Have You Signed up for a Solar Tour?

October is National Energy Awareness Month. The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) National Solar Tour is taking place beginning the first Saturday of the month with additional tours being held throughout the month. The largest grassroots solar event in the U.S., last year more than 160,000 people visited over 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities across the country.

The national event is coordinated by ASES along with dozens of partner organizations. Here are several examples of where some of the events will be held:

  • Solar Connecticut – CT Solar Tour in All, CT on 10/06/2012
  • Solar tour in Mahomet, IL on 10/06/2012
  • Houston Solar Tour in Houston, TX on 10/20/2012
  • San Antonio Solar Tour in San Antonio, TX on 10/07/2012

Here is the tour I want to go on. There is a tour of three “Ghost Houses” in Knoxville, Tennessee that are more than 100 years old and have been rehabilitated. They were sitting abandoned for some time and thus the the Ghost Houses moniker stuck. The project was unique with the designers having to deal with zoning issues, regulations and historic preservation issues but the team was successful and as part of their eco-friendly homes added solar energy. This is just one example of a solar tour that will take place in October.

Click here to find a tour near you.  Click here if you want to list a tour in your area.

China Dominates Renewable Energy Market

According to the most recent Global Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices Report (CAI), China will continue to dominate the global renewable energy market. The country has quadrupled its solar capacity target to 50GW by 2020. At the top of the All Renewable Index (ARI), China will have to overcome some challenges including oversupply of wind turbines and solar panels as well as solve many grid transmission issues to reach its goal.

While China’s score is on the rise, America’s score is going downward. The U.S. dropped 1.5 points to share in second position with Germany. The decline was caused by ongoing uncertainty in U.S.’s long-term energy strategy and a failure to indicate if there will be an extension to the Production Tax Credit for wind projects. The rise in Germany’s score was a result of the government’s approach to addressing barriers to offshore wind development and stability in its solar market.

“While the U.S. and Germany markets are level within the ARI, the contrast between these two markets is evident. The upcoming elections have led to an understandable slowdown in the decision making process in the US, while Germany is pushing ahead with its ambitious renewable energy agenda — including the introduction of a new solar PV tariff and compensation for offshore grid connection delays,” explained Ernst & Young’s Global Cleantech Leader, Gil Forer.

He continued, “Having made positive progress, the challenge now facing Germany is making sure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure the renewable power generated in the north of the country can be shipped to customers in the south. It is important for any country not only to focus on policies that support supply, but also on those that will encourage and simulate demand.”

Next on the leaderboard is India, who fell one point due to recent severe blackouts causing speculation that the country has not attracted enough private investment to modernize its power infrastructure. There are worries that the investments in renewable energy will also suffer due to an unreliable power grid.

Rounding out the top five is the UK who overtook Italy who fell due to worsening economic conditions. However, UK seems to be in the turbulent boat with general consensus that policy and subsidy announcements have fallen short of establishing transparency, certainty and longevity within the market.

SoloPower Adds Another Patent to Portfolio

SoloPower has added another patent to its growing solar portfolio. The company specializes in the development and manufacture of thin-film solar cells and modules. This patent is the company’s 50th with 41 patents in the U.S. and nine patents internationally. SoloPower was the first to receive certification of flexible CIGS panels to both UL and IEC standards.

“The strength of SoloPower’s intellectual property portfolio enables us to cover all key aspects of our solar solutions, technology, and manufacturing processes, giving us a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” said Dr. Mustafa Pinarbasi, Chief Technology Officer, SoloPower. “By developing and owning the new technologies and manufacturing methods that are critical to our integrated solar solutions, we are constantly able to increase our flexible, lightweight module efficiencies while driving down costs.”

The company says its approach embodies critical technology, manufacturing, and cost advantages that enable large-scale “fab-style” production of high-efficiency CIGS-based photovoltaic cells. The cells are packaged into unique, flexible, lightweight solar modules. Non-penetrating kit technology was developed for installation.

Company CEO Tim Harris added, “SoloPower’s world-class technology team is constantly pushing the envelope, and our innovations will continue to help us make rooftop solar the primary energy source for the world’s commercial and industrial buildings. We’re excited as we prepare to open our high-volume manufacturing facility in Portland, Oregon, which will enable us to meet the strong demand we’re seeing from our customers around the world.”

SoloPower will be showcasing its solar power technologies September 11 to 13, 2012 at Solar Power International in Orlando, Florida.

