By John D. Sutter, CNN //
// -1) {document.write(‘February 13, 2010 — Updated 0103 GMT (0903 HKT)’);} else {document.write(‘February 12, 2010 8:03 p.m. EST’);}
// ]]>February 12, 2010 8:03 p.m. EST

Long Beach, California (CNN) — Microsoft Corp. founder and philanthropist Bill Gates on Friday called on the world’s tech community to find a way to turn spent nuclear fuel into cheap, clean energy.

“What we’re going to have to do at a global scale is create a new system,” Gates said in a speech at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California. “So we need energy miracles.”

Gates called climate change the world’s most vexing problem, and added that finding a cheap and clean energy source is more important than creating new vaccines and improving farming techniques, causes into which he has invested billion of dollars.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last month pledged $10 billion to help deploy and develop vaccines for children in the developing world.

The world must eliminate all of its carbon emissions and cut energy costs in half in order to prevent a climate catastrophe, which will hit the world’s poor hardest, he said.

“We have to drive full speed and get a miracle in a pretty tight timeline,” he said.

Gates said the deadline for the world to cut all of its carbon emissions is 2050. He suggested that researchers spend the next 20 years inventing and perfecting clean-energy technologies, and then the next 20 years implementing them.

The world’s energy portfolio should not include coal or natural gas, he said, and must include carbon capture and storage technology as well as nuclear, wind and both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal power.

“We’re going to have to work on each of these five [areas] and we can’t give up on any of them because they look daunting,” he said. “They all have significant challenges.”

Gates spent a significant portion of his speech highlighting nuclear technology that would turn spent uranium — the 99 percent of uranium rods that aren’t burned in current nuclear power plants — into electricity.

That technology could power the world indefinitely; spent uranium supplies in the U.S. alone could power the country for 100 years, he said.

A “traveling wave reactor” would burn uranium waste slowly, meaning a 60-year supply could be added to a reactor at once and then not touched for decades, he said.

Gates also called for innovation in battery technology.

“All the batteries we make now could store less than 10 minutes of all the energy [in the world],” he said. “So, in fact, we need a big breakthrough here. Something that’s going to be of a factor of 100 better than what we have now.”

Gates called for more investment in climate-related technology. He said he is backing a company called TerraPower, which is working on an alternate form of nuclear technology that uses spent fuel.

Money that goes into research and development will pay bigger returns than other investments, he said, especially if money goes into energy sources that will be cheap enough for the developing world to afford.

Clean energy technologies must be installed in poorer countries as they develop, he said.

“You’d be stunned at the ridiculously low costs of innovation,” said Gates, who received a standing ovation for his remarks.

If he could wish for anything in the world, Gates said he would not pick the next 50 years’ worth of presidents or wish for a miracle vaccine.

He would choose energy that is half as expensive as coal and doesn’t warm the planet.

By KEITH BRADSHER
Published: January 30, 2010

Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

Components of wind turbines at a factory in Tianjin, China. Shifting to sustainable energy could leave the West dependent on China, much as the developed world now depends on the Mideast.

TIANJIN, China — China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.

As China takes the lead on wind turbines, above, and solar panels, President Obama is calling for American industry to step up.

China has also leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. And the country is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants.

These efforts to dominate the global manufacture of renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.

“Most of the energy equipment will carry a brass plate, ‘Made in China,’ ” said K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a private equity fund in Beijing that focuses on renewable energy.

President Obama, in his State of the Union speech last week, sounded an alarm that the United States was falling behind other countries, especially China, on energy. “I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders — and I know you don’t either,” he told Congress.

The United States and other countries are offering incentives to develop their own renewable energy industries, and Mr. Obama called for redoubling American efforts. Yet many Western and Chinese executives expect China to prevail in the energy-technology race.

Multinational corporations are responding to the rapid growth of China’s market by building big, state-of-the-art factories in China. Vestas of Denmark has just erected the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturing complex here in northeastern China, and transferred the technology to build the latest electronic controls and generators.

“You have to move fast with the market,” said Jens Tommerup, the president of Vestas China. “Nobody has ever seen such fast development in a wind market.”

Renewable energy industries here are adding jobs rapidly, reaching 1.12 million in 2008 and climbing by 100,000 a year, according to the government-backed Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.

Yet renewable energy may be doing more for China’s economy than for the environment. Total power generation in China is on track to pass the United States in 2012 — and most of the added capacity will still be from coal.

China intends for wind, solar and biomass energy to represent 8 percent of its electricity generation capacity by 2020. That compares with less than 4 percent now in China and the United States. Coal will still represent two-thirds of China’s capacity in 2020, and nuclear and hydropower most of the rest.

