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Guest Matt Hartwig

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Guest Matt Hartwig

With the skyrocketing price of gasoline, natural gas, and other fossil fuels, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today urged the House Energy and Commerce Committee to put a greater focus on clean, renewable energy in their version of an energy bill. Gas prices in Iowa, for instance, average $2.18 per gallon, according to the Automobile Association of America (AAA). That is up more than a quarter from this time last month. And high oil and natural gas prices are putting the economic pinch on farmers who rely on products made from these finite resources.


“From the fields to the freeway, Iowans are feeling the pinch caused by soaring energy costs, particularly gasoline,” Harkin said. “I strongly urge the House Energy and Commerce Committee to adopt an aggressive renewable energy package in the energy legislation before them today. And they should begin with an ambitious Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) that puts the focus on domestic renewable resources and away from foreign sources of oil.”


Last month, Harkin led a bipartisan effort in the Senate to introduce a RFS that would raise the amount of renewable fuels used in this country to at least eight billion gallons annually by 2012. This RFS is three billion gallons a year higher than last year’s bill and more than two billion gallons a year higher than legislation passed by the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee earlier this year.


“By turning our focus to home grown, renewable sources of energy, we reduce the cost for energy consumers and provide a spark to rural economies,” Harkin said. “Specifically, an ambitious RFS like the one we proposed in the Senate would lower the cost of gasoline for drivers, raise the price of commodities grown in our fields, and wean the U.S. off of our dependence on expensive foreign oil.”


Harkin continued, “We have to get serious about changing the way we think about energy production. There is only so much oil and other fossil fuels on the planet. We must start turning to cleaner, renewable sources of energy, like ethanol and wind power, and we must do it now.”


Harkin has been a leader in the push toward a renewable energy future. In addition to sponsoring ambitious RFS legislation, Harkin has also worked to increase the production of electricity through wind power and develop a hydrogen economy. He has also been active in establishing markets for biobased products, such as plastics and lubricants, that can replace traditional petroleum-based products and lessen our need for oil and other fossil fuels.

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Guest Alexia Poe

With natural gas prices at “record levels and the highest of any industrialized country,” U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) have introduced legislation that takes “bold and aggressive steps” to lower the cost of natural gas.


During a news conference on Capitol Hill, Alexander said, “high natural gas prices are threatening our jobs, our farms and hurting Americans who are trying to heat and cool their homes. Only an ambitious, comprehensive approach that both increases supply and controls demand can lower the price of natural gas and keep our growing economic recovery from becoming recent history.


“This is not a question of tweaking our natural gas policy. It is time to aggressively revamp it. We need aggressive conservation, aggressive use of alternative fuels, aggressive research and development, aggressive production, and for the time being, aggressive imports of liquefied natural gas.”


1. Energy Efficiency and Conservation


· Consumer Education - Creates an aggressive four-year national consumer education program on actionable measures to reduce the demand for energy.

· Efficiency Standards - Sets higher appliance and equipment standards for natural gas efficiency. For example, a commercial air conditioner will cool the same while using less natural gas to do it.

· Cogeneration - Creates tax incentives and regulatory relief to enable manufacturing facilities to more easily produce their own power and steam from a single source – which saves money and energy while also reducing pollutants.

· Efficient Electricity Generation - Provides incentives for utilities to utilize their natural gas plants based on efficiency.

· Oil Savings - Sets a bold target for demand reduction of 1.75 million barrels per day of gasoline by 2015. This is almost twice the amount of anticipated production from the Artic Wildlife National Refuge.


2. Alternative Fuels


· National Coal Gasification Strategy - Supports the deployment of six coal gasification plants by 2013 in order to fully commercialize coal gasification. Similarly supports aggressive use of coal gasification for industrial applications. Provides streamlined permitting for coal gasification facilities.

· Solar Power - Provides tax incentives for aggressive investment in solar power generation.


3. Research and Development


· Hydrogen/Fuel Cell Initiative - Invests in research and development of technologies and infrastructure to use hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles. In the long-term, this will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Senator Alexander introduced President Bush’s hydrogen initiative in the Senate in 2003.

· Gas hydrates – Invests in gas methane hydrates research, which holds tremendous potential to provide abundant supplies of natural gas. Estimates indicate the U.S. resource base contains one-quarter of the world’s supply.

· Other R&D programs – Invests in solar energy technologies, distributed generation, biofuels, and biomass.


4. Production


· Off-Shore Production: Provides Department of Interior with the legal authority to issue “natural gas only” leases. Instructs Department of Interior to draw the state boundary, according to established international law, between Alabama and Florida regarding Lease 181 and lease portions which are not in Florida by December 31, 2007. Allows states to selectively waive the federal moratoria on off-shore production and collect significant revenues from such production. A conservation royalty would also be established. The conservation royalty would be shared equally by the Federal land and water conservation fund, state land and water conservation fund and wildlife grants. None of these payments would be subject to appropriations.


5. Importing Liquefied Natural Gas


· LNG Terminal and Pipeline Siting: Streamlines the permitting of facilities for bringing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from overseas to the United States. Gives Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) exclusive authority for siting and regulating LNG terminals, while still preserving states’ authorities under the Coastal Zone Management Act and other acts. Requires that FERC grant or deny a terminal or pipeline application within one year. Clarifies the permitting process for pipelines and natural gas storage facilities.


The bill raises revenues that are expected to provide $4 to $6 billion to pay for the initiatives outlined in the proposal.


