Tag Archives: renewable

Zero Waste: shave with an electric razor or a real blade

I’m willing to sacrifice a clean shave for the good of the planet. I have to if I want to be zero waste. All the options on the market involve disposable razors, the kind you throw-out after a week. It’s a minor thing but every bit counts when you’re trying to be zero waste. At a certain point all you have left to cut-out are the little things.

I’ve considered investing in a straight blade, barbershop style. One that I could sharpen myself and get the closest shave of my life. It sounds manly and tough, like teaching myself about knives will earn a boy scout badge. But I grew up in a peace-loving, near-hippy family and so I’m not used to any sort of weapon.

And my first alternative was already lying around in the bathroom – an electric shaver. I cut my hair with it and decided to try a shave with it. It’s not exactly the closest shave but it does the job. And I collect all the shavings for the compost. They disappear immediately in there, not like an ear of corn which take forever to disintegrate.

The only problem with this method is that it uses electricity, but I’m okay with that. I see the world moving towards all-electricity devices running on renewable energy. And since the power company allows me to pay more for renewable energy, it feels ok.

But I still look forward to earning that man badge and become the first person I know to shave with a real blade.

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Men, have you ever shaved with a real blade?

Ladies, do you have a way to avoid using a disposable razor?

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Third Industrial Revolution – led by renewable energy and the internet

Jeremy Rifkin is a renowned economist on the environment, author, and advisor to the European Union. And he has a theory about the next great movement of the world – The Third Industrial Revolution.

From Omega:

The great economic revolutions in history occur when new communication technologies converge with new energy systems. New energy revolutions make possible more expansive and integrated trade. Accompanying communication revolutions manage the complex new commercial activities made possible by the new energy flows.

Ushering in the First Industrial Revolution during the 19th century, cheap steam-powered print technology and the introduction of public schools gave rise to a print-literate work force with the communication skills to manage the increased flow of commercial activity (which was made possible by coal and steam power technology).

That was followed by electrical forms of communication in the 20th century – mass media – and energy powered by oil and the combustion engine. And now we are at the beginning stages of the third step, with renewable energy and the internet as the drivers of change.

Read his full piece – Five Pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution – to learn more, or watch this short video from CNN:

 

European Union leads the world in renewable energy – achieves 100 GW of wind power

Renewable energy continues to surge in the European Union (EU). The latest achievement is 100 GW of wind power, the equivalent of 62 coal power plants. The growth has been fast, “it took twenty years to get the first 10 GW grid connected…only 13 years to add 90 GW.” And half of that was added in the last six years.

To produce the same amount of electricity with coal – in one year – would require the mining, transport and burning of 72 million tons of coal, at a cost of $6.48 billion.

For a broader perspective, the United States is also booming having recently achieved 50 GW of installed wind power. But the most important number is the total electricity used in the EU – 3.6 million GW. And this wind milestone only represents 0.003% of that. Like an ant standing at the foot of the mountain.

The good news is that growth is continuing at a rapid pace – 13-16% in each of the past 5 years – and only a tiny fraction of “Europe’s vast domestic wind energy resources” have been put to use. Follow the curve of this graph and you can see where the future is headed:

 

source: European Wind Energy Association

 

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Global solar power surged in 2011 – 73% growth

2011 was a great year for solar power with an increase of 73.3% in generating power – the fastest growth since reporting began. Germany and Italy led that charge by installing 57.1% of the new power. Worldwide there is now 63.4 gigwatts (GW) of solar power – of which 29.3 GW were brought online in 2011.

In graphical terms that is exponential growth:

 

source: Smart Planet

 

Of course, Europe is leading the charge into solar having recently passed the 50GW milestone. Which makes the United States look tiny in comparison, having only recently surpassed the 4GW mark. We are just as far behind in wind power with Europe having 100GW and the United States at 50GW.

The good news is that both are rapidly constructing new installations – both solar and wind – and growing at an exponential pace.

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For more details and a graph of the United States’ exponential growth, visit Solar’s Dramatic Rise.

