, and about 60 percent of the world’s supply comes from balsa plantations that grow it in densely packed patches and harvested after 6-10 years.
Okay, back on track, besides it being lightweight in relation to its size the construction processes also makes the wind turbine extremely strong. A really great asset to have when they will be hit with the energy of about 200-tons of air per second out in the sea!
According to Siemens the tips of the 75 meter long blades will be able to move at up to 80 meters per second or 2.16 mph. So, my mind starts to wonder, why so big? The answer is actually simple. As the turbine blades get longer the amount of electricity they produce increases very rapidly. Because offshore wind projects are quite expensive it makes sense to build a few big wind turbines than lots of small ones.

Photo credits:

Believe it or not: schmorgishborg!

Today's BION is a cheat.  Frankly, I'm just not up to it as I have my second sinus infection in a month and the fifth for the whole summer (yes, it's still over 90 degrees here so it's summer in my book!). So, today you're getting a schmorgishborg of BIONs from headlines that excited me--or as I've previously mentioned, something my husband found on Reddit and then set to me.

Believe it or not: Tesla goes long range with new super charger.

Believe it or not: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution for Science report that there is enough energy available in winds to meet all of the world’s demand! 

Believe it or not: San Franciso considers public power market, 100% renewable.

Believe it or not: First North American tidal turbine goes live in Maine.

Rio must bring out the best in clean energy

Protestors in Rio, courtesy
World leaders will debate the merits of sustainable development and a green economy at Rio + 20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to take place in Rio de Janeiro.

Protesters will use the event to highlight injustice.

And something substantive benefiting the environment may actually get done this week. This year's theme is after all "a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development."

However, listening to current U.S. political discourse makes me wonder if anybody in government seriously considers steering toward a green economy.

Wall street bankers, brokers and speculators remain so fixated on profits and bizarre anti-populist goals like killing Dodd-Frank (read Matt Taibbi's "How Wall Street Killed Financial Reform" on, the already weak-kneed consumer protection act, that real values get swept away like last quarter's balance sheet. The concepts of quality of life, a better place for children and continued proliferation of the American way -- where everyone has a chance to make it big -- get nothing but lip service.

A trillion reasons

Robert Redford put it succinctly in a piece on Huffington Post: "We can do better," he writes. His point is that with so much at stake, we need to shift some emphasis to clean energy and eliminate the near "one trillion dollars of subsidies ... handed out to help the fossil fuel industry" each year.

Here's author and activist Bill McKibben's take, from an email he sent to the network: "We know that world leaders aren't likely to achieve a comprehensive climate breakthrough in Rio. But our governments could at least stop sending nearly a trillion dollars a year to the fossil fuel industry. If they did, it would help weaken the coal and oil and gas tycoons, and give renewable energy a fighting chance."

The buzzword now is jobs. The issue is so important people are ready to jump at anything, even a silly pipeline project that taps perhaps the most planet-cooking reserves Earth has to offer.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Redford says, and he's backed up by numerous studies, that every federal or state dollar invested in clean energy gives multiple times the return of fossil fuels. Truly, that's the kind of job that makes sense. Here in California's San Joaquin Valley, we're trying to prepare a ready work force. A consortium of community colleges has banded together to prepare curriculum that meets industry's specifications and enables a green energy renaissance.

Then intent is to create living-wage jobs, rather than positions that perpetuate and exacerbate extreme economic divisions. The middle class is no longer bullet-proof. Incomes are declining.

So how does a green economy fit in? Not easily apparently. If it were up to me, I'd say, "Make the United States energy self-sufficient in 10 years, emphasizing sustainability."

That's not to say we should completely shed oil. The stuff has been quite good to us. Let's just give a shot to making the world a better place, allowing American ingenuity fill in the blanks.

Taking up the challenge

Former Great Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair and a group of international statesmen and business leaders have penned an open letter advocating for a "clean revolution," which they say is essential to "save our economies from the crippling costs of runaway climate change, and create meaningful jobs and enhance energy security."

The group backs a campaign by business and government that calls for the launch in Rio of a campaign by The Climate Group and a range of government and business partners for a "green growth" push out of global recession.

Topical, especially with nearly a half dozen countries in the European Union teetering on financial collapse. Greece elected the conservatives by a squeaky thin margin that allowed the markets a respite. But the future is anyone's guess.

How's the weather?

Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, says there's a chance the Rio + Summit will get results, but "the outlook is bleak."

Normally, I love that pessimistic stuff. It nurtures the curmudgeonly spirit I gained from 24 years in newspapers, pounding out or editing stories about the best and worst in people.

But I'm hoping for more. The summit marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, the country where my cousin Sarah has decided to raise her twins.

