Future energy
Renewables, fuel cells, hydrogen, and efficiency

Ken Novak's Weblog


daily link  Friday, October 22, 2004


Cringely gets it about BPL:  The recent Fcc approval of "broadband over power lines (BPL) is going to totally shake up the Internet industry. .. One thing to remember about electric utilities is that they are very slow and deliberate. They move like glaciers, so it will take awhile for these services to be available at your house. But like glaciers, they are also impossible to stop.

The appeal here to an electric company isn't that $20-30 per month they'll charge for becoming your ISP. What matters to them and what makes this whole thing so important is that it will lead to your electric meter being monitored 24/7. That means utilities can start to offer true dynamic pricing, with electric costs dropping in low demand time periods and dramatically rising with high demand. While that sounds bad, the end result is actually good, since for the most part, profits from electricity sales will be regulated. The real end result is that demand will be better controlled by dynamic pricing, and the utility may just be able to forego building that $2 billion power plant they've been planning and saving for over the past 20 years. Dropping $2 billion to the bottom line has to appeal to any board of directors and, in a tightly regulated environment, will probably lead to overall power rates going DOWN, not up.

So this BPL stuff is mainly about getting smart electric meters and only partly about offering Internet service. But having made the effort to build the network, offer it they will, generally through unregulated subsidiaries."  This is particularly interesting for developing and newly industrializing countries that are still building their grids and can design BPL in at the start.

  10:47:09 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Solar power design for UK new homes:  UK Deputy Prime Minister  "John Prescott has demanded that all new homes built in Britain be designed so that they can receive solar power. Draft building regulations from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, due to come into effect in January 2006, stipulate the change.  The move is significant since the government is on the cusp of a major housebuilding drive. It will infuriate housebuilders, adding millions to the cost of constructing homes. But it will delight environmentalists as concerns mount over the effects of climate change."  The idea is to build new homes to be ready to adopt PV when prices drop.  9:13:19 AM  permalink  

Redefining Progress: Blue Green:  Redefining Progress, an Oakland think tank, coordinated a nationwide study of renewable energy, jobs, and the environment.  It has been endorsed by the Union of Concerned Scientists and several labor and environmental groups.  It includes state-by-state plans of action. Press release: "The "Smarter, Cleaner, Stronger" report provides a comprehensive new policy package that will stimulate the creation of new jobs - approximately 1.4 million more new jobs by 2025 - while lowering energy bills that will save U.S. consumers an astounding $170 billion per year. America would reduce her dependence on foreign oil by slashing its imported oil by 1.7 billion barrels per year. Annual GDP would increase by $123 billion in 2025. And, if the policies outlined in this package were adopted, the U.S. would cut in half the amount of greenhouse gases that would be emitted into the atmosphere under a "business as usual" approach. "  8:20:16 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, October 19, 2004


NSF Awards on Information Technology Research for National Priorities: A large batch of projects with "total estimated funding of more than $130 million over five years. Projects cover a wide range of topics, including interactive ocean observatories and deep-sea exploration; stress corrosion cracking in materials; protection of critical infrastructures; improvements to healthcare processes; and secure access to confidential social science data. .. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University received a $2.2 million award to develop new approaches to modeling and controlling the electric power grid. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, are leading a $3.4 million effort to monitor and protect the Internet's Domain Name System, key to maintaining the reliability and stable evolution of the Internet. And in a $2.3 million project at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, researchers are working to develop new collaboration technologies for disaster relief and recovery in urban settings... "  Health care, business processes, and large databases also get attention.  (Thanks to Roland Piquepaille, who provides more coverage on the undersea Internet instrumentation project.)

