By John D. Sutter, CNN //
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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.

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.”

Written by John Porretto  July 14, 2009  AP

HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil Corp. said Tuesday it will make its first major investment in greenhouse-gas reducing biofuels in a $600 million partnership with biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. to develop transportation fuels from algae.

Despite record-breaking profits in recent years, the oil and gas giant has been criticized by environmental groups, members of Congress and even shareholders for not spending enough to explore alternative energy options.

One of the company’s requirements was finding a biofuel source that could be produced on a large scale. It says photosynthetic algae appears to be a viable, long-term candidate. If the alliance is successful, pumping algae-based gasoline at Exxon service stations is still several years away and will mean additional, multibillion-dollar investments for mass production.

“This is not going to be easy, and there are no guarantees of success,” Emil Jacobs, a vice president at Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering Co., said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But we’re combining Exxon Mobil’s technical and financial strength with a leader in bioscientific genomics.”

Jacobs said the project involves three critical steps: identifying algae strains that can produce suitable types of oil quickly and at low costs, determining the best way to grow the algae and developing systems to harvest enough for commercial purposes.

Besides the potential for large-scale production, algae has other benefits, Jacobs said. It can be grown using land and water unsuitable for other crop and food production; it consumes carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas blamed for climate change; and it can produce an oil with molecular structures similar to the petroleum products _ gasoline, diesel, jet fuel _ Exxon already makes.

That means the Irving, Texas-based company will be able to convert the bio-oil into fuels at its own refineries and use existing pipelines and tanker trucks to get it to consumers.

The $600 million price tag includes $300 million for Exxon’s internal costs and $300 million or more to La Jolla, Calif.-based Synthetic Genomics _ if research and development milestones are successfully met.

“Even though this is a multiyear program, we both still consider it a very aggressive timetable, and it involves a lot of basic research,” said J. Craig Venter, founder and CEO of the privately held company. “As a result, you don’t know the answers until you’ve done these tests and experiments.”

Algae is considered a sustainable source for second-generation biofuels, which go beyond corn-based ethanol into nonfood sources such as switchgrass and wood chips.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC said earlier this year it would scale back large investments in wind and solar in favor of next-generation biofuels. The European oil giant is working with Canadian company Iogen Corp. on a method to produce ethanol from wheat straw, and partnering with Germany-based Choren Industries to develop a synthetic biofuel from wood residue.

Another oil major, BP PLC, plans to team up with Verenium Corp. to build a $300 million cellulosic ethanol plant in Highlands County, Fla.

For Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, the biofuels investment is tiny compared with its spending to find new supplies of crude and natural gas.

CEO Rex Tillerson said earlier this year Exxon’s 2009 spending on capital and exploration projects is expected to reach $29 billion, up from the $26.1 billion it spent in 2008. The company said those levels are likely to remain in the $25 billion to $30 billion range through 2013.

Exxon Mobil shares rose 25 cents to $65.95 in trading Tuesday. They’ve traded in a range of $56.51 to $86.47 in the past year.

CHRIS KAHN | June 29, 2009 03:27 PM EST | AP

NEW YORK — The government will help companies build powerful solar farms in the desert Southwest by pre-qualifying huge swaths of federal land for development.

The Department of Interior said Monday it will designate 670,000 acres of federal land in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as study areas for utility-scale solar projects.

The land will be divided into 24 tracts called Solar Energy Study areas.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department will work with states on environmental studies and permitting to speed solar development in those areas.

Our Perspective:

This is good news. Finally, the government is stepping forward and acknowledging the opportunities provided by alternative energy development.

I hope this is only the beginning!

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

Just Do It

July 2, 2009

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: June 30, 2009
There is much in the House cap-and-trade energy bill that just passed that I absolutely hate. It is too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others. A simple, straightforward carbon tax would have made much more sense than this Rube Goldberg contraption. It is pathetic that we couldn’t do better. It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters. It stinks. It’s a mess. I detest it.

Skip to next paragraph

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

Now let’s get it passed in the Senate and make it law.

Why? Because, for all its flaws, this bill is the first comprehensive attempt by America to mitigate climate change by putting a price on carbon emissions. Rejecting this bill would have been read in the world as America voting against the reality and urgency of climate change and would have undermined clean energy initiatives everywhere.

