Weekly Clean Energy Roundup: April 8, 2009

  • Retrofit of Empire State Building to Slash Energy Use by 38%
  • Progressive Automotive X Prize Names 111 Registered Teams
  • Chrysler Selects A123Systems for EV Batteries
  • Offshore Wind Energy Could Power the Country
  • Geodynamics Proves Viability of Enhanced Geothermal Systems
  • Today’s Low Oil Prices are Slowing Supply Growth
  • Energy Star Partners and Retailers Recognized

    Retrofit of Empire State Building to Slash Energy Use by 38%

    A unique team of private companies and non-profit organizations has devised an energy retrofit for the Empire State Building that will reduce its energy use by 38%, including a 33% reduction in cooling load and a 3.5-megawatt reduction in peak electrical demand.

    The retrofit project, a small part of a $500 million upgrade for the New York City landmark, will reduce energy loads by upgrading windows and lighting and by adding radiative barriers behind the radiators. To deliver the remaining energy more efficiently, the retrofit will upgrade some of the chillers for the building while removing others, and it will install new variable-speed air handling units. And to better control energy delivery, the retrofit will add demand-control ventilation and tenant energy management systems, while also upgrading energy controls and meters for the building as a whole. Efforts to be completed by the end of 2010 will yield half the energy savings, while the remainder will be achieved by 2013.

    Perhaps the greatest achievement of the retrofit project is the process used by the project partners, which can be applied to other building retrofits. They used both existing and newly created modeling, measurement, and projection tools to analyze the Empire State Building and establish a full understanding of its energy use, as well as its functional efficiencies and deficiencies. The Clinton Climate Initiative convened the project team, which includes Johnson Controls, Jones Lang LaSalle, and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), which documented the process and tools on a new Web site. See the Johnson Controls press release and the RMI feature article on the project.

    Progressive Automotive X Prize Names 111 Registered Teams

    The Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, a multimillion-dollar competition designed to inspire a new generation of viable, super fuel-efficient vehicles, announced its official list of 111 registered teams. The teams hail from 25 U.S. states and 10 other countries, and they collectively represent 136 vehicles.

    Although six teams remain confidential, the publicly available list still includes only one major automaker-the U.K. branch of Tata Motors Limited, India’s largest automaker-as well as a couple university teams (Cornell University and Western Washington University) and a handful of recognizable small and startup companies, such as Aptera Motors, Lightning Hybrids, Myers Motors, Tesla Motors, and ZAP. Many of the teams carry more obscure or humorous names suggestive of small, one-time efforts, such as "GotPower," "V-Mobile," and "XLR8SUN." Among the smaller teams is the Goodwin-Young LincVolt team, which has electrified Neil Young’s 1959 Lincoln Continental.

    The LincVolt team is among the majority of teams that plan to bring all-electric or hybrid electric vehicles to the competition, although there are also a fair number of vehicles that will run entirely on gasoline or diesel fuel. A few teams will use alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas, hydrogen, biodiesel, and E85 (a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline), while some teams will draw on more exotic fuels, like biobutanol, solar power, human power, urea, compressed air, and even water. In the coming months, each registered team will undergo design judging based on their detailed data submission, which will provide information on their vehicle’s features and their team’s production capability and business plan. Those that pass the design judging will move into the performance testing phase.

  • In the final phase, teams will compete for their share of a $10 million prize purse, which will be awarded to teams that win a rigorous long-distance stage competition and can achieve a fuel economy that exceeds the equivalent of 100 mpg of gasoline. That phase of the competition will start as early as May 2010, but the actual competition start date and the number and specific location of venues for the competition haven’t been announced yet.

    The X Prize Foundation plans to announce those details by this summer, with the goal of awarding the prize sometime in 2010. The Progressive Automotive X Prize is coordinated by the X Prize Foundation and sponsored by Progressive, while DOE is contributing to a complementary educational effort. See the Progressive Automotive X Prize press release and list of registered teams (PDF 159 KB).

    Chrysler Selects A123Systems for Electric Vehicle Batteries

    Chrysler LLC announced on Monday its selection of A123Systems as the battery supplier for its upcoming all-electric vehicles and range-extended electric vehicles. Chrysler plans to bring its first production EV to market in 2010; A123Systems will provide the lithium-ion battery packs to power that and subsequent Chrysler EVs.

    A123Systems has developed a patented Nanophosphate lithium-ion battery that can meet consumer demands for performance, driving range, and durability, according to Chrysler. The Massachusetts-based company plans to build a manufacturing plant in Michigan for production of the "prismatic" battery cells – the rectangular types of cells used in laptops and cell phones – and assemble them into battery packs for the vehicles. Chrysler’s agreement with A123Systems contrasts with GM, which is buying its battery cells from South Korea’s LG Chem. See the Chrysler press release and the article from this newsletter on the GM battery agreement.

    GM is working with a U.S.-based company on at least one aspect of its EV plans: the company has teamed up with Segway, Inc. to develop an all-electric, two-wheeled electric vehicle for use around GM Scootercities. Called Project P.U.M.A., for "Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility," the vehicle has a top speed of 35 mph and a range of 35 miles.

    The vehicle uses Segway technology to balance on two wheels and draws on a lithium-ion battery for power. Looking similar to a large, enclosed wheelchair, the P.U.M.A. prototype rests on its two small front wheels when stopped, then rises off those wheels when moving, like a wheelchair pulling a wheelie. It’s unclear if the two-wheeled design provides any efficiency benefit, but the vehicles can communicate with one another, potentially providing for smoother traffic flow. Segway’s founder, Dean Kamen, envisioned a revolution in urban transport with the Segway, and although that vision never materialized, Project P.U.M.A. may have a greater impact, if the vehicle is able to withstand crash tests. See the GM press release and the Segway PUMA Web site.

