Wind turbine ‘Innovation Center’ launches in South Carolina

New facility boasts world’s largest wind turbine drivetrain testing capabilities.

Duke Energy, together with SCE&G, joined Clemson University on November 21 to dedicate what is claimed to be the world’s most-advanced energy systems testing and research center. The SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, located at the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI) campus, is capable of full-scale, highly accelerated mechanical and electrical testing of advanced drivetrain systems for wind turbines.
Testing and research at the Innovation Center will encompass many facets of the electrical market to help transform the electrical infrastructure into a more distributed, resilient and efficient system. Focus areas include: energy storage; solar energy; wind energy; traditional energy sources, such as natural gas and diesel systems; smart-grid and micro-grid technologies; fuel cells; aerospace systems; electric vehicle charging systems; and grid security, among others.

The Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI) campus is capable of full-scale, highly accelerated mechanical and electrical testing of advanced drivetrain systems for wind turbines. Photo credit: Mahmood Fazal.

“The Clemson testing facility represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-growing global industry,” said Daniel Poneman, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy, who was in attendance at the dedication ceremony. “Developing America’s vast renewable energy resources is an important part of the Energy Department’s ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.”

Duke Energy named the 15MW hardware-in-the-loop grid simulator the Duke Energy eGRID — Electrical Grid Research Innovation and Development — center. The eGRID, housed in the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, supports education, research and economic development to speed new electrical technologies to market.

“Clemson University is renowned for groundbreaking research, supercomputing, engineering and workforce development, but the Innovation Center and eGRID take the university to another level,” said James F. Barker, Clemson University president. “The fact two such prestigious companies have put their names on this building undoubtedly will help us attract additional industry partners.”

Duke Energy is contributing $5 million to help fund laboratory infrastructure and educational program development and fund a Smart Grid Technology Endowed Chair. Furthermore, Duke Energy employees will provide the center with ongoing technical expertise and resources. SCE&G supported the center with a $3.5 million gift. Duke Energy’s endowment was matched by the SmartState Program to establish two distinguished professorships.


Flexible solar-powered battery can be woven into clothing to power wearable electronics

Smartwatches and glasses are part of the exciting emerging class of electronics known as wearables, but, as electronics, they still need to be removed from the wearer’s body from time to time for charging.

A team of researchers from South Korea set out to create a battery that could be embedded and clothes and solar powers, allowing people to use wearable electronics for long periods of time without the need for recharging. The team says in a Nano Letters paper (subscription required) that their final battery can compete with conventional versions, even after being folded thousands of times. They also say it is inexpensive compared to competing textile batteries.

The researchers started with strands of yarn, which they then wrapped in nickel, carbon and other materials that make up a battery. Then they added lightweight solar cells.

Integrating batteries into fabric could do more than put off or eliminate charging. Wearables, which are built to augment or take over smartphone tasks, generally eat up a lot of power. Engineers have to decide between integrating a bigger battery or sacrificing battery life. Bigger batteries lead to a bulkier look.


Via Trucks will offer solar-power tonneau for 10 extra miles of EV range

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Sebastian Blanco / AOL

Via Motors knows a thing or two about standing on the shoulders of others. The plug-in hybrid utility vehicle company’s entire business plan is to take big General Motors vehicles and convert them to something with a plug, with the support of Bob Lutz (pictured, with the VTrux, a converted Chevrolet Silverado). Here at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the company isn’t on the press release schedule until tomorrow, but the brand new solar tonneau cove is just sitting out on the convention center floor. So we went to take a look.

The industrial-grade solar panels will take a “fair amount” of abuse.

Jeffrey Esfeld, Via’s director of national fleet sales and business development, told AutoblogGreen that the the idea is to use all the real estate available over the truck bed to increase the vehicle’s efficiency. The industrial-grade solar panels will take a “fair amount” of abuse, Esfeld said. The new solar tonneau will be available in two versions, 800- and 400-watts, that will both help power the car’s battery or, if used at a work site, any power tools running off of the truck’s outboard power outlet. If you park the truck in the sun all day, the solar panels can add up to six (in the 400-watt model) and ten (800) miles of range to the battery pack. That’s why the company’s slogan is “an electric truck that doesn’t need a plug.”

Via will not be announcing the price tomorrow, but since the truck and tonneau will be available in March, we don’t expect we will have to wait too long. The truck is supposed to start at $79,000.


Texas city’s government uses 100% renewable energy

Photo: hellothomas/Flickr

Earlier this month the city of Austin, Texas made a big green move. The municipal government transitioned all its buildings — from libraries to fire stations — to 100 percent renewable energy, making it the largest local government to be powered completely by renewables.

The city will subscribe to about 400 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy through Austin Energy’s GreenChoice renewable energy program. Nearly all of the energy will be produced at a wind farm in West Texas.