More important, my gut tells me that if the U.S. government puts a price on carbon, even a weak one, it will usher in a new mind-set among consumers, investors, farmers, innovators and entrepreneurs that in time will make a big difference — much like the first warnings that cigarettes could cause cancer. The morning after that warning no one ever looked at smoking the same again.

Ditto if this bill passes. Henceforth, every investment decision made in America — about how homes are built, products manufactured or electricity generated — will look for the least-cost low-carbon option. And weaving carbon emissions into every business decision will drive innovation and deployment of clean technologies to a whole new level and make energy efficiency much more affordable. That ain’t beanbag.

Now that the bill is heading for the Senate, though, we must, ideally, try to improve it, but, at a minimum, guard against diluting it any further. To do that we need the help of the three parties most responsible for how weak the bill already is: the Republican Party, President Barack Obama and We the People.

This bill is not weak because its framers, Representatives Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, wanted it this way. “They had to make the compromises they did,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, “because almost every House Republican voted against the bill and did nothing to try to improve it. So to get it passed, they needed every coal-state Democrat, and that meant they had to water it down to bring them on board.”

What are Republicans thinking? It is not as if they put forward a different strategy, like a carbon tax. Does the G.O.P. want to be the party of sex scandals and polluters or does it want to be a partner in helping America dominate the next great global industry: E.T. — energy technology? How could Republicans become so anti-environment, just when the country is going green?

Historically speaking, “Republicans can claim as much credit for America’s environmental leadership as Democrats,” noted Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. “The two greatest environmental presidents in American history were Teddy Roosevelt, who created our national park system, and Richard Nixon, whose administration gave us the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency.” George Bush Sr. signed the 1993 Rio Treaty, to preserve biodiversity.

Yes, this bill’s goal of reducing U.S. carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 is nowhere near what science tells us we need to mitigate climate change. But it also contains significant provisions to prevent new buildings from becoming energy hogs, to make our appliances the most energy efficient in the world and to help preserve forests in places like the Amazon.

We need Republicans who believe in fiscal conservatism and conservation joining this legislation in the Senate. We want a bill that transforms the whole country not one that just threads a political needle. I hope they start listening to green Republicans like Dick Lugar, George Shultz and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I also hope we will hear more from President Obama. Something feels very calculating in how he has approached this bill, as if he doesn’t quite want to get his hands dirty, as if he is ready to twist arms in private, but not so much that if the bill goes down he will get tarnished. That is no way to fight this war. He is going to have to mobilize the whole country to pressure the Senate — by educating Americans, with speech after speech, about the opportunities and necessities of a serious climate/energy bill. If he is not ready to risk failure by going all out, failure will be the most likely result.

And then there is We the People. Attention all young Americans: your climate future is being decided right now in the cloakrooms of the Capitol, where the coal lobby holds huge sway. You want to make a difference? Then get out of Facebook and into somebody’s face. Get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon. That will get the Senate’s attention. Play hardball or don’t play at all.

Our Perspective:

Finally the Congress is recognizing there is an issue with emissions. For years, many have denied there is any correlation between emissions and climate change.

Leave it to the politicians to throw pork into an important issue.

Why would they recognize an issue, claim it and take responsibility for fixing it. They do not want to be held accountable for they have to run for reelection.

We can’t afford to push the rock any further.

Our ignorance has caused this problem.

But now that we acknowledge there is a problem, our arrogance can not let it continue.

We are only here for a short time. 

Everyday is a gift.

It is our responsibility to hand it over to the next generation, a world; that is in better condition than what we received.

This bill is flawed and we have to make our voices heard.

Have them pull the pork and make a real statement.

We can choose to lead by example! Just do it!

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

Written by H. Josef Hebert   AP 6/17/09

WASHINGTON — Legislation that would require greater use of renewable energy, make it easier to build power lines and allow oil and gas drilling near the Florida coastline advanced Wednesday in the Senate.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill by a 15-8 bipartisan vote. But both Democrats and Republicans expressed concerns about the bill and hoped to make major changes when it reaches the Senate floor, probably in the fall.

The measure’s primary thrust is to expand the use of renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal sources as well as deal with growing worries about the inadequacies of the nation’s high-voltage power grid.

