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Friday, 3 December 2010

Solar piezzo-electric fibre developed to create clean energy

Source: Clean Technica

A new piezzo-electric fibre has been developed by scientists at the University of Bolton which can harvest energy from the wind, rain, sun and also, it seems, human body movements. The material has a variety of potential uses, for example self-charging casings for laptops and its further development is being conducted with the aid of researchers in China over a three year period. Piezzo-electricity is created when small crystalline structures are subjected to pressure and therefore they can create energy from vibrations. The University of Bolton scientists have discovered a way in which piezzo-electric material, normally fairly rigid, can be woven into a flexible structure, making it more adaptable for a wide variety of potential applications.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Very Worthy Project - new solar barn at Glastonbury

Source: Forum For The Future
Glastonbury Festival website

Glastonbury Festival organiser Michael Eavis has just installed a new 20 Kw solar system on the roof of a barn at Worthy Farm, the 'Mootel' where the cows are housed during the period the festival is on. The system is the largest of any system installed on a farm building in the UK and farmers are flocking to Glastonbury to have a look at it.
The new solar technology is becoming very newsworthy in the farming community because of the government's new 'feed-in tariff' whereby people who install solar panels can sell power back to the National Grid.
The solar array on the roof of the 'Mootel' consists of some 1,100 solar panels and can supply enough power to satisfy 80% of the farm's power requirements while also being able to sell any excess back to the grid. The installation was organised by Bristol company Solarsense.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Solar Ink

Source: Wikipedia, Youtube

Nanosolar, based in California, has developed a printable solar cell using copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) which is apparently nearly 20% efficient in laboratory conditions. The solar cell film can be applied to flexible plastic sheets using an inkjet.

The spray that turns windows into solar panels

Source: Gizmag, Geek With Laptop

A Norwegian company by the name of Ensol is developing a spray that can be applied to windows and effectively turns them into solar panels producing about 2w of power. Essentially it consists of minute nanoparticles of metal embedded in a transparent matrix. The spray is being developed in conjunction with the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy. Chris Binn's, Professor of Nanotechnology at Leicester says that the thin-film spray can also be applied to structural surfaces such as clip-together panels or even roof tiles. Ensol hopes to achieve an efficiency of around 20% and be able to offer the spray on the renewables market by 2016.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Vaclav Smil and power densities

Source: Vision Earth

As you can see from my earlier posts on this blog, I recently wrote a couple of articles on Professor Vaclav Smil's calculation of power densities and the implications for renewable technology. These articles, mostly through my sharing of this blog through links with other energy sites, have come to the attention of the blogsite Vision of Earth, a link to which is included on this site (see below). As a result, Ben Harack from Vision of Earth has written a response which is most interesting as it appears to contradict Smil's findings. I will attempt to summarise this reply but bear with me as, despite my interest in energy issues, I am not a scientist but a journalist.
Harack explains that Smil uses the method of trying to calculate how much energy can be generated from a square meter of land (W/m2) and states that this method has distinct disadvantages in that it leaves out large portions of an energy story, for example concerning the reliability of the energy being produced. He states that the term 'Power density' may confuse as it has other technological definitions and so uses the term 'A real power density' which may be expressed in terms of watts per metre squared (W/m2). This means essentially that higher power densities are more desirable because more power can be generated from the same amount of land. Renewable technologies such as solar power suffer from being intermittent and therefore Smil tries to calculate the yearly averaged power output. The full potential power output (nameplate capacity) differs from the averaged power output by a factor called the capacity factor.
Since land use is crucial in determining the relative merits of various power sources, the power density method is very useful and may be analogous to similar calculations involving, for example, land requirements for food production with which conventional power generation such as coal competes for space. However, Harack argues that renewable energy technology can be utilised in synergy with other land uses and therefore may not need to compete although since wind turbines need sufficient spacing between towers, because of the rotors, its power density may be reduced. Wind turbines for example uses sites such as hilltops, ridges and shallow ocean, all of which may simultaneously be used for livestock grazing or fishing. Wind turbines also need to be spaced properly in order to be cost effective since turbines currently cost a lot more than land does and therefore they need space in order to be able to operate efficiently. On this basis Harack argues that Smil isn't considering the potential of wind as an energy source at all but in actuality the cost effectiveness of turbines. He states that this may change in the future with larger, slower turbines or greater market penetration of wind.
Interesting stuff!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Alaskan untapped oil reserves estimate lowered by 90%

