It IS a Competition

May 9, 2012

The U.S. is back on top of the clean energy investment race. But the position might be short lived.

Five clean energy initiatives in the States ended in 2011 including three tax credit programs, the Department of the Treasury Section 1603 Grant Program and Department of Energy Section 1705 Loan Guarantees.

Pew Environment Group recently released their annual report on clean energy investment. With a primary focus on investment, the report also looks at technological trends related to the clean energy economy of G-20 members.

The United States attracted $48.1 billion in clean energy investments in 2011. It led the way in venture capital financing (70 per cent of the G-20 total) and was second in public market offerings and asset financing (behind China). The U.S. also has 93 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, second only to China, which continues to lead the world in clean energy capacity with 133 GW installed.

2011 was the first year that the U.S. installed more that 1 GW of solar energy and a portion of its 2011 investment dollars were directed towards solar. Investments in large, utility-scale solar power plants are expected to add to America’s installed capacity count in the years to come.

In Canada, our clean energy investment grew by four per cent last year and totalled $5.5 billion. That puts us 11th amoung the G-20 nations. This is were our investment dollars were spent in 2011:

  • 56 per cent of total – wind
  • 19 per cent – solar, both residential and commercial
  • 13 per cent  – other renewables like geothermal, biomass and small-hydro
  • 8 per cent  – biofuels
  • 4 per cent  – efficiency and low carbon technology and services

Canada has 9.6 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, which is 1.9 per cent of the G-20 total. That breaks down into four sectors: 5.4GW of wind power, 2 GW of small hydro power, 1.8 GW of energy generated by biomass and waste and 0.47 GW of solar power. Interestingly and as is sometimes the case, our 2011 solar energy investment contrasts sharply with a lag in deployment.

Read the executive summary or full report on the Pew Environment Group website.

Wind Matters from the Canadian Wind Energy Association

December 14, 2010

In Ontario the Gosfield Wind Project has opened. Owned by Brookfield Renewable Power, the project (a 50MW facility) will produce power for the Ontario Power Authority. Close on its heels is the construction start of another Brookfield project. Its new Comber Wind farm (a 166MW facility)is expected to be on line in a year. Together these two projects will power over 70,000 average Ontario homes.

Also in Ontario, the government is seeking public input into its long term energy plan. Log on and share you thoughts.

In Nova Scotia the Nuttby Mountain Wind Farm (a 45MW facility) is powering up. If you’ve never had the change to visit a facility, have a look at the pics below. They’ll give you a good sense of scale and better understanding of what’s involved in building a project like this. The green colour bands on the posts are new – nice idea. Thanks to Nova Scotia Power for the slide show.

“The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

October 27, 2009

wind4Could the final words of Bob Dylan’s 1963 classic Blowin’ in the Wind, become a mantra for Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt? It certainly came across that way in her opening remarks to the 25th annual Canadian Wind Energy Association conference and trade show in September. By year’s end, wind generation capacity in Canada will top 3,000 megawatts and Raitt evidently sees this burgeoning industry as a key to enhanced energy security as it boosts the economy and creates jobs. It’s the output of nearly 100 commercial wind farms already in place. Contrast that with the mid-1980s ago when there were none.

“I can’t think of very many industries that can show that kind of growth,” Raitt said. “Wind will be . . . lighting up hundreds-of-thousands of Canadian homes and doing it without generating a single kilogram of greenhouse gas emissions. . . . It’s good to be able to look back on how far the wind industry has come in this country — and it’s also a good time to look at where it’s going.”

This year will see British Columbia and Newfoundland & Labrador commemorating the opening of their first commercial wind farms and the minister said Canada’s fundamental vastness presents tremendous opportunities, not only for wind power but also other forms of energy.

“We have the opportunity to become a living laboratory for the rest of the world,” she said. “Every province has access to wind power and this is integral for us moving forward. . . . Wind energy continues to be a priority for the Government of Canada. It has to be; we’ve made a commitment to having 90 per cent of Canada’s electricity come from clean and renewable sources by 2020.”

