Tag Archives: NREL

Friday Linkage 1/30/2015

It is almost February. Wow. It’s about time to start thinking about spring planting and summer projects that need some planning to pull off. I am really hoping that this year will be the season where I start to bring my landscape closer to my ideal state. Stay tuned.

On to the links…

White House Proposes Protecting More Than 12 Million Acres Of Alaska’s Arctic Refuge—I am glad to see someone trying to put drilling in ANWR to bed once and for all, but I feel like the eastern seaboard of the U.S. got sold out to try and make this happen.

‘World can cut carbon emissions and live well’—Too often the debate sounds like status quo on one side and primitive living on the other, but to combat climate change—which really comes down to cutting carbon emissions—our quality of life does not have to suffer. Granted, the measurements of quality of life are critical to making that determination but still…

7 Interesting Global Renewable Energy Trends From NREL—The growth of renewables is starting to reach a tipping point in the U.S. after decades of fits and starts. Every time I drive somewhere in town I imagine solar panels on every south facing roof.

Solar Costs Will Fall Another 40% In 2 Years. Here’s Why.—The balance of system costs, like installation and permitting, are finally beginning to fall at a pace fast enough to bring down system costs.

U.S. Wind Power Installations Swelled Sixfold in 2014—The headline number here is that the U.S. added ~4.7 gigawatts of onshore wind power capacity in 2014 versus just 764 megawatts in 2013.

Offshore Wind Energy Would Produce Twice as Many Jobs as Oil and Gas Operations in the Atlantic—Let’s remember that the jobs produced by oil and gas drilling can be replace by jobs in clean tech industries. It’s forgotten too often as we debate another round of offshore drilling leases in American waters.

The Solar Industry is Creating Jobs 20x Faster than the Rest of the US Economy—Oh wait, the solar industry is killing it when it comes to jobs.

US Navy + Air Force Commission 120 MW Of New Solar Power Plants In Florida—Florida may suck for individuals wanting healthcare or solar energy, but the U.S. military is going to go ahead and make it happen for themselves. Does Rick Scott suck or what?

Bangladesh Wants to Become the World’s First “Solar Nation” by 2021—Bangladesh may be poor, but the country does not lack ambition.

More Than 125,000 UK Homes Installed Solar PV Last Year—This is in the U.K. which is not a place known for its sunny climate.

SkyMall’s Demise Could Save American Airlines $350K a Year on Fuel—If you doubt the power of little things adding up, consider the case of removing those silly SkyMall catalogs from the seatback pocket of every airplane in American Airlines fleet.

Ecopolis Iowa City: As State Leads in Wind, Can Iowa City Become ‘City of Solar’—Just thirty miles to the south of me and I completely missed this going on. Huh.

11 Must-Know Cleaning Tricks to Green Your Routine—Getting the toxic, harsh, and just plain nasty chemicals out of our daily cleaning regime is a necessary event for every household. Trust me. When I walk into a place that has been cleaned with something more mainstream my senses are assaulted.

10 Handy Hacks for Emergency Situations—The snow-pocalypse may have spared New York City, but hammered some other parts of the northeast. It is still a good idea to think through how you would survive a few days without electricity or heat. It’s not a prepper thing.

Friday Linkage 6/6/2014

The trip to Colorado was good, considering the circumstances behind the trip. It is hard to believe that both of my parents are gone and their ashes are spread to the winds west of the Continental Divide.

It’s also hard to believe that I will be heading back again in about a month, but this time it is with the family and for an entire week. If I could knock off six Front Range breweries in one day imagine what I could do with a week? Hmmm….

On to the links…

Australia Experiences Hottest Two Years Ever Recorded—Australia, a huge per capita emitter of carbon dioxide, seems to be bearing the brunt of the bad news on the climate front. One year it is floods, the next year it is fires, and it is getting to be so gosh darned hot all the time.

Meeting Renewable Energy Targets Turns Out to be Inexpensive—So, with the new emissions rules being rolled out and the predictable right wing response of “High cost!” and “Job killer!” out of the way let us look at some facts. Conveniently, the NREL has taken care of that for us already.

U.S. Residential Solar Just Beat Commercial Installations For The First Time—I am so close to pulling the trigger on an ~5 kw solar photovoltaic array on my home after getting a pair of estimates. I hope to join this trend soon.

