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Wind farms go offshore in a big way

While the United States can still boast of the largest wind farm in the world with 627 turbines cranking electrical power at the Roscoe Wind Farm in Roscoe, Texas, many eyes are on the United Kingdom now with the official opening on Sept. 23, 2010, of the largest offshore wind farm.

The Thanet Offshore Wind Farm is considered the largest of its type in the world, off the south coast of Ramsgate in Kent, England. Energy company Vattenfall has reported that the wind farm has 100 turbines and will produce enough energy a year to provide power for up to 200,000 homes. This is in addition to the UK’s current onshore capabilities, leaving United Kingdom leaders proclaiming it now produces enough wind power onshore and offshore to power all of the homes in Scotland – and intends to become a world leader in wind energy.

The ongoing pursuit of wind energy and its capabilities will continue to be a keen interest amongst other world leaders as costs vs. benefits become more clear and more prevalent as time passes.

The Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas, for example, cost more than $1 billion to build, but provides enough power for more than 250,000 average Texan homes. The wind farm is located about 200 miles west of Fort Worth, and spans parts of four Texas counties and covers nearly 100,000 acres, several times the size of Manhattan. Farmers in Texas, as in other states across the country, are seeing the benefit in royalties from wind farm projects, and some are convinced that a wind farm can help revive economies in remote areas. This is particularly true of west Texas and along the state’s panhandle.

Wind-farm proponents maintain that wind turbines represent a cleaner energy source, unlike fossil-fueled power plants. In general, wind farms require no water and generate no carbon dioxide – the main heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is considered a major contributor to global warming. This is possible because the group of wind turbines on a wind farm are interconnected with a medium voltage (usually 34.5 kV) power collection system and communications network. Substations are used to increase voltage with a transformer so the energy can connect with a high-voltage transmission system.

While the United States is considered a world leader in wind farm technology, the United Kingdom is gaining recognition and attention with its latest offshore venture. In the past few years, Spain, Denmark and Germany were considered the main wind-energy producers in Europe.

Currently, Britain gets only 3 percent of its energy from renewable sources, but is aiming for a target of 15 percent by 2020. The nation ranks 25th of 27 European Union countries on green power and intends to change that quickly. And they are doing it in impressive fashion, as each Thanet turbine is up to 380 feet (115 meters) tall and the site is as large as 4,000 football fields.
Vattenfall said its new farm could generate 300 megawatts of energy at full capacity, although critics note that wind power output can be intermittent and variable. The company said the farm is expected to operate for at least 25 years.

US Wind Energy Market Losing Momentum

Prior to the economic downturn, wind turbines were in high demand, but in the past 18 months wind energy has lost some momentum despite the nation’s continued push for “green” energy sources.

In late July, the American Wind Energy Association reported that only 700 megawatts of wind power was installed in the United States in the first half of 2010. That’s 71 percent fewer wind towers than in the first half of 2009 and 57 percent fewer than in the first half of 2008. New installations for full-year 2010 will likely be 25 to 45 percent below last year, the group estimates.

Construction on a number of wind-power projects will at least be started this year to take advantage of the federal convertible tax credit that is due to expire. Currently there are about 5,500 megawatts in the pipeline. Next year, however, AWEA predicts a dramatic decline “as there is no demand beyond the present coasting momentum” without new federal government policy to promote wind farm demand.

“Strong federal policy supporting the U.S. wind energy industry has never been more important,” says Denise Bode, AWEA’s chief executive officer. “We have a historic opportunity to build a major new manufacturing industry. Without strong supportive policy, like a national renewable electricity standard to spur demand, investment and jobs, manufacturing facilities will go idle.”

Federal stimulus money from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act has helped to bring some wind power projects already in the pipeline to the finish line, adds Bode. “However, power purchase agreements—the locomotive that drives the project pipeline—are difficult to obtain today given the drop in overall electricity demand, lower natural gas prices and the absence of a clear national renewable energy policy.”

AWEA says a renewable electricity standard would prompt utilities to buy wind power and stimulate demand again. As proposed in the American Clean Energy and Leadership Act of 2009, which got the nod of the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee last summer, a national renewable electricity standard would require that 15 percent of the United States’ energy be produced from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass, by 2020. However, the scaled down energy bill recently introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not include a renewable electricity standard, but rather focused on the cleanup of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and measures for improving U.S. energy efficiency.

When it comes to roofs, white is right

You probably know that wearing lighter colors in the summer keeps the body cooler. You might be surprised to find out that scientists are applying this principle in an attempt to cool urban cities plagued by intense summer heat. A team of scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research suggests that the roofs of buildings should be painted white to relieve urban heat. Although their concept is still under investigation, the team used a highly innovative computer model to help demonstrate how this idea would work.