Out of its $1.5-billion ecoENERGY for Renewable Power program, Ottawa has invested in 75 “and counting” projects. Two-thirds are for wind power. Raitt said this is being complemented by research and development at the Wind Energy Institute of Canada and other initiatives, including accelerated capital cost allowances for machinery and equipment, elimination of tariffs on imports of machinery and equipment, improved credit facilities, and the Green Infrastructure and Clean Energy funds.

The application deadline for another federal initiative, the $200 million Fund for Renewable & Clean Energy System Demonstrations, closed in mid-September and the government now is assessing 175 proposals for projects with a total installed value of some $3.5 billion. Eighteen are for both wind and electrical storage projects and Raitt said the government hopes to begin financing discussions with a short list of project backers shortly.

“The sooner we can get these projects running, putting shovels in the grounds and using this new technology, the closer we are to reducing our emissions and achieving our 2020 targets.”

Economy stimulates alternative energy solutions

July 16, 2009

piggybank1You have to spend money to make money. That’s what they say.

If there is anything good to say about the bad economy, it is that it has prompted governments in both the United States and Canada to spend on infrastructure.

President Obama recently proposed a US$775-billion economic stimulus package, which included a doubling of U.S. alternative energy production over three years.

In Canada, the green stimulus package wasn’t quite as ambitious, although the federal government did allocate more than $1 billion toward research in green energy technologies.

But this hasn’t stopped some companies from continuing to invest in and pursue green technology.

ExRo in Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, has invented a variable-speed generator that fluctuates with the wind and boosts power output by 20% to 50%, slashing electric rates by saving energy.

Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. has doubled the size of their company in the last year and Raser Technologies recently finished building a 10-megawatt geothermal plant — enough to power about 9,000 homes — in record time.

Typically, it can take 5-10 years to build a plant. Raser built theirs in only six months. This makes geothermal technology more accessible. By year’s end, it plans to start selling electricity from the Thermo, Utah, facility to the city of Anaheim, California.

So with governments on board and companies forging ahead, it may be possible to blow through this economic downturn.

Taking it underground

May 18, 2009

Believe it or not, our modern world is supported by an energy grid that was originally designed by Thomas Edison in 1880. Say it’s not so!

Indeed, Edison’s design was never meant to service the large energy-gobbling population of the 21st Century. Demand for electricity is expected to increase by as much as 40 percent in the next two decades – more than twice the population growth rate.

Finding reliable, more eco-friendly solutions is essential, and proving to be challenging.

Building wind turbines and solar farms in the middle of nowhere sounds great. But it’s not easy to move all that clean energy to the urban centers that need it. Everyone may want the electricity, but they don’t want to look at the giant wind turbines and hire-voltage wires on their properties.

One of the solutions is to run the cable along a light rail line. While it means that lines would be out of the way, the idea was never implemented in California because it was thought that putting a power supply near public transit would cause safety issues.

How about along railroads or highways? Most transportation departments don’t want lines being run alongside freeways in case road expansion is needed in the future, and railways don’t always solve the problem of accessibility.

So what does that leave? Going underground.

California has approved the construction of an underwater trench dug by water jets. Although the 53 miles of cable will be complicated and costly to build and maintain, politically it is an ideal solution because the fish won’t complain.

Can we make the shift from high- to low-carbon energy?

March 20, 2009

British analysts say that global investment in clean energy technologies has been undermined by the widening recession, meaning that the world is no longer on track to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Moreover, although the downturn also means short-term reductions in greenhouse gases, the long-term outlook is grim.

The analysts are with New Energy Finance (NEF) which provides information and research to investors in renewables, low-carbon technology and the carbon markets. Their latest report, presented March 4 to the NEF Summit in London, has as a baseline the estimated $155 billion (U.S.) invested in clean energy technologies, companies and projects last year.

 ”Our latest Global Futures report demonstrates that investment needs to reach $500 billion per annum by 2020 if CO2 emissions from the world’s energy system are to peak before 2020,” they say, adding that this looks highly unlikely. “Scientific experts fear that continued growth of emissions beyond 2015, or 2020 at the latest, would create the strongest risks of severe and irreversible climate change.

