Wind Energy

wind-turbine1Electricity from wind energy is one of the fastest growing methods of electrical generation in the world. Kinetic energy from moving air is converted into electricity by wind turbines that are mounted in locations where there are favourable weather patterns. Wind turbines may be employed individually, but are often installed in groups to form “wind farms” or “wind power plants.” Electricity generated by wind farms may be used locally, or placed on the electric grid to power homes and businesses farther away. Energy derived from wind may also be converted to hydrogen and used as a form of fuel for transportation or stored for subsequent power generation. Using wind energy reduces the environmental impact of generating electricity because it requires no fuel and does not produce pollution or greenhouse gases.

First LED and Solar Energy Traffic Light in Argentina

San Isidro is the lucky first city to have a traffic light that works with solar energy and LED, which is controlled through the Internet.

Together the company president Signal Argentina, Norberto Buono, Castilian councilman put into service the traffic lights through mobile phones by a special key. “The system will recognize only one phone, which prevents sabotage,” said the businessman

The new technology available to these facilities, implemented by the San Isidro Argentina Signal, is based on LED lights that pollute less than the incandescent lights, last much longer and does not contain pollutants.

The traffic lights do not use energy from the electricity grid; it consumes 90% less energy. Solar panels with batteries can supply power the traffic light for up to 72 hours without being recharged, it may be 3 days in a row and yet the lights still work. In case of any damage to the panels or be left without battery, the LED lights have a system that can connect to conventional electricity network to continue its operation.

Nuclear Fusion

Nuclear fusion has been called “the Holy Grail of the energy field.” It is the diametrically opposite process of nuclear fission, in which an atom of the heavy isotope Uranium-238 is split in a collision with an accelerated neutron, releasing some of the energy from inside the atom. Fusion involves combining light atoms, which releases an enormous amount of energy. The waste product of this reaction is helium and it is precisely this process which fires most stars, in particular our sun. “Fusion is attractive as an energy source because of the virtually inexhaustible supply of fuel, the promise of minimal adverse environmental impact, and its inherent safety.”

The atoms fused together in a reaction are not ordinary hydrogen atoms that contain only one proton in the nucleus. They are the heavy isotopes of deuterium or tritium that contain one or two neutrons along with the protons in their nucleus. These isotopes are somewhat rare in nature “about one part [deuterium] in 6000 is found in ordinary water” but the technology exists to isolate them in great abundance.

The fundamental problem with traditional nuclear fusion is that the fuel, the heavy hydrogen, must be raised to over one hundred million degrees. At such a tremendous temperature, the electrons are stripped away from the heavy hydrogen atoms leaving a fully ionized state called “plasma.” This plasma must then be held together in order to produce useful amounts of electricity. There are no known construction materials that can withstand such temperatures, so the plasma must be contained by magnetic or inertial confinement. “Magnetic confinement utilizes strong magnetic fields, typically 100,000 times the earth’s magnetic field, arranged in a configuration to prevent the charged particles from leaking out (essentially a ‘magnetic bottle’). Inertial confinement uses powerful lasers or high energy particle beams to compress the fusion fuel.”

Another fundamental problem with hot fusion revolves around “whether a fusion system producing sufficient net energy gain to be attractive as a commercial power source can be sustained and controlled.” While fusion power production has increased from less than one watt to over 10 million watts over the years, we still have yet to witness a net energy gain. Even if this were to be achieved in the near future, the metallurgical requirements that must be met by the surrounding structural materials are extremely demanding and cost prohibitive. Accomplishing a net energy gain in hot fusion will involve the construction of a $1 billion device for experimenting with burning plasma. Add to this the estimate of $300 million per year that the fusion community in the US will require for “significant enhancements of the program” up from the current $230 million. The US is not alone in its fusion expenditure. Concerned about reliance on imported energy, Japan and Europe, respectively, have allotted 1.5 and 3 times the budget that the US currently spends for hot fusion.

The incredible complexity and cost of this process is the precise reason why the announcement of a “cold fusion breakthrough” at the University of Utah a few years ago met with such enthusiasm. If the process could be brought about at room temperatures, the complexity that now prevents the generation of power based on nuclear fusion would disappear.

While billions of dollars and decades of research have been devoted to hot fusion, we are far from mastering this type of energy generation. ” Optimistic projections do not suggest that fusion energy will contribute significantly to energy supply until well into the next century.” Nevertheless, the US Department of Energy’s August 1999 Final Report of the Task Force on Fusion Energy concluded “that we should pursue fusion energy aggressively.”

