Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tracking Fukushima's radiation toll

Two years ago, an 8.9-magnitude earthquake generated a tsunami of historic proportions that waylaid Japan's northeast coastline, including a nuclear power plant.


VIDEO: On the Ground at the BP Gulf Oil Spill Hearings

More than $17 billion is at stake as the civil trial against BP opens in New Orleans.

This week marked the start of the the civil trial against BP over its role in the 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men and caused the worst spill in US history. District judge Carl Barbier warned of a lengthy trial, one that could last up to 3 months if a deal isn't reached earlier, and if the first three days of the trial are anything to go by, BP is in for a battery of tough questions about its safety record and procedures. As much as $17.5 billion in damages is hinged on the legal question of whether the company was "grossly negligent" in causing the deaths and the subsequent spill. Climate Desk caught up with Dominic Rushe at partner publication, the Guardian, who has been covering the trial as it unfolds.


Shell halts Arctic drill plans for 2013

Royal Dutch Shell says it will "pause" its closely-watched project to drill for oil off the Alaskan coast this year, instead spending 2013 preparing for future exploration.


Bloomberg to Natural Gas Industry: Embrace Sensible Regulations, Renewables

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the 2013 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit near Washington, DC to prod the oil and gas industry to stop resisting efforts to forge "sensible" regulations.


Top 4 Reasons the US Still Doesn't Have a Single Offshore Wind Turbine

The UK has 870. Germany has 416. So what's stopping us?
"Jack-up" ships like this are needed to drive massive offshore wind turbines into the seafloor. There's not a single one in the US.

"Jack-up" ships like this are needed to drive massive offshore wind turbines into the seafloor. There's not a single one in the US.

Despite massive growth of the offshore wind industry in Europe, a blossoming array of land-based wind turbines stateside, and plenty of wind to spare, the US has yet to sink even one turbine in the ocean. Not exactly the kind of leadership on renewables President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address.

Light is just beginning to flicker at the end of the tunnel: On Tuesday, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a gathering of offshore industry leaders he was optimistic the long-embattled Cape Wind project would break ground before year's end. And in early January industry advocates managed to convince Congress to extend a critical tax incentive for another year.

But America's small yet dedicated entrepreneurial corps of offshore developers are still chasing "wet steel," as they call it, while their European and Asian colleagues forge ahead on making offshore wind a basic component of their energy plans. So what's the holdup? Here's a look at the top reasons that offshore wind remains elusive in the US:

1. Begging bucks from Uncle Sam: The industry breathed a sigh of relief this year when Congress re-upped the Production Tax Credit, which recoups wind developers 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power they produce, and the Incentive Tax Credit, which pays back 30 percent of a wind project's construction costs. It might sound like chump change, but the PTC alone amounts to $1 billion a year, and industry advocates insist that wind would hit the doldrums without these subsidies. Still, they hardly put wind on a level playing field with the lavishly subsidized (and lushly lobbied) fossil fuel industry.

That's especially a problem for offshore wind, says Thierry Aelens, an executive with German developer RWE. Higher construction and transmission costs make electricity from offshore over twice the price of onshore in the US, he says, a tough pill for state regulators and utility operators to swallow, especially given the low cost of natural gas made possible by fracking. Today renewables startups rely heavily on private investment to get off the ground, but the industry needs better financial backing from the feds to help it compete with fossil fuels, Aelens says. "Germany is a fully subsidized system. Which technology get supported is fully in the hands of the government."

"Why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?"

2. Blowback from "stakeholders": Whale and bird lovers. Defenders of tribal lands. Fishermen. The Koch brothers. Since it was proposed in 2001, Cape Wind, a wind farm whose backers say could provide 75 percent of Cape Cod's energy needs, has been run through a bewildering gauntlet of opponents and fought off more than a dozen lawsuits on everything from boat traffic interference to desecration of sacred sites to harming avian and marine life. Just down the seaboard another major project, Deepwater Wind, had to negotiate concerns that its turbines would throw a roadblock in the migratory pathways of endangered right whales. Alliance for Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind's main opposition group, claims the project "threatens the marine environment and would harm the productive, traditional fisheries of Nantucket Sound."

Last summer's "Cape Spin" is an excellent "tragicomic" rundown of the controversy:

Of course, there's another powerful factor at play here: NIMBYism. No one could put it better than fossil fuel magnate Bill Koch, owner of a $20 million Cape Cod beachfront estate and donor of $1.5 million to ANS: "I don't want this in my backyard. Why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?"

Why indeed.

But Catherine Bowes, a senior analyst with the National Wildlife Federation, says while there are legitimate concerns for wildlife, Cape Wind and Deepwater have both bent over backwards to accommodate them. "I think there's an attempt at highjacking" the wildlife message by the NIMBYers, she says. "Wildlife issues are often used as a reason to oppose a project even by those who have never cared about animals before." Many of the nation's leading environmental organizations-including NWF, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club-have come out in favor of the project. It's easy to see why, Bowes says: "We know that the biggest threat to wildlife is global warming."

3. Not a single ship in the Unites States is equipped to handle wind turbines: Forget about whales and yacht routes. How the hell do you go about lodging a 450-ton, over 400-ft tall turbine into the ocean floor? Answer: With one massive mother of a boat.

But there's a problem, says Chris van Beek, Deepwater's president: "At this point, there is not an existing vessel in the US that can do this job."

The world's relatively small fleet of turbine-ready ships-500-ft., $200 million behemoths-is docked primarily in Europe; an obscure 1920 law called the Jones Act requires ships sailing between two US ports to be US-flagged, and once the foundation of an offshore turbine is laid it counts as a "port." Consequently, turbine installation ships cruising in from, say, Hamburg, wouldn't be able to dock in the States.

On top of that, given the pittance of offshore projects in the works in the US, bringing the ships in from abroad can be cost-prohibitive. Offshore turbines could find themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Weeks Marine of New Jersey is working to solve the problem by building the first country's first turbine ship. They've completed the hull and hope to have the boat seaworthy by 2014, possibly in time to chip in on putting up Cape Wind.

4. States and feds butting heads: The recipe for every offshore wind farm has two essential ingredients: a construction site, and a contract with the electric utility for the developer to sell the farm's power into the grid at a fixed price for a set period of time. In Europe, these go hand-in-hand: Governments auction off sites with the contract thrown in. But in the US, the deep water necessary for wind turbines is managed by the federal Interior Department, while the contracts are awarded by states. So a project could wind up winning the site lease, but getting passed over for the contract, or vice-versa.

"It's fucking nuts," Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski says. Even if you sweet-talk a state-Rhode Island, in his case-into signing the purchase contract, "there's a possibility for some other developer to win the land, and then you don't get the project." Since Deepwater and Cape Wind have the only two federal permits for offshore wind, both by the Obama administration, this state-federal tension hasn't been a major issue yet. But as wind lobbyists schmooze their way into statehouses up and down the Atlantic seaboard and score more contracts, the feds will need to rethink how they decide who gets to develop the ocean floor.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Shell halts Arctic drilling for 2013

Royal Dutch Shell says that it will suspend its offshore drilling programme in the Arctic for the rest of 2013 in order to give time to ensure safety.