As China seeks to dominate energy-equipment exports, it has the advantage of being the world’s largest market for power equipment. The government spends heavily to upgrade the electricity grid, committing $45 billion in 2009 alone. State-owned banks provide generous financing.

China’s top leaders are intensely focused on energy policy: on Wednesday, the government announced the creation of a National Energy Commission composed of cabinet ministers as a “superministry” led by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao himself.

Regulators have set mandates for power generation companies to use more renewable energy. Generous subsidies for consumers to install their own solar panels or solar water heaters have produced flurries of activity on rooftops across China.

China’s biggest advantage may be its domestic demand for electricity, rising 15 percent a year. To meet demand in the coming decade, according to statistics from the International Energy Agency, China will need to add nearly nine times as much electricity generation capacity as the United States will.

So while Americans are used to thinking of themselves as having the world’s largest market in many industries, China’s market for power equipment dwarfs that of the United States, even though the American market is more mature. That means Chinese producers enjoy enormous efficiencies from large-scale production.

In the United States, power companies frequently face a choice between buying renewable energy equipment or continuing to operate fossil-fuel-fired power plants that have already been built and paid for. In China, power companies have to buy lots of new equipment anyway, and alternative energy, particularly wind and nuclear, is increasingly priced competitively.

Interest rates as low as 2 percent for bank loans — the result of a savings rate of 40 percent and a government policy of steering loans to renewable energy — have also made a big difference.

As in many other industries, China’s low labor costs are an advantage in energy. Although Chinese wages have risen sharply in the last five years, Vestas still pays assembly line workers here only $4,100 a year.

China’s commitment to renewable energy is expensive. Although costs are falling steeply through mass production, wind energy is still 20 to 40 percent more expensive than coal-fired power. Solar power is still at least twice as expensive as coal.

The Chinese government charges a renewable energy fee to all electricity users. The fee increases residential electricity bills by 0.25 percent to 0.4 percent. For industrial users of electricity, the fee doubled in November to roughly 0.8 percent of the electricity bill.

The fee revenue goes to companies that operate the electricity grid, to make up the cost difference between renewable energy and coal-fired power.

Renewable energy fees are not yet high enough to affect China’s competitiveness even in energy-intensive industries, said the chairman of a Chinese industrial company, who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of electricity rates in China.

Grid operators are unhappy. They are reimbursed for the extra cost of buying renewable energy instead of coal-fired power, but not for the formidable cost of building power lines to wind turbines and other renewable energy producers, many of them in remote, windswept areas. Transmission losses are high for sending power over long distances to cities, and nearly a third of China’s wind turbines are not yet connected to the national grid.

Most of these turbines were built only in the last year, however, and grid construction has not caught up. Under legislation passed by the Chinese legislature on Dec. 26, a grid operator that does not connect a renewable energy operation to the grid must pay that operation twice the value of the electricity that cannot be distributed.

With prices tumbling, China’s wind and solar industries are increasingly looking to sell equipment abroad — and facing complaints by Western companies that they have unfair advantages. When a Chinese company reached a deal in November to supply turbines for a big wind farm in Texas, there were calls in Congress to halt federal spending on imported equipment.

“Every country, including the United States and in Europe, wants a low cost of renewable energy,” said Ma Lingjuan, deputy managing director of China’s renewable energy association. “Now China has reached that level, but it gets criticized by the rest of the world.”

Posted on Sat, Oct. 10, 2009

 

By Diane Mastrull

Inquirer Staff Writer

 

If Philadelphia is to fully capitalize on the business-growth and employment potential of the nascent green economy, a deeper commitment is needed from government, nonprofits, and the private sector, a study released yesterday concludes.

Help is especially needed to train a workforce for these new jobs.

The Emerging Industries Project is a 93-page analysis of three areas of the green economy: sustainable manufacturing, construction and demolition waste recycling, and energy efficiency and building retrofits.

Other sectors are planned for future study, said Kate Houstoun, green-jobs coordinator at the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. It directed the study, along with the Green Economy Task Force, to help guide funding that has begun to pour from Washington and Harrisburg to grow sustainable businesses and create jobs.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested,” Houstoun said. “We want to ensure that those are wise investments.”

The research was largely based on input from 40 local businesses looking to thrive in the green economy. The industry sectors highlighted in the study were selected for their growth potential and the likelihood they would create family-sustaining jobs, especially for those who have the most difficulty landing work, Houstoun said.

The report cited deregulation of electricity generation and the increasing affordability of energy-efficiency options as driving business growth in the energy-efficiency/retrofit sector. What’s needed, it said, are workers with “the ability and willingness to learn new skills and technology.”

The city could play a big role in developing a vibrant construction and demolition-waste-recovery industry, the report said, by prioritizing bids for public projects from building contractors whose plans include such materials recycling. It also suggested adoption of an ordinance mandating such recycling for private-sector building and demolition projects.

