Weekly Clean Energy Roundup: August 26, 2009

  • DOE: $37M for Clean Energy Research at Small Businesses
  • eSolar Launches First Commercial U.S. Solar Tower
  • U.S. Wind Industry Fights Headwinds in Q2
  • First U.S. Hydrokinetic Project Begins Commercial Operations
  • Biomass Catches Fire in Ohio, Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire
  • US Motor Vehicle Travel Increased in June
  • DOE: $101M for Weatherization, $51M for Clean Energy: Alaska, New Jersey, Guam

    DOE Offers $37 Million for Clean Energy Research at Small Businesses

    DOE offered $37 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds on August 20 for clean energy research and development projects at small U.S. businesses. DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs target U.S. companies with fewer than 500 employees, with the goal of investigating ideas for clean energy technologies that appear to have commercial potential.

    About $8.5 million is expected to be available for new projects, which are designated as "Phase I" awards. Successful applicants may receive up to $150,000 for a Phase I grant, which gives awardees six months to demonstrate the feasibility of their ideas. Most of the remaining funds will go towards "Phase II" grants of up to $1 million to support the principal R&D of clean energy concepts developed under Phase I awards. The competition for the Phase II grants will open at a later date.

    For now, DOE is accepting applications for Phase I grants to support projects in the following topic areas: solar technologies; water power technologies; smart controllers for smart grid applications; sensors, controls, and wireless networks; building air conditioning and refrigeration, including thermal load shifting and cool roofs; advanced gas turbines and materials, including small, low-cost systems for distributed power applications; industrial technologies; advanced manufacturing processes; technologies to address water usage in electric power generation and industrial processes; and power plant cooling.

    Small businesses with strong research capabilities in science or engineering are encouraged to apply for a Phase I grant by the September 4 deadline. See the DOE press release, the SBIR/STTR Web site, the full grant opportunity, and the topic descriptions (PDF 148 KB).


    First Commercial
    U.S. Solar Power Tower Launched by eSolar

    The first commercial solar power tower in the US was unveiled near Lancaster, California, on August 5 by eSolar.

    Located about 50 miles north of Los Angeles in California’s Antelope Valley, the Sierra SunTower solar plant uses advanced computer software to precisely align thousands of flat mirrors, or "heliostats," to concentrate the sun’s heat on a receiver mounted at the top of a tower. Water pumped through the tower is boiled to steam, which drives a turbine to produce up to 5 MW of electricity.

    The eSolar design employs modules that cover 10 acres with 12,000 mirrors surrounding a single tower to generate up to 2.5 MW of power. The Sierra SunTower achieves its 5 MW output by combining two of eSolar’s modules. Southern California Edison is buying the energy from the new facility.

    The eSolar approach involves several innovations, including the use of small, mass-produced mirrors for the heliostats. The company also chose to build the facility on private land designated for heavy industrial use, which simplified permitting.

    The company plans to duplicate this model at other solar plants throughout the US and the world – it already has an agreement with NRG Energy, Inc. to develop three plants in California and New Mexico that will generate up to 465 MW of power. The two companies announced the overall agreement in February, then followed up in June with specific plans for a 92 MW plant in southern New Mexico and for another 92-MW plant in Lancaster, California, near the current eSolar power plant. The India-based ACME Group has also licensed eSolar’s technology. See the eSolar press release and fact sheet (PDF 1.1 MB) on the Sierra SunTower plant, plus its press releases on the NRG Energy agreement and its planned facilities in California and New Mexico.

    At least one other company is planning to develop solar power tower plants on private land, as BrightSource Energy announced in March that it’s signed a contract with a private land developer in Nevada. BrightSource plans to develop a 600 MW solar tower project on six square miles near transmission lines northeast of Las Vegas.

    And two companies plan to employ parabolic trough-shaped mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat and produce power for Arizona Public Service and Southern California Edison. Starwood Energy Group Global, LLC plans to build a 290 MW parabolic trough plant about 75 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona, for APS, while Solar Millennium plans to build two 242 MW facilities in California for Southern California Edison. The Solar Millenium facilities will be located in Blythe, about 200 miles east of Los Angeles, and Ridgecrest, about 120 miles north of Los Angeles, and are slated for completion in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

  • Another solar company, Abengoa Solar, plans to build solar trough facilities for industrial applications in Arizona and New York. The Arizona facility will treat contaminated water at a DOE site in Tuba City, while the New York facility will deliver heating, cooling, and humidity control for a Steinway & Sons piano factory in Long Island City. The New York facility will be the first in the US to combine parabolic troughs with a two-stage absorption chiller, which is a heat-driven air conditioning system. See the press releases from BrightSource Energy (PDF 186 KB), APS, SCE, and Abengoa Solar.