Shine a Success with Consignors and Bargain Hunters

LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Responding to the financial challenges faced by many, combined with a desire to make clothes recycling fun, Shine Stores launched a web site,, last summer. The fact that they are doing their part to keep discarded clothes out of the landfills could be added joy for all of us. Turns out, 20% of our landfills consist of clothing. Shine carries pre-owned apparel and accessories for men, women and chil ...

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Fission Fast! New Slogan for Nuclear Energy Revolution

Just as our industrial development was finding more and more ways to use energy to improve human health and prosperity, we found an fuel that contained two million times as much energy per unit mass as the hydrocarbons that had been powering that development.


Trial Starts for BP's Deepwater Horizon Clean Water Act Violations

The civil trial to assess BP's violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act began in New Orleans, a process that will end with additional fines that could exceed four times the amount awarded in the criminal trial.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tesla vs. The New York Times

Website: Hey Everybody, MrEnergyCzar here. This video is about Tesla versus The New York Times. Facebook Twitter: The New York Times had a recent article about road testing the Tesla Model S on the new electric supercharger charging network on the East coast. The article basically said the Tesla gave the driver range anxiety to the point where he actually called a tow truck. We'll here what Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, has to say about it in a moment. In my opinion the Tesla test drive is completely invalid because, according to the Tesla logs, the driver never fully charged the vehicle to 100%. This happened to Tesla several years back when the show Top Gear tested the Tesla roadster on a test track where they made it look like it ran out of battery power as they pushed it into the airport hanger to charge it. Tesla had data logs back then for the Roadster showing that the Roadster never ran out of battery charge. Of course they have data logs now disputing the New York Times reported claims. Let's see what people on the news have been saying about this ending with the Elon Musk interview. Sources/Links: Telsa Elon Musk New York Times NYT Currency Peak Oil News EV Sounds BMW I3 Biofuel Wind Power Natural Gas Fracking Cadilliac ELR Nissan Leaf Nuclear China Japan Beijing South China Sea Oil Solar Trash Can Tesla Model S Car of the Year General Electric Wind Turbine ...

Credit: mrenergyczar


Canada approves 25-year export license for LNG Canada JV

The government of Canada has approved a long-term export licence to LNG Canada Development Inc. to export liquefied natural gas from the terminal proposed by the Shell consortium in Kitimat, British Columbia. LNG Canada is a joint venture comprising Shell, Korea Gas Corp., Mitsubishi Corp. and PetroChina International.

Currently, all of Canada's natural gas exports are to the United States. The government said that the approval of the licence demonstrates the momentum of Canada's burgeoning liquefied natural gas industry and the efforts underway to access growing world markets. Global energy demand is expected to increase by 35% between 2010 and 2035.

The LNG Canada licence is the third long-term licence issued since 2011. This 25-year licence allows for up to 24 million tonnes of LNG to be exported per year, making it the largest licence awarded to date. If this project and the four other proposed LNG projects for BC go forward, they could generate more than $1 trillion in economic activity over the next 30 years, according to the government.

Shell and our partners in LNG Canada-KOGAS, Mitsubishi, and PetroChina-are very pleased about today's announcement. We also recognize this important milestone is just one of the major regulatory approvals that will be required to make the project a reality, including a comprehensive environmental assessment. We will continue to work closely with First Nations, local communities, and the federal and provincial governments to meet social and environmental expectations.

-Anders Ekvall, Shell's Vice-President of LNG Americas


Report finds diluted oil sands bitumen not more corrosive than comparable heavy crude in pipelines

A new report by Penspen Integrity, commissioned by the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), finds that diluted bitumen (dilbit, or synbit-bitumen extracted from oil sands and diluted with lighter crudes or synthetic crudes for transport through pipelines) is not more corrosive than comparable heavy sour crudes in pipelines-and in cases may be less corrosive.

Transmitting oil sands production
Pipelines require a product with a density of 940 kg/m3 and/or a viscosity of 350 cST at the pipeline reference temperature. Bitumen has a density of 960 - 1020 kg/m3 and a viscosity of 760,000 cSt at 15°C-i.e., it won't flow through the pipeline with modification.
Generally, bitumen is diluted either with naphtha-based diluents, NGL liquids, ultra light sweet crudes, condensates, and so on with a density of 650 - 750 kg/m3 to produce dilbit, typically with a 30:70 diluent to bitumen ratio.
Alternately, the bitumen is diluted with synthetic crude (density 840 - 870 kg/m3) at a typical ratio of 50:50 synthetic crude to bitumen for synbit. Dilbit has a typical viscosity of 350 cSt @15°C and synbit has a viscosity of 128 cSt at 15°C. The actual diluents to bitumen ratio may change from winter to summer as the temperature changes.
(Synthetic crude is produced by upgrading bitumen and is a blend of naphtha, distillate and gas oil range materials produced by hydrotreating the naphtha, distillate and gas oil generated in a delayed coking unit.)
Dilbit and synbit are classified as heavy sour crudes with an API gravity around 20-similar to other conventional heavy crude.

As a result, the report authors concluded, there are no significant additional implications for corrosion control in a pipeline carrying dilbit and synbit as part of pipeline integrity management over and above what is already standard practice.

The oil and gas industry have viewed Dilbit and Synbit as much the same as any other heavy sour crude and there has been little published information on its potential corrosivity under transmission pipelines conditions. This void of information has led to speculation about the corrosive nature of these products. This absence of information has resulted in some literature that concludes these products are highly corrosive.

-"Dibit Corrosivity"

The Penspen report examined 40 studies addressing the behavior of diluted bitumen and conventional crude. In these studies, which spanned more than 40 years, the research concluded that diluted bitumen is no more corrosive when compared to conventional heavy crude oil.

The report also showed that tests were carried out using internationally recognized standards, which found that small differences in some components of the product did not increase the chances of corrosion developing in oil transmission pipelines. In addition, monitoring and preventative maintenance programs used by transmission pipeline operators on conventional crude oil pipelines were equally as effective on pipelines containing diluted bitumen.

Other conclusions of the review were:

  • Dilbit and Synbit have similar characteristics as conventional heavy sour crudes in terms of density, TAN and sulfur content. While the TAN number, sulfur and salt content are important parameters for refineries, they cannot be used to assess the corrosion threat to an oil transmission pipeline, and these parameters are not used by pipeline corrosion engineers.

  • The presence of an electrolyte, essentially water, is necessary and that water must wet the internal surface of the pipeline for corrosion to occur in crude oil pipelines.

  • The corrosion mechanisms that oil transmission pipelines suffer from are well understood and transmission pipelines carrying dilbit and synbit have similar corrosion threats as those carrying conventional heavy sour crudes. The highest risks are associated with under deposit corrosion and sulphate-reducing bacteria. The key parameter used to reduce the risk of internal corrosion is the basic sediment and water (BS&W) value which is 0.5% for conventional crude as well as dilbit or synbit. This reduces the risk of water wetting the surface of the steel and of settlement of sediment which may lead to under deposit corrosion.

  • Crude oil transmission pipelines including those that carry dilbit and synbit are operated at flow velocities above that at which water and sediment drop out tend to occur but below the velocities where erosion corrosion can occur.