Average New-Vehicle MPG Climbs yet Again, to 25.6—Automobile fuel efficiency keeps on going up as manufacturers roll out increasingly efficient vehicles to meet government set targets. Hmmm, could the new carbon emissions targets work the same way?

Silent Rooftop Wind Turbines Could Generate Half of a Household’s Energy Needs—I am really skeptical about small scale wind. It never seems to work once prototypes are deployed into the field. I would love to be able to incorporate a small, silent wind turbine on my house to supplement my proposed solar array because of the near constant wind we have here in Iowa.

A Price Tag on Carbon as a Climate Rescue Plan—When something finally has a price a market can be built around that something. In the U.S. things without prices are not accounted for properly because we have a hard time dealing with the commons or externalities in a concrete way.

How to Cut Carbon: Change the Way Utilities Make Money—Utilities are operating under the most archaic business model possible. It’s amazing.

U.S. Imposes Tariffs of up to 35% on Certain Solar Panels Made in China—Given the dire straits that our climate is in right now we need as many solar panels as possible as cheaply as possible. A trade war around solar panels will hurt the consumer more than it will change government policy.

How Weeds Could Help Feed Billions in a Warming World—I am hopeful that we will finally look to the adaptive mechanisms of weeds for help in figuring out how to adapt our food crops to a warmer planet. Why? Weeds represent the sum total of selection through natural and unnatural stimuli.

What Happens When You Build A Playground For A Bunch Of Rescued Elephants?—I love animal sanctuaries. This is just awesome to watch.

A Close Up Look Inside New Glarus Brewing Company—The New Glarus Brewing Company has something of a cult following here in the Midwest owing to the distribution only being in Wisconsin and a history of making damn good beer.

Friday Linkage 5/3/2013

It’s May.  My friends in Minneapolis and Colorado Springs are digging out from snow storms.  I am dealing with temperatures that have dropped almost forty degrees in the span of twenty four hours.  I love spring.

On to the links…

Heavy Use of Herbicide Roundup Could be Linked to Disease—Herbicides that contain glyphosate, like Roundup, are beginning to be shown to have links to a number of diseases in humans.  Really?  It took this long for people to figure out that the stuff was probably bad news for our health?

You Are a Chemical Guinea Pig for Big Business—It is ridiculous the lengths that our corporate owned government will go to protect the interests of big chemical companies over the health and wellness of its citizenry.  People may vote for politicians, but their bread is buttered by big business.

A Hike with Sally Jewell—Think about this for a moment as you watch this video: the Secretary of the Interior used to be the boss at REI.  Can you imagine saying anything like that when George W. Bush was president?  Just saying.

New Report Details How National Parks Are Threatened By Oil And Gas Drilling—Well, if there was ever an issue for the new Secretary of the Interior to take the lead on this would be it.  It’s shameful how oil and gas interests are allowed to despoil any and all land in the name of cheap energy as if that is the sole driving purpose of our time on this planet.  Ugh!

Cost of Solar Heading for Parity with Coal and Gas—What happens when it is cheaper to install solar than it is to deploy coal or natural gas power generation options?  We will find out soon:


70 Percent Of New Global Power Capacity Added Through 2030 Will be Renewable—Basically, every time someone revisits a study on renewable energy the outlook is brighter.  It’s like the baseline needs to be redrawn every year because of fundamental changes to the assumptions in the model.  No wonder government policy seems so slow to respond.

In Two-Way Charging, Electric Cars Begin to Earn Money From the Grid—This sounds like one of those concepts from the mid-2000s when discussion about the “smart grid” were all the rage and then the buzz just died out when reality intruded.  However, actually starting to deploy these type of technologies is a step forward.  Electric vehicles can be much more than a clean transportation option.

A New Solar Dish Delivers Low-Cost Electricity Along With Fresh Water—I love seeing inventions like this that solve multiple problems efficiently.  Access to electricity and fresh water is a problem for millions and millions of people, if not billions.  A deployable solution to both of those problems is a silver bullet in some ways.