“The recession’s direct impact on CO2 emissions is likely to be moderate and certainly not enough to avert a continued upward trend,” the analysts say. Their baseline projection shows investment growing to $348 billion by 2020 and $461 billion in 2030 and they expect renewables will provide 26 per cent of all electricity by 2030. That compares with the average annual investment of $229 billion and 23 per cent of electricity generation by 2030 set out in an International Energy Agency (IEA) scenario.

The NEF 2009 baseline indicates that global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2030 will be some 11.5 per cent below the IEA scenario as a result of accelerated growth in renewables, coupled with lower energy intensity per unit of gross domestic product and faster “buildout” of carbon capture and sequestration capacity.

Installation of wind power capacity could moderate during the recession, but the volume of energy produced is expected to reach new highs over the longer term. The most prominent markets will be Europe, thanks to turbines’ proximity to markets and supportive policies, as well as in the United States and China.

Insofar as solar photovoltaics are concerned, they say cost-reduction progress is expected to yield “a wave of expansion” over the next two decades, assuming continued public support until the industry achieves full cost competitiveness. 

Their analysis also considers the impact on emissions of nuclear power, geothermal, biomass and biofuels, marine power and hydro and the impact of each in the base and peak scenarios is included in the report.

Guy Turner, NEF’s director of new carbon finance, said his division’s research indicates that climate change policies and specifically carbon cap-and-trade systems are making a material difference to shifting from high-carbon to low-carbon energy. “However, the Global Futures 2009 work is sobering: it shows that it just is not happening fast enough.”

Seaweed biofuel

December 2, 2008

Looking at a slimy mass of seaweed, the last thing that springs to mind is “Yum!” The second last thing is “Let’s put it in our automobiles and go for a clean energy drive in the country.” But that’s just what researchers are proposing we do with the massive quantities of the stuff available off the coast of Scotland.

Wait…what? Seaweed for fuel?

It’s a simple concept in sustainable energy: use what’s readily available in abundant quantities. Take hydroelectric dams that tap into the abundant energy flowing in our rivers or the wind farms that convert wind to energy. Now, there is seaweed for biofuel.

And Scotland has lots of it. And according to the Scottish Association for Marine Science, that adds up to a lot of untapped energy. A recent report recommends building pilot seaweed and algae farms to truly assess the marine biomass potential of Scotland.  

But the environmental potential of seaweed doesn’t stop at just burning the stuff as fuel. In Israel, Seambiotic is looking at re-using carbon dioxide from power plants to grow seaweed.  Instead of simply expelling it into the atmosphere, Seambiotic will use carbon dioxide as a nutrient source for seaweed.  

The carbon dioxide will be fed into cultivation pools for microscopic seaweed and algae where it is transformed into harmless gasses, including oxygen. Researchers estimate it’s possible to produce a litre of fuel for every five kilograms of seaweed.  By placing seaweed pools in standard power plants, carbon dioxide emissions can be not only be significantly reduced, but put to good use.  

Suddenly, seaweed seems less slimy and a little more sweet.

What role should government play in eco-innovation?

December 1, 2008

In its infancy, innovation often doesn’t pay for itself, especially when that innovation requires costly infrastructure to support it. And when it’s technology that will rid our planet of pollution, resolve an energy crisis or safe-guard our environment for future generations, isn’t it our job as a society to help it succeed?

The question then becomes: how much help should we give the corporate innovators who stand to profit from helping our society achieve that success?

Take the recent hubbub about Plasco Energy Group and the Ottawa municipal government. The corporate headquarters for Plasco and the location of its pilot facility, Ottawa is somewhat tied to their success in transforming garbage into clean energy. In effect, the city and Plasco are business partners in a key pilot project.

The controversy surrounds a city councillor and a top garbage bureaucrat who travelled to British Columbia on Plasco’s tab to attend meetings to discuss their experimental waste-to-energy technology. Critics pointed to the decidedly ‘grey area’ of public officials accepting benefits from private companies, especially when both have a financial stake.