  • ASTM G205 has been used to assess the corrosivity of a number of conventional crude oils and dilbit and synbit. The results show that the dilbit and synbit are no more corrosive than comparable conventional crude oils.

  • Crude oil transmission pipelines have carried dilbit and synbit for more than 20 years with no discernible increase in corrosion failure incidents.

  • All pipelines have a corrosion control strategy as part of an integrity management plan. For a crude oil transmission pipeline this will include the running of cleaning pigs as required to remove any deposits and stationary moisture. It may also include batch treatment of inhibitor and or biocide. It will also include inline inspection using an MFL or UT inspection tool.



Friday, February 22, 2013

Peak Oil Book Review: The End of Growth by Jeff Rubin

Website: This is my Peak Oil book review for the book, "The End of Growth", by Jeff Rubin. "But is that all bad?" What he means by that, "But is that all bad", is that will triple digit oil prices prevent us from reaching these cataclysmic climate predictions which are...

Credit: mrenergyczar


Elon Musk &amp; SolarCity Offer Honda, Acura Owners Subsidized Solar Power

Do you own a Honda, or maybe an Acura? You might be eligible for a discount on solar power at your home. If you think that sounds strange, you're right. Why would a solar company partner with an automaker to provide solar arrays for owners of certain cars? The answer appears to be: market research. SolarCity & Honda SolarCity installs solar...


Transocean sets world water-depth drilling record in 10,385 feet of water off India


Thursday, February 21, 2013

API: January petroleum demand in US lowest in 18 years

Total US petroleum deliveries (a measure of demand) were down 1.7% for January against the same month a year ago to just under 18 million barrels per day-the lowest level for the month in 18 years, according to figures from the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The January numbers reprise last year's theme of weak demand. This isn't surprising given an economy that's still treading water."

-API Chief Economist John Felmy

Gasoline deliveries were up for the month by 2.4% while distillates fell by 6.0%, driven by the relative weakness of ultra-low-sulfur distillate deliveries (down by 4.4% from January 2012). January demand was also down for kerosine jet fuel by 0.5% and for residual fuel oil by 26%, although it rose for other oils by 0.6%.

Refinery gross inputs fell below 15.0 million barrels per day for the first time in nine months. Production of all major refined products-gasoline, distillates, jet fuel, and residual fuels-was higher than demand, so products were exported, with an overall increase of 14.2% in January compared with the same month in 2012. Gasoline production fell 2.7% from the prior month while distillate fuel production, though falling from December 2012, was the highest ever for the month of January. Kerosine-jet production and residual fuel production both declined compared with January one year ago.

In January, total imports were at their lowest level for the month in 13 years, since 2000. Total imports averaged nearly 10.4 million barrels per day, down 5.4% from January 2012. Crude oil imports were at their lowest January level in 13 years, and refined product imports were at their lowest level for the month in 14 years, since 1999.

The refinery utilization rate averaged 85.9% for January, down 4.9% from the prior month and 0.1% from January 2012. API's latest refinery operable capacity was 17.398 million barrels per day (in December).

Total US crude oil production in January rose above 7.0 million barrels per day for the first time in more than 20 years (and marked the highest January output in 21 years). Year-over-year increases in domestic crude oil production have occurred for 16 straight months.

The number of oil and gas rigs decreased from 1,784 in December to 1,756 in January, according to the latest reports from Baker-Hughes, Inc., and has stayed below 2,000 for 13 straight months.


U.S. Gulf Coast oil spillers about to face day in court

(Reuters) - Nearly three years after a deepwater well rupture killed 11 men, sank a rig and spewed 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP and the other companies involved are scheduled to face their judge in court.


Iran installs advanced centrifuges to speed up nuclear work

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has begun installing advanced centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment plant, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Thursday, a defiant step likely to anger world powers ahead of a resumption of talks with Tehran next week.


SolarCity and Honda establish investment find to finance $65M in solar projects for Honda and Acura customers

SolarCity and American Honda Motor Co., Inc., are partnering to make solar power more affordable and available to Honda and Acura customers in the US, providing a cleaner source of electricity at a lower cost than utility-supplied power.

The partnership establishes an investment fund to finance $65 million in solar projects to assist Honda and Acura customers with the initial cost of solar power installation. Honda and Acura customers in SolarCity's 14-state service area may be eligible for the special offer, and SolarCity and Honda expect to be able to accommodate thousands of interested homeowners in the fund.<

The offer is time-limited. Customer eligibility will depend on individual customer credit and home-specific solar insolation levels, energy usage, permitting requirements and availability of local incentives. A solar power system is customized for each home, so savings and lease terms vary based on system size, government rebates, the rate paid for retail electricity and the rate received from the retail electric provider for any surplus generation.

A 20-year lease or power purchase agreement term applies. No down payment or security deposit is required. A 3 kW system starts at $25-$100 per month with an annual increase of 0 - 2.9% each year for 20 years, on approved credit.

Honda and Acura dealerships in SolarCity's service territory may also be able to take advantage of the offer to install solar power through the partnership. Additionally, Honda and SolarCity will explore opportunities to integrate solar power and electric vehicle recharging, envisioning a future in which Fit EV and Accord Plug-In Hybrid owners will be able to charge their cars from the power of the sun.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Enormous Grassroots Response to Coal Export Plan in Washington

WA Beyond Coal 1

How many messages do you need to leave before theyget the hint?

One can only wonder what Big Coal is thinking after morethan 124,000 comments poured onto the desks of decision-makers who will beoverseeing an environmental impact statement concerning a massive coalexporting scheme that would alter Washingtonstate's coastline and send countless coal trains through people'sneighborhoods.

The issue surrounds Cherry Point, where SSA Marine wants to build an export terminal that would connect the coalmines of Powder River Basin with energy-hungry East Asia.

Mayor Coal Train 01

It's one part of a larger plan to open up the coastline tocoal exports and completely reverse any progress on the climate crisis. Itwould send millions of tons of coal each year through Washingtoncommunities and farmland, clogging up rail lines and roads and leaving coaldust behind.

The overwhelming response has caught the attention of thethree agencies in charge of deciding the plan's fate: the Army Corps, the stateDepartment of Ecology, and Whatcom County.

"We're looking at an unprecedented number ofcomments," said Washington Department of Ecology spokesman Larry Altose inthe Bellingham Herald.

The sheer number of comments means it will take months to gothrough all of them.

"Everyday this plan is delayed it proves that this is a muchbigger issue than what the coal industry tried to make it out to be," saidRobin Everett, Associate Regional Representative of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "There are huge consequencesthat the public takes issue with and the state is going to take the time toevaluate this in the right way."


Meanwhile, some from Big Coal's corner havefigured that the hassle of fighting entire communities is not worth it. InAugust, RailAmerica gave up on its plans that would have sent five tons of coaleach year through Grays Harbor.

Another coal export proposal on the table awaits in Longview,a few hundred miles south of Cherry Point on the Oregonborder. Community members and clean-air advocates are poised to take this on aswell later this year.

"This movement against the Cherry Point proposal has set up a great precedent for the next fight," Everett said.


Nation could double energy productivity

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have long understood that using energy more efficiently can be just as beneficial as finding new ways to produce energy more efficiently.


