A Solution to Solar Power Intermittency

Converting methane to an alternative fuel using energy from the sun could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

Solar fuel: A parabolic dish concentrates sunlight in a prototype device that could be used to upgrade natural gas.

Burning natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal, but it still produces large amounts of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. A novel device being developed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) could reduce those emissions by 20 percent by using heat from the sun to convert natural gas to an alternative fuel called syngas, a lower carbon fuel.

The process avoids the intermittency problem of solar panels, whose output depends on the weather and the time of day. The fuel produced by the new device can be stored and used whenever it’s needed to generate a steady supply of electricity.

The researchers’ goal is to use the device to produce electricity at six cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity, which is competitive with fossil fuels.

The device uses a parabolic dish to concentrate light from the sun, producing heat. That heat provides the energy needed to transform methane into syngas, which is a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Water is heated up to produce steam, which is then used in a process called steam reforming, which is used in oil refining and other industrial processes. During steam reforming, steam reacts with methane, the main component of natural gas, to form syngas.

Syngas can be burned in natural gas power plants to generate electricity. The syngas can also be processed to make liquid fuels such as diesel—it’s easier to convert syngas to liquid fuel than it is to convert methane. This could be useful for decreasing oil imports, but the carbon emission benefits aren’t clear. The researchers haven’t yet determined whether the technology will reduce carbon emissions compared to petroleum, in part because carbon dioxide is emitted during the process of converting syngas to liquid fuel.

While it doesn’t completely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions, it’s closer to being practical than some other approaches of using solar power to generate fuels, says James Miller, the head of the Sunshine to Petrol program at Sandia National Laboratory, who isn’t involved in the work at PNNL. Steam reforming is an established process that doesn’t require any breakthroughs in catalysts or materials. “[The PNNL] technology is attractive because it’s something that could potentially be done in the near term to move forward in reducing carbon emissions,” he says.

In contrast, Miller is developing technology that would convert carbon dioxide and water to diesel fuel, which requires much more energy and new materials, and will take longer to develop (see “Turning Carbon Dioxide into Fuel” and “Demonstrating a CO2 Recycler”).

An alternative to the new technology is to use steam from concentrated sunlight to directly produce electricity via steam turbines. In such a system, heat can be stored by heating up molten salts, which can be used to generate steam after the sun goes down (see “Cheap Solar Power at Night”). A potential advantage of the new approach is that the syngas could be used to generate either electricity or liquid fuels, depending on which proves to be more economical, says Robert Wegeng, who heads the work at PNNL.

The process is more efficient than producing electricity from solar panels. The first prototype stores 63 percent of the energy in the sunlight that hits it in the form of chemical energy. Burning the fuel in a power plant will waste about half of that energy as heat, bringing the overall efficiency down to about 30 percent, but that’s still double the efficiency of typical solar panels. Storing solar energy in the form of chemical bonds in syngas could prove cheaper than storing that energy in batteries, at least in the near future.

Yet the system in its current form is still likely to be too expensive to compete with fossil fuels. To lower costs, the researchers are working to improve the efficiency still more, which would increase the amount of fuel each device could make, so fewer would be needed. They are starting by increasing the temperature at which it operates, which requires improving the materials the device is made of. The researchers are also working to improve the performance of a system that preheats incoming fuel—a heat exchanging system that flows the methane through microscopic channels.

Improvements are also being made to the system for concentrating the sun, with the goal of making it cheaper to manufacture. This is being done by a spinoff company called Solar Thermochemical. It’s developing both parabolic dishes, like those used in the first prototype, as well large fields of mirrors that focus light on a central tower, such as the solar thermal plants being built at Ivanpah by BrightSource Energy.

Source: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/514086/a-solution-to-solar-power-intermittency

BMW offers solar panel packages for i3 buyers’ homes through SOLARWATT

For many early electric car owners, powering their vehicle using solar power is the ultimate goal. Smartly, BMW has recognized the pleasure derived from powering one’s EV from solar-generated electricity. Accordingly, the German automaker has teamed up with solar power company SOLARWATT to supply BMW EV buyers with rooftop photovoltaic solutions, for a nominal fee.

While simplifying the solar power process is a new twist, automakers simplifying EV ownership with an outside partnership isn’t. Just last year, Ford and Best Buy’s Geek Squad combined forces to provide Ford Focus Electric and Fusion Energi buyers with 240 volt charging stations in their homes. Though the energy was pulled off the grid, the concept was rather genius: take the complexity and confusion out of EV ownership.