But it was manufacturing that dominated the report.

While the city has lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs over the last four decades, that sector also represents “a new and exciting era” in Philadelphia, the report said. It cited the city’s infrastructure “from its workshop-of-the-world past” among the assets that position Philadelphia to catch “this wave of green manufacturing at the forefront.”

What the city lacks, the report found, is a workforce adequately prepared for green-economy manufacturing. Rather than mass-produced goods, the factories of the green economy will be required to produce highly specialized products for such things as solar panels and wind turbines requiring sophisticated equipment and processes and well-trained employees.

In addition to calling for the creation of more workforce development programs, the report’s manufacturing recommendations include:

Changing city procurement policies to give preference to local manufacturers.

Growing and finding ways to connect local supply and demand markets so that manufacturers can be assured of buyers for their goods.

Establishing a “green clearinghouse” of resources available to manufacturers for sustainability initiatives.

Because the report had input from a number of “key stakeholders,” including the city Commerce Department, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., and Select Greater Philadelphia, Elliott Gold, the author of the manufacturing and waste-recovery sections, said he was optimistic that “our recommendations will actually be read and have higher likelihood for actual implementation.”

Among those intent on seeing that the report does translate into action is Natalia Olson-Urtecho, who serves on the city’s planning and zoning code commissions. She was also an adviser to the manufacturing and construction-waste-recovery portions of the report.

On manufacturing, Olson-Urtecho said, the study makes a case for stopping what has “eroded perilously” the city’s base of industrial-zoned land: the use of such tracts for commercial and residential development. Vacant industrial lots should be converted to clean technology parks, she said.

As reported in Courier Post

DURANGO, COLO. — The sun had just crested the distant ridge of the Rocky Mountains, but already it was producing enough power for the electric meter on the side of the Smiley Building to spin backward.

For the Shaw brothers, who converted the downtown arts building and community center into a miniature solar power plant two years ago, each reverse rotation subtracts from their monthly electric bill. It also means the building at that moment is producing more electricity from the sun than it needs.

 “Backward is good,” said John Shaw, who now runs Shaw Solar and Energy Conservation, a local solar installation company.

 Good for whom? 

As La Plata County in southwestern Colorado looks to shift to cleaner sources of energy, solar is becoming the power source of choice even though it still produces only a small fraction of the region’s electricity. It’s being nudged along by tax credits and rebates, a growing concern about the gases heating up the planet, and the region’s plentiful sunshine.

 The natural gas industry, which produces more gas here than nearly every other county in Colorado, has been relegated to the shadows.

 Tougher state environmental regulations and lower natural gas prices have slowed many new drilling permits. As a result, production — and the jobs that come with it — have leveled off.

With the county and city drawing up plans to reduce the emissions blamed for global warming and Congress weighing the first mandatory limits, the industry once again finds itself on the losing side of the debate.

 A recent greenhouse-gas inventory of La Plata County found that the thousands of natural gas pumps and processing plants dotting the landscape are the single largest source of heat-trapping pollution locally.

 That has the industry bracing for a hit on two fronts if federal legislation passes.

 First, it will have to reduce emissions from its production equipment to meet pollution limits, which will drive up costs. Second, as the county’s largest consumer of electricity, gas companies probably will see energy bills rise as the local power cooperative is forced to cut gases released from its coal-fired power plants or purchase credits from other companies that reduce emissions.

“Being able to put solar systems on homes is great, you take something off the grid, it is as good as conserving,” said Christi Zeller, the executive director of the La Plata Energy Council, a trade group representing about two dozen companies that produce the methane gas trapped within coal buried underground.

“But the reality is we still need natural gas, so embrace our industry like you are embracing wind, solar and the renewables,” she said.

It’s a refrain echoed on the national level, where the industry, displeased with the climate bill passed by the House this summer, is trying to raise its profile as the Senate works on its version of the legislation.

In March, about two dozen of the largest independent gas producers started America’s Natural Gas Alliance. In ads in major publications in 32 states, the group has pressed the case that natural gas is a cleaner-burning alternative to coal and can help bridge the transition from fossil fuels to pollution-free sources such as wind and solar.

 “Every industry thinks every other industry is getting all the breaks. All of us are concerned that we are not getting any consideration at all from people claiming they are trying to reduce the carbon footprint,” said Bob Zahradnik, the operating director for the Southern Ute tribe’s business arm, which includes the tribes’ gas and oil production companies. None is in the alliance.

 Politicians from energy-diverse states such as Colorado are trying to avoid getting caught in the middle. They’re working to make sure that the final bill doesn’t favor some types of energy produced back home over others.

 At a town hall meeting in Durango in late August, Sen. Mark Udall, who described himself as one of the biggest proponents of renewable energy, assured the crowd that natural gas wouldn’t be forgotten.