First ARM-based servers in production support Baidu's cloud storage

Chinese search engine giant Baidu is using ARM-based servers from Marvell making it the first company to depend on servers using the cell-phone chip in a production environment. Baidu is using the new ARM servers in its cloud storage application named Baidu Pan.

ARM, which licenses its IP to a variety of chip makers, had stated its intentions to enter the data center market back in 2010, as worries about energy efficiency increased and the needs of webscale computing customers changed. While less powerful than their Intel counterparts, a cluster of lower-power ARM chips is more power efficient on a performance per watt basis and some workloads don't even need the performance characteristics of a big Intel core.

The combination of these two trends has led to a plethora of vendors from big names like Marvell and AMD to startups such as Calxeda to license ARM's cores with an eye toward making servers. Holding ARM back so far has been the delay in building out 64-bit capable cores (they are expected later this year) as well as a lack of enterprise software running on the ARM platform.

But given the economics of these so-called wimpy cores and the limits of using ARM cores in the enterprise server market today, the use of ARM-based servers in the storage arena is not surprising. Storage usage scenarios are perfect in many ways because they don't need a lot of raw performance, nor do they require 64-bit capable cores.

Thus, Baidu using ARM for storage makes sense. It's also an area where Calxeda expects to see its first production deployments sometime this year, according to a conversation I had with Karl Freund, the VP of marketing of Calxeda last December. As for the Baidu deployment, it's using the quad-core Armada CPU, Marvell's storage controller, and a 10Gb Ethernet switch all integrated on a single system on a chip.

Marvell's release says the chip firm customized the ARM servers specifically for Baidu's cloud storage requirements, taking the concept of server customization common in webscale deployments to the chip level. Marvell says the platform is designed to increase the amount of storage for conventional 2U chassis up to 96 TB, and to lower the total cost of ownership by 25 percent, compared with previous x86-based server solutions. The end result should cut Baidu's power in its data center by half according to the release.

Related research and analysis from GigaOM Pro:
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February 20 News: China Will Introduce A Carbon Tax

According to a senior official with China's Ministry of Finance (MOF), the country is preparing to introduce a new set of new taxation policies designed to preserve the environment and conserve resources, including a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. [XinHua]

The government will collect the environmental protection tax instead of pollutant discharge fees, as well as levy a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, Jia Chen, head of the ministry's tax policy division, wrote in an article published on the MOF's website....

The government is also looking into the possibility of taxing energy-intensive products such as batteries, as well as luxury goods such as aircraft that are not used for public transportation, according to Jia.

To conserve natural resources, the government will push forward resource tax reforms by taxing coal based on prices instead of sales volume, as well as raising coal taxes. A resource tax will also be levied on water.

The Koch brothers' political network is doing some serious self-assessment in the wake of the 2012 election - but they're not waiting for the final report for heads to roll. [Politico]

BP has won an agreement from the Justice Department that there will be no penalties on the barrels of crude oil the company was able to recapture during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, cutting the company's potential Clean Water Act fines by $900 million to $3.5 billion. [WaPo]

A bill introduced in the Kansas House would require the state's schools to provide evidence in classrooms both for and against the existence of climate change. [SFGate]

A senior Environmental Protection Agency official overseeing states in the West and Great Plains resigned Friday, amid intense congressional scrutiny over how EPA appointees have used personal e-mail addresses to conduct official business. [NYTimes]

A major snowstorm is poised to deliver much-needed precipitation to areas from central and southern California to the Rockies and Plains states during the next several days. Parts of Kansas and Nebraska may pick up more than a foot of snow. [Climate Central]

The environmental committee of the European Parliament voted to reduce the number of carbon emitting permits to be auctioned over the next three years, in order to shore a crash in the price of carbon caused by a surplus of the allowances. [NYTimes]


How the US Navy is Leading the Charge on Clean Energy and Climate Change

Damn the do-nothing Congress. The Navy is going full steam ahead on green energy.
USNS Henry J. Kaiser delivers a 50-50 blend of advanced biofuels. Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

USNS Henry J. Kaiser delivers a 50-50 blend of advanced biofuels. Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

Increasingly, the US Navy is leading the charge towards clean energy, which can in turn impact national security and even climate change. Through investments in biofuels, construction of a more energy-efficient fleet, forward thinking about issues like rising sea levels and a melting Arctic, and commitments to reduce consumption and reliance on foreign oil, the Navy is leading the charge of a vast energy reform effort to "change the way the US military sails, flies, marches, and thinks."

Please join host Chris Mooney for the next installment of Climate Desk Live on Wednesday February 27 at 9:30a.m, where he'll discuss the Navy's charge towards energy independence with Dr. David W. Titley, retired naval officer who led the US Navy's Task Force on Climate Change, Capt. James C. Goudreau, Director, Navy Energy Coordination Office, and Julia Whitty, environmental correspondent for Mother Jones whose cover story on this topic appears in latest issue of the magazine.

Event Details:
Date: February 27, 2013, 9:30 a.m.
Location: University of California Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Please RSVP to
About Dr. David W. Titley:

Dr. David W. Titley is a nationally known expert in the field of climate, the Arctic, and National Security. He served as a naval officer for 32 years and rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. Dr. Titley's career included duties as Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy and Deputy Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance. While serving in the Pentagon, Dr. Titley initiated and led the US Navy's Task Force on Climate Change. After retiring from the Navy, Dr. Titley served as the Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Operations, the Chief Operating Officer position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dr. Titley has spoken across the country and throughout the world on the importance of climate change as it relates to National Security. He was invited to present on behalf of the Department of Defense at both Congressional Hearings and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meetings from 2009 to 2011.

About Captain James C. Goudreau:

Captain James C. Goudreau serves as the Director of the Navy Energy Coordination Office. His sea duty and overseas assignments include: Assistant Supply Officer onboard USS REASONER (FF 1063) and USS NIMITZ (CVN 68), Supply Officer, USS THE SULLIVANS (DDG 68) and Supply Officer, Joint Maritime Facility, St. Mawgan in Cornwall, United Kingdom. His most recent assignment was as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics at Expeditionary Strike Group Seven and Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet Based in Okinawa, Japan. Captain Goudreau's ashore tours include: Naval Air Station Key West, FL; Naval Inventory Control Point, Philadelphia, PA as the P-3 Weapons Team Lead and Director of Aviation Industrial Support; Fleet and Industrial Supply Center San Diego as Site Director, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest; and Commander, Defense Logistics Agency North Island. Captain Goudreau is a member of the Defense Acquisition Corps (formerly the Acquisition Professional Community) and is qualified as a Naval Aviation Supply Officer and as a Surface Warfare Supply Corps Officer. He has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), Navy Commendation Medal (five awards), Navy Achievement Medal (two awards), and various campaign and unit awards.


Why the Fracking Boom May Actually be an Economic Bubble

It might be too soon to put all our eggs in the fracking basket.


Fracking proponents like to use an evocative economic metaphor in talking about their industry: boom. The natural gas boom. Drilling is exploding in North Dakota and Texas and Pennsylvania. Only figuratively so far, but who knows what the future holds.