Tidal Power

Tidal Energy works on the same fundamental principal as the water wheel. In the case of tidal energy, however, the difference in water elevation is caused by the difference between high and low tides. The technology involves building a dam, or barrage, across an estuary to block the incoming tide, the outgoing tide, or both. When the water level on one side of the dam is higher than the level on the other side due to a tidal change, the pressure of the higher water builds. The water is channeled through a turbine in the dam in order to get to the other side, which produces electricity by turning an electric generator.

Tidal energy is being harnessed in several countries around the world, from facilities in Russia to France with 400 kW to 240 MW capacities. Some proposed sites, however, exhibit extraordinary potential. Britain ‘s Severn Estuary and Canada ‘s Bay of Fundy have potential capacities of as much as 8,000 and 30,000 MW, respectively. The Severn Estuary averages an 8.8-meter (26-foot) tidal range and the Bay of Fundy averages a 10.8-meter (32-foot) tidal range, ideal for substantial electricity generation. But the rarity of these exceptionally high tides is the main limitation of this energy source. Considering that “a tidal range of at least 7 meters is required for economical operation and for a sufficient head of water for the turbines,” few places in the world can make a facility’s establishment worthwhile. Since tidal power’s “estimated capacity is 50 times smaller than the world’s hydroelectric power capacity,” it cannot compare to other renewables.

Another constraint to the tidal system is the sheer amount of time that passes in which little electricity can be generated between the rising and falling tides. During these times, the turbines may be used to pump extra water into the basin to prepare for periods of high electricity demand, but not much else can be done in the interim to generate more electricity. By its very nature, a tidal-based energy facility can only generate a maximum of ten hours of electricity per 24-hour day. That means it cannot be expected to supply power at a steady rate or during peak times.

Although the operation and maintenance of a tidal power plant is low, the cost of the initial construction of the facility is prohibitive, so the overall cost of the electricity generated would be quite high. For example, it is estimated that the Severn tidal project with a proposed capacity of 8,640 MW will cost $1,600 per kW, or over $13.8 billion. This cost exceeds that of coal and oil facilities by a considerable amount.

In contrast to the combustion of fossil fuels , the use of tidal energy makes no contribution to global warming. But tidal energy facilities do not come without an environmental price tag. The alteration of the natural cycle of the tides may affect shoreline as well as aquatic ecosystems. Pollution that enters a river upstream from the plant may be trapped in the basin, while the natural erosion and sedimentation pattern of the estuary may be altered. Local tides could decrease by more than a foot in some areas, and the “enhanced mixing of water” could stimulate the growth of organisms, better known for their red tide effect, which paralyze shellfish. So little is known about the potential harm of a tidal energy facility that some people believe “one of the only methods of increasing our knowledge about how tidal barrages affect ecosystems may be the study of the effects after such facilities have been built.” With such uncertainty, tidal power appears to be an unproven alternative energy candidate.

Assuming that the high costs and the environmental issues were circumvented, the problem of distributing the energy generated by tidal facilities would still exist. Since the collection sites are limited and fixed at unalterable locations, the power they generate must still be distributed throughout the inland areas serviced by the plant via a transmission grid system. The distribution of the energy across vast inland spaces presents formidable problems. This would make it extremely difficult to replace the existing energy infrastructure, and our entire electricity needs could never be met by tidal power alone.

“Worldwide, approximately 3000 gigawatts (1 gigawatt = 1 GW = 1 billion watts) of energy is continuously available from the action of tides. Due to the constraints outlined above, it has been estimated that only 2% or 60 GW can potentially be recovered for electricity generation.” Despite tidal power’s inability to replace conventional energy sources, it will not be dismissed in the near future. Britain , India , and North Korea have planned to supplement their grid with this renewable energy source. Meanwhile, “a university study in January [1998] said New Zealand could become the first country in the world to run solely on fossil fuel-free power if it exploited the tides on its long coastlines as well as its plentiful wind and sunshine. But while the wind may not constantly blow and the sun may not shine 24 hours a day, the advantage of the tides is that they never cease.”

Solar energy giants discovering Ontario

A coming green-energy law and the promise of long-term incentives for producers of renewable power have put Ontario on the radar of some big-name solar companies looking for certainty in a volatile marketplace.

This month alone, Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc., one of the world’s leading suppliers of next-generation solar modules, and solar power supplier Recurrent Energy Inc. of San Francisco have acquired and plan to develop multi-megawatt solar projects in Ontario.

