Google Will Hit 100 Percent Renewable Energy This Year

The company is primarily powered by wind and solar energy.

By: Allee Manning

Google has announced that after 10 years a carbon-neutral company, it will be able to brag running on entirely renewable energy at the end of 2017. That means that all of the electricity the company consumes in both its data centers and offices are provided by wind and solar energy.

As exciting as this milestone is, it hardly comes as a surprise. The company first announced its intention to hit this milestone last year. It was at this point it also first claimed that it is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world. Announced in Google’s 2017 environmental report, Google says it has created “new energy purchasing models that others can follow” and that “we’ve helped drive wide-scale global adoption of clean energy.”

In addition to being an obvious PR boon, the company says its mission of full sustainability fits in with its larger mission. (It also makes the fact that as recently as 2015 Google alone reportedly consumed as much energy as the entire city of San Francisco in a year way more palatable.)

“We believe Google can build tools to improve people’s lives while reducing our dependence on natural resources and fossil fuels,” Google executive Urs Hölzle said in a blog post.

One step the company has recently taken in marrying its ethos of sustainability with its products is a new initiative to equip Google Street View vehicles with air quality sensors.

In addition to its goal of being run by renewable energy, Google is also working on achieving zero waste to landfill. Nearly half of the company’s 14 data centers have already reached this goal, according to Hölzle’s 2017 Google Environmental report released on Tuesday.

Google announced in July it would buy its first wind farm from Norway, Tellenes wind farm.

Per Reuters:

Google last year signed a 12-year deal to buy 100 percent of the plant’s output. The company, which has four European data centres in Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland, said the wind power will be used to supply one or several of them.

“We’ll purchase power as soon as the wind farm becomes fully operational, which we expect will take place in early September 2017,” a Google spokesman told Reuters.

Photos via Getty Images / Justin Sullivan, Getty Images / David Paul Morris


Indigenous Communities Embracing Clean Energy, Creating Thousands of Jobs

National survey shows Indigenous clean energy a money maker

By: Margo McDiarmid

Wayne Sabourin, former chief of Pic Mobert First Nation in northwestern Ontario, shows off his communty’s hydroelectric facility. (Margo McDiarmid/CBC)

An increasing number of Indigenous communities are becoming partners in renewable energy projects in Canada and creating thousands of jobs as they do it.

A new national survey shows nearly one fifth of the country’s power is provided by facilities fully or partly owned and run by Indigenous communities.

It represents a dramatic increase in the last decade in renewable energy projects like hydro, wind and solar power.

The author of the report, Chris Henderson, says the real surprise for him is the amount of employment that clean power is creating — 15,300 direct jobs for Indigenous workers who have earned $842 million in employment income in the last eight years.

“That is a huge number, because if you have a job you are contributing to the economy, it’s a real job, it’s honest work,” he said in an interview with CBC News. “The number of jobs created is the story of how our country is changing and how Indigenous people are part of a clean energy future.”

There are now 152 medium to large renewable energy projects with Indigenous involvement. That’s up from approximately 20 projects in 2008.

Each medium to large project generates electricity for at least 400 to 500 homes.

There are also another 1,200 smaller projects built with Indigenous participation that generate electricity for local communities.

Renewable energy projects with First Nations involvement.

The survey was conducted by Henderson’s company, Lumos Energy, which provides advice to Indigenous communities on how to get involved in renewable energy. It looked at projects and talked to the communities where they are located to create this first-ever national snapshot of the growing industry.

“We thought there is an untold story here,” said Henderson. “There are a lot of stories in terms of how Indigenous communities are doing right now. The challenges are there, and we wanted to show that Indigenous communities are being partners in the new economy of Canada, in this case the clean energy economy.”

The vast majority of the projects are hydroelectric (63 per cent) followed by wind power (24 per cent), with the remaining projects (13 per cent) a mix of solar and biomass.

