Would Barack Obama convene a National Energy Council? The chances appear to be good. Such a council’s first task, CAP says, “should be to support the president in preparing energy legislation for delivery to Capitol Hill within 60 days of the inauguration:”

“The Council’s mission will be to coordinate the relevant policy of all the agencies of the federal government, outreach with states, localities, and the private sector, and U.S. leadership and partnership in international efforts to reduce global emissions,” CAP writes.
Dan Weiss, director of climate strategy at the CAP Action Fund, says the council would be based on the model of the National Economic Council, which Bill Clinton created via executive order in 1993. It would bring together top officials from relevant agencies — the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, the Council on Environmental Quality — as well as leaders from the National Economic Council and the National Security Council, in the interest of coordinating work on energy and climate issues.


John Podesta, who is heading up Obama’s transition team, has been in favor of a National Energy Council. His organization, the Center for American Progress, has outlined who they think who would be on a National Energy Council:


* Secretary of State 

* Secretary of Treasury
* Secretary of Defense
* Attorney General
* Secretary of the Interior
* Secretary of Agriculture
* Secretary of Commerce
* Secretary of Labor
* Secretary of Health and Human Services
* Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
* Secretary of Transportation
* Secretary of Energy
* Secretary of Homeland Security
* Chair, Council on Environmental Quality
* Chair, National Security Council
* Chair, National Economic Council

Our Perspective:

I believe it is critical that Pres Obama create the National Energy Council. We have backed ourselves up against the wall and it has devistated our economy. A plan should be layed out to incorporate multiple technologies, all working together to achieve a goal of energy independence within 10 years.

Let us know your thoughts? You may email george@hbsadvantage.com or leave a comment.

Philly and the solar sell

November 7, 2008

Kristin Sullivan (right) joins Mayor Nutter in promoting solar incentives.
Kristin Sullivan (right) joins Mayor Nutter in promoting solar incentives.

By Mark Alan Hughes

According to one estimate, the amount of solar energy that falls on Earth in one hour is more than all the energy used on Earth in an entire year. As the technological and financial barriers to harvest that solar energy diminish, attention turns to barriers that happen closer to home.

What permits does a homeowner need to install solar? How much land does it take to build an array of solar panels big enough to power 100 homes? What incentives exist for companies to install solar in Philadelphia?

This past spring, the City of Philadelphia was named a Solar America City through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  The DOE has partnered with a select group of cities across the country that have committed to accelerating the adoption of solar energy technologies at the local level and Philadelphia is on board.

With Mayor Nutter’s new Office of Sustainability, Philadelphia is committed to playing a more active role in energy management and to reducing our vulnerability to a future of rising energy prices. Solar will play a key part in that sustainable future.

Solar energy can help safely, reliably, and cost-effectively displace the use of energy generated by fossil fuels. The city’s “Solar City Partnership” (the name of Philadelphia’s Solar America Cities partnership) will focus on bringing together a group of stakeholders with varying perspectives, a broad knowledge base, and experience who are in the position to identify and remove barriers to solar development in the city. 

Kristin Sullivan will lead these efforts as the Program Director for the Solar City partnership. Kristin joins the Office of Sustainability from the Wind and Solar Energy development industry, where she worked on early stage renewable energy development projects. She has been in involved in energy consulting and management since 2000, after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras.

The Solar City Partnership will develop a plan to help Philadelphia generate 2.3 MW of solar electricity by 2011 and 57.8 MW by 2021 within city boundaries, the city’s proportional share of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s solar installation goal. We are on track to meet that 2011 goal, but the 2021 goal represents a big lift. The city intends to add a large commercial-scale solar installation to its ongoing smaller scale efforts in order to achieve its goals.

Philadelphia will work to develop and adopt a solar implementation plan that is replicable and fully integrated with updated citywide plans and institutional processes for guiding decisions on land use, economic development and infrastructure investment. 

The city plans to identify and implement cost-effective tools to overcome commercial and residential solar market barriers in Philadelphia and its partnering communities.  “We also want to initiate planning for solar energy installations that can cost-effectively achieve the city’s goals. This includes choosing technologies, targeting districts and sites, and creating financial structures that will support the installations,” said Sullivan, the director of the partnership. (She can be reached by email here.)

The Solar City Partnership is just the most recent of our efforts to expand our capacity to build a sustainable future. One key element of that capacity-building is our focus on partnerships with non-profit advocates, public regulators and funders, and private industry. Together, we’ll make Philadelphia the greenest city and region in the U.S. by 2015.

