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.

Japan Solar Energy Soars, But Grid Needs to Catch Up

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest and northernmost island, is known for its beautiful wild nature, delicious seafood, and fresh produce. Now another specialty is taking root: Large-scale megasolar power plants that take advantage of the island’s unique geography.

A new renewable energy incentive program has Japan on track to become the world’s leading market for solar energy, leaping past China and Germany, with Hokkaido at the forefront of the sun power rush. In a densely populated nation hungry for alternative energy, Hokkaido is an obvious choice to host projects, because of the availability of relatively large patches of inexpensive land. Unused industrial park areas, idle land inside a motor race circuit, a former horse ranch—all are being converted to solar farms. (See related, “Pictures: A New Hub for Solar Tech Blooms in Japan.”)

But there’s a problem with this boom in Japan’s north. Although one-quarter of the largest solar projects approved under Japan’s new renewables policy are located in Hokkaido, the island accounts for less than 3 percent of the nation’s electricity demand. Experts say Japan will need to act quickly to make sure the power generated in Hokkaido flows to where it is needed. And that means modernizing a grid that currently doesn’t have capacity for all the projects proposed, installing a giant battery—planned to be the world’s largest—to store power when the sun isn’t shining, and ensuring connections so power can flow across the island nation.

Written by Yvonne Chang. To read the full article, click here.

White House solar panels being installed this week

After nearly three years, the White House began installing solar panels on the First Family’s residence this week, a White House official confirmed Thursday.

The Obama administration had pledged in October 2010 to put solar panels on the White House as a sign of the president’s commitment to renewable energy.

The White House official, who asked not to be identified because the installation is in process, wrote in an e-mail the project is “a part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building.”

At the time of the 2010 announcement, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu and White House Council on Environmental Quality chair Nancy Sutley said the administration would conduct a competitive bidding process to buy between 20 and 50 solar panels. The officials did not identify the supplier or cost of the project, but wrote the White House “has begun installing American-made solar panels” and the initiative, “which will help demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades, is estimated to pay for itself in energy savings over the next eight years.”

Written by  Juliet Eilperin. To read the full article, click here.

A Material That Could Make Solar Power “Dirt Cheap”

A new type of solar cell, made from a material that is dramatically cheaper to obtain and use than silicon, could generate as much power as today’s commodity solar cells.

Although the potential of the material is just starting to be understood, it has caught the attention of the world’s leading solar researchers, and several companies are already working to commercialize it.

Researchers developing the technology say that it could lead to solar panels that cost just 10 to 20 cents per watt. Solar panels now typically cost about 75 cents a watt, and the U.S. Department of Energy says 50 cents per watt will allow solar power to compete with fossil fuel.

In the past, solar researchers have been divided into two camps in their pursuit of cheaper solar power. Some have sought solar cells that can be made very cheaply but that have the downside of being relatively inefficient. Lately, more researchers have focused on developing very high efficiency cells, even if they require more expensive manufacturing techniques.

Written by Kevin Bullis. To read the full article, click here.

The sunny side of solar power

If solar were fashion, we’d say it was having a moment. Over the past few years we’ve gone from near zero solar photovoltaic panels to 2.5GW of capacity. Of this 1.9GW is installed on rooftops and 0.6GW on giant solar farms, with planning secured for a further 0.9GW of utility scale projects.

Ordinarily, I’d greet these farms supplying renewable energy with a cheery, “Welcome to the grid!” Unfortunately, my real response on seeing one on a beloved rolling south Devon hillside was more profane. Developers tend to say they’re of “low visual impact”. Actually they’re positively industrial, guaranteed to bring out your inner Nimby.

Why now? Solar panels (produced in the Far East) cost a third of what they did three years ago. And there’s been a change with Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), too. Generators used to get two ROCs for every MWh of solar-produced electricity. They can be bought and traded among energy suppliers. But in March 2013 these were scaled down to 1.6 ROCs per MWh. Cue a scramble to generate more capacity.

Written by  Lucy Siegle. To read the full article, click here.

Spaniards rebel against solar panel levy

(Reuters) – Two weeks after Spain’s government slapped a series of levies on green energy, Inaki Alonso hired two workmen to remove the solar panels he had put on his roof only six months earlier.

Alonso, an architect who specializes in ecological projects, calculated the cost of generating his own power under a new energy law and decided the numbers no longer added up.

Neither was it possible to leave the panels on his Madrid home without connecting them to the electricity grid; that would have risked an astronomical fine of between 6 million and 30 million euros ($8 million-$40 million).

“The new law makes it unviable to produce my own clean energy,” Alonso said.

Spain’s conservative government announced a reform of the energy system last month, including the “support levy” on solar power in a country blessed with abundant sunlight.

Written by Reuters. To read the full article, click here.