Rogers says the U.N. event two decades past generated real optimism and a climate change treaty that "charted a new course to sustainability."

Love at first bite

Implementation is a completely different issue. All that optimism from the first Rio summit had the bite of my toothless and blind 14-year-old dachshund Spike. Oh, he still barks like crazy -- as do those of us who believe in a sustainable future. But we need a pit bull.

Adding some fangs, or even some well-worn teeth, requires agreement and action. I do believe it wouldn't take much. Many are willing to give it everything they've got to extract power from those green dilithium crystals.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Sustainable Energy for All initiative has lofty goals, calling for universal energy access, a doubling of energy efficiency and a doubling of renewable energy by 2030. But it's got allies.

Nothing but wind

The European Wind Energy Association says 75 countries around the world have installed wind turbines and 21 have more than 1,000 megawatts generating energy. It says with the right policy support projections show that wind power will double capacity by 2015 and again by 2020.

"This can be achieved," says Kandeh K. Yumkella, the Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, in a statement.

After all, what choice do we have. Really?

Turbine industry grows, but faces stiff wind

Turbine installations in the United States set a record last quarter, but the pending elimination of a popular tax credit could buffet the wind-energy industry next year, officials say.

Fueled in part by concerns over the Production Tax Credit, a total of 788 wind turbines totaling 1,695 megawatts of power - enough to supply  about 1.6 million homes for at least an hour - were erected between January and April in 17 states. That was the strongest first-quarter showing in U.S. wind-energy history, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. Read the press release here.

California led the nation with 370 megawatts of new wind power. Two of the state's top three wind regimes are near the north and south ends of the San Joaquin Valley. The third area is near Palm Springs. In 2011, about 5% of California's power came from wind. More here.

The 52% increase over the same period last year set a record for first-quarter installations, and continued a five-year surge. "The last five years have been marked by unprecedented policy stability, and in response, wind power has delivered," said AWEA CEO Denise Bode.

This AOL white paper suggests that companies are rushing to get turbines installed before the Production Tax Credit expires Dec. 31. It also suggests that 2012 could be bumpy for the wind industry globally if Europe dials back on subsidies.

Wind power contributed 35% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. between 2007 and 2011. The industry employs about 75,000 people in the United States. Bode said about 37,000 jobs could disappear, many of them in U.S. manufacturing, if the tax credit is suspended Dec. 31. By contrast, extending the credit  could generate 100,000 jobs in four years, she said.

President Obama supports extending the credit. See this from The Hill. A bipartisan effort also is under way.

Industry officials noted that improved technology is allowing wind energy to be gathered from regions that were previously considered inadequate. That trend, they said, is reflected in New Hampshire, Arizona, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, where wind power grew at high rates in first quarter 2012.

Meanwhile, construction of new turbines is greatest in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, California and Illinois.

Photo of wind turbines near Palm Springs by California Energy Commission

Turbine Cowboys: Keeping it real 30 stories up

The new Weather Channel show  "Turbine Cowboys" is pretty compelling TV. Turbine technicians 300 feet up (click here) battle the elements to maintain the blades on these huge energy-producing machines. The episode I saw featured technicians attempting to safely climb a huge ice-covered tower in Alaska.

The four-episode show is part of a larger Weather Channel series called "Braving the Elements," which also features crews restoring lights during bad weather and iron workers on skyscrapers, bridges and other towering structures.

I'm not a big fan of reality TV - Boy, do I dislike those screaming housewives and the Jersey Shore bunch - but I watch this one, in part because it helps showcase an emerging clean-energy technology that diversifies the nation's energy supply.

The United States will never give up oil - it is practically woven into the country's DNA - but we need to balance things out. Oil prices are too volatile and unpredictable, which wreak havoc on businesses' ability to budget. And the military deems our dependence upon oil a security risk.

Wind and solar energy are ways to decrease that footprint. Yes, turbines don't turn when the wind doesn't blow, and solar energy isn't produced when it's dark, but researchers are quickly perfecting energy storage. It won't be long before  intermittency isn't a problem. And, yes, solar is more costly, but prices are falling as the industry builds heft and as technology advances.

The "Turbine Cowboys" episode I watched featured a safety expert from Tehachapi, a Kern County city that is home to one of the largest wind farms in the nation. Thousands of turbines dot the hills around a mountain pass, and the industry helps boost the local economy. Read more in this article.

Some people may debate the cultural significance of reality TV, but this show raises the profile of a rather obscure profession, and casts a spotlight on a small piece of the energy infrastructure. Maybe it will give a shot in the arm to the wind industry.

 Video by The Weather Channel

Stockton students looking for way to take winning design to state competition

A 3-foot tall wind turbine made of PVC pipe, balsa wood and duct tape earned four students from Stagg High School in Stockton top honors in a regional science and engineering competition, and now the "Wind Team" is seeking funding to attend state finals in May in Santa Barbara.