Terranol C5 Yeast Marketing Deal Solidified

Novozymes has solidified a deal to register and market Terranol’s C5 yeast technology. C5 yeast is an important aspect in the production of cellulosic ethanol. The partnership will enable Novozymes to speed up the global rollout of Terranol’s yeast to the emerging cellulosic industry. It is believed that the product will help the industry ramp up from pilot-scale to commercial-scale production.

“We want to make sure there are no biotech-related hurdles to the creation of a cellulosic ethanol industry,” said Poul Ruben Andersen, Vice President Bioenergy at Novozymes. “Terranol’s C5 yeast is currently one of the best strains developed, and by getting it registered and marketed around the world, we can help make it available to the biofuel industry. This will provide a higher degree of certainty in the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol.”

Although the cellulosic industry has made great technological strides over the past few years, there are still areas that need additional improvement. Novozymes says that the C5 yeast is one product that will help producers gain improvements in the fermentation process. When producing cellulosic ethanol (or any form of ethanol), enzymes convert cellulose and hemicellulose in biomass such as corn stover and wheat straw to sugars. The sugars are then fermented into ethanol. The goal is to achieve optimal yields so it is important to ferment both the easily accessible C6 sugars (glucose), and more difficult C5 sugars (xylose and arabinose).

“A yeast that ferments C5 sugars is essential to cost-efficient production of cellulosic ethanol,” said Birgitte Rønnow, CEO of Terranol. “Our C5 yeast is among the furthest developed in the industry and by leveraging Novozymes’ global marketing muscle we can speed up its commercialization.”

Wind Energy – There’s an App for That

There is an app for pretty much anything you can dream up and now there is an iPad app for wind and solar energy. Developed by Capstone Turbine Corporation, “Capstone World 2.0,” is an application where a person can determine energy cost savings and carbon dioxide emission reduction numbers of city buildings if he switched to microturbines, solar power or wind turbines.

When you download the free app, the first interactive component experienced is the Distributed Energy Calculator.  By culling electric rates from utilities, the app is able to estimate energy cost savings and emission reductions of microturbines, solar PV and wind turbines as separate energy sources or when combined together.

From there, the user is able to explore the diverse landscape where Capstone microturbines are in use. Set up as an interactive tutorial, per se, the program enables users to click on an application to learn how Capstone microturbines help save money, energy, and the environment. Each industry area includes written and video case studies.

“This is the first-of-its-kind iPad app,” said Darren Jamison, Capstone President and Chief Executive Officer. “With the introduction of Capstone World 2.0, our goal is to provide real world data that will help people make smart energy decisions for the clean energy future we all want and need.”

Jamison added, “We believe a holistic approach to clean, decentralized energy is imperative. Our low-emission microturbines are a clean-and-green energy source that can be installed anywhere and, when considered with solar and wind power, can craft a future where economical, reliable, clean energy is the norm.”

REG Opens Biodiesel Terminal in Long Beach

A new biodiesel terminal is off and running in Long Beach, California compliments of the Renewable Energy Group (REG). The first truckload of biodiesel was picked up by Whole Energy, a fuel distributor and retailer operating in Washington, Oregon and California.

“Whole Energy is committed to biodiesel, helping Californians meet their carbon reduction goals, and offering supply for Oregon and Washington blending requirements,” said Gary Haer, VP Sales and Marketing at Renewable Energy Group. “REG’s terminal agreement with Maxum Petroleum expands the opportunity for West Coast distributors like Whole Energy to blend biodiesel for public and private diesel fleets.”

Atul Deshmane, CEO and President of Whole Energy said that biodiesel has demonstrated both great performance and low carbon characteristics and is an important part of meeting California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. REG recently registered its REG-9000 biodiesel produced at its biodiesel facility in Seneca, Illinois with a carbon intensity as low as 4.0 gCO2e/MJ.

“We are excited about the opportunity to offer biodiesel from the nation’s largest biodiesel producer and marketer in California,” added Deshmane. “Whole Energy is committed to a multi-region approach for offering biodiesel blends for fleets and consumers who are looking to go green, enhance performance and protect the earth with a sustainable fuel.”

Oregon Begins Testing Wave Energy

Oregon is beginning testing wave energy as a potential renewable energy resource. Northwest Energy Innovations has installed a wave energy device off the coast of Newport, Oregon known as Wave Energy Technology-New Zealand (WET-NZ). The technology has been deployed at the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center’s (NNMREC) open ocean test facility.