But the bill also would remove the last congressional barrier to offshore oil and gas development, lifting a ban on drilling across a vast area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that Congress put off limits three years ago. Drilling would be allowed within 45 miles of most of Florida’s coast and as close as 10 miles off the state’s Panhandle area.

The Senate bill for the first time would establish a national requirement for utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, a contentious issue that is likely to attract heated debate.

Twenty-eight states currently have some renewable energy requirement for utilities, but supporters of the measure argue a national mandate is needed to spur such energy development.

The legislation also would give much wider authority to federal regulators over the nation’s electricity grid.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would be given authority to approve the siting of high voltage power lines if states fail to act and would be given additional powers over cyber security on the grid.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he hopes to take up energy legislation after the August recess, although it’s uncertain whether it will be merged with separate legislation addressing climate change. The House is working on a climate bill that includes many of the same energy issues addressed by the Senate bill.

While the bill was approved by a safe margin in the committee its prospects in the full Senate are anything but certain. Several senators called it too weak in its support of renewable energy development, while others said it ignored nuclear energy and greater domestic oil and gas production.

“None of us got all we wanted,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the committee’s chairman, who was forced to agree to a variety of compromises to give the bill a chance of advancing. Nevertheless, he said the bill would help shift to cleaner, more secure sources of energy.

Bingaman and many of the panel’s other Democrats had wanted at least a 20 percent renewable energy requirement. The bill requires 15 percent renewable use by 2021, but also would allow utilities to avoid a fourth of that mandate by showing improvements in efficiency. Renewable energy use could be cut further for utilities that increase their use of nuclear energy either from a new reactor or increased reactor output.

“This is an extraordinary weak bill,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

But Sanders voted to advance the bill, as did Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Both senators said they hoped the bill will be strengthened.

“I suspect their definition of strengthening might be somewhat different,” quipped Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., whose own support of the bill came despite strong opposition to the federal renewable energy requirements on utilities.

Sanders wants the renewable energy requirement to be much higher, at 25 percent. Corker said the bill needs more to promote nuclear energy and domestic oil and gas production.

“We simply must do more to increase our domestic (oil and gas) production and use of nuclear energy,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the committee’s ranking Republican. Still, she voted for the bill which includes a commitment to increase loan guarantees for a natural gas pipeline in her state from $18 billion to $30 billion.

The bill also calls for establishing a new office to steer grants and loan guarantees to clean energy projects, including nuclear and those using technology to capture carbon dioxide; creating an oil products reserve to be used if there are supply problems; and creating federal standards for efficiency standards for new building.

The Chamber of Commerce said the bill shows progress toward crafting a comprehensive energy policy, but some environmentalists said it falls short of shifting the country away from fossil fuels. With its new offshore drilling, support for coal and nuclear energy “this bill fails to live up to the vision of a clean energy future,” complained Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth.

H. JOSEF HEBERT | June 19, 2009 05:16 AM EST 

 


WASHINGTON — Finding an economical way to capture carbon dioxide from existing coal burning power plants is key to getting China to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as well as for U.S. efforts to combat global warming, says a study being released Friday.

The report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concludes that the United States cannot meet its targets for stabilizing greenhouse gases unless it finds a way to economically capture carbon dioxide emissions coming from existing coal-burning power plants.

coal plants generate about half of the country’s electricity and 80 percent of the nearly 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide released annually into the atmosphere from power production. China also relies heavily on coal for electricity production and in the last five years has been on a rush to build new coal plants _ none of them designed to capture carbon dioxide.

“There is no credible pathway towards stringent greenhouse gas stabilization targets without CO2 emission reductions from existing coal power plants,” says the report. Members of Congress, where a bill to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions could come up for a House vote as early as next week, were being briefed on the MIT report.

Carbon dioxide has been captured and put into the ground in relatively small scale projects _ mostly in connection with enhanced oil recovery, for years, but never in the huge volumes that would be needed to capture emissions from a large coal plant.

The MIT report says there are multiple technologies being explored for carbon capture, but the government still has not adequately supported carbon capture research and is moving too slowly to develop large demonstration projects to show that capturing carbon dioxide and injecting it into the ground will work at the scale needed.