The Post Carbon Institute, however, suggests in a new report [PDF] that another metaphor would be more apt: a bubble, like the bubbles of methane that seep into water wells and then burst.

PCI presents the argument in its most basic form at

[T]he so-called shale revolution is nothing more than a bubble, driven by record levels of drilling, speculative lease & flip practices on the part of shale energy companies, fee-driven promotion by the same investment banks that fomented the housing bubble, and by unsustainably low natural gas prices. Geological and economic constraints - not to mention the very serious environmental and health impacts of drilling - mean that shale gas and shale oil (tight oil) are far from the solution to our energy woes.

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SolarCity and Honda Partner to Provide Solar Power to Honda and Acura Customers and Dealerships, for Less than the Cost of Utility-Supplied Power

SAN MATEO, Calif. & TORRANCE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Honda and SolarCity create $65 million fund to allow Honda and Acura drivers, dealers to install solar for free and pay less for solar electricity than they pay for utility power ...

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Northern California Ranch Energizes About 1 MW of SolarWorld Solar Panels

HILLSBORO, Ore.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Strain Ranches commissioned one of the largest farm-based solar arrays at its property in Arbuckle, Calif., a 902-kilowatt system featuring SolarWorld solar panels and microinverters from Enphase. ...

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SOLON Completes Five MW Prairie Fire Solar Plant

TUCSON, Ariz.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--SOLON Corporation, one of the largest providers of turnkey solar power plants in the United States, today announced the completion of the 5 MW Prairie Fire Solar Plant for Tucson Electric Power. ...

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AV Solar Ranch One Solar Power Plant Achieves 100 MW Milestone

LANCASTER, Calif. & TEMPE, Ariz.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) today announced that the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One project has achieved a peak generating capacity of 100 megawatts (MW)AC connected to the electrical grid. The project, which is under construction in northern Los Angeles County, is currently California's largest operating photovoltaic (PV) power plant and will have a generating capacity of 230 MWAC upon ...

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Struggles continue for thin film solar startups, Nanosolar latest with layoffs

Super cheap solar panels being churned out of China continue to put pressure on the startups looking to build the next generation of thin-film solar cells. According to two reports (Dana Hull, and Greentech Media) thin-film solar startup Nanosolar has done a round of layoffs, which could be as substantial as 75 percent of its staff.

Oh how times have changed - one of the first stories I did for GigaOM's cleantech channel was "10 questions for Nanosolar CEO Martin Roschiesen" in the summer of 2007. Back then Roschiesen told me the company was starting pilot production that year and had raised enough money to make it profitable. In 2008, the company was valued at $2 billion.

Fast forward to 2012, and Nanosolar raised $70 million from investors, reportedly at a pre-money valuation of $50 million. Aeris Capital, a fund that manages finances for SAP founder Klaus Tschira, partly funded that round as a way to pick up solar assets on the cheap. Other investors in that round included OnPoint Technologies, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Ohana Holdings, and Family Offices. Nanosolar has taken in at least $450 million since its start in 2002.

Nanosolar Material After Coating

Nanosolar makes thin solar panels out of a material called copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS). At one time in Silicon Valley, CIGS was the great white hope - Solyndra, Heliovolt, Miasole, and others raised hundreds of millions of dollars to build the next-generation of solar tech. But the price of silicon-based solar dropped dramatically and made the economics of selling more expensive CIGS panels much more difficult. Some of these companies have gone bankrupt, done major layoffs, retrenched or been sold off in fire sales.

Solar Frontier, part of Japan's Showa Shell, is one of the only companies to reach scale with its CIGS solar panels. The company completed a 900 MW factory in late 2010 and brought all of its production lines into commercial production mode by the summer of 2011.

Nanosolar could end up being acquired for cheap from international investors. South Korean and Chinese power conglomerates have particuarly shown interest in investing in and buying discounted U.S. clean power assets. Or there's always the Solyndra route - a very public, abrupt bankruptcy.

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Peak Oil News: 2/19/13

Website: This is Peak Oil News. I'm your host, MrEnergyCzar. We're covering Peak Oil, Renewable Energy, Electric Cars and everything in-between. Facebook Twitter: The Fiat 500 electric car will go on sale in California this year. The electric range is rated at a respectable 87 miles. Electric cars are slowly having longer electric ranges over their competitors. It's 87 mile electric range surpasses the range of the Nissan Leaf, the Ford Focus, the Honda Fit, the SmartForTwo and the Mitsubishi I-Mev. Tesla Model S production has finally been ramped up to 400 cars per week or about 20000 per year. There is still debate, however, as to whether Tesla can survive. That task may have become a lot easier with the Fisker Karma halting production several months back. The Karma was Tesla's greatest luxury electric vehicle competitor. Tesla's ultimate goal is to mass produce cheaper electric cars. Tesla wants to utilize the vast unused space at it's high-tech factory in California. One man tries to combat the hazardous air pollution in China. He built a breathing bike to filter the air through a fighter jet type mask. The bike powers the pumps to move the air through. Beijing air is equal to smoking about a pack of cigarettes a day. Not to be outdone, they are selling cans of fresh air on the streets for $7 a piece. If you think the air is bad now, wait until China and India build the proposed 500 new coal plants in the coming years. And ...

Credit: mrenergyczar


Government Not to Blame for Coal Industry Ills

During the presidential campaign last fall, a single message was repeated endlessly in Appalachian coal country: President Barack Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency, critics said, had declared a ?war on coal? that was shuttering U.S. coal-fired power plants and putting coal miners out of work. Not so, according to a detailed new analysis of coal plant finances and economics.


New Video Brings Clean Energy Vision to People

Carl Zichella, Director of Western Energy Transmission, San Francisco
Communicating complex ideas to general audiences about why they should care about what goes on in the acronym-drunk world of the electricity industry is no mean feat, but as a new video released today underscores, this task is incredibly important if we are going to build support for a clean energy vision that can help us fight climate change.
That's also why the Western Clean Energy Advocates' new video about what constitutes a doable and meaningful clean energy vision for the West is so impressive. It clearly and amusingly explains how we can blend demand-side resources like energy efficiency and controlling power demand fluctuations in our Smart Grid, that when combined with large scale renewable energy and transmission upgrades, can displace dirty power in our electricity mix.
Nationwide, electric power plants are responsible for 40 percent of our climate-changing emissions, which is why the Natural Resources Defense Council's groundbreaking proposal, Closing the Power Plant Carbon Pollution Loophole, calls for states and the federal government to partner in setting new carbon pollution standards to cut emissions from existing power plants by 26 percent by 2020.
The video is part of an effort to raise awareness on electric choices being made today. We need to do our part in the West as we look ahead to the $200 billion that will be invested over the next 20 years in electric infrastructure to replace aging facilities and meet growing energy demand in our region. When the Western Clean Energy Advocates group released its "Western Grid 2050" report to much in August 2011 with former Colorado Governor and clean energy champion Bill Ritter spearheading the release, it urged the governors of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Wyoming, Washington and Utah to adopt its Clean Energy Vision.
Since the report was issued, many of its recommendations ranging from sharing reserve energy for renewable balancing to better forecasting of when renewable energy will be available have been recognized as operational necessities for a more efficient and renewable energy friendly grid. Progress has been made on implementing many of them - such as the limited initial adoption of an Energy Imbalance Market I reported on this week - though we still need to bring them to more widespread use. To do that we need public support to demand that grid operators and regulators take the steps necessary to make it happen.
Coming on the heels of the President's State of the Union address, in which the climate challenge was put squarely back on the national agenda, a tool like this video is a useful tool of persuasion and hope that can show people the ingredients needed to build a clean energy future. Share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. If you are a blogger, blog on it. If you are a Twitterphile, by all means tweet.
It's just a little thing, but where communications are concerned, little things can sometimes make a big difference for our planet's future.