    US Wind Power Industry Fights Headwinds in Q2

    The U.S. wind industry blew hot and cold during the second quarter of 2009. Although 1,210 MW of new wind were added in the US – putting this year’s total ahead of last year – the number of new orders and manufacturing activity declined, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

    More than 4,000 MW was installed during the first six months of 2009, topping the 2,900 MW added during the same period a year ago. Of the 10 states that boosted their wind capacity, Missouri grew the fastest, nearly doubling its wind power capacity with 146 MW of new generation, while Texas added the most capacity, at 454 MW. Iowa passed the 3,000 MW cumulative total by reaching 3,043 MW statewide, solidifying its position as second to Texas in overall wind capacity. See the AWEA press release and report (PDF 342 KB).

    However, industry-related manufacturing dropped as the economy cooled. Says the report, "many existing supply chain companies" for wind turbines have furloughed workers or started hiring freezes because of the slowdown in contracts for wind turbines.

    Still, three wind turbine and turbine component manufacturing sites opened, and another four expanded, bringing to 20 the number of wind facilities that have opened, expanded, or been announced this year. The three manufacturers coming online during the second quarter were Nordic Windpower USA, manufacturing utility-scale wind turbines in Pocatello, Idaho; Mariah Power, building small vertical-axis wind turbines in Manistee, Michigan; and Danotek Motion Technologies, producing generators in Canton, Michigan. See the Mariah Power press release (PDF 126 KB).

    Most significantly, 8 new facilities, making small turbines, towers and/or components, were announced in the second quarter. Siemens will begin construction this month on a $50 million plant in Hutchinson, Kansas, that will begin producing nacelles for its 2.3 MW wind turbines in late 2010. Nacelles are the bus-shaped enclosures that house the turbine gearbox and generator. The factory aims to produce 650 nacelles per year, creating at least 400 new jobs. Meanwhile, GE said in June it would open a R&D facility near Detroit, Michigan which will investigate advanced manufacturing technologies, including technologies relating to wind turbine manufacturing. See the press releases from Siemens and GE and the related posting on GE reports, the company’s blog.

    Although we’re only half way through the third quarter, there’s been some positive news for the wind industry. In early July, DOE offered a conditional guarantee of a $16 million loan for Nordic Windpower to expand its newly opened assembly plant in Idaho, potentially creating more than 75 new skilled jobs there. In late July, Nordex USA announced it’s starting construction on its first US manufacturing plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas, for the production of its 2.5 MW wind turbines. The $100 million undertaking includes a $40 million nacelle assembly factory, which should start production next year and reach full production of 300 nacelles per year by 2012. The $60 million second phase will be a wind blade manufacturing plant at the same location, with the goal of being at full-scale production by 2014. See the press releases from Nordic Windpower (PDF 72 KB) and Nordex.

    First U.S. Hydrokinetic Project Begins Commercial Operations

    The first federally licensed in-stream hydrokinetic power project in the US began commercial operations this week on the Mississippi River in Hastings, Minnesota.

    Hydrokinetic projects produce power from moving water without the use of a dam, and they include wave energy systems and in-stream turbines, which can capture the energy from tidal or river flows. The Hastings project, an in-stream turbine from Hydro Green Energy, captures the flow from the output channel of an existing hydropower dam.

    The turbine, anchored downstream from the dam on a tethered barge, has a nameplate capacity of 100 kW, and an expected output of about 35 kW. After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project last December, the turbine was installed on the barge and has been undergoing testing since mid-February. In June, it was evaluated for its impact on fish in the river, and an environmental research firm found that 97.5% of fish passing through the turbine survived the journey. A second turbine with increased power and efficiency is slated to come online next spring. See the Hydro Green Energy press release (PDF 310 KB).

    Hydrokinetic power is also making waves in Maine, which has become the first East Coast state to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with FERC relating to the energy source. On August 19, Maine agreed to coordinate with the federal commission on tidal power projects off its coast. The MOU establishes Maine’s support of FERC’s procedures for a short-term license for experimental pilot projects. FERC and Maine also agreed to notify each other of proposed tidal energy projects and will work together to identify potential issues and to set a schedule to process permit applications. FERC previously signed similar hydrokinetic agreements with Oregon and Washington. See the FERC press release and the full MOU (PDF 370 KB).

    Biomass Power Catches Fire in Ohio, Florida, Georgia, & New Hampshire

    Under a recent federal court agreement, an Ohio utility will soon convert a large coal-fired power plant into one using primarily renewable biomass fuels, making it the largest such plant to do so.

    Ohio Edison Company, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., agreed to retrofit its R.E. Burger Units 4 and 5 near Shadyside, Ohio, as part of a 2005 federal consent agreement in a lawsuit aimed at reducing pollution. Under an amendment filed on August 11 in federal court in Akron, Ohio, the power company says it intends to replace the 312 MW of electricity now generated at Burger with biomass by 2012, turning it into one of the largest biomass power facilities in the US. The revamped facility will also burn coal, but for no more than 20% of its power. Ultimately, Ohio Edison plans on using a "closed-loop" system for its biomass supply, drawing on energy crops specifically grown to provide a constant supply of biomass to the power plant. See the press releases from the U.S. Department of Justice and FirstEnergy (PDF 370 KB).

