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Renewable | Green and Alternative Energy Information

Clean energy – Definition

Finding an adequate definition for clean energy isn’t an easy thing to do, mostly because of the issue with nuclear power categorization. While some energy experts believe that nuclear power should be also categorized as a clean energy source because harnessing nuclear energy doesn’t emit harmful greenhouse gas emissions others say that nuclear power shouldn’t be considered as a clean energy source because of radioactive nuclear waste.

What does this “clean” mean? The clean means environmentally friendly, or given our current energy situation, environmentally more acceptable compared to fossil fuels. This somewhat explains why there is such a big debate whether we should include nuclear power among clean energy sources or not, as energy experts first need to agree whether nuclear power is environmentally more friendly option compared to fossil fuels.

The question about nuclear power categorization is really a question of setting up the limit for term “clean”. If clean energy refers only to energy sources that are not connected with greenhouse gas emissions then nuclear power should be considered as one of the clean energy options, and if clean refers to energy sources that are not hazardous for environment then nuclear power cannot be categorized as a clean energy source.

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Hydropower in United States – Things to know

Hydropower is the most important renewable energy source in United States, which currently accounts for around 8% of nation’s electricity.

The biggest hydroelectric dams in the United States are found in the Northwest, the Tennessee Valley, and on the Colorado River.

United States is currently fourth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world, behind China, Canada and Brazil.

The United States currently has more than 2,000 hydroelectric power plants which supply close to 50% of its total renewable electricity.

The largest U.S. hydroelectric power plant is the 6,800-megawatt Grand Coulee power station on the Columbia River in Washington State.

Idaho, Washington, and Oregon are US states that use hydroelectricity as their main power source, and hydroelectric plants exist in at least 34 US states.

State of Washington leads the nation in hydropower and accounts for around 31% of the total U.S. generated hydropower.

Hydropower has very long history in United States as the first U.S. hydroelectric power plant was opened almost 130 years ago, on the Fox River near Appleton, Wisconsin, on September 30, 1882.

Most dams in the United States were built mainly for flood control and irrigation, and only a small percentage of all dams in the United States generates electricity.

US can currently generate enough hydropower to supply electricity needs for close to 29 million households.

In 2008, hydropower represented 2.5% of the total energy consumed in the United States.

Posted byNed Haluzan

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Abandoned Sites to Become Solar Fields

Brownfields like this may become solar fields. Via Srwenvironmental.com

Brownfield sites are abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for re-use. Often, redeveloping such sites is hampered by real or perceived environmental contamination.

But a new partnership may change that. OPEL Solar, a supplier of high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar panels and advanced solar trackers and TRUENORTH Solar & Environmental, a designer and installer of high quality solar industry products, have teamed up to install utility-scale solar fields on brownfield sites across North America that have been deemed otherwise unusable.

One of the attractions of doing that is that blighted areas of land can be turned into renewable energy fields to meet growing demand, besides helping utilities to meet their clean energy mandates.

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Solar energy vs fossil fuels

Many people wonder how come we still so heavily rely on fossil fuels when we could use free, environmentally friendly, and almost unlimited solar energy to satisfy our energy needs. The answer is quite simple, fossil fuels are still considerably cheaper energy option compared to solar energy, and energy consumers are still not ready to pay higher prices, even if this means reduced environmental damage. Also, fossil fuels technologies have far better efficiency compared to currently available solar power technologies.

Solar energy industry still searches for its holy grail in form of cheap and efficient solar panels. There are many ongoing researches that offer some interesting solutions, but none of these solutions have the sufficient commercial component that would make it economically viable, and thus competitive with fossil fuels.

Standard solar panels installed on a house may convert only up to 15% of the sun’s rays, meaning that large potion of solar energy remains untapped and instead becomes waste heat. Even the most efficient solar panels available on the market today have efficiency of only 22%.

Scientists use different approaches in their research of efficient and inexpensive solar photovoltaic panels. Some believe the key may lie in complex nanomaterials and semiconductors, while others focus on the process itself, not giving total attention to materials used in process.

How difficult it is to improve efficiency of solar panels with currently available technologies? Many energy experts will tell you that improving efficiency of solar panels by only 5% would be a massive achievement, and this certainly answers the above question.

Photovoltaics are complicated technology, and in many cases when scientists try to improve efficiency their end result it even worse then it was in the beginning. The discovery of cheap and efficient solar panels is definitely one of the greatest scientific and technological challenges of our time.

Though fossil fuels currently have big advantages in terms of costs and efficiency compared to solar panels, fossil fuel industry still wakes up each day in fear thinking “what if today is the day when solar panels will become less expensive and much more efficient?”.

That day will no doubt come, and hopefully more sooner than later.

Posted byNed Haluzan

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The Difference Between Renewable and Sustainable

Via Campaign Against Climate Change

Climate change, renewable energy, green this, eco that … We are constantly flooded with information about the need to shift towards a different, planet-friendly economy in order to preserve the atmospheric condition in which life as we know it can thrive.

And it’s true.

However, the media is fragmented, conflicting interests clash and everyone is learning and making mistakes in the process. Just remember how much controversy there is about climate science and you get an idea as to how complex thinking about these issues, let alone writing and legislating about them, is.

The concept of renewable energy is also multi-faceted. Renewable, in the context of energy, refers to fuels whose supplies are not based on a finite reserve, like fossil fuels are. For instance, solar power is renewable because the sun will probably outshine the human presence on this planet for millions and millions of years

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Financing Renewable Energy

Stephen Lacey’s podcast this week on Crossing the Valley of Death was simply terrific. In the first 10 minutes or so, he delivered interview snippets with several top players in the financing of energy innovation, each pointing to a singular basic fact:

There is a gap between the interests of venture capitalists (who want to invest a few million dollars in projects that are likely to produce large short-term profits) and the interests of institutional investors and banks (who, while they will take long-term positions, do so only in mature, risk-free technologies).

