35 MW Platanares geothermal plant in Honduras to start operation in 2017

Posted on February 6th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.




As reported from Honduras this week, the construction for the Platanares geothermal power plant in Honduras has reached an advanced stage.

This was announced by the advisor to the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP ), Solomon Ordonez, and as reported by Honduran newspaper La Tribuna.

The Platanares geothermal power plant will be the country’s first geothermal plant and is expected to start operation in 2017.  The $200 million geothermal project, funded by Honduran and foreign investment, is lcoated in the municipality of La Union, department of Copán, in western Honduras.

Ormat Technology confirmed last year having started the construction of the geothermal project, as we reported. The BOT (build, own and transfer) conract was signed in 2013 between Ormat and Electricidad de Cortes (Elcosa), a privately-owned Honduras energy company.

The 15 year contract will go into effect from the date of commencement of commercial operation. In December 2015, Ormat concluded the drilling activity, and the evidence supporting the project’s decision.

The energy generated by Platanares will be marketed under the 30-year energy purchase agreements signed with the national electricity company of Honduras, the National Electric Energy Company (ENEE).

The Platanares geothermal project is regulated by the Law for the Promotion of the Generation of Electric Power by Renewable Resources, which was enacted in 2007, according to which it can benefit from a tax exemption during the first 10 years of operation.

The company expects to reach commercial operation by the end of 2017 and generate annual revenues of approximately $ 33 million.

Geothermal development in Latin American and the Caribbean will be discussed extensively at the Geothermal Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean (GeoLAC) in Mexico City, Mexico April 25-26, 2017. ThinkGeoEnergy and PiensaGeotermia will report from the conference.


Iceland is drilling a giant hole, not for oil, but for geothermal energy

Posted on February 3rd, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Drill, baby, drill. But in this case, not for oil — rather, the nation of Iceland is digging a giant hole into a volcano in the name of renewable energy. By boring the world’s deepest geothermal hole in the Reykjanes peninsula (it goes down 3.1 miles), scientists say they’ll be able to take advantage of the extreme pressure and heat to tap into an impressive 30 to 50 megawatts of electricity from a single geothermal well.

Iceland is already one of the world’s greatest users and suppliers of geothermal energy, producing around 26 percent of its electricity from geothermal sources. However, most of the country’s wells pale in comparison to this latest gargantuan effort. While a typical geothermal well extends just 1.5 miles into the ground, this new one is twice as deep, and as a result could yield up to 10 times more power.

By the time the drilling team gets to around 3 miles beneath Earth’s crust, scientists expect to find a mixture of molten rock and water, but given the huge amount of heat and pressure present, the water will become what is called “supercritical steam.” Neither a liquid nor a gas, this supercritical steam contains far more potential energy than either of those states of matter, and scientists say it holds the key to more electricity.


“We hope that this will open new doors for the geothermal industry globally to step into an era of more production,” said Asgeir Margeirsson, CEO of the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), the collaboration among scientists, industry, and the Icelandic government responsible for the Reykjanes project.

He added, “If this works, in the future we would need to drill fewer wells to produce the same amount of energy, meaning we would touch less surface, which means less environmental impact and hopefully lower costs.”

This is not the first time such an ambitious project has been attempted. Six years ago, a similar effort was taken, but it ended disastrously when the drilling team ran into hot magma at 1.3 miles beneath the surface, destroying the entire drill string. But already, the current team has gone further without significant incident (knock on wood).



4 New Ways to Store Renewable Energy With Water

Posted on January 31st, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Earth, Wind & Water: DNV GL’s energy island concept creates a lake in the ocean that stores wind energy by pumping water out.

If Elon Musk has his way, in the future we’ll all be storing renewableelectricity inside big banks of lithium-ion batteries. But let’s not forget the energy storage situation today. In the United States, 97 percent of utility-scale storage in 2014 was in pumped-storage hydroelectric plants, according to research by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee.

In traditional pumped hydro, a dam separates a lower reservoir from an upper reservoir. When a utility company needs to store energy, the system pumps water from the bottom to the top. It generates electricity when water flows back down through a turbine. In 2015, Citibank estimated that the cost of power from pumped hydroelectric was about 5 percent of the cost of grid-scale battery-stored electricity. The problem is that there are many places that “consume high amounts of power but don’t have geological opportunities to build conventional pumped-storage plants,” says Jochen Bard, an energy processing technology manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES), in Germany.