Students in Stagg's Math, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program beat out 19 other teams in Northern California to get a chance to compete against four other regional winners at the MESA state finals May 11-12.

The group devoted hundreds of hours in class and after school and many prototypes to come up with a functioning wind turbine that wowed the judges. It wasn't easy, said Dr. Maria Garcia-Sheets, director of the Pacific MESA Center at University of the Pacific, who oversees MESA programs in San Joaquin County.

The team re-engineered designs from previous years to cut the turbine weight in half. "They re-engineered and cut pieces they thought were redundant, and changed the blade design," she said. The students tested about 25 blade configurations before selecting a final version.

  "And it wasn't just the design," she said. "They had to write a 15-page technical paper, present a speech and devise a technical board. They had to be very articulate about the physics and  mathematical equations."

 Needless to say, the students' Math and Engineering skills were tested. "They have gotten good at Math and Science," Garcia-Sheets said. "The MESA program brings together hands-on activities that makes Math and Science come alive."

The students and supporters would like to see them come alive in Santa Barbara, but a tight budget may keep them home. So, they are seeking financial support to pay for the $3,000 charter bus and lodging.

"This program keeps students excited, engaged and involved," Garcia-Sheets said, adding that a member of last year's team who now attends University of the Pacific in Stockton plans to work in the wind-energy industry.

Photo of members of the Wind Team by Andrew Walter, Stagg High School teacher

A Salad Basket of Green News

The San Joaquin Valley is known as the world's salad bowl because we produce so many crops - about $20 billion annually.

With that theme in mind comes today salad basket of green news, along with links:

1/ I don't like heights, so changing careers to become a wind technician is out. But here's a video of a former cabinetmaker who did just that in Tehachapi. You would never catch me up there! This is courtesy of CNN and Solardude1:

2/ The DOE 2010 report on wind energy. Some headwinds possible:

3/ A 2010 recap of fuel cells, which are expanding rapidly ( Includes photo of Tulare fuel cell project. Pictured above):

4/ New Brookings report on Green jobs, with figures for Fresno, Bakersfield and other metropolitan areas:.

The Winds Of Change Propel Clean Energy

It was in the 1980s when I first became interested in renewable energy. I was just entering my 30s and working in the newsroom of the Palm Springs Desert Sun, a daily newspaper serving the desert communities east of Riverside.

Palm Springs is a gateway to the San Gorgonio Pass, one of the windiest spots in California. I covered the attorneys in the county courthouse and the emerging wind industry (the hot air beat), which was taking advantage of the seemingly unrelenting breezes and tax breaks to grow the renewable-energy industry.

I was fascinated by the turbines beginning to pop up on the hilltops. I still get excited when they appear as backdrops in a movie or television show. (Did you see them on the first episode of last season's Amazing Race?) The whap-whap of the turbine blades was an interesting scenic diversion, even though they, in the 1980s, seemed to me like little more than a novelty.

Fast forward more than two decades, and wind energy is serious business. Today, windmills could power 829,000 households - nearly double since 2002- and projections call for wind to provide 5% of the state's electricity by 2013, according to calWEA, a nonprofit in California supported by the wind industry.

Much of that power comes from the Altamont Pass outside Tracy, the area near Palm Springs and the Tehachapi Wind Farm, just off the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley, which has been my home for almost 25 years. I live near Fresno, which doesn't have many wind turbines but is I'm-burning-the-hair-off-my-head hot during the summer. Thus, solar energy is gaining a larger profile, as evidenced by dozens of projects proposed between Stockton and the base of the Grapevine.

Agriculture operations are among the expanding users of solar energy in the Valley. Check out the latest from a pistachio processor in Tulare County, who just hooked up to the sun to help run his business. California led the nation in 2009 with almost 2,000 growers and ranchers generating electricity from renewable power, according to this report.

Sure, wind and solar remain bit players in the overall energy arena, but they are clearly gaining stature. I can almost hear the renewables movement picking up speed as large and small businesses take up the mantle of clean energy.

Companies such as Whole Foods, Intel and Kohl's are among the world's largest purchasers of renewable energy, according to this new study. In fact, Intel and Whole Foods buy all of their energy from renewable sources (Whole Foods uses only wind energy).

Clearly, those two companies, and the others on the list, are sending a signal: Going green is good socially and economically. I'm sure they wouldn't be doing it if it didn't generate green to the bottom line as well. Check out this report from a pilot program in Wisconsin.

Big Business and the military, which has declared its dependence on fossil fuel a national security issue, are leading the clean energy (which includes efficiency) charge, and helping fuel some economic growth. This story out of Milwaukee notes that the military's solar program was responsible for a manufacturer adding a second shift.