California ARB proposing amendments to Clean Fuels Outlet regulation to ensure adequate hydrogen fueling infrastructure

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) will conduct a public hearing in June to consider adopting amendments to the Clean Fuels Outlet (CFO) Regulation with the intention of ensuring an adequate hydrogen refueling infrastructure to support the introduction and growth of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

In January 2012, the Board adopted the Advanced Clean Cars (ACC) regulatory package adopted in January 2012 (earlier post)-a combination of the Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) regulations (for criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions) and the technology-forcing Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) that pushes manufacturers to produce ZEVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the 2018 through 2025 model years. In addition, the ACC program included amendments to Clean Fuels Outlet (CFO) requirements that will assure that ultra-clean fuels such as hydrogen are available to meet vehicle demands brought on by amendments to the ZEV regulation.

Although the LEV and ZEV regulations were approved by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) on 7 August 2012, and filed with the Secretary of State, ARB did not submit the amended CFO regulation to OAL by the 7 December 2012 statutory deadline.

ARB notes that there are proposals unders consideration in the state legislature that would extend incentive funding programs that could provide for a non-regulatory avenue for alternative fuel stations in general and targeted funding for hydrogen stations specifically. Should the legislation pass, ARB would no longer need this rulemaking amending the CFO regulation as the provisions of the legislation would meet the objective of ensuring adequate hydrogen fueling infrastructure to support the introduction and growth of ZEVs.

The proposed rulemaking, however, is an attempt to preserve a regulatory backstop should the legislation fail to pass. Should the legislation pass, the proposal would be rescinded.

The amendments to the CFO regulation are being proposed to address the gap in hydrogen fueling infrastructure that may occur when government-funded and other hydrogen stations are not adequate to meet fuel demands of growing numbers FCVs that automakers are producing to comply with the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. The proposed amendments to CFO would:

  • Apply only to ZEVs and ZEV fuels. Staff is proposing to change the types of AFVs subject to the regulation from all AFVs certified as low emission vehicles to only those certified as ZEVs when operating on the designated clean fuel.

  • Add a regulatory review for plug-in electric vehicles. Electricity is currently excluded from the definition of a designated clean fuel in the regulation. Staff is proposing to add regulatory language that requires ARB to evaluate the development and usage of workplace and public charging infrastructure, and make recommendations for further actions two years following adoption of the regulation.

  • Change the regulated party to be the major producer/importers of gasoline. In 2010, California's 7 major petroleum companies supplied 93% of the gasoline consumed in California, while owning only 13% of the retail gasoline outlets. Changing the regulated party from owner/lessors of retail gasoline outlets to "major refiner/importers of gasoline," evenly applies the requirement to build CFOs among the parties that continue to benefit financially from California's use of gasoline.

  • Modify calculations for determining the number of new CFOs and allocating responsibility among the regulated parties. Staff is proposing to modify how the number of required CFOs is calculated to account for the fuel requirements of hydrogen and FCVs. When determining how many CFOs each regulated party is responsible for, the proposed changes include allocating stations among each regulated party based on their share of the gasoline market, rather than the number of gasoline outlets each owns.

  • Add a year to both fuel cell vehicle reporting requirements and the compliance timeframe. Staff is proposing to modify the AFV reporting requirements to make auto manufacturers report FCV production plans three model years into the future (the current requirement is two) and provide FCV placement numbers by air basin. This provides regulated parties with an additional year to locate, permit, and build CFOs.

  • Add language that would allow the Executive Officer to adjust the required number of new CFOs downward if warranted by more recent vehicle projections. Increasing the time available to locate, permit and build CFOs also provides the opportunity to review auto manufacturer projections submitted the following year. If those projections indicate a decrease in vehicle numbers for a specific compliance year such that fewer CFOs would be required, this proposed amendment allows for making such an adjustment 19 months before stations are required to be operational.

  • Add a lower regional activation trigger. Staff is proposing to add a 10,000 vehicle activation trigger that would apply to an air basin before the statewide trigger of 20,000 is reached. The lower trigger complements auto manufacturers' early commercialization plans to market FCVs in regional clusters.

  • Streamline the compliance requirements. The proposed amendments include modifying the compliance requirements to be less prescriptive and more like performance standards, giving the regulated party the flexibility to determine how best to meet the minimum requirements. Hydrogen infrastructure can be placed at an existing gasoline station or at a freestanding site.

  • Lower the regulation sunset provision. Under the current regulation, the requirement to build CFOs ceases when the total number outlets offering a particular clean fuel equals ten percent of the total number of retail gasoline outlets. Staff is proposing to reduce this provision to five percent based on findings that hydrogen fueling infrastructure can achieve commercial viability at five percent saturation and, therefore, a mandate would no longer be necessary.

The proposal also no longer includes an auto manufacturer penalty for delivering fewer vehicles than projected because it was determined that the circumstances under which it could be proved that an automaker knowingly provided false information would be extremely difficult to substantiate.



RUB researchers elucidate metabolic pathway for algal hydrogen production in the dark

Researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have determined how green algae can produce hydrogen in the dark; their paper appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Green algae of the type Chlamydomonas can use light energy for the production of molecular hydrogen (H2). However, Chlamydomonas only forms hydrogen under stress, says Prof. Dr. Thomas Happe, head of the working group Photobiotechnology. The disposal of hydrogen serves as a kind of overflow valve so that excess light energy does not damage the sensitive photosynthetic apparatus.

"If you want to make green algae produce more hydrogen, it is important to understand all the production pathways."
-Prof. Dr. Thomas Happe

Chlamydomonas can also produce hydrogen in the dark. Although this fact has been known for decades, H2 synthesis in the absence of light has barely been studied because much less of the gas is produced in the dark than in the light. Moreover, it is complicated to isolate large quantities of the key enzyme of the dark-reaction: pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase.

Happe_JBC_(c)_AG Photobiotechnologie
The unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas can produce H2 in the dark, as well as using solar energy. The RUB researchers uncovered the combination of the proteins responsible. Copyright: Working Group Photobiotechnology, RUB. Click to enlarge.

Happe's team reconstructed the core of the dark hydrogen production in vitro, thus demonstrating the underlying mechanism. In order to get to the proteins involved, the researchers had these produced by bacteria.

First they introduced the corresponding genes of the green algae into Escherichia coli-e.g., the gene for the pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase. E. coli then produced the proteins according to this blueprint. Happe's team then isolated them from the bacterial cells and analysed how different combinations of proteins interacted with each other under specific environmental conditions.

In so doing, they found out that, under stress in the dark, the algae switch to a metabolic pathway which is normally only found in bacteria or single-celled parasites.

