Wind power is a steal: Big deals in Midwest show wind’s affordability


Xcel Energy announced deals this week that will boost its use of wind power in the Upper Midwest by 33 percent, demonstrating that wind is increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels, even natural gas.

The Minneapolis-based utility is buying into three 200-megawatt wind farm projects, enough to power 180,000 homes, saying they will save its customers $180 million over 20 years. Xcel already has 1,800 megawatts of wind capacity up and running in the region, but it’s hungry for more.

From an Xcel press release:

“Wind prices are extremely competitive right now, offering lower costs than other possible resources, like natural gas plants,” said [Xcel official Dave] Sparby. “These projects offer a great hedge against rising and often volatile fuel prices.”

At the same time, the projects will reduce carbon emissions by 1.2 million tons each year in Xcel Energy’s Upper Midwest service territory, where the company already is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

From the Minnesota Star Tribune:

“It’s a huge announcement,” said Joe Sullivan, a regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a St. Paul-based industry group. “What it shows is that when it comes to adding new [generation] resources, wind is floating up to the top. It is beating out other resources in the market.”

Xcel said it will buy power from two planned wind farms near Windom, Minn., and near Jamestown, N.D., being developed by Geronimo Energy of Edina, and take ownership of another wind farm planned by RES Americas Development near Austin, Minn.

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed, but Geronimo said that each of its 200-megawatt wind farms will cost about $350 million. All three projects are expected to be operating in 2015 or earlier.


Solar-Powered Modular Relocatable Building Wins Top Eco Award

Solar-Powered Modular Relocatable Building Wins Top Eco Award (via Clean Technica)

This article originally published on RenewEconomy Blue Planet Buildings, a Sydney based “solar energy building company” has won the Australian Business award for Best Eco Product in 2013 for a solar-powered, modular and relocatable building. Blue…

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Wind Energy Produces Water, Halves Cost

US companies Associated Wind Developers and Water Management Group have developed a technology that they say can provide low-cost freshwater.

Wind4Water partners wind turbines with water desalination plants to create a pre-engineered, modular facility that the companies say can be deployed around the world to address the global water shortage.

The first project has been sited for Cape Verde, Africa, which has one of the lowest groundwater levels on the continent. Once implemented, the technology will reduce dependency on fossil fuels and allow the growing country to meet new demands for infrastructure and agriculture, according to Associated Wind Developers and Water Management Group.

Historically, communities that depend on desalinization plants for their water supply have relied on fossil fuels shipped from other countries. Not only does wind energy reduce dependency on foreign sources, it can also generate water at half the cost, the companies say.

Additionally, the marriage of wind turbines with desalinization plants addresses a historic criticism of wind energy in that storage of wind energy is expensive. In the Wind4Water model, excess energy is stored in the form of fresh water, which the companies say can be easily and inexpensively stored.

Brian Kuhn says his company, Associated Wind Developers of Plymouth, Mass., hopes to partner with nonprofits and investors in scaling the technology worldwide.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2013, the water supply crisis is one of the world’s greatest risks, IBM South America’s Ahmed Simjee writes in an Environmental Leader guest column published in May. In terms of likelihood, water availability (or lack thereof) is ranked fourth highest risk to global security and in terms of impact it is rated as the second highest, he says.

The rise of mega cities is placing skyrocketing new demand on water supplies. By 2025, two-thirds of the world is projected to face water scarcity, Simjee writes.

In April, Coca-Cola partnered with WaterAid to provide safe drinking water to one of the poorest suburbs of Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou, in western Africa, and in two rural communities in southern Ethiopia.


Walgreens Taking on Big Boxes for Solar Energy Leadership

(Photo by Gary Allman via Creative Commons)

While big-box retailers like Walmart and Ikea are nationally known for their adoption of renewable energy, the drug store chain Walgreens is quickly joining their ranks.

The Deerfield, Illinois-based company is already one of the nation’s retail leaders in the installation of rooftop solar panels. And the company recently announced it will be working together with Chicago-based solar developer SoCore Energy to put solar panels on top of more than 200 stores located primarily in California and the Northeast. Walgreens already has solar panels on about 150 stores.

“We are committed to reducing our carbon footprint and leading the retail industry in the use of green technology,” said Thomas Connolly, Walgreens’ vice president of facilities development. Walgreens will provide the space for the panels while SoCore will own, operate and maintain them. The two companies launched their partnership in 2011 with a solar installation on 53 Walgreens stores in Ohio.