“This is a huge milestone for the WET-NZ technology, for Oregon, and for the wave energy industry as a whole,” said NWEI Program Manager Justin Klure. “We are excited to have the opportunity to lead the deployment of the WET-NZ device off Oregon’s coast with the support of NNMREC, our funding partners and a host of marine professionals.”

The WET-NZ is a multi-mode waver energy converter and maximizes energy capture by harnessing power from the heave, pitch and surge motions of passing waves. From there, the power generated is transmitted through an underwater cable to the test center’s Ocean Sentinel, the instrumentation buoy that dissipates the electricity and records power performance data.

Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET) Executive Director Jason Busch said of the project, “OWET’s mission is to responsibly develop the ocean energy industry in Oregon, and helping NWEI get the WET-NZ in the water is a major step towards achieving that goal. In-ocean testing will move the technology towards commercialization and lead to a better understanding of technology performance and impacts in real-world conditions. This is a major accomplishment for NWEI, NNMREC and Oregon.”

The technology is the product of a research consortium between Industrial Research Limited, a Crown Research Institute, and Power Projects Limited, a Wellington-based private company.  The deployment portion of the project is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and OWET.

Book Review – Climategate

For those of you who believe in climate change, you will criticize me for not only reading but reviewing “Climategate,” by Brian Sussman as the last book in my 2012 La Nina Reading List. For those of you who don’t buy in to climate change, you’ll applaud me for bringing you this review.

Sussman is best known as a TV science reporter and meteorologist and a person who does not buy into the theory of global warming. In fact, he wrote the book to “sound a vociferous warning: global warming is a scam perpetuated by an elite sect of Marx-lovers who believe they can do communism/socialism more effectively than their predecessors; and now, with the ascension of Barack Obama as president, the scam has reached hyperspeed.”

If you have read enough of my book reviews (and if you haven’t get to reading), you will note that Sussman is in the same camp as all the others who don’t believe in climate change – it is a scam with influential players from politicians, to scientists to environmental organizations, to make money.

The book takes a look at the “foundation of fraud” that has led us to where we are today. It dates back to the late sixty’s, early seventies, writes Sussman, with the advent of Earth Day and has gained warp speed with the creation of climate conferences, global treaties and legislation. One of the worst hoaxes of climate change—the Environmental Protection Agency determining that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

Why are people buying into this theory? Sussman says when citizens lack a frame of reference they are primed to be sucked into believing what “experts” say. In other words, peoples’ lack of education around basic energy and environmental knowledge has left them open to corruption.

So what are the solutions to this problem? The country needs an energy plan that does not involve restrictions and limitations. An effective energy policy will be one that provides Americans with inexpensive and abundant power that includes harvesting fossil fuel resources argues Sussman.

Who is this book for? Not those mired deep in the beliefs of climate change who are weak of heart. You just might have a stroke. This book is best read by those who agree that global warming is a farce and will give you additional arguments to back up your theories.  Ultimately, Sussman diverges from others in his linking those who buy-in to climate change as being a Marxist or communist. Has he gone too far or not far enough?

PlugShare Surpasses 100,000 EV Users

Drivers of electric vehicles (EVs) have several options for finding public and private locations to charge up. PlugShare, a mobile and web application developed by Xatori, has grown its nationwide charging network to more than 100,000 users and 11,000 charging stations across the U.S. When the application was first launched, there were only 500 charging stations included.

The mobile app does more than just tell an EV driver where the closet, available charging station is located. It is also a source of information that details EV behavior. Along with a new app GreenCharge, the information is now giving unique insights into nationwide adoption of electric vehicles. For example, the average user drives 1,050 miles per month and spends around $30 dollars in charging costs. EV drivers save around $75 per month in fuel costs and 360 lbs of CO2 emissions.

The data has determined the Top 10 EV-ready cities in North America:

1. Portland
2. Dallas
3. Nashville
4. San Francisco Bay Area
5. Seattle
6. Orlando
7. Austin
8. Tucson
9. Honolulu
10. Washington D.C. Area

“PlugShare’s success is largely thanks to the EV community at large, and we’re committed to helping provide new products and services that help engage with them,” said Xatori Founder and CEO Forrest North. “With the information we gather on charging stations and driving behaviors, we hope to inform the EV industry to continue to develop solutions that support and further the shift to electric vehicles.”