Chlamydmonas has an evolutionarily ancient enzyme. With the help of vitamin B1 and iron atoms, it gains energy from the breakdown of sugars.

-Jens Noth from the working group Photobiotechnology

This energy is then used by other green algal enzymes, the hydrogenases, to form hydrogen. The unicellular microalgae switch on this metabolic pathway when they suddenly encounter oxygen-free conditions in the dark because the green algae need oxygen to breathe if they cannot draw their energy from sunlight. The formation of hydrogen in the dark helps the cells to survive these stress condition.

With this knowledge, we have now found another piece of the puzzle to get an accurate picture of H2 production in Chlamydomonas. In future, this could also help to increase the biotechnologically relevant light-dependent H2 formation rate.

-Thomas Happ

This work was supported by grants from the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (ModuLES) and the Volkswagen Foundation (LigH2t) (to T. H.).


  • J. Noth, D. Krawietz, A. Hemschemeier, T. Happe (2013) Pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase is coupled to light-independent hydrogen production in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Journal of Biological Chemistry, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.429985


Monday, February 18, 2013

Chromatin and Pacific Ethanol sign multi-year agreement for locally-grown sorghum in ethanol production


Obama Aims for Nuclear Breakthroughs

Two years ago, some thought that the nuclear energy had been leveled. But the industry today is picking up steam by getting construction licenses to build four new units and by getting government funding to develop smaller nuclear reactors.


Kansas's Renewable Portfolio Standard Is Under Attack

Kimi Narita, MAP Energy Fellow , Chicago
In Kansas, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is under attack. Two bills, Senate Bill 82, and House Bill 2241 would weaken or repeal the RPS.
As background, in 2009, Kansas legislators approved House Bill 2369, the Renewable Energy Standards Act, by a 5-1 margin. The standard provides that Kansans are to receive 10 percent of their electricity from renewable resources like wind and solar energy between 2011 and 2015, 15 percent between 2016 and 2019, and 20 percent by 2020.
Kansas is doing a stand out job hitting the targets of the standard. Kansas utilities have already achieved the 10 percent goal and are incredibly close to the 15 percent goal - three years ahead of schedule. Utilities are already more than three-fourths of the way to achieving the 20% goal too.
Notably, the American Wind Energy Association just announced that in 2012, wind energy was the number one source of new U.S. electric generating capacity, providing a whopping 42 percent of all new electric capacity. Kansas was ranked an impressive third in the nation for new wind installations.
The RPS has been integral to encouraging renewable energy projects, spurring job growth and keeping Kansas businesses competitive. A November 2012 Kansas Energy Information Network report found that the 19 wind farms currently operating in the state have created more than 12,300 jobs for Kansas citizens, $13.7 million in payments to landowners annually, and $10.4 million in contributions to communities each year.
And, according to the Kansas Corporate Commission (Kansas's public utilities commission), all this has been achieved without any significant increases in electricity costs for ratepayers.
The benefits of the RPS go beyond the local job creation, lease payments, and revenue for local communicates. It also comes into play with corporations conducting site selection. The RPS is one visible way Kansas demonstrates its sustainability efforts to companies looking at several states for building energy-intensive projects such as manufacturing plants or datacenters. Specifically, Mars, the candy maker, expressed interest in creating a "zero carbon footprint" to Kansas's Governor Brownback when choosing Topeka as the site of a manufacturing plant. Mars has a strong commitment to using renewable energy.
So, knowing all this, it's frustrating and alarming that both the Senate and the House are considering bills that put this economic development at risk. Senate Bill 82 puts off the years to achieve the 15 percent and 20 percent targets by two and four years, respectively. House Bill 2241 would delay the 15 percent target by two years and completely repeal the 20 percent benchmark. These bills are unnecessary steps backwards for Kansas.
The RPS plays a critical part in bringing and keeping the wind industry in Kansas, and Kansas has done a great job implementing the standard so far. Instead of bills weakening or repealing the RPS, Kansas should look to make their RPS goals even more aggressive to encourage even more homegrown wind energy for Kansans.


Chinese Companies Projected To Make Solar Panels for 42 Cents Per Watt In 2015

Future cost drops from Chinese crystalline silicon solar producers will not be as steep as recent years, but they will still be significant.

Stephen Lacey, via GreenTechMedia

The cost of producing a conventional crystalline silicon (c-si) solar panel continues to drop. Between 2009 and 2012, leading "best-in-class" Chinese c-Si solar manufacturers reduced module costs by more than 50 percent. And in the next three years, those players - companies like Jinko, Yingli, Trina and Renesola - are on a path to lower costs by another 30 percent.

Check out [the above] chart outlining projected costs, which comes from GTM Research's Global Intelligence PV Tracker.

"Clearly, the magnitude of cost reductions will be less than in previous years. But we still do see potential for significant cost reductions. Going from 53 cents to 42 cents is noteworthy," says Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM Research.

With plenty of innovation still occurring in crystalline silicon PV manufacturing - including new sawing techniques, thinner wafers, conductive adhesives, and frameless modules - companies are able to squeeze more pennies off the cost of each panel. However, as the chart above shows, innovating "outside the module" to reduce the installed cost of solar will be increasingly important as companies find it harder to realize cost reductions in manufacturing.

Related Post:


Fossil Fuel-Generated Energy Has Real External Costs

The Effects of Rising Energy Costs on American Families and Employers

Daniel J. Weiss testimony before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements (full PDF here)

Chairman Lankford, Ranking Member Speier, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on "The Effects of Rising Energy Costs on American Families and Employers."

When considering energy prices, there are three primary considerations.

  1. Fossil fuel prices do not include the costs of their side effects such as air pollution and the associated health care costs for premature deaths or asthma attacks.
  2. The Obama administration has adopted important policies to reduce energy costs for middle- and lower-income families.
  3. Expanding domestic oil production in protected lands and waters will not lower gasoline prices, but high gasoline prices yield high oil company profits for companies receiving huge tax breaks.

Fossil fuel-generated energy has real external costs

  • When assessing the effects on rising energy costs, it is essential that this evaluation also include their external costs-and who pays them. This includes the following expenses:
  • Mercury and toxic pollution from power plants threaten children, senior citizens, and the infirm with brain impairment or respiratory illnesses. Reducing these pollutants will return $3 to $9 in health benefits for every $1 in cleanup costs.
  • Coal-fired power plants produce one-third of all the climate pollution in the United States.
  • Climate change has real costs to our economy. The National Journal, for instance, reported that the drought will reduce Mississippi River barge traffic, resulting in "losses of about $7 billion through the end of January, according to the barging industry."
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that in 2011 to 2012 there were 25 floods, droughts, storms, heat waves, and wildfires that each caused at least $1 billion in damages. Together, these severe events caused 1,100 fatalities and up to $188 billion in total damages.
  • Pollution reductions internalize some of these costs of pollution so that they are paid for by the fuel users rather than by everyone.