Meanwhile, San Jose, Calif.-based Nanosolar Inc. tells the Toronto Star that it is seriously eyeing Ontario as the location of a regional assembly plant for its thin-film solar modules. Nanosolar is also working with French energy giant EDF Energies Nouvelles to map out project potential in the province.

“The Ontario policies are very promising and we are now actively tracking this,” said Nanosolar founder and chief executive Martin Roscheisen. The new prices the province is willing to pay for solar power, he said, “could tip the balance in favour of investment in Ontario.”

The Star has learned that at least two other firms – one of them domestic – are planning to set up solar-cell manufacturing operations in Ontario.

It’s the early response the McGuinty government was hoping to get when it tabled its Green Energy Act last month and, more recently, announced a new renewable-power purchase program that offers a generous premium for green power – electrons that flow from solar panels, wind turbines, hydro facilities and biomass systems.

The Ontario Power Authority has proposed European-style “feed-in tariffs” that would see it pay, as part of a 20-year contract, 80.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power that comes from a residential rooftop solar photovoltaic system.

As systems grow larger the feed-in tariff declines. The power authority would pay 71.3 cents for rooftop systems up to 100 kilowatts, dropping to 63.5 cents for systems up to 500 kilowatts and 53.9 cents for anything above that. Such systems would likely be found on the rooftops of schools, commercial buildings and big-box stores.

The lowest tariff, 44.3 cents, applies to “ground mount” systems that don’t exceed 10 megawatts. This would apply to the massive solar farms that sprawl across acres of empty fields.

All prices replace a fixed 42-cent tariff that applied to all system categories that existed under a previous program, which itself was a continental first when introduced two years ago.

Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy, said the new tariffs make Ontario an attractive market for his company, which yesterday purchased a project pipeline totalling 350 megawatts from Chicago-based UPC Solar.

Harris said Recurrent and other large developers are taking advantage of the economic downtown to consolidate the market. The “vast majority” of projects acquired from UPC, he said, are based in Ontario.

“Adding a pipeline like this to our business increases our bargaining power,” said Harris, explaining that economies of scale allow the company to lower costs by placing bulk orders for solar modules. “Our goal is to develop over 100 megawatts and get it into commercial operation by 2012.”

In early March, First Solar purchased a pipeline of more than 2,000 megawatts of solar projects from Hayward, Calif.-based OptiSolar Inc. in a stock deal valued at $400 million (U.S.). About 10 per cent of those projects are based in Ontario.

Not all developers, however, are convinced that the tariffs are high enough to lure the kind of investment and green-collar jobs the government is counting on. Though praising the rooftop tariffs, some say the tariff for the large ground-mount systems is too low in the current market environment, where the cost of capital is simply too high to make such projects economically feasible.

“It’s just a bit low at this point,” said Ron Mantay, country manager for SunEdison Canada, which hopes to build several large rooftop and utility-scale ground systems in the province.

“It’s the utility scale projects that are the key to job creation and cost reduction, and the current proposed rules might not be enough to motivate manufacturers to shop here in Ontario.”

Other developers that have contacted the Star say they would need a tariff of 50 cents to get their projects financed and built in the current market climate, or, alternatively, loan guarantees that would lower their cost of borrowing.

“No fields, no factory,” said one backer of a manufacturer that wants to lay roots in Ontario.

The power authority says the tariffs have only been proposed and could change after eight weeks of consultation with industry players. “Anyone having concerns with the proposed pricing should provide their feedback to the agency,” said energy ministry spokeswoman Amy Tang.

The trick for the government, experts say, is to find a price that doesn’t overly reward developers but doesn’t block development, manufacturing and ultimately job creation.

It’s a difficult balancing act in a turbulent economy when credit markets can ease just as quickly as they tighten, and when today’s scary cost realities likely aren’t a reflection development costs one or two years from now. Solar module prices, for example, are expected to fall dramatically this year and into 2010.

Roscheisen, for one, said the 44 cents proposed for ground systems was “wisely chosen” because it will weed out the strong, which have an easier time raising capital, from the weak, which as riskier bets end up paying more.

He also said that offering long-term contracts under a feed-in tariff model is superior to U.S. approaches that tend to be based on upfront tax incentives that create short-term sales spurts.

A feed-in tariff, said Roscheisen, “makes the market predictable and thus investible for the kinds of long-term, fundamental technology improvements and investments that will ultimately make solar a mainstream energy source.

“We congratulate Ontario for its forward-looking thinking,” he said.
Courtesy Tyler Hamilton