Source: CNN

The US Geological Survey has warned that a recent estimate of the amount of untapped conventional oil in the Alaskan National Reserve is a fraction of the estimate made in 2002, about 90% less to be specific. New data obtained from exploration drilling has revealed gas occurrence rather than oil in much of the same area covered by the 2002 survey.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Most countries dependent on foreign sources for renewable technology materials

Source: Renewable Energy Focus

The Geological Society of America has warned that most countries are highly dependent on foreign sources for the rare metals used in photovoltaics, wind generators, fuel cells and high capacity batteries. Solar PV for instance often requires gallium, indium, selenium, tellurium and high quality silicon, whereas batteries need zinc, vanadium, lithium and fuel cells need metals in the platinum group.
China is one of the biggest providers of these metals but it seems that increasingly they are being withheld for Chinese domestic use. According to a new report from the Worldwatch Institue it also appears that China is starting to become dominant in the renewable energy sector and has ambitions to be a global leader in renewables.
  • In 2009, China overtook the US as the world's largest market for windpower
  • Chinese windpower capacity has doubled every year for the past four years
  • In 2009 China's PV companies held 40% of the global market, with most production exported to Europe. More than 20 Chinese companies have successfully engaged in initial public offerings (IPO's) and five of these are among the world's top ten in solar PV production.
  • China's solar water heating capacity accounts for 80% of global installations.
  • China is the world's largest manufacturer of solar water heaters. Chinese manufacturers now hold 90% of the market for these products.
  • China reduced its energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) by 15.6% between 2005 and 2009 and is on target for 20% by 2010.
  • China's energy consumption doubled since 2000 although per capita energy use remains well below the world average.
  • Consumption of coal in China has doubled over the past nine years and consumption of oil tripled.
  • China wants to reduce its carbon emissions per unit of economic output by 40-45% by 2020. It projects renewables as representing 16-20% of total energy consumption by 2020 and 40-45% by 2050.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

A brief look at renewable wind energy

Source: Youtube

A brief explanation of wind energy including a look at the technology and the impacts on wildlife.


Source: Liveleak

An American researcher from ABC News has found that up to 80% of jobs in the US windpower sector are going overseas, particularly to China. Meanwhile, a story in the Los Angeles reports that the US wind energy industry is in decline:

"wind installations drop 71% in the first half and the forecast past 2010 looks dreary," the Los Angeles Times reports:

"The U.S. wind industry is in distress," a top renewable energy advocate said Tuesday, and the situation appears as though it could get worse.

Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Assn., said that without a national renewable energy standard, investment and interest in wind projects past 2010 would be headed for a free fall.

Despite more than 5.5 gigawatts under construction, the number of installations this year will still end up 25% to 45% below 2009 levels, according to a new report from the group. And beyond that, there's a yawning hole in the queue for planned projects.

The first half of the year saw just 1,239 new megawatts come online, a 57% plunge from the same period in 2008 and a 71% drop from last year. Only two new manufacturing plants were built, compared to seven in 2008 and five in 2009."

EU is aiming for 20% Renewable Energy by 2020

Source: Youtube

A short video explaining the various renewable energy technologies that the EU is currently interested in developing.

Interview with Michael Ruppert on Peak Oil and Collapse

Source: Youtube video

Michael Ruppert interviewed by Chelsea Green and filmed for a Youtube video. Author of the From The Wilderness newsletter, Ruppert had become aware of Peak Oil by 2001 and predicted the 2008 economic collapse. Ruppert believes the first stage of the recession occurred when the oil price reached $47 per barrel and that there was no going back. Peak oil awareness really originates from the calculations of Hubbert from 1947 who predicted the pattern of oil exploration would follow a bell curve and would therefore reach a 'peak', hence the term 'peak oil'. When Hubbert predicted that US oil would peak in the 1970's, he was castigated for it, however as history showed, his prediction was correct. Ruppert believes that long before the Bush administration, the US government was aware of the approach of Peak Oil. The From The Wilderness website apparently contains declassified CIA documents showing that the CIA was aware of Peak Oil in 1974. In Part 2 of this video Ruppert states that because Wall Street demands infinite growth no preparation for Peak Oil was made and we are therefore, now, at the point of collapse. He argues that relocalisation is the only way to survive the imminent collapse of industrial civilisation. Ruppert mentions the Russian writer Dimitri Orloff who described the various stages of collapse and he (Ruppert) argues that we are on the stage of political collapse. Interestingly, Ruppert reports that some prison inmates are being released because the prisons can't afford to feed them anymore. I say interestingly because I happened to notice a British newspaper headline about prisoner releases in the UK on my visit to the local shop about an hour ago.