The Obama administration has adopted important policies to reduce energy costs

  • Doubling the fuel economy of passenger vehicles will reduce gasoline purchases by $8,000 over the life of a 2025 car. It will be like getting $1 off the price of a gallon of gasoline.
  • The Department of Energy set efficiency standards for nearly 40 different appliances that together will "save consumers nearly $350 billion on their energy bills through 2030."
  • The Weatherization Assistance Program weatherized its 1 millionth home in 2012. The Department of Energy estimates that this saves "a family up to $400 a year on heating and cooling costs."
  • I agree with Mr. Trisko that those concerned about the impact of energy prices on lower-income households should restore the recent funding cuts in the Weatherization and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs. Eliminating special tax breaks for the big five oil companies would provide $2.4 billion annually to offset them.

Expanding domestic oil production into protected lands and waters will not lower gasoline prices, even though the United States is already producing the most oil in 15 years

  • Oil prices are set on a world market not really affected by domestic production. Two-thirds of the gasoline price is based on the oil price. Therefore, higher U.S. oil production has little effect on gasoline prices here.
  • The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that federal lands and waters produced 2 billion barrels of oil from 2009 to 2011, and only 1.8 million barrels from 2006 to 2008-13 percent more.
  • The Associated Press tested whether more U.S. drilling would lower gasoline prices. After analyzing 36 years of monthly U.S. oil-production and gasoline-price data, the Associated Press found "no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump."
  • High oil and gasoline prices do benefit the big five oil companies: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell. They made a combined profit of $255 billion in the last two years-an average of $1,000 in profit for each vehicle on the road.
  • Yet these big oil companies retain their special tax breaks, which annually are worth $2.4 billion, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.


To protect American families and businesses from high energy prices, we must:

  • Reduce the pollution caused by fossil fuel use
  • Continue to improve efficiency of vehicles, appliances, and buildings
  • Fully fund the Weatherization and Liheap programs
  • Eliminate unnecessary tax breaks for the big five oil companies, which are already swimming in profits

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Related Post:

  • Economics Stunner: "Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Air Pollution Damages Larger Than Their Value Added; Natural Gas Damage Larger Than Its Value Added For Even Low CO2 Prices


MIT team shows targeting metabolic pathways to mitochondria significantly boosts yeast production of isobutanol; potential for other chemicals as well

Researchers from MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research have devised a way to boost significantly isobutanol production in yeast by engineering isobutanol synthesis to take place entirely within mitochondria.

They showed that targeting metabolic pathways to mitochondria can increase production compared with overexpression of the enzymes involved in the same pathways in the cytoplasm. Compartmentalization of the Ehrlich pathway-a three-step catalytic breakdown of valine that produces isobutanol, earlier post-into mitochondria increased isobutanol production by 260%, whereas overexpression of the same pathway in the cytoplasm only improved yields by 10%, compared with a strain overproducing enzymes involved in only the first three steps of the biosynthetic pathway. A paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Biochemistry.

Metabolic engineering of cytoplasmic biosynthetic pathways to create industrial strains of S. cerevisiae is commonplace, whereas engineering of biosynthetic pathways that function in mitochondria has largely been ignored. Yet mitochondria have many potential advantages for metabolic engineering, including the sequestration of diverse metabolites, such as heme, tetrahydrofolate, ubiquinone, α-ketoacids, steroids, aminolevulinic acid, biotin and lipoic acid. In addition, mitochondria contain intermediates of many central metabolic pathways, including the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, amino-acid biosynthesis and fatty-acid metabolism.

The environment in the mitochondrial matrix differs from that in the cytoplasm: it has higher pH, lower oxygen concentration and a more reducing redox potential. This environment may more closely match the optimal for maximal activity of many enzymes such as the iron-sulfur clusters (ISCs), which are essential cofactors of enzymes in diverse pathways including branched-chain amino acid and isoprenoid biosynthetic pathways, and which are synthesized exclusively in mitochondria. Although ISCs can be exported to the cytoplasm, the molecular machinery that loads ISCs onto extramitochondrial enzymes is likely to be incompatible with most exogenous ISC apoenzymes, especially those of bacterial or archaeal origin. The smaller volume of mitochondria could concentrate substrates favoring faster reaction rates and productivity, and confine metabolic intermediates, avoiding repressive regulatory responses, diversion of intermediates into competing pathways or even toxic effects of intermediates to cytoplasmic or nuclear processes.

-Avalos et al.

Though still short of the scale needed for industrial production, the advance suggests that this is a promising approach to engineering not only isobutanol but other useful chemicals as well, says Gregory Stephanopoulos, an MIT professor of chemical engineering and one of the senior authors of the paper.

It's not specific to isobutanol. It's opening up the opportunity to make a lot of biochemicals inside an organelle that may be much better suited for this purpose compared to the cytosol of the yeast cells.

-Gregory Stephanopoulos

Stephanopoulos collaborated with Gerald Fink, an MIT professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute, on this research. The lead author of the paper is José Avalos, a postdoc at the Whitehead Institute and MIT.

Yeast typically produce isobutanol in a series of reactions that take place in two different cell locations. The synthesis begins with pyruvate, a plentiful molecule generated by the breakdown of sugars such as glucose. Pyruvate is transported into the mitochondria, where it can enter many different metabolic pathways, including one that results in production of valine, an amino acid. Alpha-ketoisovalerate (alpha-KIV), a precursor in the valine and isobutanol biosynthetic pathways, is made in the mitochondria in the first phase of isobutanol production.

Valine and alpha-KIV can be transported out to the cytoplasm, where they are converted by a set of enzymes into isobutanol. Other researchers have tried to express all the enzymes needed for isobutanol biosynthesis in the cytoplasm. However, it's difficult to get some of those enzymes to function in the cytoplasm as well as they do in the mitochondria.

The MIT researchers took the opposite approach: They moved the second phase, which naturally occurs in the cytoplasm, into the mitochondria. They achieved this by engineering the metabolic pathway's enzymes to express a tag normally found on a mitochondrial protein, directing the cell to send them into the mitochondria.

This enzyme relocation boosted the production of isobutanol by 260%, and yields of two related alcohols, isopentanol and 2-methyl-1-butanol, went up even more-370% and 500%, respectively.

There are likely several explanations for the increase, the researchers say. One strong possibility, though difficult to prove experimentally, is that clustering the enzymes together makes it more likely that the reactions will occur, Avalos says.

Another possible explanation is that moving the second half of the pathway into the mitochondria makes it easier for the enzymes to snatch up the limited supply of precursors before they can enter another metabolic pathway.

Enzymes from the second phase, which are naturally out here in the cytoplasm, have to wait to see what comes out of the mitochondria and try to transform that. But when you bring them into the mitochondria, they're better at competing with the pathways in there.

-José Avalos

The findings could have many applications in metabolic engineering. There are many situations where it could be advantageous to confine all of the steps of a reaction in a small space, which may not only boost efficiency but also prevent harmful intermediates from drifting away and damaging the cell.

The researchers are now trying to further boost isobutanol yields and reduce production of ethanol, which is still the major product of sugar breakdown in yeast.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Shell Global Solutions.


  • Jos√© L Avalos, Gerald R Fink & Gregory Stephanopoulos (2013) Compartmentalization of metabolic pathways in yeast mitochondria improves the production of branched-chain alcohols. Nature Biotechnology (2013) doi: 10.1038/nbt.2509