The 18.9-megawatt Gitchi Animki Hydroelectric Project in White River, Ont., run by the Pic Mobert First Nation, officially opened in July 2016.

The Gitchi Animki hydroelectric plant, located in White River, Ont., is an example of the growing trend.

The $200-million plant is 50 per cent owned by the Ojibwa community of Pic Mobert and was built in partnership with Regional Power Incorporated.

Former Pic Mobert chief Wayne Sabourin was involved in starting the project and getting it built.

He took CBC for a tour of the project last February. He called it a game changer for the community of 350 people.

“There was employment during construction,” said Sabourin. “It exposed band members to construction who have never been on construction, who actually got to work on the site, and it will generate revenue for us to use in the community.”

The 18.9-megawatt project, which includes two generating stations on the White River, has been feeding electricity into the Ontario power grid since 2016.

“It taught me that we should be in more business,” said Sabourin. “It taught me we can do more things, we don’t have to just sit there and wait for handouts, and go after things we don’t normally go after.”

Members of the Lubicon Lake Band in Alberta help to install a solar panel. (Melina Laboucan-Massimo/Greenpeace)

But clean energy projects still aren’t easily available to many small communities that lack training and the know-how to get started. The report also highlights big gaps in the country, with 86 per cent of all the Indigenous hydro, wind and solar projects being built in B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

Nonetheless, Henderson considers clean energy an important step in the national efforts toward reconciliation.

“By using natural renewable resources on traditional territory, that Indigenous communities are commercial partners in a project, it’s beginning to walk the talk of reconciliation.”


Microorganisms to Convert Renewable Energy to Pipelineable Natural Gas

By Maurice Smith

Image: Maurice Smith/JWN

Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has installed a novel bioreactor system that will be used to test power-to-gas technology at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. The project is the first of its kind in the United States converting hydrogen generated from excess renewable power into pipeline quality methane.

Power-to-gas technology is a cutting-edge method of storing excess renewable energy, according to Los Angeles-based SoCalGas, the largest natural gas distribution utility in the United States.

Last month, researchers at NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) in Golden, Colorado, installed a 25-foot tall bioreactor system, which will be used to produce renewable natural gas from excess renewable electricity using archaea microorganisms that consume hydrogen and carbon dioxide and emit methane.

“Power-to-gas technology can significantly increase the overall amount of renewable energy we use, by providing an economical method of storing excess solar-and wind-generated electricity,” Jeff Reed, director of business strategy and advanced technology at SoCalGas, said in a statement. “And this technology takes advantage of existing infrastructure, and can hold excess renewables for days, weeks or months to shift solar from day to night, address weather patterns and even seasonal patterns.”

“Archaea are uniquely capable of handling fluctuating levels of hydrogen produced by electrolyzers as wind and solar generation systems cycle up and down,” added Kevin Harrison, senior engineer for NREL. “That’s in part why we believe this technology could provide a superior large-scale, cost-effective solution for storing excess renewable energy using our nation’s natural gas distribution system.”

According to a 2017 Lawrence Berkley National Lab study, by 2025, between 3,300 and 7,800 gigawatt-hours of excess solar and wind energy will be curtailed in California. If all that excess solar and wind energy were converted to methane through the biomethanation process and stored as renewable natural gas, it would provide enough renewable energy to heat 158,000 to 370,000 homes or provide renewable electricity to 80,000 to 187,000 homes.

The pilot project will be used to help assess the commercial viability of this power-to-gas approach to energy storage and provide insights into potential megawatt-scale system designs. The team will combine these insights with renewable energy resource data to identify optimal locations in California and the western half of the U.S. where this grid-scale energy storage would be the most beneficial and cost-effective, said SoCalGas.

Power-to-gas technology uses renewable electricity when prices are low—including times when renewable supply exceeds demand and would otherwise be wasted—to power an electrolyzer, which splits water to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen is then combined with carbon dioxide and fed to a biomethanation reactor where it is converted into renewable natural gas, or RNG, by special micro-organisms.