Alexander was joined for the announcement by James Ray, vice president and general manager of Eastman Chemical Company’s Texas Division; Robert Hardie,

plant manager of DuPont’s New Johnsonville, Tennessee plant; and Henson Moore, president of the American Forest and Paper Association.

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Guest National Academy of Engineering

Prospects for improving solar efficiency are promising. Current standard cells have a theoretical maximum efficiency of 31 percent because of the electronic properties of the silicon material. But new materials, arranged in novel ways, can evade that limit, with some multilayer cells reaching 34 percent efficiency. Experimental cells have exceeded 40 percent efficiency.


Another idea for enhancing efficiency involves developments in nanotechnology, the engineering of structures on sizes comparable to those of atoms and molecules, measured in nanometers (one nanometer is a billionth of a meter).


Recent experiments have reported intriguing advances in the use of nanocrystals made from the elements lead and selenium. [schaller et al.] In standard cells, the impact of a particle of light (a photon) releases an electron to carry electric charge, but it also produces some useless excess heat. Lead-selenium nanocrystals enhance the chance of releasing a second electron rather than the heat, boosting the electric current output. Other experiments suggest this phenomenon can occur in silicon as well. [beard et al.]


Theoretically the nanocrystal approach could reach efficiencies of 60 percent or higher, though it may be smaller in practice. Engineering advances will be required to find ways of integrating such nanocrystal cells into a system that can transmit the energy into a circuit.



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Guest stanford.edu

Wind is the world's fastest growing electric energy source. However, because wind is intermittent, it is not used to supply baseload electric power today. Baseload power is the amount of steady and reliable electric power that is constantly being produced, typically by power plants, regardless of electricity demand. But interconnecting wind farms with a transmission grid reduces the power swings caused by wind variability and makes a significant portion of it just as consistent a power source as a coal power plant.


If interconnected wind is used on a large scale, a third or more of its energy can be used for reliable electric power, and the remaining intermittent portion can be used for transportation, allowing wind to solve energy, climate and air pollution problems simultaneously," said Archer, the study's lead author and a consulting assistant professor in Stanford's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and research associate in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution.


It's a bit like having a bunch of hamsters generating your power, each in a separate cage with a treadmill. At any given time, some hamsters will be sleeping or eating and some will be running on their treadmill. If you have only one hamster, the treadmill is either turning or it isn't, so the power's either on or off. With two hamsters, the odds are better that one will be on a treadmill at any given point in time, and your chances of running, say, your blender, go up. Get enough hamsters together, and the odds are pretty good that at least a few will always be on the treadmill, cranking out the kilowatts.


The combined output of all the hamsters will vary, depending on how many are on treadmills at any one time, but there will be a certain level of power that is always being generated, even as different hamsters hop on or off their individual treadmills. That's the reliable baseload power.


The connected wind farms would operate the same way.


"The idea is that, while wind speed could be calm at a given location, it could be gusty at others. By linking these locations together we can smooth out the differences and substantially improve the overall performance," Archer said.


As one might expect, not all locations make sense for wind farms. Only locations with strong winds are economically competitive. In their study, Archer and Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, evaluated 19 sites in the Midwestern United States with annual average wind speeds greater than 6.9 meters per second at a height of 80 meters above ground, the hub height of modern wind turbines. Modern turbines are 80 to 100 meters high, approximately the height of a 30-story building, and their blades are 70 meters long or more.


The researchers used hourly wind data, collected and quality-controlled by the National Weather Service, for the entire year of 2000 from the 19 sites. They found that an average of 33 percent and a maximum of 47 percent of yearly-averaged wind power from interconnected farms can be used as reliable baseload electric power. These percentages would hold true for any array of 10 or more wind farms, provided it met the minimum wind speed and turbine height criteria used in the study.


Another benefit of connecting multiple wind farms is reducing the total distance that all the power has to travel from the multiple points of origin to the destination point. Interconnecting multiple wind farms to a common point and then connecting that point to a far-away city reduces the cost of transmission.


It's the same as having lots of streams and creeks join together to form a river that flows out to sea, rather than having each creek flow all the way to the coast by carving out its own little channel.


Another type of cost saving also results when the power combines to flow in a single transmission line. Explains Archer: Suppose a power company wanted to bring power from several independent farms—each with a maximum capacity of, say, 1,500 kilowatts (kW)—from the Midwest to California. Each farm would need a short transmission line of 1,500 kW brought to a common point in the Midwest. Then a larger transmission line would be needed between the common point and California—typically with a total capacity of 1,500 kW multiplied by the number of independent farms connected.


However, with geographically dispersed farms, it is unlikely that they would simultaneously be experiencing strong enough winds to each produce their 1,500 kW maximum output at the same time. Thus, the capacity of the long-distance transmission line could be reduced significantly with only a small loss in overall delivered power.


"Due to the high cost of long-distance transmission, a 20 percent reduction in transmission capacity with little delivered-power loss would notably reduce the cost of wind energy," added Archer, who calculated the decrease in delivered power to be only about 1.6 percent.


With only one farm, a 20 percent reduction in long-distance transmission capacity would decrease delivered power by 9.8 percent—not a 20 percent reduction, because the farm is not producing its maximum possible output all the time.


Archer said that if the United States and other countries each started to organize the siting and interconnection of new wind farms based on a master plan, the power supply could be smoothed out and transmission requirements could be reduced, decreasing the cost of wind energy. This could result in the large-scale market penetration of wind energy—already the most inexpensive clean renewable electric power source—which could contribute significantly to an eventual solution to global warming, as well as reducing deaths from urban air pollution.

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