The industry can no longer simply focus on the benefits of shale gas

George Mitchell, the pioneer of extracting shale gas economically, who died on July 26th, rarely talked to the press. In May 2012 The Economist conducted a written interview with him:

Fracking is an old technique, as is horizontal drilling. Geologists had long been aware of the huge reserves of shale gas. What made you decide that you could use the former to tap the latter? Had others before you tried and failed to make fracking and horizontal drilling economically viable?

Big oil companies knew the upside potential of shale gas, and many were working to economically extract the gas from the shale without much success. Many people were trying to make fracking work better, but they weren’t able to get the cells to give up the gas.

We knew there was gas in some of these shale fields. We would measure the volume of gas in the reservoir and it was very high methane (25-40% methane). You could get to the methane, but you couldn’t get it to leave the cells until you fractured it, and that was the major breakthrough.

Written by S.W. To read the full article, click here.

The Fundamental Limitations of Renewable Energy

Many people still think that it will not be long before renewable energy such as solar and wind becomes outright cheaper than fossil fuels, thereby leading to a rapid expansion of the thin orange slither in the graph below. This is an ideologically very attractive notion, but, as discussed in this article, it is questionable whether this is in fact physically possible.

So, what does renewable energy have to accomplish before it can compete with fossil fuels in an open market? Well, in short, we will have to overcome the diffuse and intermittent nature of renewable energy more efficiently than we can overcome the declining reserve qualities and unrefined nature of fossil fuels.

In other words, renewables need to overcome the following two challenges in order to displace fossil fuels in a fair market:

Solar panels and wind turbines need to become cheaper than raw fossil fuels. This is the challenge posed by the diffuse nature of renewables.
Storage solutions need to become cheaper than fossil fuel refineries (e.g. power plants). This is the challenge posed by the intermittent nature of renewables.

Written by Schalk Cloete. To read the full article, click here.

BP Calls Off Sale of US Wind Business

New Hampshire, USA — Four months after announcing it would put its U.S. wind business on the auction block, BP reportedly is calling off the prospective sale, saying that it has determined that the timing isn’t right — though the fate of that business remains undetermined.

After receiving an undisclosed number of bids, “the company has determined that now is not the right time to sell the business,” said Matt Hartwig, a spokesperson for BP America and its Alternative Energy business, in an e-mail exchange. He wouldn’t address details of the sale process, its participants, or the bids that BP received, which he characterized as “commercially sensitive.”

BP’s wind businesses here in the U.S. encompasses 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity spread across 16 farms in operation across nine states (Texas, Indiana, Colorado, Kansas, California, South Dakota, Idaho, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania), with another ~2 GW of projects in development “nearly shovel-ready,” according to the company.

Written by James Montgomery. To read the full article, click here.

Charging Your Electric Vehicle with Solar Energy

Here’s a good article that analyzes the eco-friendliness of electric transportation that makes a point that I try to emphasize in my discussions on the subject: the EV “selection effect.” The vast majority of EV buyers at this point make their decision based on their interest in protecting and preserving the environment, and are extremely likely to charge their cars with solar energy, i.e., “green people buy green cars and green electricity.”

The article (and those it links to) makes the usual error, however, of discussing the average preponderance of coal in the grid-mix, as if this has bearing on the validity of EVs from an ecologic standpoint. The real question, of course, is: Where does the energy come from when you put an incremental load on the grid in most portions of the U.S. in the middle of the night? And the answer, because it’s the least expensive form of baseload, is coal.

But again, let’s not lose sight of the selection effect. As the gentleman interviewed says, “At least 56 percent of all EV owners in California, who make up 35 percent of EV owners in the U.S., either have or are installing solar panels in their homes, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy, California.”

Written by 2GreenEnergy. To read the full article, click here.

Window Socket: Portable Solar-Powered Outlet Sticks to Windows, Charges Small Electronics

The Window Socket is an idea so fabulously simple, it’s slightly amazing that we haven’t seen one before. Designed by Kyuho Song & Boa Oh, the charger sticks to a window and draws solar power to an internal battery, which enables one to either plug in small devices to the outlet right there and then, or save the stored power for use during night time hours.

According to Yanko Design, Kyuho Song & Boa Oh “tried to design a portable socket, so that users can use it intuitively without special training.” It sticks to a window with a suction plate that encircles the solar panel, and a basic outlet feeds the converted solar power to a device—and that’s pretty much it. As the designers point out, this is a charger/converter that can be used anywhere there’s daylight, particularly where there is restricted use of electricity, such as outdoors or on a plane.

At present, the Window Socket is still a concept, but in the near future the designers hope to increase its efficiency, energy storage and charge time. The battery on the Window Socket is very small; at 1000mAh the stored power might be about enough to charge a mobile phone—particularly if it were a USB outlet rather than a standard one, but it won’t be enough to power household appliances. And while it can provide 10 continuous hours of power on a full charge, it presently takes about 5-8 hours to fully charge. But even that can’t completely take a way from it’s awesome, simple design.

Written by Charley Cameron. To read the full article, click here.

ABB helps harness solar energy in the land of the rising sun

In addition to the design and engineering, ABB was also responsible for the supply of key products and systems including the control and protection as well a range of medium- and low-voltage switchgear, inverters and distribution transformers. ABB’s ability to fulfill the requirements of the higher-voltage system (DC 1,000V), which complies with IEC standards, was also a key differentiator.

“We are delighted to contribute to Japan’s efforts to redress its energy mix,” said Massimo Danieli, head of ABB’s Power Generation business, part of the company’s Power Systems division. “ABB’s vast power and automation portfolio, combined with domain expertise and global experience in the photovoltaic solar plant sector, enables us to provide an integrated and optimized solution that helps harness the maximum amount of energy and lower environmental impact.”

In the wake of its recent nuclear experience, Japan is making a concerted effort to increase the share of renewable energy in its mix. One initiative is a feed-in-tariff policy to facilitate solar energy deployment, which could make the country one of the world’s fastest-growing users of solar energy.

Written by ABB Communications. To read the full article, click here.

What Is So Magical About 25-Year Warranties In Solar?

25 years. Two and a half decades. The Silver Anniversary. 13,140,000 minutes (sorry, I saw a community theater version of Rent this weekend, and I love this song).
The most common length for warranties in the solar industry.
Which begs four questions:
What’s so magical about 25 years that solar manufacturers have fixated on it as the warranty length?
Is there really reliable testing to provide hard data that the components of a system will last that long?
Were these warranty lengths chosen only to reassure the financiers that solar was a safe investment?
As President Josiah Bartlett famously used to ask — what’s next?
These questions came up in several discussion I had with manufacturers at the recent Intersolar North America 2013 show, as reliability created a huge buzz at the show (I discussed my theory about why this question is so prevalent now while I was actually at the show). And now I can’t stop thinking about it.
What will happen after 25 years? Assuming all the components last that long (I’m not saying they won’t), what happens when they inevitably start degrading? After all, everything breaks down eventually (even the human body, the most exquisite engineering feat in the history of the world).

Written by Frank Andorka. To read the full article, click here.