The BMW move takes that idea one step further and allows buyers of the soon-to-be-unveiled BMW “i” electric vehicle brand to harness the power of the sun. BMW brags, “The BMW i3 will be the first electric vehicle on the market that has been designed specifically for electric mobility from the outset.” What that means exactly, we don’t quite know.

Customers will need to derive a great deal of satisfaction from powering their BMW i3 off of the sun, though. Solar home systems are rather expensive. Yes, the systems do create energy, offsetting energy bills; an average system rarely generates enough over its lifetime to supplant the cost of its construction and installation. But that could change as the technology matures and evolves.

BMW has not yet said in which markets the SOLARWATT systems will be available, nor has it indicated costs. We suspect that the SOLARWATT solar package would be less money than one pieced together from scratch, as BMW likely beat up SOLARWATT a bit on costs.

If you have to ask, however, you’re probably not going to be able to afford – or justify – it.

Read more: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/power-your-bimmer-off-the-sun-bmw-offers-solar-panel-packages-for-i3-buyers-homes-through-solarwatt/#ixzz2Rlcv9n1B

Old Phone In, Cash Out: ecoATM’s

With all the new models of phones and pads being introduced every day, here comes ecoATM: put in your old phone and it’ll analyze it, find it a new home or recycle the components, determine a valu… and offer you cash for your trouble!

Largest Southern Hemisphere Wind Farm Opens in Victoria

A joint venture between Australia’s AGL and New Zealand’s Meridian Energy has opened the southern hemisphere’s largest wind farm in Macarthur, Victoria.

The Vestas V112-3.0 MW wind turbines installed in the plant.
(Credit: Vastas)

The AU$1 billion Macarthur Wind Farm has opened in Victoria three months ahead of schedule, giving our green energy capabilities a massive leg up. Able to generate up to 420 Megawatts of electricity — enough to power 220,000 homes — wind turbine manufacturer Vestas said that the plant brings Australia’s cumulative wind energy capacity to over 50 per cent.

The plant was constructed by Vestas and Leighton as part of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, which aims to see at least 20 per cent of Australia’s energy supplied by renewable resources by 2020. Wind power is one of the cleanest sources of energy available.

It was also the first project to make use of the Vestas V112-3.0 MW wind turbine.

This has not stopped locals from protesting the wind farm, due to feeling ill effects such as insomnia, headaches and nausea caused by sub-audible infra-sound. However, professor Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney called these symptoms “a psychogenic phenomenon being whipped up in communities of people who are often envious of the good fortune of their neighbours who have ‘drought proofed’ the farm with annual turbine rental windfalls, and who mysteriously never get the symptoms themselves”.

The Musselroe, Tasmania, wind farm, which will add 168 Megawatts to Tasmania’s power supply, is still on target to be completed and opened in July this year.

Source: http://www.cnet.com.au/largest-southern-hemisphere-wind-farm-opens-in-victoria-339343951.htm

Las Vegas Flips Switch on Enormous Solar Power Project

Tom Perrigo, chief sustainability officer of the city of Las Vegas, “flips the switch” on their new three-megawatt solar panel installation on April 18, 2013

With the action of Tom Perrigo “flipping the switch” on their newfound solar panel installation, city officials are celebrating for the installation would help provide energy to a nearby wastewater treatment plant. The ground-mounted panels have been tightly packed on 25-acres of city-owned land near Vegas Valley Drive and Nellis Boulevard. This site had previously been a vacant strip of land the city had used as a buffer for its wastewater treatment plant, which processes all of the city’s wastewater on its way to Lake Mead.

During the dedication ceremony, Mayor Carolyn Goodman had announced that the project was known to being part of the city’s comprehensive sustainability plan, which includes renewable energy, energy efficiency, recycling and waste management. “It’s all about sustainability for the city and our citizens to make sure that we’re using every resource that we can to keep down the costs of energy,” she said. “The council wants the financial resources we have available to go as far as they can.”

The $20 million project will generate 6 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to provide approximately 20% of the treatment plant’s power. “Because the plant accounts for a third of the city’s annual energy bill, the solar panels will provide a big savings,” Tom Perrigo, the chief sustainability officer, said. “Our energy spending breaks down to about a third for wastewater treatment, a third for street lights and a third for city buildings,” he said. “By providing solar here at this facility, we’re able to make a big impact on the city’s overall energy consumption.”

Source: http://solarecon.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/las-vegas-flips-power-on-15000-solar-panels/