In 2017, a number of new pumped-hydro technologies should achieve milestones. They aim to bring the low cost of the technology to geographies that ordinarily wouldn’t allow it. Here are four you might hear about:


  • /image/Mjg1NzIyMg.jpeg
    Photo: Fraunhofer IWES Energy system technology

    The Concrete Bunker

    Stensea (Stored Energy in the Sea) is a hollow concrete sphere with a built-in pump turbine. It sits on the seafloor and, in its discharged state, is filled with water. To store energy, the system uses electricity to pump water out into the sea. When discharging, the pump works in reverse, generating electricity as water refills the sphere.

    In November, Fraunhofer IWES installed a 3-meter-wide pilot sphere in southern Germany’s Lake Konstanz at a depth of around 100 meters. It ran a successful four-week test of the system with full charging and discharging. Following a year-long feasibility study, the team is now developing the concept for a 5-megawatt, 20-megawatt-hour full-scale system. The spheres will have certain geographic needs: a water depth from 600 to 800 meters and a surface flat enough to prevent tilting. Potential sites for such a project include locations in the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Norwegian trench.

  • /image/Mjg1NzIyMw.jpeg
    Photo: Hydrostor

    Compressed-Air Bags

    Hydrostor’s system consists of weighted-down balloonlike bags that are placed underwater and connected to a system on the shore. To store energy, it uses electricity to compress the air and fill the underwater bags. (A heat exchanger and underwater bath capture heat lost during compression to help preserve efficiency.) When electricity is needed, the air flows back out of the bag into a machine that expands it to drive a turbine. [See “Stashing Energy in Underwater Bags,” IEEE Spectrum, August 2014.]

    Hydrostor commissioned a 660-kilowatt pilot plant with undisclosed storage capacity in November 2015 at Toronto Island, and the company is currently optimizing the performance. It has proposed new projects in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. And it’s now constructing a 2-MW, 7-MWh facility in Goderich, Ontario, that uses underground salt caverns instead of bags, which could be followed by a 1-MW, 6-MWh storage system with bags in Aruba later this year.

  • img
    Photo: DNV GL

    Energy Island

    In DNV GL’s energy island concept, a dike encloses a 10- by 6-kilometer section of the North Sea off the Dutch coast [artist’s rendering, left]. To store electricity, the system pumps interior water up and out to sea. Letting water flow through a turbine on its way back generates electricity.

    Unlike with traditional pumped storage, the inner lake can be built out in the sea as long as the seafloor has a sufficiently large layer of clay to prevent the ocean from seeping back in. There would also be some trade-off between more energy storage gained from a deeper ocean and increased construction cost.

    For now, this energy island is only in the concept stage. DNV GL, based in Norway, is running a business case analysis with partners in the Netherlands and discussing plans to build a large-scale system. It hasn’t settled on a power rating or storage duration yet, but a small-scale prototype wouldn’t work for something like this, according to the company.

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    Photo-illustration: Naturspeicher

    Wind Turbines With Water Storage

    In a system by Naturspeicher and Max Bögl, wind turbines are built on the top of a hill with a pair of water storage reservoirs at their bases that raise them by an extra 40 meters above a typical turbine. A man-made lake sits at the bottom of the hill; energy is stored when the water is pumped up into the reservoirs, and electricity is produced when the water falls back down to the lake.

    Adding an extra 40 meters of height should boost generation about 25 percent, but it also requires weight balancing that would ordinarily be expensive. In this case, however, the company says, water in the reservoirs naturally balances the mechanical load on the cheap.

    The system “integrates harmoniously into the landscape without major disruption,” Naturspeicher says. It plans to have a wind farm on line by the end of 2017 in the hills of the Swabian-Franconian Forest, in Germany, with pumped storage following by late 2018. It expects the system, when completed, to store 70 MWh and deliver up to 16 MW.


Scotland Eyes 50 Percent Renewable Energy by 2030

Posted on January 31st, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



The Scottish government has taken the first steps to heavily cutting the country’s reliance on North Sea oil and gas after calling for 50 percent of Scotland’s entire energy needs to come from renewables.

In a subtle but significant shift of emphasis for the Scottish National party after decades championing North Sea production, ministers unveiled a new energy strategy intended to push motorists, homeowners and businesses into using low- or zero-carbon green energy sources for half their energy needs by 2030.