  7:50:51 PM  permalink  

Jet Engine on a Chip: MIT's Alan Epstein has micro turbines in his lab that should generate up to 20 watts.   Like fuel cells, they can replace batteries, or provide emergency or off-grid power when scaled up or connected in clusters.   Micro turbines would be smaller and lighter than fuel cells, and more tolerant of impurities in the fuel.  7:40:06 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, October 15, 2004


The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology - Conference on solar energy and nanotechnology: Being held now [Oct 2004] at Rice University.  List of presenters and their powerpoints worth checking out.  8:27:57 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, October 04, 2004


A vision for silicon solar cells: Projections based on current technology and experience curves. Projects decline from about $3 today, to $1.44/w cell price in 2013, and $0.65 in 2023. (Corresponds to my rough projections.)  The author also costs out a government program that would offer buyers grid-competitive prices from now forward until costs declined.  That subsidy would be 50% of costs today, declining to zero by 2012.  The total cost of this subsidy program in the US would be $23B from 2003-2012.

  5:42:23 PM  permalink  

PV Concentrator systems: Survey of technical issues and current players.   Conclusions (and an interesting point on policy):  "Concentrators have great potential to become the lowest-cost photovoltaic option, producing power in the 7-15 cents/kWh range, depending on system size and location. Concentrator companies should not try to imitate today's flat-plate applications. The most natural markets are for medium-sized systems for grid-support, green power, and portfolio standards, or remove PV±diesel hybrid applications. .. Clearly, any economical application must be either remote, non-grid-connected or dispersed and located near retail grid customers.

One promising application is utility end-of-line grid support in remote regions that are experiencing rapid growth. PV is particularly valuable in this application when the region load is driven by air conditioning so that the demand and resource are well matched. This application requires the participation of utility companies as well as Federal support. Another potential application is remote power systems that are now being served by larger diesel generators. Typical installations are island power systems, large water pumping stations, remote military bases, resorts, and the like. By adding PV to these installations, diesel fuel is saved and engine operating time is reduced. Concentrator PV should be cost- effective in these applications within the very near future. ..

Projected electricity costs from concentrator power plants are about three times the current cost of energy from natural gas power plants. Early concentrator plants will be twice as expensive again. There is nothing that can be done about this without government involvement, period. We need to decide as a society if environmental issues such as acid rain, global warming, and reduced health are important enough to subsidize this difference for a while. Factors of three can't be that big a deal in the broader picture. After all, the price of electricity varies by over a factor of three at various locals in the US. The high costs in the more expensive locals is often a legacy of stranded nuclear power plants, another government program that wasn't entirely successful.  The low-cost locals benefit from low-cost hydropower, a government program that was successful."

  5:30:15 PM  permalink  

Compact refrigeration technology:  "Twinbird Corporation are in the final stage of the development work on the Free Piston Stirling Cooler "FPSC-TB40" and expects to have market ready products in Fiscal Year 2003. The TB40 has significant differences to the conventional Rankine compressor or Peltier (thermoelectric) module type refrigeration systems. It is a new type of refrigeration system that uses neither ozone depleting nor global warming gas and no lubrication oil. The cooling technique is based on the Stirling cycle for maximum efficiency. Aside from being environmentally friendly, the unit is also compact, light weight and may be operated on many different power sources such as AC or DC electricity and photovoltaics."  Could prove very useful in developing country or off-grid conditions with variable DC power (e.g., solar cells).  4:58:08 PM  permalink  

OECD Report Calls for Policy Changes to Promote Biomass: "Plants and animal waste could become viable alternatives to fossil fuels in providing energy and materials if governments changed strategies, according to a new OECD report out today.  Instead of offering financial incentives or subsidies to stimulate the use of such organic material, known as “biomass”, governments should encourage technical innovation as a way of narrowing the price gap with oil and gas products. ..

According to the report, long-term strategies should be developed that recognise the potential of local resources and encourage the establishment of bio-refineries to recycle a range of farm by-products in addition to using grains, oilseeds and sugar. Such complexes would be capable of producing both energy and materials derived not only from annual crops but also grass, short rotation trees, cereal straws and other by-products. ..