According to statistics gathered by the Solar Energy Industries Association, Walgreens ranked second last summer in the number of solar systems installed. It had 134, compared to Walmart’s 144. Walgreens ranked 10th among all commercial entities for installed solar capacity. At that time, Walgreens had installed enough solar panels to generate 8,163 kilowatts.

The nation’s leader, Walmart, a year ago had installed enough panels to produce about 65,000 kilowatts, and recently announced plans to install solar arrays on ten more stores in Maryland.

Walgreens estimates that the upcoming installation will produce about 13.5 million kilowatt hours annually, roughly equal to the electricity used in 1,400 homes.

The solar panels will likely reduce energy use only marginally in a given store, said Pierre Bull, a renewable energy policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, speaking from San Francisco. He calculated that the new panels might meet 10 to 20 percent of the energy demands in a typical Walgreens store.

The rather small size of a Walgreens building and rooftop – compared to, say, your typical Walmart or Costco – “is the limiting factor” in how much power Walgreens’ solar panels will be able to contribute to the overall energy picture, he said.

That said, Walgreens is “doing a lot with their lighting,” which accounts for a lot of the stores’ energy use, Bull said. The stores typically use energy-stingy 25-watt bulbs, for example. As the stores continue to reduce their overall electricity use, he said, “They could get their percentage (of energy derived from solar panels) up quite a bit.”

Walgreens picked states for this round of solar panels based on where it found the most generous financial incentives, according to a SoCore spokeswoman. And the company intends to continue adding solar panels to its 8,000 stores.

The falling prices of solar panels in the past few years have made solar energy ever more attractive, especially to large electricity customers like retailers, according to Bull. “It’s really cost-effective at that commercial scale.”

But cutting electricity use and the bill that accompanies it are just a couple of the benefits of Walgreens’ solar installation, Bull noted.

“To the extent that the solar panels are visible to customers, the visibility has an impact. People see the technology becoming more mainstream.”

And it could score green points for the company, a point probably not lost on Walgreens and the other companies on the solar bandwagon, he observed.

“Stores are very cognizant that customers are more eco-conscious than they were 10 or 15 years ago,” and they want to connect with that value system, he said.

“The visibility of solar makes that statement.”


India Unveils Plans for Massive Concentrated Solar Power

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has approved India’s largest solar project as part of its emissions trading scheme.

The Clean Development Mechanism’s (CDM) latest project is a 100MW concentrated solar power (CSP) installation to be constructed in Rajasthan.

Despite countless delays in the construction process India-based Reliance Power will complete the project under Phase 1 of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), India’s renewable energy programme.

Seven projects were awarded under Phase 1. A total of 470MW of CSP projects, out of which 320MW of projects were delayed forcing the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) to extend the deadline to next year.

As a large, emerging economy, India faces big challenges relating to energy and climate change. On the one side, the country has hundreds of millions of people without access to electricity and an economy demanding more energy to power growth.

The country’s National Solar Mission set a goal of increasing production of photovoltaic electricity to 1,000MW per year and deploying at least 1,000MW of solar thermal power generation with an overall aim of making solar energy competitive with fossil-based energy.

The JNNSM has set the country a target of installing 20,000MW of grid connected solar power by 2022.

Solar Developments

Experts say this could be the last major CSP project in India. The technology requires large capital investment and interest appears to be fading around the world, with Desertec’s demise the most high profile casualty of this transition.

In India, ten developers constructing projects worth 315MW have also decided to change technologies due to the drop in price for PV.

“No new CSP projects have been announced in India,” Madhavan Nampoothiri, founder and director of RESolve Energy Consultants told RTCC. “I don’t see any interest in CSP projects from developers.

“Despite its advantages like energy storage and smooth generation of power, CSP is slowly losing its prominence in the solar sector not only in India, but all over the world,” he added.

Others are not so sure, saying this is a temporary blip. “CSP has a very good future in India – just one successful commissioning of a project will be enough to boost the confidence of investors,” said Jeevan Jethani, principal scientific officer at the MNRE.

The Project

The project, located in Dhursar, Jaisalmer District, Rajasthan, is expected to generate 2.15 million carbon credits during the initial 10 years of operations.

The installation is expected to sell power from the plant to the grid at Rs. 11.97 ($0.20) per kWh for ten years.

The total project cost is estimated to be Rs. 158 crore (approximately $29 million) and was part financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the US Export-Import Bank. ADB loaned Reliance $103 million.

Including the current registration, the company claims a total renewable energy portfolio of 1,000MW.