The move achieves a major goal in the city’s climate action plan that was adopted in 2007 and called for municipal buildings to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2012. It’s estimated that the city government will reduce its carbon emissions from 269,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2007 to 50,000 in 2012. The Austin Chronicle reports that the government was previously only purchasing about 20 percent of its electricity from renewables. And while the transition has come at a cost, it’s one the city thinks is worth it in the long run.

The city’s giant leap forward won’t be cheap – about $6.9 million annually. The price alone may explain why City Council passed the budget measure with zero fanfare, but it nevertheless puts Mayor Lee Leffingwell in good stead for his 2012 re-election bid because he was a prominent co-sponsor of the 2007 resolution introduced by then-Mayor Will Wynn. While council as a whole was silent on its full-tilt transition to renewables, Council member and renewable energy ally Chris Riley did not hesitate to applaud the move when asked to comment. “Austin has carved out a role as a worldwide leader in environmental protection, and reducing our emissions is a critical part of that role,” said Riley, who was out of town this week and responded by email. “Full participation in GreenChoice sets a positive standard for our community, and keeps us on track toward achieving a 100 percent reduction of our emissions by 2020.”

It’s a goal the city (the city council, at least) shouldn’t be shy about touting.


Qatar to boost renewable energy with reservoir rooftop solar panels

In a bid to generate more renewable energy, Qatar’s state-run electricity and water company has announced plans to install solar panels atop dozens of water reservoirs across the country.

Speaking at the opening of the Solar Qatar Summit on Monday, Saleh Hamad Al-Marri, the head of Kahramaa’s renewable energy technologies section, said that the public utility wants to install solar panels on top of more than 85 reservoirs in Qatar, one of the world’s top natural gas producers.

These facilities are used to store the country’s drinking water and typically have rooftops that are hundreds of square metres in size, Al-Marri said in a brief interview with Doha News.

This approach means Kahramaa can use property and transmission lines it already owns, saving on construction costs. He said Kahramaa is still in the planning stages, but that tenders could be issued in the next two or three months.

Qatar, which is among the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emitters on the planet, aims to have 2 percent, or 200 megawatts, of its power generated from solar sources by 2020, officials said at Monday’s conference.

Though that target has be touted as early as last December, there have been few details released about how Kahramaa plans to achieve that goal. But what is clear is that the country is taking a different approach than its regional neighbors.

‘Scattered’ model

Rather than relying on massive solar energy plants, Al-Marri said Qatar is taking advantage of the “scattered,” or decentralized, model, which involves generating electricity from a large number of relatively smaller sources, rather than a handful of mega-facilities.

That model stands in contrast to several centralized projects recently unveiled elsewhere in the region, including planned and completed projects in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Last month, for example, Dubai flipped the switch on the region’s largest solar power plant, according to media reports. The 59-acre facility is the first phase of a larger Solar Park project that is expected to ultimately grow to 9,885 acres, Gulf Business reports.

While he didn’t hint at the price tag of the project, Al-Marri said minimizing costs is a key part of the project – especially in a country awash in natural gas, which is burned to produce the bulk of Qatar’s power.

But along with the environmental benefits and related boost to Qatar’s image, Al-Marri said there are financial advantages to adding more renewable energy capacity. He noted that Qatar’s coffers would be better off if it sold its natural gas at market rates, rather than burning it at home and selling it at a subsidized rate to consumers.

The sales pitch was echoed by several solar equipment vendors attending this week’s conference who spoke to Doha News.

Tough sell

Earlier this month, Oman’s oil and gas minister raised the issue of artificially low petrol and electricity prices in the Gulf, saying such subsidies encourage wasteful use of resources. While Al-Marri suggested in passing that Qatar “must cut its consumption” of electricity, he didn’t specifically discuss changing existing subsidies.

He did, however, hint that the country’s natural resources make shifting to other forms of – presumably more expensive – power a somewhat tough sell:

“Everybody knows Qatar is the biggest LNG exporter in the world, which makes our job a little bit difficult. Prices of electricity in Qatar are cheap relative to other countries in the region and global prices.”

Separately, several published reports also say that government officials have an additional goal of producing 20 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2024.

While that definition could theoretically include a wide mix of clean power options, Al-Marri said solar “is the most viable” renewable power option in Qatar’s climate.

As the country prepares to increase its renewable energy generating capacity, Qatar is also scaling up its solar equipment manufacturing capabilities. Qatar Solar Tech, which is 70 per cent owned by Qatar Foundation, is constructing facilities to build solar panels and related components, as well as a solar farm on a 297-acre property in Ras Laffan Industrial City.

The project is still in its early phases, but officials said Monday that they expect to ship their first commercial order – several thousand tons of polysilicon, a base ingredient in the production of solar panels – in the second half of 2014.