Urban heat becomes a problem in cities in the summer. Many structures utilize asphalt, tar, and other dark substances in construction and these materials absorb heat very quickly, increasing the temperature in a city by 2-5F. This phenomenon is called the urban heat island effect. Using computer simulations, the scientists showed that if all the roofs in a city were painted white, the urban heat island effect could be reduced by 33% because the white roofs would reflect the heat.

Although the study is still in development, it does show some promising evidence that increasing summer temperatures can be curbed in a very simple manner. The researchers did state that the capacity to which the white paint would curb temperatures did also depend on the structure itself, the density of the roof, and the climate of the location. The researchers also may want to test the implementation of ‘green roofs’ which use plants and shrubbery as a way to reduce heat. Not only can these green roofs mitigate heat, they also add dimension and beauty to an otherwise bland and boiling locale.

Green Power Usage Edged Higher in 2009 among EPA Partners

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top 10 Green Power Partners increased their voluntary green power commitments by more than 1.5 billion kilowatt-hours in 2009, while 300 new organizations joined the Green Power Partnership. Overall, the 1,200 partners are buying nearly 18 billion kWh of green power annually, equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from electricity use of more than 1.6 million average American homes.

“EPA’s Green Power Partners are raising the bar for clean, renewable energy use,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “By using green power, they’re doing their part to fight climate change and proving every day that sound environmental practices can also be economically sound.”

Among the top 10 partners, Intel Corp. remains the partnership’s largest single purchaser of green power, increasing its commitment over the previous year to more than 1.4 billion kWh. Kohl’s Department Stores increased its green power purchase by more than 1 billion kWh in 2009, becoming the second-largest purchaser within the partnership. PepsiCo, Whole Foods Market, the City of Houston, Dell, The Pepsi Bottling Group, Cisco Systems, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Johnson & Johnson round out the top 10 purchasers. All together, these 10 leaders are buying more than 7.3 billion kWh of green power annually, equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity use of more than 680,000 average American homes.

EPA’s Green Power Partnership works with more than 1,200 organizations to voluntarily purchase green power to reduce the environmental impacts of conventional electricity use. Green power is generated from renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydropower. Green power electricity generates less pollution than conventional power and produces no net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The green power purchases support the development of new, renewable generation resources nationwide.

For more information on the top 50 green power purchasers list, visit For more information on EPA’s Green Power Partnership, visit

Let’s Talk About Sweat

The average person loses half a liter of sweat each day. All this sweat is usually left in the underarm creases of white crisp shirts. But Swedish engineers are not letting this go to waste. They have found a way to harness, not the sweat per se, but the body heat given off by commuters and use it to heat buildings. Although the capturing of body heat to be later used as energy is not a new concept (it is used at the Mall of America), the Swedes have innovated this practice through the ability to transfer the heat from one building to another. Talk about hot technology.

The logistics of the system are not that complicated. A Time article from April 15, 2010, looked into the process. Here a simple rundown: the heat generated by commuters at the Stockholm train station is captured by the station’s ventilation system and used to warm water in underground tanks. The water is then pumped into pipes and transferred to a 13 story building 100 yards away. What makes this system great is that it is environmentally friendly but also pays for itself. The building’s energy bill will decrease as much as 20% each year and it will receive about 15% to 30% of its heat from the station.

Using innovative and alternative methods such as this one is very popular in Sweden and other European countries that are way ahead of the US when it comes to adapting green technologies. In Denmark, for example 20% of the countries energy is generated from alternative sources such as wind, whereas in the United States it is a mere 3%. But the article mentioned that such alternative systems as the body heat capturing one would not be seen as valuable in the United States as in Sweden or other European countries. Why? The United States has relatively low energy prices compared to other countries. Low prices allow the consumption of more energy without seeing financial repercussions when the utility bill arrives. Because Europeans don’t enjoy such generous pricing, they have to search for new ways to bring down costs, which much alternative energy provides. While using the system in Europe may show clear and deep cuts in cost, in the US, after installation, the system may not reap the same financial benefits.

But we shouldn’t allow economy to trump ecology. The environmental profits that the system will provide should be enough of an incentive to implement it. And despite the fact that the financial aspect will not be as prominent, the system does reduce energy costs, which will eventually pay for the cost of all the installation. For both the wallet and the environment, it’s a win: win.

Landfills Turn Trash Into Power and Greenhouse Gas Reductions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is recognizing eight landfill methane capture projects for their innovation in generating renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The winners include one of the largest landfill gas (LFG) to liquefied natural gas facilities in the world, located in Livermore, Calif.