Finland makes plans to be coal-free – first European country to do so

Finland is a Nordic country in the far north of Europe. It borders Russia and Sweden and is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. It has no natural coal resources, some hydropower capabilities, and a lot of forest. One-third of its energy comes from renewable sources (wood, hydropower), 18% from nuclear power, and the remaining 50% comes from imported fossil fuels.

And it wants to be the first country in Europe to become coal-free. The plan is to phase out several large coal plants by 2025 and begin investing in renewable energy. There were also discussions of subsidies and tax breaks in government documents.

Right now the country imports 5 million metric tons of coal every year, mostly from Poland and Russia. In some years that can cost $388 million, a real hit to the country’s GDP of $266 billion. Keeping that money at home with renewable energy offers significant benefits for the country – energy independence, new jobs, improved trade balance, and cutting emissions.

The country is a strong supporter of the Kyoto Protocol and has worked very hard to meet emission reductions. As of 2008, it was 1% below the target reduction.

Being coal-free is a smart financial and ecological move for the country, and maybe one other’s in Europe could follow.

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How old are U.S. power plants?

We have an aging fleet of power plants:
  • 51% of all generating capacity is 30+ years old.
  • 73% of all coal plants are 30+ years old
  • 24 out of 25 oldest plants (60+ years) are hydropower
  • Nearly all nuclear plants are 20+ years old

Here is a graphic from EIA with more detail. The pie chart shows how much generating capacity comes from each fuel type. The graph shows capacity by year the plant was built.

Notice that hydropower was the first energy source built, the creation of coal plants dominated from 1950 to the mid-80s, and it’s been all natural gas since then.

 

 

But, age may not matter when it comes to operating power plants, from Wiki Answers:
In a nutshell, it is not correct to assign human attributes (e.g., lifetimes) to inanimate objects. Consequently, the operating span of a coal fired power plant can be unlimited since any degraded or failed component can be replaced with a new one. The decision on whether to make a refurbishment, or to build a new plant, is merely a question of relative economics and investment risk. For example, the cost of a single replacement part is almost always less than the cost of replacing the plant. However, in an old plant, there is a risk that many additionally worn parts also will need replacement soon. Plant owners evaluate these tradeoffs each time a major component fails and make the decision whether or not to retire the plant.

American wind power reaches 50-gigawatt milestone

From the AWEA press release:

The 50 gigawatts (GW) online today means that U.S. wind turbines now power the equivalent of nearly 13 million American homes, or as many as in Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama, and Connecticut combined. In addition, 50 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity:

  • Represents the generating power of 44 coal-fired power plants, or 11 nuclear power plants.
  • Avoids emitting as much carbon dioxide as taking 14 million cars off the road.
  • Conserves 30 billion gallons of water a year compared to thermal electric generation, since wind energy uses virtually no water.

 

To put this into perspective, it is estimated that the United States used 3.9 million gigawatts in 2011.

Now back to the good news, projects recently connected to the grid:

  • Pattern Energy’s Spring Valley wind farm, 30 miles east of Ely, Nevada (151.8 megawatts, or MW)
  • Enel Green Power North America’s Rocky Ridge wind farm in Oklahoma (148.8 MW)
  • enXco’s Pacific Wind project in Kern County, California (140 MW)
  • Utah Associated Municipal Power’s Horse Butte project in Idaho (57.6 MW)
  • First Wind’s Kaheawa Wind II wind farm in Hawaii (21 MW)
50,000 megawatts = 50 gigawatts

 

It took us a long time to hit 10 MW in 2006, then much less to hit 25 MW in 2008, and now, in 2012, we are at 50 MW. The ramp-up continues all over the country as 39 states now have wind power feeding their grids. There is even good news on the “Made in USA” front with 60% of the sourcing coming from home, compared to 25% in 2005.

 

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Wind turbines are going big, real big – latest one is the size of a 747 airplane

Right now wind is leading the renewable energy surge and records for the largest turbines are being set. Just how big is the largest one? Siemens is creating a single blade that is 225 feet long, basically as wide as a 747 airplane.

The manufacturing process is incredible, from Wired UK:

Siemens manufactures the mammoth B75 blades in one, smooth, streamlined piece — with no joints — using its IntegralBlade process. The technique — which requires glass fibre-reinforced epoxy resin and balsa wood to be cast in a mould — renders the blades steadfast and less likely to develop faults while being beaten with 181 tonnes of air energy every second, when wind speeds are ten metres per second (30 mph). The huge strain it is put under means no blade can leave the factory without being carefully inspected for even minor cracks.

