Archive for January 4th, 2011

Weekly Intelligence Brief: December 27 – January 03

US: Offshore leasing process begins off Massachusetts

This week’s Wind Energy Update news brief includes the following companies and organizations: American Wind Energy Association; The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement & the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Moray Offshore Renewables, EDP Renewables, SeaEnergy Renewables & The Crown Estate; Siemens &  DONG Energy; and Vestas Central Europe, Windpark Groß Eilstorf, Ansaldo Energia & Winbis.

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France remains non-committal on offshore wind

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France still flighty on offshore wind

France still flighty on offshore wind

Wind Energy update speaks to Philippe Degonzague at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Paris, to learn more about why France is holding back on offshore wind.

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First Hydrogen Canister Exchange Station Set Up in Taiwan

H2 Canister Swapping StationThe world’s first hydrogen canister exchange station for light electric vehicles (LEV’s) with fuel cells has been set up at the National Tsing-Hua University in Taiwan. In June 2010, I had talked about Asia Pacific fuel Cell Technologies, Ltd. (APFCT) taking a 620 mile test drive of their hydrogen-powered scooter around Taiwan.

Now, APFCT has set up the first part of the needed refueling infrastructure to support multiple hydrogen scooters and is using this technology. Yesterday I had talked about large islands (or officially an archipelago) such as Japan being a perfect fit for hydrogen cars since the majority of consumers are not used to long road trips as is common in the U. S.

But, what I had neglected to talk about is that hydrogen cars are not the only game in town when it comes to bringing zero emission hydrogen vehicles to other islands such as Taiwan. On smaller islands especially in the tourist trade where scooters are rented by the hour, electric LEV’s may be adequate because of relatively shorter distances traveled.

Then again tour operators would get more bang for their buck since electric scooters need to recharge overnight whereas with a hydrogen scooter, the canister simply needs to be swapped (in less than 1 minute) and another paying tourist can take the vehicle for a ride.

On larger islands (and other geographically isolated locations) hydrogen scooters could replace some cars if a small but adequate H2 canister swapping infrastructure were to be built.

APFCT has decided to pilot their hydrogen canister swapping station using a small fleet of two scooters and one microcar used by the security guards and patrol at the University.

Here is also some extra information and photos of a past event.

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‘Nanoscoops’ could spark new generation of electric automobile batteries
An entirely new type of nanomaterial could enable the next generation of high-power rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for electric automobiles, as well as batteries for laptop computers, mobile phones, and other portable devices. The new material, dubbed a “nanoscoop” because its shape resembles a cone with a scoop of ice cream on top, can withstand extremely high rates of charge and discharge that would cause conventional electrodes used in today’s Li-ion batteries to rapidly deteriorate and fail.

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IKEA Jumps the Gun on Light Bulb Phase-Out

ikea stops selling incandescent lightsRetail giant IKEA got a running start on the impending phase-out of standard light bulbs in the U.S., with today’s announcement that it has stopped selling all incandescent light bulbs. The move is in response to the Energy Independence Act of 2007, which mandated an end to the energy-sucking lights starting in 2012. And if you didn’t know that there was such a thing as the Energy Independence Act, you’re not alone: In IKEA’s own survey, more than half of the respondents had no idea that the U.S. Congress had ever passed a law that would put an end to America’s love affair with incandescent light bulbs.

Light Bulbs and Public Awareness

IKEA’s survey revealed an interesting thing about buying behavior. Law or no law, more than half of the respondents said they had already changed most of the bulbs in their homes. In fact, the proportion of those who had changed (59%) was just about equal to the proportion of those who had no idea that incandescent bulbs are on the verge of being phased out by law (61%), which seems to indicate that Congress should not be afraid of putting the force of federal law behind common sense changes that save money. They are popular!

Fluorescent Lights and LEDs

Despite some naysaying by critics, the majority of respondents were not concerned about the aesthetics of energy saving light bulbs: lighting intensity, light color, or the use of dimmer switches. The response bodes well for public acceptance of new lighting technology that saves even more energy than compact fluorescent bulbs, as LEDs make the shift from industrial and commercial use into home use.