Why Your Supermarket Only Sells 5 Kinds of Apples—Go to the grocery store sometime and look at the apple selection.  It blows.  Now, it has gotten better here in eastern Iowa recently with the widespread availability of Honeycrisp, SweetTango, Zestar, and some other University of Minnesota varieties.  In other parts of the country, not so much.

When One Man’s Game Is Also a Marauding Pest—Feral pigs are bad news.  As an invasive species it does not appear that there is any natural limit on this particular nasty animal’s range.  Most of the attention has been spent on feral pigs in Texas, but I know of dairy farmers in Wisconsin who deal with the damage all the time.  On the bright side, feral pig can be tasty when slow roasted or smoked.

How Trees Play Role in Smog Production—My love of trees is well known.  The folks at Peck’s in Cedar Rapids just wait every spring to show me what new trees might be perfect for my yard—I am thinking some semi-dwarf apple trees this year—and my wife wonders if we will be living in a mini-forest when all the trees in the yard mature.  Is there anything about trees that is not great?

Geothermal Potential

Wind and solar get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to discussing renewable energy and the portfolio of options for zero carbon electricity generation.  Nuclear energy is brought up by its proponents as part of the solution, but the cost and risk, in regards to both the project liability and the waste disposal issue, preclude it from being a serious part of the discussion.  Hydropower is definitely part of the solution because it is well proven and can provide consistent power, but it is unlikely that any new major hydropower projects are going to be built because of the damage existing facilities have done to our waterways.  Any gain in hydropower will be achieved through wringing out more electricity from currently running facilities, replacing derelict power generation facilities, or retrofitting existing dams to accommodate hydropower.  Granted, there is probably a lot of potential in those three options but I am no expert.

One renewable energy source that is consistently overlooked is geothermal.  Maybe it’s because we cannot picture a geothermal plant or, if we can, it conjures up images of Iceland.  However, geothermal power is an excellent source of base load renewable power.  What do I mean by base load?  This is the power that is available consistently 24 hours a day.  Wind and solar are intermittent and variable, so it is hard to go to a system that depends upon such power.  This is the argument that the coal and natural gas lobbies use to defend the construction and operation of their facilities.  Geothermal power, however, is there all the time.

But what is the potential for the power?  Not everyone lives in a place like Iceland or Hawaii where the hot core of the earth is literally bursting at the seams and pouring out as lava.  Here is what the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) worked up using date from Southern Methodist University:


The western United States is brimming with potential for geothermal power.  Even my little portion of southeast Iowa looks like it might be sitting on a potential spot for favorable, if not optimum, conditions.

Iceland, a country known for its volcanic activity and hot springs, gets an estimated 30% of its electricity from geothermal sources.  Now, imagine a world where everyone got 30% of their electricity from geothermal and what that would represent in terms of closures of dirty fossil fuel plants.

Don’t think it can be done in the U.S.?  Why not?

Let’s look at Iowa, my home state, for a moment.  According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) the production of electricity in January 2013, the latest month for which data is available publicly, looked like this:

Chart Energy

Iowa is already getting almost one-third of its electricity from renewables, a combination including a small amount of hydroelectric, with the rest coming primarily from coal.  At these levels there is approximately 100 GWh of coal fired electricity being generated per day.  Using my crude mathematics skill—100 GWh per day = 100,000 MWh per day = 4167 MW per hour—you would need to install ~4200 MWs of capacity to totally supplant coal.  Granted, no facility is 100% efficient so assuming 75% efficiency the installed capacity would have to be rated at approximately 5,500 MW.

Now, the U.S. as a whole does not have that much installed capacity for geothermal but I was trying to replace all coal fired generation.  There is nothing to say that coal cannot be supplanted by a portfolio of options, one of which could be geothermal.  I am just trying to show that there is a place in the conversation for geothermal energy.

The more research that I do into the issue the more I am left with the distinct feeling that no one really knows how much geothermal power potential exists.

The problem is that there does not appear to be a lot of movement to develop these resources in any cohesive national way.  We hear a lot about the production tax credit for wind power or feed-in tariffs for solar energy, but there is no equivalent government incentive for geothermal that would spur development.  Why?

As we look to transition to a carbon neutral economy a solution like geothermal power cannot be ignored.

Friday Linkage 4/12/2013

You want to know the only good part about getting stomach flu?  I am a lot closer to my spring weight loss goal than I was on Tuesday.  Granted, it was two miserable days at home that I paid for the privilege.  I am going to look on the bright side of things for a little bit.