Ferrellgas Acquires Capitol City Propane

One of the nation’s largest propane retailers, Ferrellgas Partners, has acquired Capitol City Propane of Sacramento, California. The transaction will add to Ferrellgas’s customer base within California as well as strengthen its presence throughout the state.

“Capitol City Propane has a more than 20-year tradition of providing safe, reliable service to industrial and residential propane users in and around Sacramento,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Wambold. “We’re thrilled to welcome this outstanding business, its employees, and its customers to the Ferrellgas family.”

While this is the company’s first acquisition in the current fiscal year, Ferrellgas has completed nearly 235 acquisitions during its 75-year history. This strategy has helped the company become one of the largest propane companies in America.

Top 10 Efficiency & Technology Innovations

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) has released a Top 10 list of efficiency and technology innovations of the past decade. IRFA Vice President and Absolute Energy CEO Rick Schwarck noted that while a lot has been written about the ethanol and biodiesel industry since the passing of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, not enough focus has been on improvement in efficiency and technology innovations. The Top 10 list is a way of highlighting breakthroughs that have enabled the renewable fuels industry to persevere in challenging economic times, added Schwarck, while still producing low cost, high performance motor fuels.

Top 10 Efficiency & Technology Innovations Over the Past Decade (click on the link to learn more about each number):

1. Corn Production Gains: In 2001, the U.S. harvested 9.5 billion bushels of corn from 69 million acres, for a yield of 138 bushels per acre. In 2011, 12.4 billion bushels of corn were harvested from 84 million acres, resulting in a 147 bushels per acre yield.

2. Ethanol Yield Increases: Since 2001, the average ethanol yield in the U.S. has increased 3-5 percent to roughly 2.8 gallons per bushel.

3. Water Utilization Improvements: Over the past decade, water use in dry mill ethanol plants has dropped from 4.7 to 2.72 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced.

4. Energy Efficiency Advancements: Compared to 2001, ethanol production today requires 28 percent less thermal energy (from natural gas or coal) per gallon and 32 percent less electricity per gallon.

5. Lower Cost Feedstocks for Biodiesel Conversion: With roughly 80 percent of the cost of biodiesel production tied up in feedstocks, technology advancements that have made it possible to convert lower cost waste oils and fats into biodiesel have given producers much-needed feedstock flexibility to manage costs and maximize competitiveness.

6. Corn Oil Extraction: This process, whereby oil is mechanically spun out of distiller grains, was nonexistent in 2001 but is now adding value to approximately 80 percent of dry mill ethanol plants.

7. DDGS Enhancements: Ethanol producers learned how to lower the starch and sugar content of the dried distillers grains (DDGS), and advanced process controls have allowed DDGS to be dried more precisely, assuring a more consistent product.

8. New Catalysts for Biodiesel Production: Catalysts reduce the time and enhance the level of biodiesel conversion.

9. Advanced Process Controls: The adoption of Advanced Process Controls (APC) has brought a new level of precision to renewable fuels production.

10. Unit Train Utilization: Today ethanol’s most common mode of transportation is 80-100 car unit trains that power directly from an ethanol plant to the final destination.

Book Review – Eaarth

What is happening to the “Eaarth”? A question many are asking, including author Bill McKibben, as the summer brought us the worst drought in decades along with extreme heat. Many people would blame this on global climate change while others would argue that “global warming” and “weather” are actually two separate things. Well it is time we delve back into the discussion I began earlier this summer as part of my 2012 La Nina Reading List.

McKibben is a true believer in climate change, holds humans responsible and writes we’re dealing with a “spooky, erratic climate”. He writes that global warming is no longer a philosophical threat or a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It is reality. Because we no longer live on the same planet, argues McKibben, earth needs a new name: Eaarth.

The focus of his book is to turn back time, per se, to safe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The “safe” level according to climatologist James Hansen, is 350 parts per million – a number we have surpassed and now hover around 390 parts per million. Throughout the book, Hansen explains why lowering levels of CO2 “will be extremely hard” but offers ways “we can try”.

Why do we need to do this? Because, argues McKibben, “…the earth has changed in profound ways, ways have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived. We’re every day less the oasis and more the desert. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has- even if we don’t quite know it yet.”

One of the main issues he focuses on in the book is the need to replace the fossil fuel system. Other issues include the need to fix infrastructure and he posits that climate change will cause more resource wars and leave billions of people “climate change refugees”.

The book concludes with a discussion about ways to reduce impact with the main theme being things need to get smaller and less centralized. He also writes that we need to focus on maintenance not growth. In addition, McKibben writes we need global governments to have the courage to take a stand against climate change.