The report also reveals that:

  • The prices of some niche market bioproducts such as plastics derived from arable crops are already competitive with certain petroleum-based plastics. The car industry, for example, is making increasing use of bioplastics.
  • Around 7% of heat generation and 1% of total electricity in OECD countries is provided by agricultural bioenergy. In developing countries an estimated 25% of total energy demand is met by biomass, principally in the form of firewood and animal dung.
  • Because bioethanol, produced from sugar and grains, can be used in existing engines with little modification, it is easier to exploit than other alternative transportation fuels such as hydrogen."
  8:35:36 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, October 03, 2004


Sunlight Used To Produce Hydrogen From Water: "Solar Hydrogen Energy Corporation (SHEC Labs) reported on July 6th that they have demonstrated the production of Hydrogen from water using their proprietary Solar Thermal Chemical Process.  The Hydrogen production was accomplished at the APS (Arizona Public Service) Solar Test and Research Facility in Tempe, Arizona on June 8th and again June 28th, 2004.  Utilizing the hot Arizona sun and a new Solar Concentrator developed by the Lab, the research team was able to extract Hydrogen from water at a temperature of 850 degrees Celsius (1562° Fahrenheit). ..

Independent engineering companies have verified that SHEC labs' process can produce hydrogen from water at temperatures significantly lower than 1000 degrees Celsius. Direct thermal water splitting in comparison normally requires temperatures of 2000 degrees Celsius to begin the reaction and 5000 degrees Celsius to optimize the reaction.

"The United States, Japan, Canada, and France have investigated thermal water splitting, a radically different approach to creating hydrogen. This process uses heat of up to 5,430°F (3,000°C) to split water molecules"1.  The SHEC labs catalytic process, on the other hand, has operated as low as 400 degrees Celsius. Their process dramatically reduces radiant energy losses and the material problems associated with higher temperatures are minimized. Their 18 inch diameter solar concentrator has been able to achieve temperatures in excess of 750 degrees Celsius.  SHEC Labs has also developed advanced "high ratio" solar concentrators capable of concentrating the power of the sun by 5,000 times. "

  9:35:46 PM  permalink  

NY State 25% RPS: "The New York State Public Service Commission today voted to adopt a renewable energy policy designed to increase to at least 25 percent by 2013 the proportion of electricity sold to consumers in New York State that is generated from renewable resources. .. To meet the 25 percent target, it is estimated that New York State will need to add approximately 3,700 megawatts (MWs) of renewable resource generation capacity. By 2013, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program is forecast to reduce statewide air emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) by 6.8 percent, sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 5.9 percent, and carbon dioxide (CO2) by 7.7 percent, with a greater proportion of emission reductions expected in New York City and Long Island. .. Customer bill impacts for the RPS are expected to be modest. In fact, wholesale energy prices will likely decline as a result of adding substantial amounts of renewable resources, thereby offsetting some of the Program costs and associated bill impacts. For residential customers, over the life of the Program, cumulative bill impacts are forecast to range from a reduction of 0.9 percent to an increase of 1.68 percent; for commercial customers, estimated bill impacts range from a 0.78 percent reduction to a 1.79 percent increase; and for industrial consumers, bill impacts could range from a reduction of 1.54 percent to an increase of 2.2 percent. The cumulative cost of premium payments, projected to range between $582 million and $762 million for renewable projects, is expected to be offset by approximately $362 million in wholesale energy cost reductions as New York reduces its reliance upon fossil fuels. " The program impacts start January 1, 2006, with program review in 2009.  12:54:00 PM  permalink  

What's Wrong With the Modular Pebble Bed Reactor?: Concise summary of the safety and waste issues.  Also summarized here.  12:48:53 PM  permalink  

Winning the Oil Endgame: RMI's latest book on energy futures.  "Winning the Oil Endgame offers a coherent strategy for ending oil dependence, starting with the United States but applicable worldwide. There are many analyses of the oil problem. This synthesis is the first roadmap of the oil solution -- one led by business for profit, not dictated by government for reasons of ideology. This roadmap is independent, peer-reviewed, written for business and military leaders, and co-funded by the Pentagon"  11:40:47 AM  permalink  

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Last update: 11/24/2005; 11:21:48 PM.
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