Weekly Clean Energy Roundup: January 26, 2011

  • World’s Largest Solar Project Receives DOE Loan Guarantee
  • 300,000 Homes Weatherized in Recovery Act Milestone
  • DOE, Commerce Department Form Renewable Energy Modeling Partnership
  • DOE Promotes Clean Energy in Tribal Communities
  • EPA Grants E15 Fuel Waiver for 2001-2006 Vehicles
  • Delayed NASA Solar Sail Satellite Finally Orbits
  • Oil Prices to Average $99 a Barrel by Late 2012
  • World’s Largest Solar PV Project Receives DOE Loan Guarantee

    A 290 MW thin-film solar project – expected to be the world’s largest – received a $967 million DOE loan guarantee. DOE’s backing will support construction of NRG Solar’s Caliente Solar generating facility in Yuma County, Arizona.

    The project, which will use First Solar thin-film solar panels, is scheduled to be completed in 2014. It will power about 100,000 homes and create 400 solar jobs.

    The Agua Caliente Solar project will deploy fault ride-through and dynamic voltage regulation, technologies that are new to US solar plants. The technologies improve the reliability and predictability of electricity generated by solar plants and supplied to the electricity grid. PG&E will purchase power generated from the project for California consumers.

    DOE, through the Loan Programs Office, has issued loan guarantees or offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling more than $17 billion to support 17 clean energy projects. See the DOE press release, the NRG press release , and the Loan Programs Office Web site.

    300,000 Homes Weatherized in Recovery Act Milestone

    More than 300,000 low-income homes have been weatherized under the Recovery Act as of November, 2010. States are more than half way toward meeting President Obama’s goal of weatherizing 600,000 homes under the Recovery Act.

    The weatherization program is helping low-income families save money on their energy bills by improving home energy efficiency with upgrades like insulation, air sealing, and more efficient HVAC systems. The program has trained a new generation of clean energy workers and employs more than 15,000 workers nationwide.

    The pace of the work has accelerated – a network of state offices, local agencies, and weatherization providers completed over 100,000 jobs in the last four months.

    Weatherization assistance reduces energy consumption for low-income families on average 35%, saving families about $400 each on their heating and cool bills in the first year alone. Nationwide, the weatherization of 300,000 homes is estimated to save $161 million in energy costs in just the first year. See the DOE press release, a list of the homes weatherized by state , and the Weatherization Assistance Program website.

    DOE, Commerce Depts Form Renewable Energy Modeling Partnership

    DOE and the U.S. Department of Commerce announced on January 24 a new agreement to further collaboration between the agencies on renewable energy modeling and weather forecasting.

    This teaming will enable U.S. renewable energy resources to be used more effectively by businesses. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DOE and the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will encourage the agencies to disseminate weather and climate information needed for renewable energy technologies that depend on short-term weather and longer-term climate trends. Better information on weather patterns and improved modeling of the variability of the wind, sun, water, ocean currents, and other sources of renewable energy will ultimately increase the ability to reliably integrate renewable energy into the electrical grid.

    For example, DOE’s 20% Wind Energy by 2030 identifies several key research areas, such as improved wind forecasting techniques, that would enhance electrical grid system operations. NOAA’s Next Generation Strategic Plan states they will develop integrated environmental information services for the unique needs of weather-sensitive sectors, including solar, wind, and oceanographic information critical to development, production, and transmission of renewable energy.

    The partnership will help renewable energy system designers, operators, and electric power system administrators improve the cost effectiveness and reliability of weather-dependent renewable energy technologies. The collaboration includes a working group from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and NOAA that will identify areas for continued focus and research and will help lay out next steps for improving the efficiency of renewable resources and better integrating renewable energy sources onto the grid.

    The group will produce an action plan in the coming months that will address improving renewable resource characterization models and methodologies for optimizing system reliability and performance; advancing meteorological and oceanic forecasting technologies, models, and methodologies; defining national weather and oceanic monitoring systems needed to support renewable energy; predicting climate effects on renewable energy resources; and coordinating both public and private sector contributions to addressing renewable resource needs. See the DOE press release, the MOU , and the Wind and Water Power Program Web site.

    DOE Promotes Clean Energy in Tribal Communities

    On January 19, DOE announced two initiatives to promote tribal energy development and continue strengthening the partnership between DOE and tribal nations.

    Up to $10 million will be available this year through DOE’s Tribal Energy Program to support the evaluation, development, and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on tribal lands. The projects will help save energy and money, expand the use of renewable energy resources, and promote economic development for tribal communities.

    DOE’s Tribal Summit with American Indian and Alaska Native leaders will be held May 5, 2011 in Washington, D.C. The DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs will work closely with the DOE Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs to reach out to tribal leaders in the design of the summit.

    The funds will support three areas: first steps and capacity building; energy efficiency development and deployment; and renewable energy development and deployment. Up to $1.5 million is expected to support projects focused on capacity building and strategic planning, which can include energy resource and infrastructure analyses, development of an energy organization, and training programs. The energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment initiatives are expected to receive up to $4 million each to study the technical and economic feasibility of future energy efficiency improvements or renewable energy projects.

    Indian tribes, tribal energy resource development organizations and tribal consortia on whose lands the projects will be located are eligible to apply for the available funding. See the DOE press release, the full funding opportunity announcements , a list of the Tribal Energy Program opportunities, and the Tribal Energy Program Web site.