“Renewables are our future — but we also need to continue to invest in natural gas,” said Udall, D-Colo.

 Much more than energy is at stake. Local and state governments across the country also depend on taxes paid by natural gas companies to fund schools, repair roads and pay other bills.

In La Plata County alone, the industry is responsible for hundreds of jobs and pays for more than half of the property taxes. In addition, about 6,000 residents who own the mineral rights beneath their property get a monthly royalty check from the companies harvesting oil and gas.

 “Solar cannot do that. Wind cannot do that,” said Zeller, whose mother is one of the royalty recipients. In July, she received a check for $458.92, far less than the $1,787.30 she was paid the same month last year, when natural gas prices were much higher.

 Solar, by contrast, costs money.

Earlier this year, the city of Durango scaled back the amount of green power it was purchasing from the local electric cooperative because of the price. The additional $65,000 it was paying for power helped the cooperative, which is largely reliant on coal, to invest in solar power and other renewables.

 “It is a premium. It is an additional cost,” said Greg Caton, the assistant city manager.

Instead, the city decided to use the money to develop its own solar projects at its water treatment plant and public swimming pool. The effort will reduce the amount of power it gets from sources that contribute to global warming and make the city eligible for a $3,000 rebate from the La Plata Electric Association.

Yes, the power company will pay the city to use less of its power. That’s because the solar will count toward a state mandate to boost renewable energy production.

“In the typical business model, it doesn’t work,” said Greg Munro, the cooperative’s executive director. “Why would I give rebates to somebody buying someone else’s shoes?”

The same upfront costs have prevented homeowners from jumping on the solar bandwagon despite the tax credits, rebates and lower electricity bills.

 Most of Shaw’s customers can’t afford to install enough solar to cover 100 percent of their homes’ electricity needs, which is one reason why solar supplies just a fraction of the power the county needs.

 The higher fossil-fuel prices that could come with climate legislation would make it more competitive.

 “You can’t drive an industry on people doing the right thing. The best thing for this country is if gas were $10 a gallon,” said Shaw, as he watched two of his three full-time workers install the last solar panels on a barn outside town.

 The private residence, nestled in a remote canyon, probably will produce more power from the sun than it will use, causing its meter to spin in reverse like the Smiley Building’s. The cost, however, is steep: more than $500,000.

As reported in Green Inc.

The price of rooftop solar panels has fallen drastically, as I reported in The New York Times on Thursday. But for some homeowners, the upfront costs remain prohibitive.

Indeed, many readers have remarked on the article’s opening anecdote, about a homeowner in the Houston area who installed a 64-panel, $77,000 system (before the 30 percent federal tax credit) for his amply sized house and garage.

One way to bring the initial costs down would be to put smaller arrays on homes. After all, if financial constraints are a consideration, why put dozens of panels on your home when you could put just one or two?

One reason has long been the inverter — the piece of a solar-power system that converts the direct current voltage produced by the panels to accelerating alternating current, which runs through the home. Right now, according to Glenn Harris, the chief executive of the consulting firm SunCentric, it is hard to find an inverter small enough to handle just one solar panel.

But microinverters — which fit on a single panel — are on their way.

Enphase Energy, a company based in California, has shipped 50,000 microinverters since last August, according to Raghu Belur, one of the company’s founders. Each costs about $200, and can be paired with a single solar panel and popped on the roof.

(Single solar panels, producing on the order of 200 watts, can be had for less than $1,000 — though that won’t do much to augment most household power needs.)

 “It is the key to enabling what’s called do-it-yourself-ers,” said Mr. Belur, though he says that it is wise to hire a licensed electrician to make the final connection. (Enphase says that its microinverters do eliminate high-voltage direct current, so there is less danger of a nasty electric shock.)

 “We’re specifying Enphase microinverters in our residential designs more and more often,” said Ryan Hunter, of the Texas installer Meridian Solar, in an e-mail message. The Enphase systems allow for greater flexibility, he said, and are “more shade tolerant in limited spaces.”

 Enphase officials say that having an inverter on each panel increases the efficiency of the solar array. On traditional systems, lower output from one panel — because of dust or leaves accumulating, for example — can affect the performance of every panel in the set. But the microinverters preserve the independence of each panel, so that the panels do not revert to the lowest common denominator of output.

Right now, Enphase microinverters do not come attached to panels. But by the middle of next year, big-box stores, Mr. Harris of SuncCentric predicted, will be stocking solar panels with the microinverters strapped on.

“The real magic is you don’t have to spend $20,000 to $30,000 to get a solar system,” he said.

Should you like to know more about your investment in Solar leave  comment or email  george@hbsadvantage.com

By Diane Mastrull

Inquirer Staff Writer

The sun, it seems, was no match for another source of scorching heat: a state budget firefight in Harrisburg.