Currently, 47 percent of Scotland’s total energy use comes from petroleum products largely extracted from Scotland’s North Sea oil platforms, and 27 percent from domestic and imported natural gas needed for home heating.

With opposition parties and environment groups expressing skepticism about a lack of detail in the new strategy, Scottish ministers privately admit cutting oil use is their biggest challenge in hitting far tougher targets unveiled last week to reduce Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 66 percent by 2032.

While North Sea oil and gas production is in decline as reserves run dry, the new strategy implies Scotland will need to accelerate its transition to a low-carbon economy faster than reserves run out to hit both targets.

Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish energy minister, told MSPs last week that the new energy target was intended to directly support that climate target. Scottish renewables already supplied nearly 60 percent of Scotland’s domestic electricity use, Scottish islands were pioneering energy self-sufficiency, and community-owned renewable schemes now had an installed capacity of 595mw, he said.

Wheelhouse said: “We can all take pride in such successes, however, it is clear that more progress will be required – particularly in the supply of low-carbon heat and transport – if we are to remain on track to meet our ambitious climate change goals.”

It would put pressure on onshore windfarm operators to make their wind energy so cheap that it would not require a subsidy. Bus companies would be asked to invest in hydrogen-powered buses, and motorists expected to shift to electric cars.

Renewables industry sources say hitting that much higher target could be slower and harder than Wheelhouse admitted because the Scottish government is expected to miss its target of supplying 100 percent of Scotland’s domestic electricity needs from this source by 2020.

Industry analysts believe 87 percent will be renewable by 2020, in part because offshore wind power projects have been slower than expected. Wheelhouse pointed out, however, that the cost of offshore wind had fallen faster than expected, by 32 percent since 2012.

The draft energy strategy, released for public consultation on Tuesday, failed to deal with substantial questions about the costs of meeting the new target, sidestepped Scotland’s continuing use of nuclear energy and also the exact mix and quantity of green energy schemes now needed by 2030.

The paper also again sidestepped a decision on the future of fracking of Scotland’s large shale oil and gas reserves, with ministers are at odds over allowing it or banning it on climate and environmental grounds.

Environmentalists, opposition parties and SNP activists are putting the Scottish government under heavy pressure to convert an existing moratorium on fracking into a permanent ban.

Wheelhouse said ministers were taking an “evidence-based and measured approach” and would soon launch a new public consultation on whether to allow fracking.

And despite standing for election on strong anti-nuclear platforms, Scottish ministers have admitted they are content to see the life of Scotland’s two nuclear power stations at Hunterston and Torness to be extended further, beyond their current contracts that run until 2023 and 2030 respectively.

Nuclear power provided 35 percent of Scotland’s electricity in 2015. EDF, the French-owned utility that operates the two stations, is building up a technical case to win support from the UK’s nuclear regulator to extend both stations’ operating lives by several years each.

That strategy is supported by Scottish ministers. Wheelhouse’s energy paper had very little detail on what power sources would provide the remaining 50 percent of Scotland’s energy needs but it said “thermal energy” – power provided by conventional nuclear or gas-fired stations – would be a significant part of that.

While all opposition parties welcomed Wheelhouse’s overall 50 percent target, they were immensely critical about the lack of detail in the paper, particularly on the costs and funding of the strategy.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s energy spokeswoman, said the SNP often set targets it failed to meet. “Scotland has previously been required to import energy from elsewhere in the UK, particularly baseload power from England,” she said. “Yet the SNP’s energy strategy provides little detail about how to keep the lights on.”

Mark Ruskell, a Scottish Green party MSP, said it remained unclear how the target for 80 percent of homes to use low-carbon heat by 2032 would be delivered, since the 2025 target was just 18 percent and current funding levels were inadequate.

“Warming our homes affordably and with low-carbon power is a priority but the Scottish government’s targets don’t make sense,” he said. “There’s too much trust in a technological miracle in the future and not enough action on fuel poverty today.”

Gina Hanrahan, the climate and energy policy officer at environmental group WWF Scotland, said the strategy “fails to put enough meat on the bones of the commitment to transform the energy efficiency of existing homes”. She added: “With 1.5m cold homes in Scotland, these proposals are too slow and underfunded.”


Argentina Declares 2017 Is “Renewable Energy Year”

Posted on January 31st, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Originally published on PlanetSave.