Light and Goodness

One of the more interesting results of the IKEA survey is that a whopping 81% of the respondents were aware that energy saving lights are “a good environmental practice.” It’s probably safe to assume that none of the  1,011 adults surveyed have seen documentaries like Kilowatt Ours, which illustrates in graphic detail the connection between inefficient lighting and blowing up the Appalachian Mountains for coal, but they do know enough to make the connection between energy and the environment. Again, what is Congress afraid of?

Image: Light bulb by kevygee on

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The Oil Drum praises Vickerman’s analysis of vacuum in federal energy policy

The following column by Michael Vickerman, RENEW’s executive director, landed among the top guest columns in the last five years according to the editors The Oil Drum, one of the Internet’s most respected sites for analysis of energy policies in light of declining oil supplies. Though Vickerman wrote the column in 2007, the conclusions continue to remain true about the federal vacuum, but last fall’s elections probably reduced the possibility that states will “counter the policy vacuum that persists at the federal level.”
Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
July 27, 2007, Vol. 6, Number 9

A Federal Energy Policy: Can It Happen Here?

Of all the issue areas that Congress dives into from time to time, none reveals the inability of our legislative branch to fashion an internally consistent national policy quite like energy. The usual items in an energy bill–tax credit extensions, fuel subsidies, fresh regulatory requirements (and loopholes), new rules on offshore drilling, etc.—are designed to reward specific industries and influential constituencies. This year’s energy bill promises to follow that timeworn path left by Congresses of yesteryear.

But an energy bill has to be more than the sum of its subsidies to constitute effective policy. This is especially true as we enter a time of growing resource and environmental limits that threaten to bite us in the collective behind if we don’t curb our profligate consumption of energy.

Now is not the time to continue subsidizing every form of energy that can be produced in the United States, as the current Congress seems intent on doing. In previous bills, Congress has taken great pains to make sure that every energy constituency—coal, oil, nuclear or renewables–gets its fair share of the federal pie, regardless of need or environmental impact. This is the cheap energy paradigm at work—promoting economic growth by artificially lowering energy prices.

But while this paradigm may have been defensible before U.S. oil output reached its maximum in 1970, it has no place in today’s energy-constrained world. Artificially lowering the cost of all energy sources will not only encourage waste and overconsumption, it will hasten the arrival of that traumatic day when the flow of cheap oil and natural gas cannot meet the demands of a hypermobile society.

It’s no secret that Congress lacks the stomach for offending powerful energy lobbies like Big Coal. But it’s simply not possible to institute policy changes, especially those intended to reduce carbon dioxide discharges into the atmosphere, without picking a fight with the coal industry, the electric utilities, and what’s left of the U.S. automotive industry. Therefore, if Big Coal pronounces itself satisfied with the energy bill’s contents when it is passed, you can be certain that Congress declined to incorporate any provisions that would cause coal’s share of the energy pie to shrink, such as a carbon tax or renewable feed-in tariffs.

What makes the United States singularly incapable of producing a coherent energy policy aimed at cutting energy consumption and using low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels? I believe there are three factors explaining this lamentable state of affairs. The first is that your average American citizen has the energy IQ of beach sand, and, in this regard, your average Member of Congress is the mirror image of his or her constituents. For proof, I would direct your attention to Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who regularly appears on news programs to suggest that gasoline is overpriced at $3.00 per gallon and that motorists are being fleeced by dastardly oil companies.

Actually, at that price gasoline is a steal, and it would be so even at $4.00—the amount Canadians pay–or $5.00. Packing 125,000 Btu’s of energy, a gallon of gas will power the average car 25 miles, yet it costs less on a volumetric basis than milk, apple juice, Evian, coffee from Starbucks, Mountain Dew, Listerine, and Red Bull. Try getting that performance with a gallon of Gatorade in your tank. It will set you back $10 and you still wouldn’t be able to back your car out of the garage.

It should be noted that retail gasoline prices in Germany are the equivalent of $7.00 per gallon, yet its economy remains healthy. Why is that? Because Germany, unlike the underachieving U.S., has a national energy policy designed to transition the nation smoothly into a post-fossil fuel energy environment. By taxing fossil energy and providing long-term price support for wind and solar electricity production, the Germans are plowing today’s wealth into building up a sustainable energy system that can withstand the future economic dislocations resulting from Peak Oil and climate change.