Late last week, a somber State Rep. Greg Vitale (D., Delaware) said his bill to boost Pennsylvania’s clean-energy standards and the state’s commitment to alternative energy, including solar, had “taken a back seat” to two budget-balancing proposals he opposed.

“My attention has frankly shifted to those two big issues,” Vitale said.

He was referring to bipartisan-backed measures that would reduce the financing level for the Department of Environmental Protection and increase by 100,000 acres state forest in the Marcellus Shale territory that would be offered for natural gas drilling in 2009 and again in 2010.

Though considered the most important piece of energy/environmental legislation pending in Pennsylvania, House Bill 80 likely will see no action by the House and Senate until after budget matters are settled, Vitale said.

The measure bogged down all summer long while a variety of interest groups – including coal companies, environmentalists, electricians, roofers, and advocacy groups for consumers and businesses – fought to have their concerns addressed.

Sal DePrisco, a solar installer, and John F. Curtis III, who has proposed developing one of the nation’s largest solar-power plants, are among many who had hoped for a brighter legislative forecast.

DePrisco is director of operations at Russell Solar in Oreland, Montgomery County, a division of Russell Roofing created more than a year ago, when it looked as if the solar business in Pennsylvania was about to take off.

In July 2008, the state legislature approved Gov. Rendell’s $650 million Alternative Energy Funding Act, which allotted $100 million for a new solar initiative that would provide rebates of 35 percent to homeowners and small businesses to offset the cost of buying solar systems.

An engineer by training, DePrisco joined the legions this summer who wrote to lawmakers urging passage of the bill, in large part because it would amend the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act in favor of more solar-energy use.

Currently, those standards require that solar be the source of at least 0.5 percent of the alternative energy that utilities must tap by 2021. H.B. 80 would increase that minimum share to 3 percent by 2024.

What specifically triggered DePrisco’s letter-writing was a proposed amendment to the measure that solar installers perceived as a threat to work they had just begun to count on. Sponsored by State Rep. Bill Keller (D., Phila.) on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the provision called for all solar-photovoltaic systems and components to be installed by licensed electrical contractors.

Opponents were led to believe the IBEW wanted to claim every aspect of solar work, including affixing racking to roofs and delivery of solar panels there. That raised the temperature of the argument.

A resolution has since been reached that seems to have widespread support, Vitale said. It would require that in order for new or upgraded solar-photovoltaic and solar-thermal electricity systems to qualify for alternative-energy credits, they must be installed by licensed electrical contractors, if the relevant municipality licenses such contractors. Some do not.

In those cases, systems must be installed by a contractor the state has deemed qualified to participate in the Pennsylvania Sunshine rebate program.

Last week, DePrisco seemed satisfied, saying it was Russell Solar’s policy to use licensed electricians for the mechanical mounting and wiring of solar-power systems.

What had him more worked up was a concern that consumers who did not carefully evaluate the credentials of an installer could easily be duped. DePrisco described a customer who had recently gotten a quote for a system that was too big to fit on the roof of the house.

“There’s a lot of [solar installers] coming out of the woodwork,” DePrisco said. “The last thing I need is people sullying the reputation of the business.”

Curtis’ route to activism on H.B. 80 traces to 100 acres in Nesquehoning, Carbon County, where he had hoped to have 57,000 solar panels installed on former industrial-park land and generating 11.5 megawatts – enough to provide electricity to 1,500 homes – by this fall.

Financing for the $78 million project has been secured, but outstanding regulatory issues have delayed the expected start-up date for the solar park to July 1.

At his home office in Whitemarsh last week, Curtis revealed plans for two other plants: one near the Nesquehoning site, the other north of Allentown. Combined, the three plants would represent 40 megawatts of power.

His interest in pushing for legislation that would require increases in the use of solar power is obvious.

What may be less apparent, Curtis worries, is the economic-development impact that increasing the state’s solar-use requirements would have in terms of jobs created from the construction of solar plants and in ancillary businesses.

In written testimony to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in May, he estimated that the state would lose $1.4 billion in economic development and 28,012 solar jobs if H.B. 80 were not enacted. Curtis’ Nesquehoning solar park will include a green-jobs-training/visitor center.

As part of a coalition of legislators, solar developers, environmentalists, and special-interest groups known as the Green Dog Caucus, Curtis attends meetings in Harrisburg to help refine H.B. 80 to “make sure we have more, rather than just enough,” votes for it to pass.

A jump-in-with-both-feet kind of guy, Curtis has been pushing for amendments to the bill that would ramp up the requirements for solar usage sooner than originally proposed.