Argentina has declared 2017 as the ‘Renewable Energy Year’ as the South American country looks to increase awareness about the advantages of renewable energy and the important of sustainability.

A decree issued by the government calls for energy diversification through the use of renewable energy sources in the electricity generation as well as thermal energy sector. The decree states the country’s target of having a 20% share of renewable energy in electricity consumption by 2025.

The decree is in-line with Argentina’s adoption of the Paris climate change agreement which calls for comprehensive global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government is expected to push the use of renewable energy technology this year.

The government has set a target to increase the share of renewable energy to 20% in the energy mix by 2025. Another target called for 8% renewable energy share in electricity consumption by 2017. As a result, several renewable energy auctions are expected to take place in the country over the next few years. The government is expected to auction 10 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2025.

In October of last year, the government allocated 1.1 gigawatts of renewable energy projects through a competitive auction. This included 400 megawatts of solar power capacity, and wind energy, bioenergy, and small hydro power projects were also allocated. The auction attracted bids for 6,366 megawatts of capacity.

An additional 516 megawatts of solar PV capacity was allocated in another auction in November 2016.



Geothermal energy from old mines could heat Llynfi Valley homes

Posted on January 19th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Llynfi Valley residents are being invited to find out more about an exciting project which is investigating whether heat could be taken from underground mine water to provide energy for nearly 1,000 homes.

The plan is being developed by Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC), and two public exhibitions will be held next month.

Former mine workings in the valley may potentially offer a geo-thermal source of energy as they have filled up with water which has an average temperature of around 10 to 14 degrees Celsius.

The idea is to pump the water from the old disused mine workings and transport it through a network of pipes to residents’ properties in Caerau where the heat will be extracted and passed through a heat pump, which will then provide heat for the property using its existing radiator system. The mine water would not, at any point, enter the homes of residents.

The following public exhibitions have been arranged, and local people are invited to drop in at any time to find out more:


Monday, February 13: Noddfa Chapel Community Centre, Caerau Road, Maesteg, (CF34 0PG), 3pm–8pm; Wednesday, February 15: Caerau Development Trust, Woodland Terrace, Maesteg (CF34 0SR), 11am–4pm.

Coun Ceri Reeves, the council’s cabinet member for communities, said: “I am pleased to see that this innovative project is progressing and that Caerau residents will soon be able to learn more about this exciting cutting edge opportunity to develop alternative heat.

“The council has commissioned a detailed ground condition survey to ascertain whether the water held in the mine workings under Caerau provides a natural heat source which could provide safe, continuous, and cost effective heat for a large number of local homes.

“I am watching the development of this renewable energy project with great interest as its potential to make a positive impact in the Llynfi Valley is huge.”

In March 2016, BCBC was one of 24 local authorities – and the only one in Wales – to share a grant of £1.5m from the Department of Energy and Climate Change for the development of new low carbon heat networks.

Heat networks are believed to have the potential to supply heat for between 14 per cent and 43 per cent of UK buildings by 2050. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has been providing grant funding and expert guidance to support 190 heat network projects since 2013.

Coun Reeves added: “We’re proud to be among those testing the large scale viability of using these low carbon heat sources and developing a model that could be rolled out in the rest of the UK.”

As well as being invited to attend the public exhibitions, Caerau residents can also express an interest in helping to develop the project by getting involved with important research activities such as testing new technologies in their homes, and taking part in detailed energy assessments.

If you would be interested in getting involved, contact BCBC’s Sustainable Development Team on 01656 643133 and ask to speak to Ceri Williams or Michael Jenkins.

Residents who take part will be offered financial reimbursement for their time and to cover any increased fuel costs. Anyone who lives in a rented property will need permission from their landlord.



Poland turns to geothermal solution for air quality

Posted on January 19th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



The Polish government is to use geothermal energy to try and clean up its air quality problem.

Both Warsaw and the EU are to help fund a $2.4bn programme to tackle the problem and $120m is to be designated towards geothermal energy projects.

Dr Kazimierz Kujda, CEO of the National Fund said, “Improving air quality is, has been and will be one of the priorities of the National Fund, but achieving this requires above all coordinated action at the local government level.”

The prerequisite for financing individual projects is documented ability to receive thermal energy (including the ability to connect the source to the existing district heating network). This offer does not apply to recreational use of geothermal waters or spas.