 

The size of these things is almost unimaginable, like trying to picture three 747′s spinning around a massive pole. They will also have to shoot up into the sky several hundred meters.

According to Siemens, when fully constructed this mammoth would generate 6-megwatt’s, while another group is looking into 20-megawatt versions!

 

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Wind is cheaper than coal? — Fact checking this statement

The other day I heard in passing, “wind is now cheaper than coal.” If true, this symbolizes the holy grail of renewable energy. It would mean that a turning point for not only cleaner energy, but global warming, climate change, pollution, foreign oil dependence, and more.

To fact check this, I pulled up the top 20 results from Google and narrowed them down to the below articles (most were duplicates pointing at these 5 stories).

Not at all definitive but it does give you an idea of the state of the industry. Just keep in mind that the prices may or may not include subsidies or tax breaks, which can drastically change the costs quoted below.

 

Jul 2012 - In India, wind is cheaper than coal in Indi (w/out subsidies) (Bloomberg Business)

The cost of wind power has dropped below the price of coal-fired energy in parts of India for the first time as improved turbine technology (from GE) and rising fossil-fuel prices boost its competitiveness, Greenko Group Plc (GKO) said.

 

Mar 2012 – In Michigan wind is cheaper than coal (American Wind Energy Assoc.)

The Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) recently issued a report that finds that electricity generated from renewable energy sources, at an average cost of $91 per megawatt-hour (9.1 cents/kilowatt-hour), is almost one-third cheaper than the cost of electricity from a new coal-fired power plant ($133 per MWh, or 13.3 cents/kWh).

Further, the report notes, “The actual cost of renewable energy contracts submitted to the Commission to date shows a downward pricing trend.

 

Feb 2012 – In California, prices doubled in the first decade of 21st century, since 2011 are dropping to parity with natural gas (SF Gate)

The price of renewable power contracts signed by California utilities more than doubled from 2003 through 2011 but has now started to plunge…

The cost of buying electricity from a new natural gas power plant…(in 2011) ranged from 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 12 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the length of the contract…The cost of renewable power from wind and solar facilities averaged between 8 and 9 cents per kilowatt hour.

 

Nov 2011 – Investigation of Bill Clinton’s claim that wind/solar are cheaper than nuclear (Politifact)

  • Conventional Coal – 94.8 (dollars/MWh)
  • Wind – Onshore – 97
  • Nuclear – 113.9
  • Solar – Photovoltaic – 210.7
  • Wind – Offshore – 243.2
  • Solar – Thermal – 311.8

Source: DOE’s Energy Information Administration

 

Nov 2011 – Google retires its initiative RE

It’s not clear here if Google feels this is already won and moving on, or if they have had enough and are quitting. One thing is certain, Google invested nearly a billion dollars ($850 million) in renewable energy last year.

This initiative was developed as an effort to drive down the cost of renewable energy, with an RE<C engineering team focused on researching improvements to solar power technology. At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level. So we’ve published our results to help others in the field continue to advance the state of power tower technology, and we’ve closed our efforts.

 

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Why do experts always lowball clean energy projections?

Last month, Michael Noble of Fresh Energy put up a fascinating list of projections made by energy experts around 2000 or so. Suffice to say, the projections did not fare well. They were badly wrong…

What should we take from this?

The projections weren’t just off, they were way off. You can find similarly poor projections from the ’70s that underestimate the spread of energy efficiency and other demand-side technology solutions (They thought they were going to need hundreds of nuclear plants). Similarly terrible projections were also common in the early years of cell phones.

What do cell phones, energy efficiency, and renewable energy have in common? One, they are dynamic areas of technology development and market competition, which makes straight-line projections pretty useless. And two, they are distributed, with millions of loosely networked people and organizations working on them in parallel. Distributed, human-scale technologies come in small increments. They replicate quickly, so there’s more variation and competitive selection, and thus more evolution.

 

Keep reading: Grist - Why do ‘experts’ always lowball clean-energy projections?

 

 

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