Mark Alan Hughes is a senior adviser to Mayor Nutter and the City’s first Director of Sustainability.

As reported in Huffington Post Green


David Calvert / Ormat Technologies Inc.
Laying the groundwork: Ormat Technologies’ geothermal power plant in Reno, Nev., is a leader in using the renewable energy source.
Geothermal sources draw power firms in quest for renewables.
By Marla Dickerson
November 3, 2008
Reporting from Reno — Not far from the blinking casinos of this gambler’s paradise lies what could be called the Biggest Little Power Plant in the World.

Tucked into a few dusty acres across from a shopping mall, it uses steam heat from deep within the Earth’s crust to generate electricity. Known as geothermal, the energy is clean, reliable and so abundant that this facility produces more than enough electricity to power every home in Reno, population 221,000.


“There’s no smoke. Very little noise,” said Paul Thomsen, director of policy and business management for Ormat Technologies Inc., which owns the operation. “People don’t even know it’s here.”

Geothermal energy may be the most prolific renewable fuel source that most people have never heard of. Although the supply is virtually limitless, the massive upfront costs required to extract it have long rendered geothermal a novelty. But that’s changing fast as this old-line industry buzzes with activity after decades of stagnation.

Billionaire Warren E. Buffett has invested big. Internet giant Google Inc. is bankrolling advanced research. Entrepreneurs are paying record prices for drilling leases in places such as Nevada, where they’re prospecting for heat instead of metals.

“This is the new gold rush,” said Mark Taylor, a geothermal analyst with the consulting firm New Energy Finance in Washington. He credits high fossil fuel prices and concerns about global warming with jump-starting the U.S. industry, along with federal tax credits and state laws mandating the wider use of renewable energy.

Global investment in geothermal was around $3 billion last year, Taylor said. Although that’s a blip compared with the estimated $116 billion funneled into wind and solar, it’s still a 183% increase over investment in 2006. In a difficult year for alternative energy funding, the industry snagged $600 million through the first six months of 2008, Taylor said.

A lot of that new investment is in the United States, the world’s leader in geothermal energy. More than 80% of the country’s 3,000 geothermal megawatts lies in California. The Geysers, a network of 22 geothermal plants about 75 miles north of San Francisco in the Mayacamas Mountains, is the largest geothermal complex on the planet. Calpine Corp. owns the largest part of it.

The area around the Salton Sea in Imperial County is another hot spot. CalEnergy Generation, a subsidiary of Buffett’s Mid-American Energy Holdings, owns and operates 10 plants there. It plans three additional facilities in the next few years, CalEnergy President Steve Larsen said.

In October, the Bureau of Land Management said it planned to open more than 190 million acres of federal land in California and 11 other Western states for new geothermal development.

Nevada, the nation’s No. 2 geothermal producer, has 45 new projects underway, said Lisa Shevenell, director of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy at the University of Nevada in Reno. An August lease sale of Nevada lands by the federal bureau brought in a record $28.2 million.

“I’ve been at this 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Shevenell, a research hydrologist. “Money is falling out of the sky.”

Geothermal has been harnessed for industry since at least the 1820s. Operators tap natural reservoirs of scalding water and steam trapped thousands of feet underground, drilling wells to bring the heat to the surface to power turbines that feed electricity generators.

Costing about 4 to 7 cents a kilowatt-hour, Taylor said, geothermal is competitive with wind power and significantly cheaper than solar. Geothermal facilities occupy a fraction of the space required by wind and solar farms. The energy is also more reliable. Plants crank electricity around the clock, irrespective of whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.

This so-called baseload generation is coveted by power companies, which are under pressure to boost their use of green energy. California utilities must generate 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Nevada utilities must hit that target by 2015. Geothermal is a cornerstone of that effort, accounting for about two-thirds of the renewable portfolio of NV Energy, Nevada’s biggest utility.

“It’s a 24/7 predictable supply,” said Thomas Fair, the company’s head of renewable energy. “That means a lot to a utility.”

Greenhouse gas emissions are minimal in geothermal operations, and the size of the fuel supply defies imagination. There is 50,000 times more heat energy contained in the first six miles of the Earth’s crust than in all the planet’s oil and natural gas resources, according to the environmental organization Earth Policy Institute.

The challenge is extracting it. Geothermal energy production requires three things: heat from the Earth’s core, fractured rock to make it easy to get to and water to transport the heat to the surface.