The show went on to discuss a variety of different work-arounds to the challenge, including an initiative now working its way through Congress: the creation of a new entity housed in DOE, the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA). Supporters claim that CEDA would bring strong financial expertise and a specific purpose to create an attractive investment environment for the development and deployment new clean energy technologies.

The only thing I would add is that this entire discussion is occurring in the context of renewable energy that is currently expensive vis-à-vis fossil fuels. A few of the folks Stephen interviewed mentioned this casually, but it’s really at the crux of the entire issue; I know I’ve mentioned this “level playing field” concept before, but this is where the central problem lies. If you a solution that makes a bloated government even bigger, go for it. But if you you believe that “that government is best that governs least,” and you want market-based capital formation to drive the clean energy industry, all you really have to do is remove the subsidies given to fossil fuels, the problem will take care of itself more or less instantly.

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Worst Excuses for Not Using Solar Power

Over the past couple of months as the team at Clean Energy Experts has talked to a number of friends and other colleagues about solar power, we’ve been hearing a lot of the same excuses for not going solar.  Time and time again, we have to explain to them why their reasoning is unfounded but still we find the same excuses wherever we go.  So we thought we’d take a little time to dispel the four most common excuses for not utilizing solar power.

First Excuse: It’s Too Expensive

Everyone seems to know that federal and state governments have significant financial incentives in place to help promote the adoption of solar power.   Even after these incentives, the average residential solar system costs between $10,000 and $30,000 and for most people, this represents a major capital investment.  As a result, most people stop there and say, “I can’t afford it.”

What they don’t know is that there are a number of financing options available to help ease the cost of solar.  For example, a number of solar installers offer financing programs, similar to small loan or mortgage, where there is little to no up front cost and finance the balance of the purchase price through a loan.  As a result, the homeowner does not have to come up with cash upfront but can amortize the cost of the solar system over time.  What’s great is that when you factor in a your reduced utility bill from solar and the amortization cost of the panels, this amount is most likely still less than your electric bill without solar power.  So you save immediately and that savings grows over time as electricity rates increase.

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Renewable energy investments – US behind China

According to the latest Ernst & Young ranking China has overtook the United States to lead a quarterly index as the most attractive country for renewable energy projects. To some people this may come as a surprise but to those who follow global energy market more thoroughly this shouldn’t be at all surprising.

There are several different reasons why China is currently an ideal destination for renewable energy investments and new renewable energy projects. Unlike United States China has national renewable energy policy, and China is definitely putting serious efforts to achieve its goal of generating 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

China is well aware that this goal can only be achieved by rapidly developing renewable energy market for its own manufacturers. China is world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels, and this is something that will likely last for many years to come.

China not only has enough capital to achieve its renewable energy goal but it also has strong government will, and large enough market to support more investments.

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Self-healing solar cells

Via MIT

One of the big stories this week about renewable energy came from MIT, where scientists have succeeded in replicating a natural process to increase the durability of solar cells.

Why is that important? Well, the sun’s rays can be highly destructive to many materials. And sunlight leads to a gradual degradation of many of the systems developed to harness it. So the MIT brains had an idea: to imitate the process whereby plants cope with the impact of sunlight.

Plants are always breaking down their light-capturing molecules and reassemble them from scratch, so the basic structures that capture the sun’s energy are, in effect, always brand new. This action all takes place inside tiny capsules called chloroplasts that reside inside every plant cell where photosynthesis happens.

The research was led by Michael Strano, a Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and his team of graduate students and researchers. They have created a new set of self-assembling molecules that can turn sunlight into electricity; the molecules can be repeatedly broken down and then reassembled quickly, just by adding or removing an additional solution.

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A second life for nuclear power in Germany

Germany is by many considered as one of the leading countries when it comes to supporting the development of renewable energy. Having this in mind, the latest report according to which Germany would extend the life of its nuclear reactors by 12 years on average, came as a rather big surprise.

Nuclear energy is always a controversial issue, and Germany is no exception so it’s really no surprise that this decision raised plenty of critics towards Chancellor Angela Merkel. Environmentalists and many energy experts believe that this decision was step backwards, and a hard blow for the future development of renewable energy.

Merkel defended her decision by saying that the decision to prolong life of nuclear reactors in Germany would really serve as a “bridge” until renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power can produce more of Germany’s power as it seeks to reduce dependence on coal. Merkel also highlighted that without the nuclear power Germany could may as well forget about its target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. On the other hand many environmentalists argue that this decision is all about yielding to powerful nuclear energy lobby.

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said that the nuclear reactors in older plants will be extended by eight years and those of newer ones by 14 years, and he also added that nuclear utilities would have to pay part of their extra profits boosted from the extension to develop renewable energy.

The recent polls and surveys in Germany have showed that majority of Germans opposed the idea of postponing the date that the country goes nuclear-free which makes this decision even more surprising.

Austria’s environment minister Niki Berlakovich was also very disappointed with such decision saying that “nuclear energy will not answer the problems related to climate or be a solution to reducing CO2 emissions because the future of energy supplies lies indisputably in renewable energy”.

The time period of 10-15 years may not seem so long, but this also means that in the next 15 years renewable energy will not only have to compete with fossil fuels but also with nuclear power, which will make things very difficult for renewable energy industry, and may seriously slow down the development of renewable energy in Germany.

Posted byNed Haluzan

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