If I had not gotten ill there were a lot of things that I wanted to write about that will have to wait until next week when my brain works a little better.  The lack of uninterrupted sleep and little food has left me sluggish.

On to the links…

Is a “Game of Thrones” Winter Coming?—If I could have my own personal direwolf I might not care.  Granted, this spring has sucked because the winter weather will just not let go.

24.6 MPG: March 2013 was a record month for fuel economy in U.S.—It’s progress.  Slow and steady, but progress.  Like the author I hope that one day we no longer fret over miles per gallon when talking about the auto fleet.  Until then, however, I will take solace in whatever forward progress I can find.

Australia can go 100% renewable energy by 2030—Pretty much self-explanatory from the title.  The crux of the issue here is more political will than technical capability.

Solar Efficiency Progress—Just take a moment to really take this chart in:


The progress that has been made is extraordinary.  Especially considering all of the roadblocks put in place by policy makers over the same period of time.

Toward Perpetuity: Global Solar Is Skyrocketing, Will Soon Be Net Positive Energy Source—Solar is the real deal.  Now, going forward, each solar panel will be a net positive addition to the energy solution.  Dig it.

Turning Tires Into Gas for Energy and New, Valuable Materials—If you have every driven past one of those discarded tire mountains you have probably had the same thought, “What could we do with all that rubber?”

Polluting Plastic Particles Invade the Great Lakes—It looks like the problems associated with the plastic pollution of the oceans are now reaching the world’s fresh water bodies.  It was inevitable, I guess, but sad nonetheless.

Getting Serious about a Texas Sized Drought—Every time I read about the drought gripping much of the western and southwestern United States I want to run and pick up my copy of Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert.  The folly of our development in dry lands is a long term historical trend that shows little signs of abating.  Just look at construction in Phoenix.

Oyster Farm Caught Up in Pipeline Politics—This just shows how messed up our politics really are right now.  No bill can be taken on its own merits without a raft of amendments from both sides meant to gum up the works added.  Just wait to see what happens with the pending legislation on gun control.

Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat—Red meat is just bad stuff.  It’s like a cigarette on the dinner plate.  I am glad to see that people are finally off the jihad against fat.  I can now slather myself in butter.

Yes, Healthful Fast Food Is Possible. But Edible?—I am amazed when people eat healthy food that is appetizing and act like it is a revelation.  Sure, if you are used to eating processed garbage all the time a meal of blah vegetables from the WalMart produce section is not going to be very tasty.  However, well-crafted meals of good ingredients will be tasty.  Even if made in a fast food setting.

Friday Linkage 12/28/2012

Christmas is over, the New Year is almost here, and the world keeps spinning.  It’s likely we are heading over the fiscal cliff, the SEC is on the path to another BCS national title, and yet the world will keep spinning.

I guess what I am trying to say is that no matter how dire things look the world manages to find a way to keep on spinning and we find a way to keep on living.  Don’t think another SEC BCS national title is a dire thing?  Obviously you do not spend a lot of time around fans of colleges from the SEC.  Ugh…

On to the links…

Does Foam Insulation Belong in Green Buildings?–Man, the more I read about foam insulation of all types the more thankful I am that my builder steered me away from spray foam as a go to option.  Instead we used a blown in product that has produced amazing results.  Maybe we should follow a modified version Michael Pollan’s “food rules.”

10 Energy Numbers to Remember from 2012–Just a nice little rundown of energy related statistics from 2012 to keep in the back of your mind.   Bring on 2013!

New World Record Set for Solar Cells: 44% Efficiency–Oh yeah, bring on the higher efficiencies.  Step by step we are getting closer to a time when solar photovoltaics will be cheaper than any fossil fuel.

Nanomaterials that Split Sunlight Into Separate Colors Could Bring Solar Panels to 50% Efficiency–If you thought 44% efficiency was badass, well get ready for 50% efficiency.  As solar panels get cheaper and cheaper on a per watt basis the focus has to turn to the balance of system costs, which usually are the majority of system costs in the U.S.

Top Ten PV Projects Under Construction in the US–If you do not think solar is for real, check out the size of these projects.  Solar is very real.