The report, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press in advance of a press conference Friday, says the federal government and industry need to “dramatically expand” its support for carbon capture research and development to the tune of $12 billion to $15 billion over the next decade. 

Such technology, if shown to work in U.S. plants, could get China to reduce greenhouse gases from its rapidly growing network of coal burning power plants, the report says.

“We’ve got to address the carbon emissions from our current fleet (of coal plants) and also have to think how the technology we develop can be applied in China,” Ernest Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative and co-author of the report, said in an interview.

Together, the U.S. and China account for 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide from coal burning power plants, said Moniz. If China doesn’t address emissions from its coal plants “we really can’t address the climate issue in a serious way.”

The MIT report summarizes a consensus view of participants in a symposium sponsored by MIT’s Energy Initiative on the feasibility of retrofitting existing coal plants with carbon capture technology. Participants included 54 representatives utilities, academia, government, public interest groups and industry.

The report said about half of the U.S. coal plants _ most of those producing 300 megawatts or more of power _ may be suitable for carbon capture technology. Many of the smaller plants, accounting for about 30 percent of electricity production, can achieve emission reductions through increased efficiency, use of a mix of coal and biomass as fuel and other measures. Other plants, especially the oldest, may have to be replaced, said Moniz.

Wayne Leonard, chief executive of Entergy Corp., who was a co-chairman of the symposium, said the symposium’s conclusions should be viewed “in an international context” especially as carbon capture technology development relates to China.

“In the U.S. coal is the reality. But in China and India it is the future” and they won’t abandon it because of climate change, said Leonard. “But offering them a technological solution, a solution that we are actively developing and deploying ourselves on our own coal plants, would be something that has a far better chance of success in getting them to act.”

While Entergy, the New Orleans-based utility, relies on coal for less than 10 percent of its electricity production, it was a co-sponsor with MIT of the carbon capture symposium on which Friday’s report is based.

H. JOSEF HEBERT | June 6, 2009 10:30 PM EST | AP

WASHINGTON — Thomas Alva Edison, meet the Internet. More than a century after Edison invented a reliable light bulb, the nation’s electricity distribution system, an aging spider web of power lines, is poised to move into the digital age.

The “smart grid” has become the buzz of the electric power industry, at the White House and among members of Congress. President Barack Obama says it’s essential to boost development of wind and solar power, get people to use less energy and to tackle climate change.

What smart grid visionaries see coming are home thermostats and appliances that adjust automatically depending on the cost of power; where a water heater may get juice from a neighbor’s rooftop solar panel; and where on a scorching hot day a plug-in hybrid electric car charges one minute and the next sends electricity back to the grid to help head off a brownout

It is where utilities get instant feedback on a transformer outage, shift easily among energy sources, integrating wind and solar energy with electricity from coal-burning power plants, and go into homes and businesses to automatically adjust power use based on prearranged agreements.

“It’s the marriage of information technology and automation technology with the existing electricity network. This is the energy Internet,” said Bob Gilligan, vice president for transmission at GE Energy, which is aggressively pursuing smart grid development. “There are going to be applications 10 years from now that you and I have no idea that we’re going to want or need or think are essential to our lives.”

Hundreds of technology companies and almost every major electric utility company see smart grid as the future. That interest got a boost with the availability of $4.5 billion in federal economic recovery money for smart grid technology.

But smart grid won’t be cheap; cost estimates run as high as $75 billion. Who’s going to pay the bill? Will consumers get the payback they are promised? Might “smart meters” be too intrusive? Could an end-to-end computerization of the grid increase the risk of cyberattacks?

Today’s grid is seen by many as little different from one envisioned by Edison 127 years ago.

The hundreds of thousands of miles of power lines that crisscross the country have been compared to a river flowing down a hill: an inefficient one-way movement of electrons from power plant to consumer. There is little way to provide any feedback of information to the power company running the system or those buying the electricity.

“The heart of a smart grid is to make the grid more flexible, to more easily control the flow of electrons, and make it more efficient and reliable,” said Greg Scheu, head of the power production division at ABB North America, a leading grid technology provider.