Traditionally, developers have sought out pockets of hot water and steam hidden underground. Prime areas lie along continental plate boundaries, which is why California is such a hotbed.

Still, these reservoirs can be tricky to pinpoint. They’re also expensive to reach. A geothermal well can cost $5 million or more. The result: The U.S. currently derives less than 0.5% of its electricity from geothermal.

Some say the key to harnessing this energy source on a massive scale lies with a technology known as enhanced geothermal systems, or EGS for short. The idea is to engineer the necessary conditions by pumping water into the Earth’s crust and fracturing the hot rocks below. Heat from the Earth warms the water, whose resulting steam is channeled back to the surface, powering turbines to create electricity. The water is then pumped back underground.

Though still in its infancy, EGS has the potential to open up much of the planet to geothermal development. Tiny plants are already online in France and Germany. More than 30 EGS firms are engaged in exploration and development in Australia.

Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the Mountain View, Calif.-based search engine company, is trying to push EGS in the U.S. It recently gave $10 million to Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Lab to update the nation’s geothermal resources map, as well as to two California companies — Potter Drilling and AltaRock Energy Inc. — that are working on EGS technologies.

Google is urging the U.S. government to spend big on geothermal R&D as part of the company’s push to encourage utility-scale renewable energy that’s cheaper than coal. About half the United States’ electricity is generated by that dirty fossil fuel. China, already the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is adding coal-fired plants at a swift rate.

EGS “is indeed the sleeping giant of renewable energy,” Dan Reicher, director for climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org, said during a recent industry conference in Reno. “It’s the killer ap.”

Some industry veterans such as Shevenell are miffed that EGS has grabbed the spotlight when there’s plenty of energy to be extracted quickly using conventional techniques. Still, she credits Google for helping pump life into a dormant sector.

“This country is in an energy crisis,” she said. “We need energy now, and this is a proven way to get it.”

Dickerson is a Times staff writer.

Friday, 24 October 2008
University of New South Wales

The new and improved solar cell is a step closer to the
theoretical maximum of 29 per cent efficiency.
Image: iStockphoto

The University of New South Wales’ ARC Photovoltaic Centre of Excellence has reported the first silicon solar cell to achieve the milestone of 25 per cent efficiency.

The UNSW ARC Photovoltaic Centre of Excellence already held the world record of 24.7 per cent for silicon solar cell efficiency. Now a revision of the international standard by which solar cells are measured, has delivered the significant 25 per cent record to the team led by Professors Martin Green and Stuart Wenham and widened their lead on the rest of the world.

Centre Executive Research Director, Scientia Professor Martin Green, said the new world mark in converting incident sunlight into electricity was one of six new world records claimed by UNSW for its silicon solar technologies.

Professor Green said the jump in performance leading to the milestone resulted from new knowledge about the composition of sunlight.

“Since the weights of the colours in sunlight change during the day, solar cells are measured under a standard colour spectrum defined under typical operational meteorological conditions,” he said.

“Improvements in understanding atmospheric effects upon the colour content of sunlight led to a revision of the standard spectrum in April. The new spectrum has a higher energy content both down the blue end of the spectrum and at the opposite red end with, dare I say it, relatively less green.”

The recalibration of the international standard, done by the International Electrochemical Commission in April, gave the biggest boost to UNSW technology while the measured efficiency of others made lesser gains. UNSW’s world-leading silicon cell is now six per cent more efficient than the next-best technology, Professor Green said. The new record also inches the UNSW team closer to the 29 per cent theoretical maximum efficiency possible for first-generation silicon photovoltaic cells.

Dr Anita Ho-Baillie, who heads the Centre’s high efficiency cell research effort, said the UNSW technology benefited greatly from the new spectrum “because our cells push the boundaries of response into the extremities of the spectrum”.

“Blue light is absorbed strongly, very close to the cell surface where we go to great pains to make sure it is not wasted. Just the opposite, the red light is only weakly absorbed and we have to use special design features to trap it into the cell,” she said.

Professor Green said: “These light-trapping features make our cells act as if they were much thicker than they are. This already has had an important spin-off in allowing us to work with CSG Solar to develop commercial ‘thin-film’ silicon-on-glass solar cells that are over 100 times thinner than conventional silicon cells.”

ARC Centre Director, Professor Stuart Wenham said the focus of the Centre is now improving mainstream production.

“Our main efforts now are focussed on getting these efficiency improvements into commercial production,” he said.

“Production compatible versions of our high efficiency technology are being introduced into production as we speak.”