Why more and more countries are taking an interest in geothermal energy

Posted on January 17th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



At 2:46 pm local time on Friday, March 11, 2011, Japan was rocked by the largest earthquake ever to strike its shores. The 9.1-magnitude quake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people. It also took out the backup emergency generators that cooled the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex, causing a series of catastrophic meltdowns.

But amid the chaos, the Yanaizu-Nishiyama geothermal power plant in Fukushima prefecture didn’t miss a beat. Along with two more of the nine geothermal power plants in the region, the 65-megawatt facility continued to generate power, even as many other power plants around them failed because of damaged equipment and transmission lines.

“This is big news for many geothermal people around the world,” says Kasumi Yasukawa, principal research manager at the Institute for Geo-Resources and Environment in Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

In a country as seismically active as Japan, it was a clear signal that geothermal energy was worth investing in.


Geothermal electricity generation might not have the high-tech flashiness of solar, or the romance of wind and wave, but it’s the solid, steady workhorse of the renewable energy race. The never-flagging heat lurking at various depths below the Earth’s surface is tapped to produce steam that is used to drive turbines and generate electricity. This heat can also be used more directly to warm spaces or swimming pools, but sustainable electricity generation is the goal that most have in their sights.

“If you want to know what you could run an industrial society off of, it would be hydro and as much geothermal as you could find,” says Susan Krumdieck, who heads the Advanced Energy and Material Systems Lab at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Star on the rise

Wind and solar energy have many excellent qualities, but reliability isn’t necessarily one of them. When the wind drops off, or the sun sets, something else has to step in. And increasingly, nations are turning to geothermal to deliver that stability.

The use of geothermal electricity varies enormously around the world. In 2015, 24 countries had a total of around 13.3 gigawatts of geothermal power capacity. The United States is the single biggest, with just over 3,500 megawatts of capacity — although this only contributes around 0.3 percent of the nation’s electricity capacity — followed by the Philippines, Indonesia and Mexico in the 1,000 to 2,000 MW range.


Geothermal energy’s star seems to be on the rise. The Japanese government has committed to tripling its geothermal electricity capacity, from around 540 MW in 2011 to 1,500 MW, by 2030. El Salvador is aiming to source 40 percent of its electricity from geothermal by 2019 — up from around 25 percent — and in Kenya, geothermal energy has now taken over hydro as the top supplier of electricity, providing 51 percent of the nation’s electricity.

But these countries, and others such as Iceland and New Zealand, have one big advantage: Their volcanic geology and seismic activity means the heat is relatively close to the surface and often in close contact with water, and therefore much easier to tap. But not all countries are so lucky, and this is where enhanced geothermal electricity comes into play.

Enhanced geothermal

Geothermal electricity generation needs three things to be viable: heat, fluid, and a substrate permeable enough to allow movement of fluid through it and up to the surface, where the steam is used to turn power-producing turbines. In the case of conventional geothermal energy — sometimes called hydrothermal energy — all three of these elements naturally occur together.

However this is the exception rather the rule. For the majority of countries, the heat is there, but the fluid, and in some cases the permeability, is not.

Enhanced geothermal involves drilling wells into the hot rock, and forcing fluid — water or brine — into the hot rock through fractures or permeable areas. The heated water is then extracted via another well and put to work generating electricity.

“The hydrothermal systems that have been developed to date are by and large low-hanging fruit,” says Robert Podgorney, director of the Snake River Plain Geothermal Consortiumand Idaho National Lab FORGE — Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy — Initiative. “But the elephant in the room is the enhanced geothermal; the source base dwarfs all of production to date.” For example, a 2008 report by the US Geological Survey estimated there are more than 500,000 MW of untapped enhanced geothermal energy in the western United States alone, an order of magnitude greater than available conventional geothermal resources. FORGE is the US government’s up to US$31 million push to shift enhanced geothermal electricity generation up a gear.

“We’re looking for case number one at a really commercial scale, and when I say commercial scale, each well has to be making at least 5 megawatts and preferably more,” Podgorney says.

But getting to this point will require advances in drilling technologies, energy conversion, understanding the heat resource and substrate, and identifying resources most likely to deliver electricity bang for drilling buck. Enhanced geothermal also has issues with regional seismic disturbances, subsidence, and the extraction of potentially toxic mineral-laden fluid that can clog power plant machinery with mineral deposits.