Indeed, no other country has made as much progress as Germany in building up a renewable energy infrastructure for delivering low-carbon electricity to homes, businesses, and rail networks. But other countries that lack domestic supplies of fossil energy, like Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark, are also moving aggressively to harness their renewable resource base. They too are light years ahead of the United States in this regard.

A second problem confronting policymakers is the unequal distribution of energy resources across this vast country of ours. A handful of coal-producing states—West Virginia and Wyoming come to mind–are net fossil energy exporters, and will view with hostility any policy proposal that will place limits on energy extraction within their borders. Their power is magnified by the markets they serve, which include large swaths of the Midwest and South.

On the other side of the coin are the West Coast states, Florida and New England, which are populous regions that which have no domestic coal interests to protect. Nor does the automotive industry have a big presence in these states. Not having to appease Big Coal or Big Auto enables state governments in these regions to plot a more aggressive course toward achieving emissions reductions and fuel diversity goals, as is being done in California and Florida.

One would expect members of Congress to promote the principal energy industries in their region. This predisposes them to enter into strategic alliances with other members representing different energy interests, usually of the “I’ll watch your back if you’ll watch mine” variety. Though these alliances are necessary for lubricating the deal-cutting and building support for the entire package, often it comes at the expense of public policy objectives.

Indeed, Congress is institutionally incapable to pass a comprehensive energy bill that attempts to diversify the nation’s energy resource base and scale back its carbon footprint unless it contains elements that work in the opposite direction (e.g., gasifying coal and expanding offshore drilling).

Further complicating matters is the very nature of the U.S. Senate itself, a body organized to magnify the power of individual states to block “national interest” initiatives from changing the status quo. Each state is equally represented in the Senate, no matter how populous. And Senate tradition grants committee chairpersons enormous deference to bottle up or water down legislation that might impose unwanted changes on the states they represent.

Another Senate tradition, the right of unlimited debate, is enforced by a rule that expressly allows a minority of senators to thwart the will of the majority. To shut off debate on a measure, especially one in which powerful economic forces and regional interests are pitted against each other, bill proponents have to line up not 51 but 60 votes. Under the rule, debate continues even if 59 senators vote in favor of ending it and only one votes against the motion.

The energy bill passed by the Senate in June came tantalizingly close to incorporating a 10-year tax package that would have raised $29 billion, mostly from oil and gas companies, and redirected it toward renewable energy development. The tax package was designed to be self-supporting; that is, it would not have trigged additional borrowing to underwrite the pro-renewable energy incentives.

Would such a tax package raise prices at the pump? A little. But remember too that $29 billion equates to about nine months’ profit for Exxon Mobil alone. And, from a social equity perspective, it’s always better to base energy subsidies and incentives on a real-time transfer of wealth than to saddle future taxpayers with even greater levels of indebtedness.

Nonetheless, the oil and gas companies objected to the closing of their favored tax loopholes, and they called upon their senatorial friends in the Oil Patch states to kill off this measure. To accomplish this, these senators made common cause with their counterparts from the Southeast and Rocky Mountain states, where Big Coal is very strong. Thought this minority bloc was outvoted 57-36, they managed to prevent the tax package from being attached to the larger energy package. In any other legislative venue, losing a vote by a margin of 21 would be considered a stinging defeat, but on the floor of the U.S. Senate, it counts as a win.

In his most recent installment of Lyndon Johnson’s biography, author Robert Caro points out that there have been only a few periods in the nation’s history where the Senate lowered the floodgates and allowed legislation reflecting the popular will to come washing through its portals. Those rare instances resulted from significant political realignments that put one party with an activist agenda firmly in power.

The closest the United States came to a coherent national energy policy was during the mid-to-late 1970’s. During that period there was a prevailing sense of anxiety over the nation’s energy security, and both the legislative and the executive branches responded to the national mood with decisive actions. In a five-year period Congress passed laws creating automobile fuel efficiency standards, prohibiting new gas-fired power plants, and requiring utilities to purchase electricity generated by independent entities. By the debased standards of current governance, those were amazingly productive years.