What do you think? Realistic analysis or excessively doom-laden?

Richard Heinberg, another energy executive looking at Peak Oil has more or less the same outlook, arguing that we now have to face reality and start to plan for a no-growth society.

UK Wind Turbine Test Site

Source: Renewable Energy Focus

The UK company Narec are developing an offshore wind test site in the North Sea. It basically consists of up to 20 'pods' which may be used by tenants to test their prototype or pre-production wind turbines and foundations. The project employs Natural Power's ZephIR lidar at an onshore site to acquire data concerning wind characteristics across the site.

UK Climate Change Plan to hit poorest harder according to CSE

Source: Centre for Sustainable Energy

A recent study by the Centre for Sustainable Energy and the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE) has found that the impacts of the government's Low Carbon Transition Plan will hit poorer households harder in real terms.
The study pursued four main lines of enquiry:
  • What needs to be done to UK housing, in terms of sustainable energy deployment, in order to meet the target of 15% reduction by 2020.
  • The proportion of this target to be met by renewable heat, renewable power and energy conservation.
  • The range and size of technology required.
  • The cost of meeting these targets and how these costs are recovered through domestic energy bills, income tax or a financial transaction tax.

The study found that if the costs are recovered through domestic energy bills, the average household energy expenditure in 2020 will increase by £103 (assuming an existing figure in 2020 of £1,154) representing a rise of 8.5%. In general, because the poor tend to spend more of their household income on energy, this will hit poorer households harder.

If, however, costs are recovered through income tax, the figure will decrease by £193 (16%) as households benefit from insulation and micro-renewables but don't pay for these through energy bills. This will, however, mean a decrease of £309 in annual household income as the average household will be £116 worse off. Under the income tax regime, poorer households will see a surplus of £96 as they pay less income tax, that is to say their savings on energy will compensate for the loss in household income. One of the reports authors, CSE's Ian Preston commented that the research "appears to show that the use of energy bills to recover the cost of climate change policies is more regressive - it hits the poor harder than the rich - than the taxation route". Preston also stated that the use of income tax to recover costs would be unlikely under the present economic circumstances and that therefore if energy bills are used, then this should be done as quickly as possible. His recommendations are that firstly no one fuel should be burdened by recovery costs (for example piling the costs on electricity will hit the poor hardest), secondly expenditure on measures should be implemented according to the householder rather than the house and thirdly tariffs should be designed to penalise high consumers while protecting the vulnerable.

The report, entitled The Distributional Impacts of UK Climate Change Policies is available on the CSE website (see link above)

Renewable energy project for the Somerset levels

Source: Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE)

A new sustainable energy project has just started on the Somerset Levels, the intention being to help communities on the Levels to install their own small-scale renewable energy facilities. The Levels and Moors Energy Project will run in three phases:
  • Stage 1 involves publicity and calling for expressions of interest from the local community. This is the position the project has reached at the moment. A short list of viable projects will then be compiled.
  • Stage 2 involves workshops and feasibility studies of accepted schemes. Grounds for acceptance include financial and technical viability, likelihood of receiving planning permission and broad acceptance by the local community.
  • Stage 3 involves selection of the best 10 to 15 schemes which will then be given more detailed support to ensure financial and technical viability plus support for acquiring equipment , action planning and community engagement.

The project is being funded by the European Union through the local Regional Development Agency as part of the larger Regional Development Programme for England (RDPE).

For further information contact Bridget Newbery on 0117 934 1413.

US Navy completes successful trial of biofuel-powered gunboat

Source: The Guardian

Forced to adapt to the rising price of oil, the US Navy has successfully tested a gunboat which runs on algae-based fuel. Essentially the fuel is a 50-50 mix of algae and diesel and the navy plants to run half of the fleet on a mixture of biofuel and nuclear power by 2020. Rear Admiral Cullom, director of the US Navy's sustainability division stated that this was more to do with maintaining combat capability while avoiding being held hostage by restrictions on conventional fuel sources than it was to do with climate change.

Chicken Poo lights up Gloucestershire Town

A new plant in Cirencester will shortly be using chicken poo to supply energy to homes in the town. The biogas facility, a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant is estimated to be able to power around 350 homes and will begin operations in November. Essentially the plant works by capturing methane from decomposing agricultural waste. This is then burned in a generator to produce renewable electricity and heat. This is not the first such plant to operate in the UK as recently Centrica opened one near Didcot which uses human waste to supply energy.