“A true solar market,” he said in a recent letter to lawmakers, “is not a market without depth and liquidity.”

by Jerry James Stone, San Francisco, CA on 09.10.09

Science & Technology

Google’s developing new solar tech that will drop the cost from 18 cents a kW-h to just under 5. At least, it’s hoping to.

Just like everybody else, Google’s disappointed by the industry’s lack of innovation so they’ve decided just to do it themselves. At least that’s what Google’s Bill Weihl said today at the Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit hosted by Reuter’s right here in San Francisco.

Not too surprising. Google builds its own servers since commercial servers are too expensive. The company makes cheap janky ones and just lets its homegrown software handle the outages.

Google engineers have primarily been focused on solar thermal technology. Weihl hopes they can cut the cost of making heliostats by at least a factor of two, but “ideally a factor of three or four.”

“We’ve been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on,” said Weihl.

The search engine giant started investing in renewable energy back in 2007. Along with solar thermal tech, the company is also interested in gas turbines that could run on solar power rather than natural gas–a name change might be in order.

Whatever the technology turns out to be, their main interest is the cost. They want to create a renewable energy that has a lower price point than coal. In doing so, they have invested about $50 million in the industry so far.

“Typically what we’re seeing is $2.50 to $4 a watt (for) capital cost,” Weihl said. “So a 250 megawatt installation would be $600 million to a $1 billion. It’s a lot of money.”

Google hopes to showcase the technology within a few months. It must first sustain accelerated testing to show its resistance to decades of harsh desert conditions.

One thing’s for sure…I look forward to seeing what they’ll come up with.

ESolar is here

August 10, 2009

idealab

Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Idealab’s Bill Gross is reflected in a solar tracking mirror on the firm’s rooftop in Pasadena. His ESolar opens an innovative energy facility today in Lancaster.
Entrepreneur Bill Gross’ Pasadena firm has had its ups and downs. But it is energized since turning to clean tech, including ESolar, which is opening an innovative solar power facility in Lancaster.
By Alana Semuels  As reported in LA Times
August 5, 2009

The hundreds of glass mirrors break the dusty field in Lancaster, a sea of silver in a landscape of brown.

When switched on for the first time today at an opening gala with investors, local politicians and others, they’ll make up the first operational solar tower energy facility in the United States.

They reflect the sun into a tower in the middle of the field, boiling water into steam that travels through pipes to power a turbine and create electricity. The plant, created by Pasadena company ESolar Inc., will be able to power 4,000 homes.

The strength of the small field of mirrors is surprising, but what might be more surprising is the technology’s source. It was established by Pasadena incubator Idealab, a 1996 creation of entrepreneur Bill Gross. Gross, whom Time magazine once called the “man with a billion dollar brain,” generated some big hits with GoTo.com, Internet Brands Inc. and Cooking.com, along with such misses as Eve.com and EToys.

Idealab, which has counted director Steven Spielberg and actor Michael Douglas among its backers, has been spreading its reach to the green technology sector.

In the last three years, it has created RayTracker Inc., a solar tracking solution for photovoltaic systems; Distributed World Power, which designs solar systems for developing countries; Aptera Motors, which designs fuel-efficient cars; and ESolar.

It is jumping into the environmental market as venture capital is flowing more into clean-tech companies. Investment in such firms shot up 73% in the second quarter from the previous quarter, according to Ernst & Young, and is expected to continue growing.

The percentage of clean-tech investments to total investor funding has increased to double digits over the last three years, said Doug Regnier, an Ernst & Young partner leading its Pacific Southwest clean-tech consulting business.

Energy “is probably the biggest opportunity of the century,” Gross said. “The world’s energy needs and the demand to make that clean energy is going to be a challenge and an opportunity for smart entrepreneurs.”

Though focused on computer software for two decades, Gross said he returned to his passion for solar energy in 2000 as power shortages loomed. The Caltech graduate bought the restaurant next door to Idealab and turned it into a machine shop, eventually running solar experiments on the roof. Idealab’s first clean-tech firm, Energy Innovations, was created in 2001 to convert solar applications for commercial use. Idealab hired 50 people in the next three years to work on such ideas as a fuel-saving car and a portable solar device for developing countries.

The concept for ESolar came about as Idealab engineers started thinking about ways to provide cost-efficient solar energy for utilities and realized that most solar panels in commercial use were too big to be cost-efficient.

“We tried to figure out the angle we could exploit where we can zig where other people zag,” Gross said.

They came up with what Gross calls an unorthodox plan: “Go small.” Rather than make giant solar panels, they sized them at one square meter. That made the panels easier to install, putting them together like Legos rather than erecting a giant solar facility.

The smaller mirrors also are able to be aimed more quickly at the boiler target, said Michael Liebelson, head of the low-carbon development group at NRG Energy Inc., which is building plants using ESolar technology. Idealab’s software expertise helped it devise a way to manipulate the mirrors for better precision, he said.