For example, in 2009 the ancient Swiss city of Basel was hit by a series of small earthquakes that were blamed on an inadequately researched enhanced geothermal power plant initiative. The project was soon abandoned, and its geologist stood trial accused of property damage, although he was later acquitted. Podgorney says seismic disturbance can be a concern, particularly with enhanced geothermal where fluid is being forced into the substrate. “One of the areas that we work on here in the Idaho National Lab is ways to optimize the reservoir creation while trying to minimize any potential impacts.”

Conventional geothermal is not without its environmental problems: New Zealand has experienced subsidence around several of its geothermal fields, which has been partly blamed on unconstrained extraction of the hot fluid without reinjection. Plans for these areas now emphasize reinjection to limit further losses.

But the biggest challenge for enhanced geothermal is the fact that getting to this hot rock requires drilling many kilometers below the surface, injecting fluid and extracting it once it’s hot, none of which is cheap.

Indeed, cost has proven Australia’s undoing. While the ancient continent’s volcanic resources are long dormant, there are vast reserves of hot dry rock. But a AU$144 million project drilling for enhanced geothermal energy resources in the Cooper Basin did not find a resource worth developing under existing economic conditions. The Australian government’s renewable energy agency has now taken a step back and directed its funding to a project to map structural permeability and identify areas where fluid has the best chance of traveling efficiently through the hot rock.

Improving efficiency

The US-based geothermal company AltaRock Energy is focusing considerable attention on energy conversion efficiency. By making a number of tweaks to its own geothermal power plant, AltaRock has increased the efficiency with which it converts heat to electricity and increased output from 25 MW to 30.

“If you can make the conversion process from heat to electricity 20 percent more efficient, you need 20 percent fewer wells, and the wells are the expensive part,” says Susan Petty, AltaRock’s president and CTO.

AltaRock is also improving the efficiency of its wells — managing the injection and flow of fluid so they target the hottest parts of the geothermal field. And Petty sees potential in improving the design of the giant turbines whose steam-powered spin drives electricity production, using modern, digitally controlled techniques to craft much more efficient turbines.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, some people are turning geothermal into personal gain. The expansion of geothermal electricity generation faces resistance from some owners of Japan’s many traditional hot springs, or onsen — an integral part of Japanese culture — who are afraid the development will compromise their springs in some way. But others have begun investing in their own very small-scale geothermal power plants, suggesting that geothermal has already gone a long way to winning them over after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Yasukawa says the 2011 earthquake and tsunami showed just how valuable geothermal electricity can be.

“We don’t need to wait for the big catastrophic earthquake — we have lots of small earthquake or landslides or something that interrupts the power lines in these areas,” Yasukawa says. “If you have a geothermal power plant in your village you can get power, so I think that is a very strong support of geothermal.”


Military Urges Renewed Commitment to Renewable Energy

Posted on January 17th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



 On January 12, 2017, Noblis, in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts, released a report on energy assurance on U.S. military bases. Cost-effective and reliable energy is crucial to the success of U.S. military missions, and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) fixed military installations account for 1 percent of the total electrical energy consumed by the United States, costing almost $4 billion. The military has long relied on the commercial grid, with standalone generators during peak use, but these sources are vulnerable to disruption due to aging infrastructure, severe weather, and both physical attacks and cyberattacks. Instead, the report proposes shifting to a strategy of large-scale microgrids. It conducts a cost comparison, addresses implementation issues, and analyzes the efficiency and security of microgrids, concluding that they would be superior to the military’s current system for supplying energy.

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently held a panel discussion, which supplements the report’s findings, focused on the intersection of national security, energy, and climate change. Three military secretaries examined past successes, and Dr. Jeff Marqusee, the Chief Scientist of Noblis and author of the report, discussed how the military could enhance its energy security going forward. The panelists argued that investment in renewable energy should continue to be a priority for the U.S. military because its goal is increasing mission assurance. The testimony was followed by a roundtable discussion and Q&A session.