“The meter is only the beginning,” said Alex Huang, director of a grid technology center at North Carolina State University. He said that instead of power flowing from a small number of power plants, the smart grid can usher in a system of distributed energy so electricity “will flow from homes and businesses into the grid, neighborhoods will use local power and not just power flowing from a single source.”

There are glimpses of what the future grid might look like.

On the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, the chancellor’s home has been turned into a smart grid showhouse as part of a citywide $100 million demonstration project spearheaded by Xcel Energy. The home has a laptop-controlled electricity management system that integrates a rooftop solar panel with grid-supplied power and tracks energy use as well as equipment to charge a plug-in hybrid electric car.

Florida Power & Light is planning to provide smart meters covering 1 million homes and businesses in the Miami area over the next two years in a $200 million project. Smart meters are being distributed by utilities from California to Delaware’s Delmarva Peninsula.

“We’ve got about 70 (smart grid) pilots all over the country right now,” said Mike Oldak, an expert on smart grid at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned power companies.

Center Point Energy, which serves 2.2 million customers in the metropolitan Houston area, expects to spend $1 billion over the next five years on smart grid. Residential customers are seeing an additional $3.24 a month on their electric bills, but Center Point says that should be more than offset by energy savings.

An Energy Department study projects energy savings of 5 percent to 15 percent from smart grid.

“This pays for itself through efficiency and demand reduction and if you don’t look at it from that perspective you won’t get your money back,” said Thomas Standish, group president for regulated operations at Center Power Energy.

The cost and payback have some state regulators worried.

“We need to demonstrate to folks that there’s a benefit here before we ask them to pay for this stuff,” says Frederick Butler, chairman of New Jersey’s utility commission and president of NARUC, the national group that represents these state agencies.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said the current grid stands in the way of increasing the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar that “will need a system that can dispatch power here, there and everywhere on a very quick basis.”

But Chu and others also worry about security. “If you want to create mischief one very good way to create a great deal of mischief is to actually bring down a smart grid system. This system has to be incredibly secure.”

And there is the issue of intrusion.

“Is the average consumer willing to pay the upfront costs of a new system and then respond appropriately to price signals? Or will people view a utility’s ability to reach inside a home to turn down a thermostat as Orwellian?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said at a recent hearing on smart grid.

The following is a guest post by Chelsea Green‘s Makenna Goodman:

I remember a time when defenseless kids with hippie moms got made fun of for using wax sandwich bags (ehem). I remember a time when it was considered uncool to be packing carrot sticks in your tote bag. When yoga was what the weird naked guys did at the hot springs in Ouray, Colorado; you know downward-facing dogs splayed out by the pool. I remember a time, in other words, when trendy things used to be not-trendy. Like BIODIESEL. The wave of the future.

You’ve seen it station wagons clanking around town with a sign on the back window that says, “This Vehicle Runs on Veggie Oil I’m Awesome.” You probably drive by and think: Damn. Those hippies are self-important, but I’m repressing the fact that I want to be just like them. What is wrong with me? But here’s the first thing you should know about biodiesel: It’s not just white people with dreads who use vegetable oil to run their cars. It’s a movement. Dude, my boss does it.

Know this:
*Biodiesel can be made from virtually any vegetable oil
*It can be used in any modern diesel engine
*It’s America’s fastest growing alternative fuel

But really, biodiesel is a tricky thing to understand, which is why many people just plain don’t. Consider it worth your while to get versed on biodiesel, from the experts. And everything you need to know, Greg Pahl will tell you. He’s the author of Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy and The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis and knows the deal.

The following is an excerpt from The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis by Greg Pahl. It has been adapted for the Web.

Biodiesel 101

Biodiesel, a diverse group of diesel-like fuels, can be easily made through a simple chemical process known as transesterification from virtually any vegetable oil, including (but not limited to) soy, corn, rapeseed (canola), cottonseed, peanut, sunflower, mustard seed, and hemp. But biodiesel can also be made from recycled cooking oil (referred to as “yellow grease” in the rendering industry) or animal fats. One Vietnamese catfish processor is even using fish fat as a biofuel feedstock.30 There have even been some promising experiments with the use of algae as a biodiesel feedstock. As long as the resulting fuel meets the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) biodiesel standard (D-6751), it’s considered biodiesel in the United States, regardless of the feedstock used in its manufacture (in Europe, the standard is EN 14214). And the process is so simple that biodiesel can be made by virtually anyone, although the chemicals required (usually lye and methanol) are hazardous, and need to be handled with extreme caution.