This all comes despite legislators who want to slash programs. I can't help but think we are on the ground floor of a green revolution.

More California Farmers Embracing Renewable Energy

As major users of energy, America's farms are natural candidates for renewable-energy efforts. That is especially true here in the San Joaquin Valley, where farming is a $20 billion per- year enterprise, temperatures hit triple digits, power bills are sky high and air pollution ranks among the worst in the nation.

As it turns out, farmers, especially in California, have made substantial gains in the use of alternative-energy sources. With about 25% of all facilities, California led the nation in 2009 with 1,956 farms and ranches producing renewable energy, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Solar dominated, with 1,906 California farmers using photovoltaic and thermal solar panels. The majority of those - more than 64,000 panels - were installed since 2005. Wind energy was used on 134 farms in California, while methane digesters were installed and used on 14 properties.

Solar power also has blossomed on farms nationally over the last four years. Prior to 2000, only 18,881 solar panels were on farms and ranches. Between 2005 and 2009, more than 108,000 panels were installed.

"Farmers and ranchers are increasingly adopting renewable-energy practices on their operations, and reaping the important economic and environmental benefits," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Farmers in nearly every state reported savings on their energy bill. The survey also noted that subsidies and other sources helped finance some of the installation cost. In California, about 41% of the average $79,000 cost of installing solar came from outside sources.

All this makes me wonder what the future holds. Technological advances, such as this small-scale biomass project with ultra-low emissions suitable for urban areas, are coming fast, and the price of solar continues to fall. Some people predict parity is just around the corner. Possibly in 2012.

And one has to wonder if increasing oil prices, and the increasing realization from military and Big Business that green is good, will spur more energy-saving and renewable efforts among California farmers and corporations.

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have adopted some cool renewable projects - such as this grape grower in Delano - and I'm betting more are on the horizon.

photo by

Construction begins on Tehachapi wind project

Construction has started on a 120-megawatt wind turbine project near Tehachapi.

Developer Western Wind Energy Corp. selected Madison, Wis.-based RMT Inc. to build its Windstar project near Tehachapi, Calif., and its 10 megawatt Kingman project in Mohave County, Ariz.

"Once completed, these two facilities will have the capacity to power approximately 35,000 homes annually," said David Kutcher, RMT Chief Commercial Officer, in a statement.

RMT is responsible for engineering, procurement and construction of Gamesa 2.0-MW wind turbines at both sites, officials said.

The Kingman facility is expected to begin commercial operation by summer, while the Tehachapi operation is scheduled to come online late this year.

Wind energy projects around Tehachapi have been busy lately.

For instance, the Tehachapi Wind Energy Storage Project was recommended by the California Energy Commission just before the new year for $1 million in Public Interest Energy Research Program funds. The amount is a fraction of about $25 million applied for by Southern California Edison but likely enough to get the project rolling. Its overall cost is a about $55 million, according to

The application to the National Energy Technology Laboratory says the project's "is to evaluate the performance of utility scale lithium-ion battery technology."

And Terra-Gen Power LLC this summer secured $1.2 billion in financing to build four wind-powered electrical generation projects near Tehachapi.

Officials estimated it will generate about 1,500 jobs.

The combined generating capacity is 570 megawatts, or enough electricity to supply 570,000 homes. The project would bolster the 3,000 megawatt Alta Wind Energy Center, which was started in the 1980s.

Terra-Gen officials said that combined with another project which received financing in March, this would put the New York-based company "well on its way to completing what is anticipated to be the largest wind energy farm in the nation."

Photo: RMT wind turbines in New Mexico.

17 win investment or cash in ecochallenge

This past summer, General Electric Co. launched a $200 million innovation challenge to encourage ideas that would create a "smarter, cleaner, more efficient electric grid."

This week, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company announced five "innovation" winners, each nabbing $100,000. Officials said the challenge attracted about 4,000 ideas.

GE also announced a dozen winners that will share investment of $55 million put up by the company and its venture capital partners. Details of how the money will be disbursed was unclear. The company said this is the first of several rounds of innovation funding planned.

My former co-worker Jeff St. John at said in a post that "while the contest was marketed as a way to open the VC floodgates to greentech startups not already in the pipeline for corporate cash, the list is full of some already well-funded companies, including several GE is already investing in."

St. John said that didn't mean GE and its Ecomagination VC partners, which include Kleiner Perkins, Foundation Capital, Emerald Technology Ventures and RockPort Capital, didn’t pick well.