“ESolar has one of the most, if not the most, innovative solar thermal technologies out there,” Liebelson said.

The ESolar plant in Lancaster went up on the barren desert site in 18 months, said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. He’s trying to make his city a center for alternative energy. “For an alternative energy to go on the line in 18 months, it’s literally unheard of,” he said.

ESolar has lined up more than $130 million in investments from such firms as NRG, ACME Group, Google’s philanthropic arm and Oak Investment Partners.

For Gross, ESolar’s effort is a sign that the interest in solar is growing — and that Idealab still has its knack for building companies and persuading venture capitalists to invest, even in a tough economy.

And it helps Gross regain a foothold after mutual fund giant T. Rowe Price and others sued him in 2002, alleging self-dealing and fraud, and shareholders bailed him out in 2006 after he failed to repay a $50-million personal loan.

“The biggest factor is when you’ve demonstrated that you can take a company from revenue to profit to successful exit,” he said. “That makes an investor comfortable that you can do it again.”

By Jillian Berman, USA TODAY

Students interested in pursuing a job in sustainability now can choose from a variety of “green” degree programs.With an increased interest in the environment and growth in the “green collar” job sector, colleges and universities are beginning to incorporate sustainability into their programs. From MBAs in sustainable-business practices to programs that give students the technical training necessary to operate wind turbines, students have an increasing array of options to choose from.

 GOING GREEN: Strikes a chord with collegesVERMONT: Students dig into organic farmingIN-DEPTH: Get your eco-score, see latest environmental headlines

“Clearly, demand is there for these types of workers,” says Marisa Michaud of Eduventures, a higher-education research and consulting firm. “Colleges are seeing that, and they want to provide appropriate educational programs to meet that demand.”

 Concern for the environment is the motivation, says Julian Dautremont-Smith of the Association for Sustainability in Higher Education.

 FIND MORE STORIES IN: University of Pennsylvania | The Princeton Review | Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

“The past few years, society as a whole has become increasingly interested in sustainability,” he says. “Higher education has been swept up as well.”

 David Soto of The Princeton Review says student interest is driving colleges to create programs that offer training in sustainability. Two-thirds of students surveyed for the company’s recent “College Hopes and Worries” survey said a college’s “environmental commitment” would be a factor in where they applied.

 “Students are really savvy shoppers these days, so they’re realizing, with a changing economy and green jobs looking to take a leap within the next couple of years, that they want to be armed with those types of skills,” Soto says.

 Green — not greed — is good

 One popular program is an MBA that teaches skills for operating sustainable businesses.

A University of Pennsylvania program that started this year lets students earn an MBA and a master’s in environmental studies at the same time.

“There’s an increasing interest among businesses to take the environment seriously,” says Eric Orts, director of the Wharton School‘s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership at Penn.

 “Our take is you really need to have the science background and some other approaches that are not normally taught in the business school context,” he says.

 Architecture schools are responding to the increased interest in energy-efficient buildings.

 Christoph Reinhart, associate professor of architectural technology at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, says the school’s decision last summer to start offering a concentration in sustainable design was driven by interest from students and changes in the field.

 “Over the past few years, there has been an increased interest and pressure to provide this knowledge in more depth, whereas before, maybe a class would have been sufficient,” he says. “Now there’s an expectation that more of these skills are being learned.”

 Newly minted grads

 Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability graduated its first class in May. The school offers a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science in sustainability as well as a graduate degree.

 Charles Redman, the director of the School of Sustainability, says the school takes an interdisciplinary approach.

Student Drew Bryck says what drew him to the school was the opportunity to study biology, economics and a variety of other fields.

Bryck says he is “fairly confident” his degree will help him land a job because the need for people with a well-rounded background in sustainability is growing, especially in the private sector.

 The program resonates with students, Redman says; 300 undergraduates enrolled the first year it was offered.

 Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., will require all students to take at least one class that explores the human connection to the environment.

Dina El-Mogazi, director of the Campus Greening Initiative, says courses in a variety of disciplines will fulfill the requirement.

We feel that it’s very important, given the current state of the world, that students understand both the way the environment supports human life and the way human decisions” affect the environment’s ability to function.

 A growing number of schools, including community colleges, are training students to operate green technology.

 Kalamazoo (Mich.) Valley Community College will offer a 26-week program starting in October to train students in operating wind turbines.

 Jim DeHaven, vice president for economic and business development at the college, says the school is offering the program to meet the needs of wind farms that are “scrambling” for trained technicians.

 “They can really write their own future at this point because they’re needed at all the wind farms,” he says. “They don’t want us to wait and put people through a two-year program or a one-year certification — they want a fast track to employment.”

 

 

By Andrew Maykuth

Inquirer Staff Writer

For millions of New Jersey residents, solar power is coming soon to their neighborhoods – even to the utility poles in their backyards.

