Calculating Solar Energy’s Land-Use Footprint

New Hampshire, USA — New statistics from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reveal exactly how much land is needed to site a solar plant of various sizes and technologies, based on actual plants and projects and not models or projections. The takeway: your mileage may vary.

NREL’s previous estimates and calculations of solar energy’s land-use requirements, published several years ago, suggested that it could meet the U.S.’ total electric demand (circa 2005 levels) with a footprint of about 0.6 percent of the nation’s total land area, or somewhere around 14-15 million acres.

Now, though, NREL has pooled data from more than two-thirds (72 percent) of solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal (CSP) power plants already installed or being built across the country, as of 3Q12 data from SEIA: 2.1 GW (AC) of generation capacity and 4.6 GW (AC) under construction. Not surprisingly, they determined the required footprint varies widely depending what solar energy technology is applied, weighing between and how one calculates the “direct impact” (physical infrastructure development) vs. “total” area impacted including the surrounding land.

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

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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.

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.

Solar Power In The U.S. Becoming A More Popular, Cost-Saving Option For Homeowners

Ben Kunz wanted to do “the green thing” and save on his electric bill without paying a lot of money up front. So instead of buying a solar system for his house in Cheshire, Connecticut, he leased one.

“I thought it was a pretty good deal,” he said. “I lean a little environmentalist so I’m concerned about global warming.”

Increasing numbers of U.S. homeowners are relying on the sun to meet much of their hot water and electricity needs. In fact, residential electricity produced by solar in the first quarter of 2013 was almost 10 times higher than that generated in 2008, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

But the potential for more is huge.

Consider this: “The amount of solar energy falling on the United States in one hour of noontime summer sun is about equal to the annual U.S. electricity demand,” the Energy Department says in its SunShot Vision Study.

Written by Carole Feldman. To read the full article, click here.

The Sun Breaks Through Stormy Skies of China/EU Trade

China and the West broke a decades-old pattern of troubled trade relations over the weekend with a landmark deal to settle a trade dispute between China and the EU involving Chinese manufactured solar panels. Leaders in China and the West should use this breakthrough agreement as a template for resolving future trade disputes, turning to compromise rather than destructive accusations and punitive tariffs to end their disagreements.

Trade between China and the West has grown rapidly over the last two decades following China’s economic reforms to create a more market-oriented economy. The EU and the US are now China’s two biggest trading partners, with combined exports to both markets totaling more than $700 billion last year – greater than China’s entire exports a decade ago. Disputes are almost inevitable with such rapid growth, and many of those are related to China’s policies of State support for many big companies and key industries.

The solar panel dispute began two years ago when the sector suddenly plunged into a downward spiral after nearly a decade of explosive growth. A major cause of that downturn was a rapid buildup of capacity in China, as China rolled out favorable policies like tax incentives and cheap loans to promote development of a cutting-edge sector with big growth potential. As prices tumbled, a growing number of companies in the US and Europe went bankrupt, with many blaming cheap imports from China for their woes. Washington opened an investigation into the matter, which ended with the imposition of antidumping tariffs against Chinese manufacturers last year. The EU followed with its own investigation, and announced its own tariffs this spring.

Written by Doug Young. 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.

A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis

Several strands of green thinking maintain that capitalism is incapable of a sustainable relationship with non-human nature because, as an economic system, capitalism has a growth imperative while the earth is finite. One finds versions of this argument in the literature of eco-socialism, deep ecology, eco-anarchism, and even among many mainstream greens who, though typically declining to actually name the economic system, are fixated on the dangers of “growth.”

All this may be true. Capitalism, a system in which privately owned firms must continuously out-produce and out-sell their competitors, may be incapable of accommodating itself to the limits of the natural world. However, that is not the same question as whether capitalism can solve the more immediate climate crisis.

Because of its magnitude, the climate crisis can appear as the sum total of all environmental problems—deforestation, over-fishing, freshwater depletion, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, chemical contamination. But halting greenhouse gas emissions is a much more specific problem, the most pressing subset of the larger apocalyptic panorama.

Written by Christian Parenti. To read the full article, click here.