Investment winners included Sentient Energy of Burlingame, Calif., which makes intelligent sensor technologies; Soladigm of Milpitas, Calif. for efficiency windows; SustainX of West Lebanon, N.H. for compressed-air energy storage; ClimateWell of Stockholm, Sweden, which makes efficient appliances; Consert of Raleigh, N.C., which makes energy management systems and software; FMC-Tech Ltd. of Shannon, Ireland, which produces intelligent sensor technologies; The Fu Foundation School for Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University in New York for its electric vehicle charging stations; JouleX of Atlanta, which produces energy management systems and software; OPOWER of Arlington, Va., which produces energy management systems and software; Scientific Conservation of San Francisco, which produces energy management systems and software; SecureRF Corporation of Westport, Conn., which provides utility security; and SynapSense Corp. of Folsom, Calif. for data center services.

Innovation winners included an inflatable wind turbine, a turbine blade de-icer, a water meter that generates power, a two-way grid communication system and a system that prevents outages.

“We launched the Challenge to encourage new thinking and spur innovation at every level of development,” said Beth Comstock, GE's senior vice president and chief marketing officer, in a statement.

Challenge advisor and Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson said the nation's electrical grid is where the Internet was a generation ago, with its potential still largely untapped.

"Just as we did with the Internet, we can make them smarter and more efficient, using the power of collaboration, open access and a hugely expanded range of entrepreneurs," he said. "The Challenge was designed to accelerate this, and show that good ideas can come from anywhere. And the number and breadth of ideas we received was indeed inspiring."

More detail on the winners is available here and in the following paragraphs for the innovation award winners.

Carrollton, Texas-based Capstone Metering for its intelligent water meters. Officials said: "The company’s IntelliH2O is self-powered and delivers real-time water system management, which helps conserve water and eliminates the need for manual meter-readings."

Salem and Hollis, N.H.-based ElectricRoute for its secure communications network for the electric grid. Officials said: "Recognizing the substation's unique location in the electric grid, ElectricRoute created a communications gateway point for transmission and distribution systems. Its cyber-secure, communications network infrastructure eliminates duplicate sensors and thousands of copper lines running inside the substation."

Givatayim, Israel-based GridON for its device that controls power quality in electric grids. Officials said: "GridON created a fault-current-limiter to protect the electric grid from disruptions and power outages, increasing the grid’s reliability and enabling load growth and generation expansion from alternative energy sources."

West Lebanon, N.H.-based IceCode for its anti-icing and de-icing technology for wind turbine blades. Officials said: "Seeking to break one of nature’s strongest bonds, IceCode’s technology removes ice by using high-power pulses to apply heat from the inside out. Employing this technology for wind turbines substantially reduces the amount of energy used for de-icing and eliminates downtime for ice removal and inspection."

Kiryat Yam, Israel-based WinFlex: for its inflatable wind turbines. Officials said: "WinFlex produces rotors for wind turbines from light, flexible and inexpensive cloth sheets made out of composite materials. This flexible rotor design reduces installation costs by at least fifty percent and shortens the return on investment to three-four years, without subsidies."

Photo: Soladigm windows.

Offshore wind energy gets cash, fame

Offshore wind has received a gale of attention in recent weeks.

More than 100 people showed up for a high-profile workshop this week in Chicago about developing wind energy in the Great Lakes. The event, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, drew wind developers and manufacturers, folks from nonprofit organizations and other industry experts as well as representatives from federal, state and local regulatory agencies.

The DOE also this week joined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and two other agencies to announce about $5 million in research awards meant to study siting and permitting of offshore wind turbines and ocean energy generated from "waves, tides, currents and thermal gradients."

Also this week, reported that federal, state and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth officials have announced plans to develop a 300-square-mile "marine renewable energy technology test bed" just south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The site is to be dubbed the the National Ocean Renewable Energy Innovation Zone and will allow companies to test and develop technology that harnesses energy from ocean wind, waves, tides and current.

And earlier this month, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a report that said harnessing even a fraction of the nation's potential offshore wind, estimated at more than 4,000 gigawatts, officials said, "could create thousands of jobs and help revitalize America's manufacturing sector, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diversify U.S. energy supplies, and provide cost-competitive electricity to key coastal regions."

"The nation's oceans represent a major potential source of clean renewable energy, and DOE is committed to developing the innovative technologies that will harness that potential," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, in announcing the money for research projects.

Chu said DOE's partnership with other federal agencies will help streamline development of offshore renewable energy projects, create jobs and enhance national energy security.

Commerce Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the grants will help understand offshore renewable energies environmental impacts and how to incorporate "appropriate mitigation measures from the outset."