    EPA Grants E15 Fuel Waiver for 2001-2006 Model Year Vehicles

    The U.S. EPA has waived the limitation on selling fuel that contains over 10% ethanol, allowing up to 15% ethanol for model year 2001-2006 vehicles. In October, EPA ruled in favor of E15 for model year 2007 and newer vehicles.

    For now, no waiver is being granted for E15 use in model year 2000 and older cars or light trucks-or in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or non-road engines-because no testing data support such a waiver. Since 1979, up to 10% ethanol or E10 has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and for non-road vehicles.

    EPA is developing requirements to ensure that E15 is properly labeled at the gas pump. The label will help prevent the use of E15 in vehicles that aren’t currently approved.

    E15 is a blend of 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol whose primary source is corn, but other grains or biomass sources such as corncobs, cornstalks, and switchgrass can be used. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandated an increase in the overall volume of renewable fuels in the marketplace, reaching 36 billion gallons in 2022. See the EPA press release and the EPA E15 Web site.

    Delayed NASA Solar Sail Satellite Finally Orbits

    In an unexpected twist for what was thought to be a failed space mission, NASA engineers confirmed on January 21 that the NanoSail-D "nanosatellite" had deployed its 100-square-foot polymer solar sail in low-Earth orbit and is operating-more than a month later than originally planned.

    The sail actually unfurled on January 20, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, reported, marking the first time the US has achieved low-Earth solar sail flight. The device will stay in a low orbit for 70-120 days, depending on atmospheric conditions.

    The saga of the satellite began on November 19 when NanoSail-D launched from Kodiak Island, Alaska, aboard the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT), itself a compact microsatellite. The original schedule called for a mini-satellite, about the size of a loaf of bread, to eject on December 6. After initially reporting the NanoSail had left FASTSAT, the launch team reconsidered after finding no evidence the tiny package was in orbit. Because the separation was unexpectedly delayed, the mission appeared in jeopardy.

    But recently, the nanosatellite did "spontaneously" emerge, which engineers confirmed on January 19. Once that free flight occurred about 400 miles above the Earth’s surface, a timer within NanoSail-D began a three-day countdown, and when it reached zero, four booms were programmed to quickly deploy, allowing NanoSail-D to unfold the polymer sail in five seconds.

    The sail, about the size of a tent, is linked to 8 lithium-ion batteries as a power source. The mission is designed to test an emerging technology that will decrease the time a satellite needs to de-orbit without using the propellants that most traditional satellites use.

    The first attempt to launch and deploy NanoSail-D was in August 2008. The Falcon 1 rocket experienced problems that resulted in the loss of the launch vehicle and payloads, including the first NanoSail-D. However, NASA engineers had constructed two NanoSail-D flight units, in case one failed or another launch opportunity became available. Now, NASA has formed a partnership with Spaceweather.com to encourage the amateur astronomy community to submit the best photographic images of the orbiting NanoSail-D, with prizes for the best pictures. See NASA press releases on deployment and first signals, as well as a NanoSail-D fact sheet , and the Spaceweather.com photo contest.

    EIA: Oil Prices to Average $99 per Barrel by Late 2012

    Crude oil prices are projected to steadily increase over the next two years and will average $99 per barrel in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA).

    The EIA’s "Short-Term Energy Outlook," released on January 11, projects continued tightening of world oil markets over the next two years, with consumption growing by an annual average of 1.5 million barrels per day. At the same time, supply growth from non-OPEC countries will average less than 0.1 million barrels per day each year.

    The EIA expects oil markets to rely on OPEC production increases and to draw down inventories to fill the demand gap. As a result, crude oil is expected to average $93 per barrel in 2011 and $98 per barrel in 2012, although these figures depend heavily on the rate of economic growth and on the magnitude of OPEC production increases. Crude oil spot prices averaged more than $89 per barrel in December 2010, about $5 per barrel higher than the November average.

    In the US, the primary impact of increasing crude oil prices will be on the price of motor fuels. The EIA expects retail prices for regular-grade gasoline to rise from an average of $2.78 per gallon in 2010 to $3.17 per gallon in 2011 and $3.29 per gallon in 2012. Likewise, retail prices for on-highway diesel fuel will rise from $2.99 per gallon in 2010 to $3.40 per gallon in 2011 and $3.52 per gallon in 2012.

    Because of increased demand in summer, EIA anticipates this year’s peak monthly average price for gasoline will be reached in July, when it is projected to crest at $3.27 per gallon. There’s a 7% chance the retail price of gasoline will top $4 per gallon in July.

    Although increased consumption of motor fuels will raise carbon emissions, projected declines in fossil-fuel consumption for generating electricity should result in an overall decline in carbon emissions of 0.6% in 2011. In 2012, projected economic growth will lead to a 2.4% increase in energy-related emissions. See the EIA’s "Short-Term Energy Outlook."

    The International Energy Agency (IEA) confirms in its latest Oil Market Report that oil markets are indeed following the trends noted by the EIA, namely, that higher oil demand is being met with a drawdown of inventories and greater production from OPEC countries. The IEA notes that OPEC oil production increased by 250,000 barrels per day in December 2010, reaching 29.58 million barrels per day, while inventories in developed countries (those belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD) dropped by 8.3 million barrels in November 2010, reaching 2,742 million barrels. See the highlights from the report on the IEA’s Oil Market Report Web site.

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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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