    Interior Department: Offshore Wind Energy Could Power the Country

    Excellent wind resources off the coasts of the lower 48 states could generate enough power to exceed the electricity demand in the U.S., according to DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL findings are included in a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Interior, which is examining the potential for energy production on the outer continental shelf (OCS).

    The report notes that 28 of the lower 48 states have a coastal boundary (including the Great Lakes), and offshore wind turbines located in shallow waters (defined as less than 30 meters) could meet at least 20% of the electricity needs of nearly all those coastal states. According to NREL data, 263.8 GW of wind power could be located in shallow offshore waters, while another 1,729.3 GW of wind power could be located in deeper waters, where it is not presently feasible to harness the wind energy. The Interior Department is currently holding a round of public meetings to examine the best way to develop the country’s offshore energy resources, including oil and natural gas. See the Interior Department’s press release and OCS Web site.

    Meanwhile, a new contender has entered the race to develop the first offshore wind power facility in the U.S. Delsea Energy LLC is planning to install 100 wind turbines or more in the shallow waters of the upper Delaware Bay, off the coast of New Jersey. The company announced on March 23 that it has filed initial permit applications with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install four data collection and monitoring stations in the Delaware Bay. If the results are positive, the company proposes to build a wind facility 1-2 miles offshore. Delsea estimates the wind project could generate enough power to supply 125,000 New Jersey households. See the Delsea Energy Web site and press release (PDF 18 KB).

    Geodynamics Proves Viability of Enhanced Geothermal Systems

    Geodynamics Ltd. is claiming success in creating a geothermal reservoir at a geological "hot spot," proving the feasibility of so-called Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS).

    The company’s Habanero project in South Australia’s Cooper Basin involved injecting high pressure water into a geologic formation where high temperatures were known to exist, thereby fracturing the rock and forming an underground geothermal reservoir. To tap that reservoir required drilling a second nearby well, allowing water to be injected into one of the wells, where it would pass through fractures in the hot rock and be steadily heated until it was extracted again through the second well. In late March, Geodynamics completed a successful flow test using two of its Habanero wells, leading the company to announce it has successfully achieved its proof of concept. See the EGS page on the DOE Geothermal Technologies Program Web site for an illustration and detailed description of the EGS concept.

    Geodynamic’s closed-loop testing between two of its wells-Habanero 1 and 3-reached a maximum flow of 15.5 kilograms per second (kg/s), and modeling of the reservoir indicated that at flows of 70 kg/s, it would be capable of generating more than 40 thermal megawatts for 20 years with only a slight drop in temperature.

    The flow loop test is the result of six years of work, and the next step is to install a pilot power plant that will generate 1 MW of power. Geodynamics intends to install the pilot plant by mid-year, providing power to the nearby town of Innamincka. The company plans to follow that with Australia’s first commercial-scale geothermal power plant, which should be operating by 2012. See Geodynamic’s announcement of its completion of the flow test (PDF 277 KB), which includes an independent contractor report, and the company’s accompanying press release (PDF 59 KB).

    Report: Today’s Low Oil Prices are Slowing a Growth in Supply

    The steep decline in oil prices near the end of 2008 wasn’t matched by a decline in the cost of developing new oil fields, leading oil companies to slow, defer, or cancel many projects to find new oil supplies, according to a new study by Cambridge Economic Research Associates (CERA).

    CERA expects oil demand to pick up in 2010 – today’s slow growth in oil production could lead to a period of tight supply and strongly rising oil prices. The report notes that future oil demand remains highly uncertain, in part because of "demand destruction" in 2008, as people started buying more fuel-efficient cars and adopting practices that could become long-term habits, such as driving less and using mass transit more. The report notes that new policies for energy and climate change could significantly dampen future demand for oil, making future oil prices highly uncertain. See the CERA press release.

    DOE and EPA Recognize Energy Star Partners and Retailers

    DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized business, regional groups, and government entities last week for their work in the Energy Star program, either through achieving major energy savings or helping consumers save money. 89 awards were presented during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

    Winners include Whirlpool Corp, which was recognized for its work in appliance manufacturing; GE Consumer & Industrial for appliances and lighting manufacturing; Gorell Enterprises, Inc. for windows, doors and skylights; Osram Sylvania for lighting manufacturing; Pella Corporation for window manufacturing; and ProVia Door, Inc. for door manufacturing. Bosch Home Appliances was recognized in appliance manufacturing, and TCP in lighting manufacturing.

    Awards also recognized work in retailing Energy Star products. Lowe’s was recognized as the Partner of the Year for Retail; Best Buy for Excellence in Appliance and Electronics Retailing; Nationwide Marketing Group for Excellence in Retail Promotion; Menards for Excellence in Home Improvement Retail; and Sears Holding for Special Recognition for Retail Commitment. Actus Lend Lease received an award for Excellence in Energy Star Promotions for its role in the "Operation Change Out" military campaign. The campaign aimed to increase the use of compact fluorescent lamps in military installations nationwide. See the DOE press release and the Operation Change Out Web page on the Energy Star Web site, as well as a complete list of the 2009 Energy Star Award winners.

    Energy Star is run jointly by DOE and the EPA. Products have to meet stringent requirements for energy efficiency to be Energy Star-qualified. Over 12,000 organizations have joined Energy Star as partners, and the Energy Star label appears on more than 40 kinds of products. See the Energy Star Web site.


    Kevin Eber is the Editor of EREE Network News, a weekly publication of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

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