In a move both bold and expensive, state regulators yesterday approved a plan for Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the state’s largest utility, to install solar panels on 200,000 utility poles in its service territory.

The project will make New Jersey the nation’s second-most solar-fueled state, according to the state Board of Public Utilities, trailing only California.

PSE&G will spend $515 million to install 80 megawatts of solar power through the end of 2013, doubling the state’s solar capacity. Half the new production will be derived from individual solar modules mounted on about a quarter of PSE&G’s 900,000 utility poles.

The other 40 megawatts of production will be generated by centralized solar arrays, including one at PSE&G’s Cox’s Corner Switching Station in Evesham Township, Burlington County.

The 80-megawatt PSE&G project amounts to a tenth of the nation’s current total grid-connected photovoltaic capacity, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

“We think it’s a good program to get solar started in the state,” said Stefanie Brand, director of the N.J. Division of Rate Counsel, the state’s consumer advocate. Her office supported PSE&G’s proposal, which she said had a “very minor impact” on rates – adding about 10 cents per month for a residential customer in the first year, a 0.13 percent increase.

But the PSE&G project still amounts to only about 4.4 percent of the ambitious goal the state has set for power generated from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Unlike most solar projects, which supply individual customers with electricity, the PSE&G plan has attracted attention because its panels will feed directly into the electrical grid. PSE&G is calling the project “Solar 4 All” to drive home the point that all customers will benefit from solar, not just those who can afford to mount the heavily subsidized panels on their rooftops.

“This will give impetus for other projects to move forward,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which also supported the plan.

The environmental group says the project reinforces its argument that clean energy can benefit the local economy.

A New Jersey company, Petra Solar Inc., of South Plainfield, will provide the utility-pole modules under a $200 million contract, its first large commercial project. The three-year-old company plans to add 100 employees, more than tripling its current workforce, said Shihab Kuran, Petra’s chief executive officer.

Ralph Izzo, chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., the regulated utility’s parent, said the solar project would also demonstrate the effectiveness of distributed-power schemes that use electricity generated from multiple sources inside the existing distribution system, reducing the dependence on distant power generators that require expensive transmission systems.

“One of the things I think will be essential for renewables in the future is that we can demonstrate that they make economic sense being built where there are people to use the electricity,” he said.

“This fantasy that some people still subscribe to, that we can build all renewable sources of energy in these places where the wind and sun are abundant . . . is just not economically efficient.”

PSE&G said the utility expected to receive federal tax credits and income from selling state renewable-energy credits, which will reduce the cost of the project. The total cost of the panels is about $6.44 for each watt produced, expensive by conventional power standards, but less than solar projects in the past.

In Camden and in Secaucus yesterday, PSE&G work crews installed several of the utility-pole solar systems.

Individually, the panels are unimpressive: Each one measures about 21/2 by 5 feet and produces about 200 watts. The output of 200,000 panels is 40 megawatts, enough to power 40,000 homes.

Petra’s technology combines a conventional crystalline silicon photovoltaic panel with a microinverter, which converts the direct-current electricity produced by the solar panels into alternating current that is distributed on the grid.

Each unit also incorporates wireless “smart-grid” communications devices so that the utility can monitor the output remotely.

Kuran, Petra’s chief executive, said that each unit was designed to be installed and wired into the grid in less than 30 minutes.

“The reduction in costs comes from the simplicity in installation and design,” he said. The units will be assembled at Petra’s New Jersey factory and delivered, ready for installation by PSE&G crews. The hardware is about 10 percent more expensive than conventional rooftop systems, he said, but the total installed cost is about 10 percent to 20 percent less than rooftop models.

Kuran said the company would buy its photovoltaic cells from several vendors. Petra’s chief supplier is Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., one of the world’s largest producers of solar panels. Suntech and Petra announced an alliance last month to produce the utility-grade systems.

Suntech is a Chinese company whose shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It announced in May that it was scouting U.S. locations to open manufacturing facilities to produce solar panels, and Suntech’s promise to open domestic manufacturing facilities was a critical reason Petra agreed to the alliance, Kuran said.

If successful, the PSE&G contract is likely to generate more business for the closely held Petra.

Petra is in talks with other utilities about installing its proprietary technology, said David Lincoln, managing director of Element Partners L.L.C., a Radnor clean-technology private-equity firm that provided Petra with an initial investment of $14 million in 2007. He is on Petra’s board of directors.

“This is really a major breakthrough, getting consumer validation of the technology,” Lincoln said.

Our Perspective:

This is a major step taken to validate the use of solar energy as an alternative energy resource. Should you like to know more on how to incorporate this solution for your business, contact us.

You may email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-217-5111. We can outline the opportunity, the investment along with the ROI.