The awards include:

  • $499,000 to Auburn, Wash.-based Parametrix for planning and siting research. 
  • $499,000 to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Bioacoustics Research Program in Ithaca, New York for studies to evaluate how sounds from construction and operation of offshore wind turbines affect surrounding environments. 
  • $745,000 to the University of Rhode Island for monitoring and study of offshore wind to provide regulatory agencies "with a comprehensive, yet flexible means of assessing the impacts of a broad range of offshore renewable energy resources projects on marine ecosystems." 
  • $746,000 to the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Scientists in Seattle, Wash. for evaluating acoustic technologies to monitor aquatic organisms at renewable sites. 
  • $499,000 to Pacific Energy Ventures in Portland, Ore. for studies and monitoring of renewable energy in the ocean. The intent is to create a system that can be used anywhere. 
  • $497,000 to the University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies in Fayetteville, Ark. to create a system that "will allow a user to design the spatial layout and content of an offshore facility, import and prepare geospatial data that will affect visibility, run a series of sophisticated visual analyses, define atmospheric, lighting and wave conditions and, finally generate one or a series of realistic visualizations from multiple viewpoints." 
  • $497,000 to the University of Texas at Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology for "carbon sequestration monitoring and risk assessment." 
  • $748,000 to the University of Massachusetts' Marine Renewable Energy Center in Dartmouth, Mass. to "develop a technology road map for the application of advanced spatial survey technologies, such as buoy-based LIDAR, to the assessment and post-development monitoring of offshore wind and hydrokinetic renewable energy resources and facilities."

Making Our Way To Energy Storage: Jimmy Buffett, The Holy Grail and The Manhattan Project

By Rick Phelps

"cliches. Good ways to say what you mean...mean what you say."

--Jimmy Buffett, 1975

I hadn't thought about the Holy Grail since an old Indiana Jones movie and was a little surprised when someone said that it was becoming a cliche to refer to energy storage as the Holy Grail of renewable energy. My mind immediately recalled the lyrics of an old Buffett song and I realized Jimmy may have it right: say what you mean...mean what you say. When it comes to the future, energy storage IS the Holy Grail. Without storage, flexibility is lost and progress stalls.

But what is energy storage? Storage includes batteries large and small, compressed air, pumped water systems, fly wheels and a host of other ideas, both new and old. All generally work, but the limiting criteria are cost and scale. The cost question is whether it costs less to store a kilowatt than it does to generate it. The scale issue relates to the application, but generally refers to the amount of energy needed to be stored. For example, large lead-acid batteries might work fine for a home with a 4-kilowatt load, but not so well for a utility-sized wind project with a capacity of 25 megawatts.

To put the energy-storage issue in perspective, think about its impact on remote communities in the Eastern Sierra. Electricity could be stored locally and additional distribution lines - at a cost of millions - would be unnecessary.

Private-sector companies, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are making progress on energy-storage cost and scale, but there are not yet any major breakthroughs, and the need for more storage in renewable energy continues to grow.

The quest for this Holy Grail is critical for at least three compelling reasons.

First, two major forms of renewable energy - wind and solar - are intermittent and not necessarily generated at the same time there is electricity demand. Often the actual capacities of wind and solar projects are less than 50 percent of stated capacity and said capacity needs to be backed up from conventional sources such as natural gas or coal. If the energy generated could be stored economically for later use, the renewable projects would be more economically viable as they always "sell" their capacity, and might be able to reduce their invested capital with a more efficient operation. Plus, the land use footprint for wind and solar might be lessened.

Second, if renewable energy is more efficient due to effective storage, there would be less need to ensure that conventional generation capacity is available as backup. Fewer conventional power plants will need to be built and transmission capacity might be reduced if large electricity imports were not necessary to meet the demands of a high-renewable region if production was not up to capacity.

Third, energy storage can be used to make the grid more efficient and optimize transmission and distribution capacity. This gets complicated, but the easiest way to explain it is that if inputs into the grid are predictable, it's a lot easier and economic to manage. In that way, the grid and storage become a lot like our own financial budget - when we know what's coming in, it's a lot easier to manage what goes out.

If energy storage is truly the Holy Grail, where are the speeches demanding that we triple our capacity by 2020, or that the United States become the energy-storage technology center for the world? You don't hear those speeches because energy storage is pretty dull stuff and certainly neither sexy nor photogenic, but if we were to solve the problem, storage would indeed be the Holy Grail, which brings us to The Manhattan Project.

To the baby boom generation, The Manhattan Project is well known, but to those lucky enough to be younger, it's a little more obscure and even ancient history. The Manhattan Project had its start in 1939 when Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt warning him that the Germans were likely to develop a nuclear weapon with great destructive power, and the United States should counter the German effort with its own initiative. President Roosevelt accepted this challenge and committed the government to this endeavor, and by 1942 The Manhattan Project was well under way.

The Project culminated with the successful test of the first nuclear weapon in July 1945 and, following the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the end of World War II. Over 125,000 scientists and staff at no fewer than 30 sites around the country had fathered this technology and spent $22 billion in today's dollars. Solutions were found to problems thought at the time to be unsolvable.