For those who are passionate about the environment, you know that McKibben is one of the best-known writers in the field. His latest book doesn’t disappoint – it is an interesting read. Yet he barely scratched the surface on outlining what needs to be done to live on the new Eaarth. Might that be the topic is his next book that he could call Eaarth 2.0?

Getting to Know POET’s New CEO

During the Farm Progress Show, Cindy Zimmerman had the opportunity to sit down with new POET Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jeff Lautt. Although he has been with the company for nearly eight years, he took the helm as president two years ago and several months ago was tapped as CEO.

Lautt has taken over in a tough year for the ethanol industry as it deals with a major drought that has affected the U.S. corn crop. The main feedstock for all POET ethanol plants is corn. Lautt said the plants are doing well but they are feeling the same pains as other ethanol producers. However, he said, the bigger problem for them is not the high corn prices but access to the market. The industry is currently capped at 10 percent of the fuel market and they are working hard to get equal access in the marketplace. A first step toward this is E15 and the first two stations selling E15 in the country are located in Kansas.

Similar to others in the ethanol industry, Lautt said his company is not in favor of a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). He said that the legislation is working, the market is working, and knew-jerk decisions shouldn’t be made during a drought. Lautt noted that the RFS includes advanced biofuels, biodiesel and cellulosic fuels and implementing a waiver would not just hurt corn-based ethanol but all biofuels. He added that the industry doesn’t need a government solution.

Lautt also gave an update on Project Liberty, the company’s project to commercialize cellulosic ethanol using corn stover. One of the things they are learning right now is how to harvest the stover as well as store the stover, which may vary based on the environmental state of stover (i.e. wet, dry, etc.).

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Jeff Lautt where he also discusses some new technologies in the pipeline: Getting to Know POET's new CEO

2012 Farm Progress Show Photo Album

Tom Slunecka Joins Minnesota Soybean Growers

Tom Slunecka has been named the new executive director for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) and Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council. Prior to taking the helm of the soybean team on August 27, 2012, Slunecka was the vice president of marketing for PhibroChem where he focused on ethanol and animal agriculture. He also served as the executive director of the organization Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC).

“I am very happy to have the opportunity to work with these strong groups and look forward to the challenges and opportunities that agriculture will be faced with in the coming years,” said Slunecka, a long-time member of the biofuels and agricultural industry. “I am excited to help execute current and future research projects to bring new opportunities to Minnesota producers’ farm gate. Equally important is to continue to work with the strong leaders developing and implementing farm policies necessary to support soybean farmers’ profitability. I appreciate the opportunity to play a part in fulfilling the visions set forth by Minnesota Soybean.”

Slunecka is moving to Minnesota from Omaha and is a native of South Dakota. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Agriculture from South Dakota State University in Brookings and will bring his vast experience to the soybean industry.

“We are very happy to add a leader of the quality that Tom provides,” said MSGA President and Dodge County farmer Bruce Schmoll. “He is visionary and will help establish and achieve goals that will benefit soybean growers across Minnesota.”

Thanks a Million Ohio

Ohioans who sign up to secure a low electric generation price for four to seven years have a chance to reduce their energy bills with FirstEnergy SolutionsThanks a Million giveaway. Eight residential winners will each receive $25,000 and $50,000 will also go to the winner’s corresponding local school district to use for an under-funded program, supplies or however they need to use the money as long as it is for the betterment of the school. In addition, eight Ohio businesses will each win $50,000.

The contest runs through October 31, 2012 and to be eligible, a resident or business must enroll in an electric generation offer that would freeze the per kilowatt-hour (kWh) price at 6.99 cents on electric generation until 2019, or 6.49 cents per kWh until 2016. This would fix electric prices for four or seven years, helping businesses and residences budget their energy costs for the future and not have their budgets negatively impacted if electricity prices go up.

“As an Ohio-based company, FirstEnergy Solutions is committed to helping Ohio’s residents and businesses through this sluggish economy, which is why we created our Thanks a Million giveaway,” said Donald Schneider, President of FirstEnergy Solutions. “It’s a good boost to our economy and it directly benefits eight Ohio school districts with much-needed funding.”

Schneider said that today the country is seeing historically low prices in the energy market but they are not sustainable. There are signs pointing to increased costs including environmental compliance and plant retirements that will raise energy prices. By locking in electricity prices, concluded Schneider, customers could potentially see considerable saving over the long term.