Assistant Secretary of the Army Katherine Hammack discussed the Army’s Net Zero programs initiative, the goal of which is to maintain bases with net zero energy, water, and waste. This requires that bases produce as much as they consume, so consumption must also be reduced. The Net Zero programs strategy is based on enhancing readiness and resilience to weather emergencies or attacks. Addressing concerns that the Trump administration may reduce renewable energy initiatives in the federal government, Secretary Hammack stated that she does not believe the program will be scaled back, because it is objectively cost-effective, and it would be counterintuitive to require the Army to switch to a less cost-effective and less resilient system.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Dennis McGinn argued that the military needs to focus on regional resiliency, because if the lights stay on in the region, they will stay on in the base. To accomplish grid stability, the Navy works closely with private-sector utility partners. If a private company wants to build an element of the energy grid or a “peaker plant” on a marine installation, the Navy allows the company to use the land and this, in turn, improves regional and base resiliency. Secretary McGinn stressed the strong business case for energy stability and efficiency, since energy security and resiliency is directly related to the success and safety of our troops.

Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Miranda Ballentine discussed three recent global trends that leave the U.S. energy supply uniquely vulnerable. First, the United States systematically and intentionally outsources power generation. Second, U.S. military missions have become more and more dependent on the steady flow of electrons, which are as essential as jet fuel to planes. Third, Mother Nature is no longer our only adversary; the United States has many adversaries around the world looking at our power grids for kinetic and cyberattacks.

These trends signal a need to change the military’s approach to energy security. Secretary Ballentine suggested that the military needs renewable energy that does not rely on a supply chain, because terrorists cannot cut off sun, wind, or geothermal energy if it is right underneath the base. There is also the need to improve next-generation storage technology, so bases can function without immediate sun and wind. She also pointed out that many nations are transitioning to host nation power grids, and away from diesel generators, because they believe host nation power grids are less expensive and more reliable.

Chief Scientist of Noblis Dr. Jeff Marqusee advocated for a shift from the current dependency on the commercial grid to microgrids. There has been an increase in grid outages due to weather events, physical attacks, and cyberattacks, but microgrids are a networked approach that provides an added layer of resiliency, increased business performance, and efficiency. Microgrids also provide a huge cost savings over the current system, because we do not account for all of the costs of our current paradigm, creating strong inertia. Dr. Marqusee believes that DoD should buy microgrid services from a third party, because that allows it to tap into third-party financing. His report finds that with a switch to microgrids, DoD’s buildings could become a quarter more efficient.

Finally, each panelist was asked to provide a piece of advice for the incoming Trump administration. Secretaries Hammack and McGinn urged the new administration to focus on the “why,” which is mission effectiveness and resiliency, and to examine the strong business case that underlies sustainable energy. Secretary Ballentine and Dr. Marqusee focused on the “people power” in the DoD, the extensive expertise of career employees, and the need to trust the employees, because all share a common goal of supporting the mission.


Renewable Energy First, Renewable Electronics Follow

Posted on January 17th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Much of the focus regarding the fight for environmentally friendly technology revolves around renewable energy, forgetting that there are also other facets of modern industries that cause harm. Electronics are prime examples since components, wires, and hardware is still contributing to the deteriorating state of the earth. Scientists recently found a type of microbe with significant potential in conducting electricity, which could potentially become the future’s source of wires.

Electrically conductive wires, whether they are based on copper or optic fibers, are necessary to transport and store energy produced by one source from another. According to a new report by University of Massachusetts Amherst microbiologists, this conductivity could potentially come from microbes that belong to the Geobacter species, Phys.org reports.

One of the microbiologists behind the report is Derek Lovley, and according to him, the use of microbial nanowires has the potential to become even better conductors of electricity than those made by humans. For one thing, the process to actually getting them is a lot cleaner.

"Microbial nanowires are a revolutionary electronic material with substantial advantages over man-made materials,” Lovley said. “Chemically synthesizing nanowires in the lab requires toxic chemicals, high temperatures and/or expensive metals. The energy requirements are enormous. By contrast, natural microbial nanowires can be mass-produced at room temperature from inexpensive renewable feedstocks in bioreactors with much lower energy inputs. And the final product is free of toxic components."

This led Lovley and his team to conclude that microbial nanowires have the potential to become the source for developing materials for electronic devices such as sensors, computer chips, and eventually, perhaps even vehicles. The diversity of the applications that can come from the discovery were outlined in the paper that the team published.

In the paper, the microbiologists suggest that the sustainable nature of producing these electrically conductive nanowires makes them perfect for replacing current versions that are causing harm to the planet. Doing so might even lead to a change in perspective when it comes to creating sustainable and non-toxic substitutes for other materials.