Oxfam climate poster campaign cleared of being misleading by ASA

Source: The Guardian

The Advertising Standards Authority have received four complaints about Oxfam's new poster campaign which has been designed to highlight the fact that climate change is happening right now and that people are dying directly because of it.
The ASA dismissed the complaints stating that Oxfam's message was not misleading. The bright pink poster reads "You're right. People dying thanks to climate change is a long way off. About 5000 miles give or take".

Images of London following climate change described as 'lazy' by refugee groups

Source: The Guardian

The Museum of London recently staged a photomontage exhibition showing images of London following the impact of climate change. Some of them rely on photoshopped images of refugees and squatter camps and this has led to refugee charities denouncing the exhibition as 'cheapening' and 'stereotyping' refugees.

But have a look yourself and see what you think:

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Licences for Oil and Gas Exploration cut back to protect Wildlife

Source: BBC News Online

Licences for oil and gas exploration in UK waters were announced on Wednesday, including 22 licences for deepwater oil drilling opposed by environmental campaigners. These deepwater licences were granted across 64 sea blocks to the north and west of the Shetland Isles. However, the total number of licences granted has been cut by more than a quarter to 144. Other licences, due to be granted for areas such as the Thames Estuary, Liverpool bay and the north sea off the coast of Norfolk, have been withheld whilst tests are carried out by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to establish potential impacts on wildlife.


Aberdeen-based oil company Petrofac has been awarded a £500m contract to develop a gas processing plant on Shetland. The scheme is being led by French company Total and is thought to promise hundreds of jobs when gas begins to come ashore from the new plant in 2014.

News from Renewable Energy Focus

Here is an interesting story featured on Renewable Energy Focus, a very interesting an informative renewable energy website which is well worth a visit (see link).
According to the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) offshore wind turbines could be sited in deep water off the British coast using floating foundations. These would be floating, tension-legged platforms located in areas of depth 70-300m. A feasibility study looking into this project was carried out by a consortium consisting of Blue H, BAE Systems, the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture (CEFAS), EDF, Romax Technology Ltd, SLP Energy and PAFA Consulting Engineers.
ETI CEO Dr David Clarke stated that although there is a view that the cost of foundations increases with the depth of water, the wind speeds are significantly stronger and more consistent thereby resulting in a higher and more reliable energy output. This then outweights the initial foundation costs.
Project Deepwater is one of the ETI's first offshore wind projects along with Nova and Helm Wind. The Nova project is looking at using a vertical axis wind turbine and Helm Wind is assessing a complete design system for an offshore wind turbine array including installation, design, aerodynamics, electrical systems, control and maintenance.

For those not familiar with the terminology in this article, this is an explanation of a tension-leg platform:

Basically the platform is kept afloat by a buoyant hull which is then moored to the sea bed by clusters of tight tendons known as tension legs. This allows for flexibility with horizontal wave movement but does not allow vertical movement or bobbing. This is why TLP's are popular in hurricane-prone areas such as the Gulf of Mexico.

A vertical axis wind turbine is one on which the rotor blades are set vertically rather than set horizontally as per the 'windmill' type of wind turbine.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Can wind turbines meet our energy needs? (Part 2 of my renewable energy feature)

This is the second of two articles on renewable energy for Ask The Experts based on Vaclav Smil's Power Density Primer discussions. This article looks at wind power.

What are the problems of relying on renewable technology? (Part 1)

This is the first part of a two-part article dealing with renewable technology and asking how efficient it is and whether it can be relied upon to replace fossil fuels on its own. At the present time, this looks dubious. The first part of this article looks at solar power. Both this and the article that follows it relies upon the Power Density Primer articles written by Manitoba University Professor Vaclav Smil as a stimulus for discussion.

Deepwater, Black Horizon: Deep offshore drilling and the coming energy crisis

The title of my second piece for Ask The Experts said it all really. Deep offshore drilling is another sign of an industry beginning to run out of options. If oil companies are willing to risk such dangers, both to the environment and to their reputations, they must be fairly keen to find new sources of oil resources as soon as they can. What does that say about how much oil we have left?

Green or Growth?

Is 'economic growth' compatible with environmental protection? This is the subject I covered in my first article for the technical recruitment company F10 on their newly launched social media forum Ask The Experts. See what conclusions I came to, and whether you agree:

Energy & Environment Dates 2012