The Manhattan Project is symbolic of what can be accomplished with an all-out effort and many, including Bill Gates, have called for a "Manhattan Project" in renewable energy, regardless of cost or risk. This seems a worthy idea, but wouldn't it make more sense to first solve the "critical-path" issue of energy storage? Otherwise, what are we going to do with all that renewable energy once we have it?

Rick Phelps is Executive Director of the High Sierra Energy Foundation. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.

Another offshore wind project catches air

Another offshore wind project appears to be moving forward.

Garden State Offshore Energy says it will install a floating platform to gather wind data after receiving approval from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

The proposed 350 megawatt project 20 miles off the New Jersey coast joins the federally approved Cape Wind off Massachusetts and the less advanced Lake Erie project 10 miles from Cleveland as well as others in the race to develop offshore wind power. The climate for offshore wind turbines got a big gust of support recently from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is taking comments on a draft plan for developing the as-yet-untapped energy resource.

Garden State plans to anchor the 100-foot-long buoy affixed with monitoring devices to assess wind and water conditions. The project is expected to cost $1 billion and be completed in 2013.

"Receiving this approval ... is an important milestone for our project," said Rob Gibbs, vice president of Garden State.

The monitoring buoy was constructed by renewable energy consultant Natural Power in Norway and arrived in the United States last week, officials said. The company expects to have the buoy in place off the coast of New Jersey by the end of the year, pending permits from various federal agencies.

Garden State won New Jersey's 2008 solicitation for an offshore developer. The company is a joint venture between Newark, N.J.-based energy company Public Service Enterprise Group and Providence, R.I.-based Deepwater Wind.

Photo: Courtesy Garden State.

Offshore wind farms gain watery foothold

A wind farm is expected to sprout from Lake Erie five to 10 miles offshore from Cleveland.

It'll start small at 20 megawatts or so. But the developer, nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. has bigger plans, aiming for 1,000 megawatts over the next decade.

"We want Northern Ohio to be the epicenter of a new freshwater offshore wind power industry with associated manufacturing, shipping, and construction jobs," said Lorry Wagner, Lake Erie Energy Development Corp president, in a statement Tuesday about the naming of the project's development team. "Today's milestone will position our region as a model for innovation in clean energy and help spur economic development in Northern Ohio."

Construction is expected to start sometime in 2012.

Wagner's project treads groundbreaking territory. Should his team, which includes Bechtel and two other companies with big experience in wind and offshore development, succeed in navigating regulatory hurdles, their project would be one of a select few in the nation and a beacon to others.

The sight of wind turbines may have become common in many regions and people like former oil man T. Boone Pickens may have bought heavily into the concept. But that's on land. Offshore wind farms just don't happen in the United States.

Perhaps this is best illustrated by the nine-year controversy surrounding the Cape Wind project was approved in April by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Yet, the 130 turbines, which are scheduled to be installed off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass. by 2012, remain politically sensitive.

Jim Motavelli in a story that appeared soon after the Cape Wind approval wrote on that the project was the first to be federally approved offshore.

The U.S. Department of Energy in its 2009 Wind Market Report said: "2,476 MW of offshore projects have advanced significantly in the permitting and development process. Of those projects, three have signed or proposed power purchase agreements with terms and details have been made public ... and a variety of other recent project and policy announcements demonstrate accelerated activity in the offshore wind energy sector."

Motavelli, a New York Times contributor and author, said DOE has reported the United States has the capacity to generate significantly more than 20 percent of its energy from wind.

Wagner's Lake Eerie project is one of the steps to realizing that potential. He said on the phone Tuesday that they're taking it slow and keeping the project small to start. He said Ohio regulators are working with his team -- Bechtel Development Co. Inc., Cavallo Great Lakes Ohio Wind LLC and Great Lakes Wind Energy LLC -- to craft a strategy for moving forward.

After all, while offshore natural gas development in the lake -- on the Canadian side -- is common, offshore wind power is a completely new concept and none of the environmental concerns has been addressed. Nor is there a specific process by which to address them.

Wagner said his development team was chosen for its talent and experience.

Indicators suggest more regional governments will be working to craft regulations for offshore wind power. The feds likely will have a lot more projects to review and include in their annual wind reports about offshore installations from here on out.

I'd like to see a couple of monster wind machines in Shelikof Strait in Alaska. I recall a trip in 1971 returning from Kodiak Island in my uncle's 50-foot fishing boat riding 30 or 40 foot seas and a relatively warm post-Christmas wind beating the heck out us. May as well harness that. With such resources -- and a long cable -- wind power could energize the Kenai Peninsula.