Local Solar: Minnesota Develops Its First Community Solar Project–This is a great story because this is a way forward for a lot of communities to take advantage of solar energy.  These systems can be hard to locate and finance, but if enough people can get together a site for a larger system can be found, financing can be secured, etc.  All right!

Germany Still Kicking Ass on Clean Energy: 2012 Production Forecast to be 15% Above 2011–And when I think the U.S. has come a long way a country like Germany comes along to make me feel like a fool.  The real kicker here is that this 15% growth on an already large base of installed renewables.

Cause of Death Trends for the U.S. and Australia–This is just a fascinating interactive data set to play with.  Data can be fun when it is presented in an accessible way.

Friday Linkage 6/22/2012

What a difference a couple of overnight storms can make.  This week we had two decent overnight storms that drenched eastern Iowa and tipped the scales away from drought.  Everything was much greener by Thursday afternoon and the air had lost its arid edge.  It was like a return to a normal and pleasant Iowa summer.

On to the links…

Gardener Sues City of Tulsa for Tearing Up Her Garden—Lawns blow me away.  It’s okay to have a landscape that requires constant attention and is frequently doused in nasty chemicals, but if someone dares to do something different the city comes down like Thor’s hammer.  WTF?  Then again, this is Oklahoma.   I guess it’s not just the wind sweeping down the plains but the city’s scythes as well.

What to Buy Organic—This story got a lot of play, but it makes people’s decision easier at the grocery store.  Here is a list of the produce to buy when it is available as organic because the pesticides and other chemicals used are so bad or used in high quantities.

How Climate Change is Fueling Western Wildfires—Unless you are an ass like James Inhofe, it is staring you right in the face that our changing climate is fueling ever nastier western wildfires.  Granted, part of the problem is a hundred year legacy of not allowing any fires to burn so the hillsides are full of tinder and the encroachment of development means these fires now threaten homes where before there was no damage to private property.

Renewable Energy in the EU—The Guardian in the United Kingdom has an excellent look at the state of renewable energy in the European Union.   In 2010 the EU 27 got 12.4% of electricity from renewables with Norway leading the pack at 61.1%, which includes hydropower.  Those crafty Norwegians are always up to something.

U.S. Renewable Energy Future—The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a study showing how the U.S. could greatly increase the share of renewable energy.  Senators from oil and gas states will fight any mention of this report tooth and nail.  Why?  Because they are bought and paid for.  Ass clowns.

German Solar Installation Cost at $2.24 per Watt, the U.S. is at $4.44—Here is why the U.S. is going to have a hard time getting critical mass on solar—the balance of system costs are driving the installed system costs too high.  It used to be the panels were too expensive, but that is no longer the case as the price per watt of a panel has come down immensely.  Now it is all the other equipment and, more importantly, the red tape.  For once I will agree with Republicans—there is too much regulation and red tape surrounding getting solar installed.  Somehow I do not see Mitt Romney taking up that banner anytime soon.  No Koch money in it.

Let’s Add a Little Dirt to Our Diets—I am not advocating a lunch of top soil and compost.  Neither is the author.  Rather, the central thesis is that our increasingly clinical and clean world is depriving our bodies of the bacteria that have evolved to ward off various maladies.  With the recent completion of a census of the bacteria on the human body it will become increasingly clear that we need a little filth.

Battery Costs Down to $250/kWh by 2015—This is one of those boring but important kind of stories.  Due to improving technology and a glut of capacity, industry analysts are predicting that lithium-ion battery packs will cost just $250 per kilowatt hour by 2015.  Currently, a lithium-ion battery pack costs approximately $700 per kilowatt hour.  This is a great reduction in cost that will allow electric vehicles to come down in price and, thus, speed adoption.

Oil Rig Reef—The dormant offshore oil platform High Island 389-A is supposed to be demolished soon.  However, its structure beneath the surface of the water has become a wonderland for aquatic life.  It’s even becoming something of a reef:

Isn’t there a better fate than destruction?

Why Wooden Bikes Ride Better and Look Stunning—Just reading this article made me want to get a wooden bike.  Until I saw the price tag.  The sunk coast of my sixteen year old Bontrager is looking better and better.   I feel like I should apologize to my old bike for even looking at a younger model.