“We are proud to recognize Landfill Methane Outreach Program partners who are turning trash into a clean and profitable source of energy,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “These projects, and others like them, are helping us transition into a clean energy economy and make important greenhouse gas reductions.”

Methane, a primary component of LFG, is a GHG with more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Using LFG provides a significant energy resource, prevents GHG emissions, and reduces odors and other hazards associated with emissions. This year’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program winning projects will avoid the emissions of 546,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, the equivalent of annual GHG emissions from nearly 100,000 passenger vehicles.

Awards were given in three categories: Projects of the Year were given to the University of New Hampshire EcoLine Project, Rochester, N.H.; Jefferson City Renewable Energy Project, Jefferson City, Mo.; The Altamont Landfill Resource and Recovery Facility, Livermore, Calif.; Ox Mountain LFG Energy Project, Half Moon Bay, Calif.; Sioux Falls Landfill & Poet LFG Pipeline, Sioux Falls, S.D.; and the Winder Renewable Methane Project, Winder, Ga. The State Partner of the Year was given to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Community Partner of the Year was awarded to the Kent County Department of Public Works, Byron Center, Mich.

EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program has assisted with more than 450 LFG energy projects over the past 15 years. The United States currently has about 509 operational LFG energy projects. The LFG electricity generation projects have a capacity of 1,563 megawatts and provide the energy equivalent of powering more than 920,000 homes annually.

The direct-use projects provide an additional 304 million standard cubic feet of LFG per day and provide the energy equivalent of heating more than 715,000 homes annually. Direct-use LFG energy projects do not produce electricity, but instead use LFG as an alternative to replace another fuel such as natural gas or coal.

The Landfill Methane Outreach Program is a voluntary assistance and partnership program that reduces GHG emissions by supporting LFG energy project development. The program also assists countries throughout the world in developing landfill methane reduction projects through the international Methane to Markets Partnership.

From Poo to Power

Poo. This three letter word makes foreheads crease and bodies cringe. It’s gross, it stinks, but you might never have guessed that this small smelly beast can be used power an entire farm. Sound like something out of a sci-fi flick? Well, you better believe it’s more like a reality show. An article published in the February 2009 issue of Popular Mechanic describes this messy, yet eco-innovative procedure.

The chosen one is Shawn Saylor. This Pennsylvania farmer uses the 18,000 gallons of manure produced daily by his cows to power a generator on his farm. Once the waste hits the ground, it goes through an extensive 16-day digestion process before it can be converted to actual energy. The manure begins its journey by being stored in a 19,000 gallon tank. It then travels through a U-shaped pipe where it is digested with bacteria that break the waste into a biogas containing 65% methane. The gas that is produced drives a natural gas engine which propels a 130kW generator.

18,000 gallons of manure daily may sound like a tremendous amount of number 2, and it is. Last year this method produced 1.2 million kWh of electricity, enough to power the farm and several homes nearby. Saylor saved about $60,000 in utility bills- a hefty amount of savings.

On the same note, a University of Texas-Austin study calculated that there is about 1 billion tons of manure produced in the United States annually. This amount could generate about 88 billion kWh of electricity-enough to account for 2.4 percent of annual US consumption.

It’s time, America, to stop making disgusted faces at the mere thought of poo. Who knows? Maybe one day it will be used to power your home.

Tax Credits Boost HVAC Innovations

More efficient types of heating, ventilation and air conditioning can save homeowners plenty on their heating and cooling bills. Government tax incentives that encourage homeowners to improve their energy efficiency also promise to fuel new product development by HVAC manufacturers.

The HVAC industry is expected to see growth again as tax credits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act help more consumers buy homes and update their systems. The green HVAC market should benefit in particular from federal and state support of more energy efficient homes and buildings, according to “HVAC, 2nd Edition—Green and Global,” the latest report from energy market research firm SBI Energy.

International manufacturers of HVAC devices seek to capitalize on the impending uptick in the market by designing high-efficiency equipment for sale in the U.S. that exceeds the 13 Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio minimum standard that was established by the Department of Energy in January 2006. Such equipment would qualify for the higher standards required to receive the tax credits available through the ARRA.

Recent developments in HVAC technologies have included geothermal heat pumps, under-floor air distribution and integrated photovoltaic systems. “Growth in the HVAC market will be driven primarily by the residential and non-residential construction markets,” says Shelley Carr, publisher of SBI Energy. “In addition, tax credits, new HVAC innovations, global expansion, and renewed investment in the replacement sector will revitalize the market.”