However, once the price oil dropped in the 1980’s, the urgency of the previous decade evaporated, and successive administrations began dismantling the policy initiatives adopted in the Ford and Carter years. When the Reagan Administration lowered fuel efficiency standards in 1986, Chrysler Corporation chairman Lee Iacocca said: “We are about to put up a tombstone ‘Here lies America’s energy policy.’”

It would take nothing short of a sea change to overcome Congressional inertia and recover the ground lost in the last 25 years or so. But though the prospects for a truly coherent national energy policy are improving — and the need has never been greater — both the citizenry and the current Congress are far too complacent to entertain changes that might involve belt-tightening and discipline. Given the current political dynamic, it would be unrealistic to expect this Congress, with its narrow majorities, to be the one that jump-starts the federal government into meaningful action.

Yes, we will see some progress on the energy front this year and next, but they will represent the sum of state government initiatives undertaken to counter the policy vacuum that persists at the federal level.



Caro, Robert A., Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, 2002, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York.

National Environmental Trust: History of Fuel Standards, One Decade of Innovation, Two Decades of Inaction. URL:

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One Day Those Wind Chimes Will Generate Clean Energy

cornell researcher developing low cost wind energy device with piezoelectricityWind power conjures up images of giant turbines spinning gracefully out somewhere in the cornfields, but one day it could be as close as those wind chimes hanging from your porch. An undergraduate research group at Cornell University is developing a compact  low-cost device for converting wind into electricity. Instead of blades turning on a rotor, it consists of a rack of flat panels that capture the vibrations from wind.

Wind Power Goes Domestic

Actually, for a growing number of people, wind power conjures up images of small-scale wind turbines in their own backyard or rooftop – that is, if the neighbors don’t object. If they do, the Cornell project offers some aesthetic flexibility that could offer an alternative solution. It could also enable more urban homeowners to squeeze wind power into tight spaces such as apartment balconies.

Clean Energy from Vibrations

The Cornell project is based on an effect called piezoelectricity, in which a charge is generated by certain crystalline structures that are subjected to stress. With the right materials, you can generate a piezolectric charge from a wide variety of surfaces that vibrate or experience traffic, including highways, dance floors, machinery – and wind. As an alternative, the team is also exploring the use of electromagnetic coils.

Harvesting the Wind

The Cornell Vibro-Wind Research Group is dedicated to making wind power more accessible, so it is concentrating on a device that costs less, takes up less space, and generates electricity from even tiny breezes. The group also includes an architecture team that is working on integrating the device into building elements. If the concept proves cost-effective, the prototype’s bare-bones rack of oscillating foam blocks could be replaced by far more attractive materials. In that case, it has the potential to become as common as  wind chimes – but without the noise.

Image: Wind chimes by Dr. Starbuck on

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PowerMod – New Portable Solar Shelter Could Be the Solution for Disaster Relief
One of the latest disasters in Australia , that demands huge relief efforts and centers on the need for portable energy is flood. The collaboration between FTL Solar and Ascent Solar leads to a solution that consists of flexible panels offering clean solar energy and also forms a shelter.

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Qantas on Brink of 200 Million Pound Biojet Fuel Joint Venture

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Qantas on Brink of 200 Million Pound Biojet Fuel Joint Venture

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The Pyramid Effect Producing Enough Electricity to Run a 12W Fan (video)
Austrian inventor Flavio Thomas (Trawoger) points out that the energy capture circuits are positioned in the geometric center of the pyramid. The materials that the pyramid is made from are less important for its function.

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The Pyramid Effect Producing Enough Electricity to Run a 12W Fan (video)
Austrian inventor Flavio Thomas (Trawoger) points out that the energy capture circuits are positioned in the geometric center of the pyramid. The materials that the pyramid is made from are less important for its function.

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A Solar Strategy for Africa: International Players Set To Expand Key Markets
There is a need for a shift in focus on solar markets in Africa away from donor and rural electrification projects to commercial and productive investments. There is also a need for the international PV industry to aggressively invest in the development of solar markets and not to leave it up to aid and relief organisations. This must be based on the need to move – today – towards grid-connected and urban markets. As part of this process there is a need to engage and educate African governments about the current global status of the solar sector and help them build frameworks for industry growth.
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