5 wind projects get DOE grants

Federal officials have invested big in weather forecasting and other wind related technologies, citing a goal of doubling U.S. wind-generation capacity.

More than $5 million in grants will go to five projects, the U.S. Department of Energy said today. Two will be used to help utilities better plan around the variability of wind energy. The other three grants assist development of mid-sized wind turbines used at such locations as schools, farms and factories.

"Wind power holds enormous potential to help reach our nation's clean energy goals," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement. "Today's awards will help better integrate wind energy into the electrical grid and will support the development of midsize wind turbines that can be used to provide renewable electricity in communities across the country."

The move is another that beefs up one of the most promising U.S. alternative energy sources. The private sector is humming with proposals looking to expand the reach of wind farms from Montana to Chesapeake Bay. And Southern California Edison -- like many others -- is investing big bucks into new and bigger transmission lines. In SCE's case, it's to get power from growing Tehachapi, Calif.-area wind farms to the Los Angeles market.

Last month, Terra-Gen Power LLC says it secured $1.2 billion to build four wind-powered electrical generation projects near Tehachapi. Officials estimate the project will generate about 1,500 jobs and have a combined generating capacity of 570 megawatts, expanding the wind farm by about 20 percent.

DOE reported 10 gigawatts of wind-powered capacity added nationwide last year for a $21 billion investment, enough to power about 2.4 million homes. Yet wind still delivers a paltry 2.5 percent of the nation's electrical supply, DOE said.

But that is expected to grow. One of the drawbacks is the intermittent nature of wind. When it blows, energy can be produced. When it's not, another source must take up the slack.

Two of the latest DOE grants, to AWS Truepower LLC in Albany, N.Y. and WindLogics Inc. in Saint Paul, Minn., will lead teams and work with DOE and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to install "advanced atmospheric measurement systems over a broad area, provide data that allow advanced weather prediction systems to improve short-term turbine-level wind forecasts and demonstrate the value of these forecasting improvements for electric utility operations."

Better forecasting solves only part of the problem. Carl Borgquist, president of Grasslands Renewable Energy, a wind startup in Bozeman, has a high-priced proposal he believes will solve it.

Borgquist told that wind needs a way to get the energy to market. That means costly transmission lines, and Borgquist said the only way to make them cost-efficient is to fill them up.

That means backup energy. Coal and natural gas are the most lucrative possibilities.

But Borgquist has another idea. He told Forbes about his pump-storage proposal: "Pump water uphill when there is excess power, and let it run downhill through a hydroturbine when power is needed."

It needs lakes, a hill and a lot of cash. It's uncertain if others share his vision. The cost Forbes mentioned was $3.25 billion for 1,000 megawatts of steady clean power.

Here's a detailed list of the DOE grants:
  • AWS Truepower: $2.15 million. Targets high-wind region in Texas and works with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages an electric power system with the largest amount of wind power capacity in the United States. Include Texas Technological University, North Carolina State University, University of Oklahoma and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  • WindLogics: $1.25 million. Spans several Upper-Midwest states and many active wind energy projects and assesses utility benefits with the Midwest Independent System Operator. Corporate parent NextEra Energy Resources will provide meteorological data from 14 wind plants totaling about 2 gigawatts of capacity. Includes South Dakota State University and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  • Clean Green Energy LLC of Brighton, Mich., $620,000: Bring a 200-kilowatt vertical axis wind turbine design into cost-effective mass production. The vertical turbine design will allow for distributed onsite generation near buildings.
  • Northern Power Systems of Barre, Vt., $620,000: Leveraging about $10 million in private sector capital to develop a 450-kilowatt turbine, helping to complete the final turbine design, procurement, and prototype testing within 18 months. The project is expected to reduce the cost of energy from midsize turbines.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, $620,000: Adapt a turbine featuring two blades downwind of the tower. This turbine design builds available technology and scales it up to a 500-kilowatt rated output. Allows installation without cranes and seeks to compete on cost with fossil fuel power generation.

Wind Turbines Mess Up Military Radar

The Southern California deserts are proving popular with developers of solar energy. That's not necessarily the case with wind projects.

As this article from the New York Times says, the blades of energy-generating wind turbines can resemble storm systems on the military's weather radar, confusing pilots and controllers. No serious incidents have been reported, but the military is beginning to oppose wind-energy projects in regions close to military bases.

That's kind of ironic because another agency within the federal government, the Department of Energy, has been pushing wind and other types of renewable energy.

Wind energy isn't a huge player in the San Joaquin Valley, although Tehachapi east of Bakersfield is home to 5,000 turbines. It remains to be seen how much of an impact this issue has on development of wind energy. Some experts expect new types of coatings and construction materials could be a solution.

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.