The controversy overshadows the more important issue: the need to support innovation that will benefit our world today and tomorrow. 

A garbage gasification plant near Red Deer, Alberta, for example, is estimated to save the county $400,000 per year in trucking costs. That doesn’t even factor in the energy produced from waste that would otherwise be building up in our landfills. Isn’t it our responsibility to ensure these technologies reach commercial viability?

But where do we draw the line between supporting innovation and benefiting the for-profit enterprises behind them?

Looking to the sky for renewable energy

September 25, 2008

The sky’s the limits when it comes to tapping into the sun as a renewable source of energy. Besides making (or breaking) a beach holiday, the sun is an abundant source of clean, renewable energy. That’s why more and more consumers are turning to the sun for their water heating needs. 

Did you know that there is enough solar energy in Canada to meet approximately half of the water heating energy needs for an average family of four? That’s 2,500 kWh of energy every year that we don’t need to generate using traditional methods.

Solar water heating technology has been around since the 1800’s. And although the idea of heating water using the sun not new, the technology behind modern solar water heating most definitely is.  Consisting of a solar collector and a water storage tank, solar water systems vary from passive to forced circulation with optional back-up energy sources.

Solar water heating is becoming increasingly popular around the world. In sunny regions, solar water heating has become the norm. An early adopter of solar heating technology, Israel has mandated their use in all new home construction, making it a world leader in solar energy use per capita.

It’s a common misconception that solar water heating is limited to temperate climates with plenty of sunshine. While the geographic location will impact how much energy is produced, solar water heating is being successfully used in Japan, Austria and Northern Europe. 

With the limitless energy potential in the sun, it seems solar water heating is giving an entirely new meaning to the notion of worshipping the sun.

Bulls, babies and bacteria

August 1, 2008

When it comes to energy, we’re usually speaking in the figurative when we talk about “clean” energy, or “dirty” power. But for some alternative fuel sources, those labels become far more literal. After all, while holding a chunk of coal might leave you brushing off some carbon residue, a fistful of manure is definitely going to require a thorough wash afterward.

Nobody’s saying we shouldn’t make better use of the waste we produce. Alternative fuel sources like landfill gas and the methane produced from manure are proving that conservation makes economic, as well as environmental sense. Years ago, for instance, disposing of fryer grease was a chore that franchise restaurants had to pay others to do for them. Now, the grease is not only disposed of, it’s become so valuable that profiteering “pirates” are actively stealing it from fast food grease traps.

Still, it’s a messy business turning dung into dollars.

There’s a distinct correlation between the “ick” factor of a waste product and its eventual use as a fuel source. And it goes beyond the fact that people are probably more inclined to handle something as appealing as corn over something as repulsive as trash heaps.

Methane, one of the six primary greenhouse gases identified under the Kyoto Protocol, derives from fermenting organic materials, which means that while the gas itself may be odourless, its companions rarely are. Diapers, for example, produce methane (in addition to offering the recyclable materials of the diaper itself), and the drive toward manure as a fuel source comes with growing recognition of the greenhouse gas emissions from industrial-scale feedlots. Whether they’re babies or bulls, the result is the same — metric tonnes worth of poop that’s sending greenhouse gases to high heaven.

And the stinky correlation isn’t confined to methane. Researchers in the UK recently unveiled a process that turns food waste into hydrogen, one of the most promising alternative fuel sources. In a bioreactor, “biohydrogen” is created by the same bacteria whose fermentative processes turn waste materials into the smelly substances we otherwise avoid. In the absence of oxygen, they create hydrogen, which in turn can be used to produce an emission-free reaction in a hydrogen fuel cell. Not bad for table scraps.

Whether they release methane or hydrogen, waste products carry more than the smells that keep most of us at bay. Beyond the backyard composting that keeps our garden healthy, recycling waste is reaching an industrial scale that will change the way we generate power, “clean” or otherwise. So, as sources of alternative power become increasingly appealing in the face of rising fuel prices, holding our noses will just become that much easier.

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