    While the Ohio endeavor is notable for its scale, biomass projects of all sizes seem to be catching on across the country. In Florida, for example, the Gainesville City Commission approved a contract in May, between Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) and Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, LLC (GREC), under which GREC will build and operate a 100-MW biomass power plant in the city to supply the utility. The plant will be fired by forestry waste and urban wood waste-wood from tree trimming and discarded pallets-and is expected to come online in 2013.

    And ADAGE LLC, a joint venture owned by affiliates of AREVA SA and Duke Energy Company, has picked Hamilton County, about 80 miles west of Jacksonville, as the proposed site of its first U.S. biomass power plant. This facility is the initial model for what ADAGE says will be a series of 50-MW biomass power plants designed to burn clean wood waste to produce electricity. Elsewhere in the state, Biomass Gas & Electric LLC (BG&E) is planning a 42-MW site, dubbed the Northwest Florida Renewable Energy Center, which will use gasification technology to burn wood chips. See the press releases from GRU and ADAGE, as well as the BG&E Web site.

    Also in May, the Oglethorpe Power Corporation closed on the purchase of a 355-acre tract in Warren County, Georgia, for a proposed biomass generating plant. The Warren County site was one of five Georgia parcels optioned by Oglethorpe last fall as potential sites for two or three planned 100-MW biomass facilities. Pending favorable environmental review, the company anticipates operation for the first plant in 2014.

    And at least one project may have the sweet smell of success: chocolate manufacturer Lindt USA recently collaborated with Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) to conduct a test burn of cocoa bean shells as a potential biomass resource. If the results show the shells work well as fuel, the chocolate maker could be providing the shells to the power company by the end of the year. See the press releases from Oglethorpe and PSNH.

    U.S. Motor Vehicle Travel Increased in June

    After more than a year of driving declines, US motor vehicle travel in June increased to 256.7 billion miles – 2% above miles driven in June 2008. The June driving statistics were released by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). While traffic volumes showed some year-over-year gains earlier this year, June marks the first month when driving was higher in all regions of the US and on all types of roads.

    U.S. traffic volumes started sliding in November 2007 as oil prices rose and experienced dramatic drops in 2008, as first record-high oil prices and then the economic slump inspired U.S. residents to leave their cars parked. The June increase in driving may or may not be an indicator of economic recovery, but it definitely suggests that fuel consumption and the attendant air emissions may be on the rise again.

    Still, June 2009 driving volumes are lower than the levels they reached before 2008: you have to go back to 2003 to find lower driving volumes. And with the slow start to the year, the miles driven for the first half of the year are also the lowest that they’ve been since 2003. See the overall traffic volume trends for June 2009, the comparison to previous years, and the detailed breakdown by road type.

    Although driving seems to be increasing, ridership on public transport has only modestly declined this year, although transit data lags behind vehicle miles data. The first-quarter report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), released in mid-June, found only a 1.2% year-over-year drop in ridership. The decrease was slight in spite of the fact that many transit systems have had to either raise fares or reduce services. Light rail systems performed the best, with a 1.8% gain in ridership, while ridership on heavy rail systems dropped 1.8%, commuter rail systems dropped 3%, and large bus systems experienced a 1.2% drop. See the APTA press release.

    DOE Awards $51 Million to Alaska, New Jersey, and Guam

    DOE delivered over $51 million in ARRA funds on August 25 to Guam, Alaska and New Jersey for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The funds will support rebates and other financial incentives; renewable energy pilot programs; public education efforts; new lighting standards; energy audits; and energy efficiency retrofits in schools, commercial buildings, industrial sites, large local facilities, multi-building state institutions, and rural communities.

    For example, New Jersey will expand its existing Clean Energy Program, which is administered through the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. With the broader program, the state will be able to offer energy efficiency support to consumers who are not currently eligible for funds. Alaska will establish a Residential Renewable Energy Rebate Program to provide rebates of up to $3,750 per household when homeowners install specific renewable energy systems. The state will also help communities develop pilot projects to install systems that produce both heat and electricity from renewable energy.

    See the funding and energy plans for Alaska, New Jersey, and Guam in the DOE press release, and see also the State Energy Program Web site.

    DOE also delivered $101 million in ARRA funds to Guam and Pennsylvania, allowing them to expand their weatherization assistance programs. The allocations will help them achieve their collective goal of weatherizing 29,200 homes.

    DOE also released a video showing Energy Secretary Steven Chu visiting a Columbus, Ohio, home as it’s being weatherized. He is joined in the video by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, and they discuss the benefits of weatherization and how funding from the Recovery Act is having a direct impact in communities across the United States. See the video.

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

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