Thanks to the ARRA, homeowners can receive tax credits of up to 30 percent of the total cost of the installation of a geothermal HVAC system for geothermal heat pumps placed in service before Dec. 31, 2016. The DOE estimates that around 35,000 geothermal/ground-source heat pumps were installed in 2007, despite relatively high initial costs compared to standard heat pumps. By 2009, the number of geothermal/ground-source heat pump installations had reached an average of 90,264 per year.

According to the DOE, the average home spends about $1,900 annually on energy bills. The DOE estimates that homeowners can reduce their energy bills by up to 20 percent merely by replacing furnaces, boilers, central air conditioners and heat pumps with more efficient models.

A Boost From a Grant Can Help Environmental Causes

Schools have a long history of allowing students to get immersed in environmental and conservation studies, projects or causes. When the first “Earth Day” was celebrated on April 22, 1970, it marked the first time in history that students in classrooms across the country spent their physical education classes picking up litter or taking part in other simple environmental tasks.

As “green energy” and “going green” become more common parts of our vocabulary and, ultimately, in the way we live our lives, it makes sense that our nation’s schools will continue to be on the front lines of such work.

One key for cash-strapped schools is to obtain grants from any number of foundations, organizations or businesses to help fund green projects. Names such as American Honda, Boeing, Captain Planet Foundation, Coca-Cola, and the National Education Foundation are just a sampling of the hundreds of sources of grant money available to help protect the environment. These sources have helped schools spearhead thousands of field projects addressing conservation and environmental issues.

It is also common for schools to take advantage of their own state’s energy grants. A good example unfolded in the Geneva School District, which recently received $36,500 from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation as a reimbursement for lighting projects in two of the district’s elementary schools.

The money was used to pay for lighting retrofitting during renovation projects at the schools. In addition to replacing many light fixtures with more energy-efficient light bulbs, as many as 110 fixtures between two elementary schools were removed. The district reported to residents that the work resulted in energy savings of more than 27,000 watts of electricity. It was a good start, they insisted, on reaching an overall goal of reducing district-wide energy use by 10 percent during the 2009-2010 school year.

If all school districts across the nation could somehow attain a similar goal, the amount of savings in electricity usage would be impressive.

In another Midwest state, Missouri’s Department of Conservation offers  many education grants through its “Fresh Afield – Serving up a Slice of Conservation” program in which the emphasis is on getting school children out in nature and understanding the importance of conservation at a young age.

In this particular area of conservation study and grants, it is common for zoos in major cities to have similar offerings to keep children aware of the pros and cons of nature’s interactions with humans.

The canvas for learning about our environment and the habits we can all live by to conserve our natural resources, and the canvas for obtaining funding to help with those causes, are both endless with opportunities.

Waste Energy Recovery Systems Heating Up

An enormous amount of energy is wasted every year from heat sources such as engine exhausts, commercial ovens, industrial furnaces and landfill flares. Labs around the world are seeking ways to capture this excess heat before it disappears into the atmosphere.

According to the U.S. Clean Heat and Power Association, a variety of industrial waste energy streams can be recycled into useful heat and power. These include hot exhaust gases, low-grade fuels such as methane emissions from landfills and high-pressure steam and gas. Proven technology can profitably convert the energy in hot exhaust (600 degrees F or higher) from any process into steam that drives turbine generators and produces electricity. Coke ovens, glass furnaces, silicon production, refineries, natural gas pipeline compressors, petrochemical processes, and many processes in the metals industry vent hot exhaust that can be profitably recycled to produce fuel-free power.

More and more, devices known as combined heat and power (CHP) technologies are installed to recover heat that would normally be wasted and use it to produce both steam and electricity. Currently, CHP systems produce almost 8 percent of U.S. electric power; save building and industry owners over $5 billion per year in energy costs; decrease energy use by almost 1.3 trillion BTUs per year; reduce NOx emissions by 0.4 million tons per year; reduce SO2 emissions by over 0.9 million tons per year; and prevent the release of over 35 million metric tons of carbon equivalent into the atmosphere.

One CHP maker, Cyclone Power Technologies Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., will soon offer its Waste Heat Engine—a modern-day steam engine—that can capture wasted heat from various sources and convert it into between 1kW and 1MW of electricity. “We believe that our WHE systems can fill an enormous gap in the waste energy recovery industry—namely small and medium sized businesses with low to medium quality excess wasted heat,” says Cyclone’s CEO, Harry Schoell.

Cyclone believes that the installation of its WHE systems can also help drive investment and create jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if the U.S. were to increase its use of CHP and waste heat recovery systems to generate 20 percent of its electricity by 2030, it would spur $234 billion in private investment and create 1 million jobs.


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