RNG can be used in any application currently served by natural gas, from home appliances to industrial processes, heavy duty vehicle engines and power plants.

The research will also test how effectively the microbes convert hydrogen to methane and how efficiently the storable methane can be converted back to electricity. Tests will examine the potential of power-to-gas technology to store large quantities of renewable energy for up to an entire year and how it compares in performance and cost to battery storage. Initial reports are expected beginning in 2018. The study will continue for several years.


Ice And Drones: The Future Of Wind Energy

Parts of the world with incredible wind energy potential have long been inaccessible to wind farms. But with the completion of the first offshore wind farm built to withstand ice-prone conditions, the industry has clearly evolved.

When it comes to cold-weather climates, wind farm designers face a variety of concerns, notably the impact of low temperatures on the turbines and the collection of ice on the turbines and snow.

When the industry first began, developers knew the consequences of ice accumulation. That’s why the very first wind farm was located on Grandpa’s Knob in Rutland, Vermont. They selected this particular mountain despite more elevated ones being available precisely because they wanted to avoid the possibility of structural failure.

Today, things have changed. At the end of the summer 2017, Finland wind power production company Suomen Hyötytuuli Oy took over the country’s Tahkoluoto offshore wind farm.

The project began in 2016, with a second phase launched in April 2017. Ultimately, ten 4.2MGw turbines—designed to cope with the rough, cold and icy Finnish winters—were installed ahead of schedule.

“All of the parties have done everything possible to make this project a success,” says Toni Sulameri, managing director of Suomen Hyötytuul.

And the company doesn’t plan on stopping there.

“Suomen Hyötytuuli now has a ready concept for planning and building offshore wind power on an industrial scale,” said board chairman Tuomo Kantola. “(We) and (our) partners have significantly increased offshore wind power knowledge in the Baltic Sea and enabled offshore energy production on an industrial scale.”

And not only turbines are evolving. Technological advances in other key areas, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are being used to help the industry. According to stakeholders, UAVs are now a critical and proven part of maintenance inspections and surveys. Texo Drone Services say they are a “game-changer” in terms of cost savings, time-efficiency and risk management.

To compare man versus machine on the inspection of a turbine, the UAV takes about 75 percent less time to complete the job than a team requiring rope access, without any partial or full shutdown.

Now, the industry has companies like Inspection Ltd, with UAVs that handle heavier payloads and operate in more difficult conditions. These are machines that can deal with wind speeds a bit over 40 miles per hour, carrying a variety of weights. Innovations like these will continue to drive and accelerate the growth of wind farms in the market.

Experts say European offshore wind production must triple between now and 2045 to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

“The political will to support offshore wind goes hand in hand with cost reductions,” Michael Guldbrandtsen, managing consultant for offshore and manager of the Europe, Middle East and Africa research team at MAKE Consulting, told Green Tech Media. ““If we continue to see costs dropping, and developers show that they are capable of constructing wind farms at very low subsidy levels, then I think we could see more capacity coming on-line toward 2030.”

Where once the challenge was to get higher, the next frontier is to go deeper. That’s where floating wind farms come in. And this is only the beginning.


Is Evaporating Water the Future of Renewable Energy?

Forget the sun and wind — evaporating water could be the next big source of renewable energy, said James Temple at Technology Review?. So-called evaporation-driven engines “generate power from the motion of bacterial spores that expand and contract as they absorb and release air moisture.” Evaporation continues 24/7, so the engines, which sit on the water’s surface, could provide power nonstop — unlike solar panels.

The technology is still in a prototype phase, but a new study in the journal Nature Communications notes that the power available from natural evaporation in lakes and reservoirs in the continental U.S. could meet 70 percent of the nation’s needs. If even a small amount of that energy were tapped, says study co-author Ozgur Sahin of Columbia University, evaporation-driven engines “could make a significant contribution to clean-energy and climate goals.”