Simply stated, here is how biodiesel is made. The transesterification process is initiated by adding carefully measured amounts of alcohol (methanol) mixed with a catalyst (sodium hydroxide lye the same chemical used to unclog kitchen or bathroom drains) to the vegetable oil. The mixture is stirred or agitated (and sometimes heated) for a specific length of time. If used cooking oil is the feedstock, the process requires a bit more testing, lye, and filtration, but is otherwise essentially the same. During the mixing, the oil molecules are split or “cracked” and the methyl esters (biodiesel) rise to the top of the settling/mixing tank, while the glycerin and catalyst settle to the bottom. After about eight hours, the glycerin and catalyst are drawn off the bottom, leaving biodiesel in the tank. The whole idea of the process is to remove the thick, sticky glycerin from the vegetable oil, so the remaining biodiesel will flow easily and combust properly in a modern diesel engine without leaving damaging deposits inside the engine.

In most cases the biodiesel needs to be washed with water to remove any remaining traces of alcohol, catalyst, and glycerin. In this procedure, water is mixed with the biodiesel, allowed to settle out for several days, and then removed. The wash process can be repeated if needed, but it is time-consuming. Not everyone agrees on whether the water wash is necessary. A few smaller producers who are making biodiesel for themselves skip the process, while commercial producers usually must do it to meet industry standards. In the case of some larger, more sophisticated manufacturing facilities, the transesterification process itself is so carefully controlled and refined that the water wash is not needed. There are, of course, quite a few technical variations on this entire process for large-scale industrial operations, but the general transesterification procedure is similar.31

As the amount of biodiesel being produced grows exponentially, the quantities of glycerin by-product grows apace. Glycerin has always been a niche market that is highly sensitive to oversupply, and the recent exponential growth of this commodity as a result of biodiesel production has caused the world glycerin market to collapse. As a result, traditional glycerin manufacturing plants around the world have been closing, while new ones that use glycerin as feedstocks for epoxy resins, propylene glycol, and other products have been opening. Recently, glycerin has even been used by one California company, InnovaTek Inc., as a source for the production of hydrogen.32 Trying to develop new uses for glycerin has been keeping a lot of people awake at night.

Our perspective:

Biofuels is the wave of the future. The federal and many state governments have provides great incentives to help start this process.  Biodiesel adds the needed lubrication to low sulpher diesel, that extends the life of the engine and help it to run more efficiently.

let us know your toughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com with any questions you may have.

Vivi Gorman, GREENandSAVE.com

Governor Ed Rendell announced June 1 that the state is seeking $15 million in federal funding to expand the state’s use of biodiesel and alternative fuel vehicles by applying to the U.S. Department of Energy under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

The governor explained that Pennsylvania’s Energy Independence Strategy includes an initiative mandating the production and use of renewable fuels to develop the state’s economy and reduce dependence on foreign fuels. The state initiative has set a goal to produce and use one billion gallons of domestically produced biofuels in Pennsylvania by 2017.

Under the plan, the Department of Environmental Protection will partner with the Pittsburgh Regional and the Greater Philadelphia Clean Cities programs, the National Biodiesel Board and eight other industry partners to install fueling infrastructure, retail sites, procure vehicles, promote the use of alternative fuels and educate the public. The eight industry partners included in the project are: Buckeye Partners LP, Centre Area Transportation Authority, Gulf Oil LP, Guttman Oil Co., Lower Merion School District, Lycoming County Resource Management Services, Pennsylvania Energy Co., and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP.

Governor Rendell remarked that Pennsylvania occupies one of the largest natural gas supplies in that country in the Marcellus Shale reserve. The project proposes to install 23 biofuel terminals and four retail stations throughout the state; l natural gas refueling facilities at two locations; and compressed natural gas equipment on 36 existing vehicles and purchasing 57 new natural gas vehicles for public transit agencies.

The project will allow for the displacement of 263 million gallons of petroleum-based fuel over four years, create at least 9,000 jobs, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 7.2 million pounds.