World’s largest wind turbine moves towards commercial usage

As wind farms move closer to large-scale deployment off of American coastlines, German manufacturing giant Siemens is taking advantage of a changing regulatory climate by creating a mammoth turbine that dwarfs any model previously built.

One blade of the giant wind machine measures approximately 75 meters, or 246 feet long, which is roughly the size of a A380's total wing span. The justification for the length lies in the fact that the larger the span of the turbine, the more power that is generated as the wind causes it to move. The potential power catch from an ocean-based version of this design is what prompted Siemens to plan and build the machine.

In addition, the company utilized a production process known as QuantumBlade that significantly reduces the material usage and weight of the turbines. According to Siemens, the blade is approximately 20 percent lighter than other comparable models, allowing the builders of the support towers and foundations to cut down on costs due to the reduced pressure from the turbine.

When activated, the machine is estimated as being capable of producing 6 megawatts of power. Currently, Siemens is deploying test models in Denmark to test the environmental durability during operation. From there, the company reports that it has a contract with Danish and British energy providers to construct hundreds of Siemens turbines for ocean placement.

These developments are sure to impact the renewable energy debate taking place on this side of the Atlantic, where politicians and policy makers continue to discuss the pros and cons of a comprehensive eco-friendly power strategy. With states like Massachusetts and California moving towards offshore wind farms, the future of clean electricity have never looked greener.

Every state has renewable energy potential, says government clean power agency

According to a report released on July 26 by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, every state in America has the capability to produce some form of renewable power.

The study, entitled "U.S. RE Technical Potential," was meant to shine light on areas that have not been previously considered as potential sites for eco-friendly electricity generation. The technologies cited include solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal sources as possible means to create power.

"Decision-makers using the study will get a sense of scale regarding the potential for renewables, and which technologies are worth examining," NREL’s Anthony Lopez, one of the authors of study, said in the government agency's press release. "Energy modelers also will find the study valuable."

In addition to details regarding the nation's current power generation capabilities and its future needs, the report includes a series of maps that calculates which areas are best suited for the different types of energy production. For example, Iowa was reported to have a substantial amount of biomass resources, whereas, predictably, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Southern California were identified as some of the best spots for large-scale photovoltaic solar panel systems.

Donna Heimiller, one of the other authors of the study, described the project as a "living document" that can be altered and improved as new sources of renewable energy are discovered or located. Funding for the project was part of the Obama administration's multi-faceted drive to implement ways of reducing the country's dependence on oil and coal consumption.

Though this report represents a small part of the clean power movement, it shows that every part of America is capable, in some way, of going green.

Proposed Chicago energy facility plan calls for clean processes, environmental rejuvenation

In a bid to bring clean energy production to the city of Chicago, local leaders and green power advocates are pushing for the creation of a coal-gasification plant on the Southeast Side that will utilize a former steel working site. The proposed facility, tentatively named Chicago Clean Energy, is designed to be one of the most energy-efficient power plants that uses a coal-based production process.

Coal-gasification, according to a Department of Energy article, is different from combustion because it produces far less carbon dioxide emissions. It accomplishes this feat by utilizing steam and pressure to break down the coal and power the turbines. A filtering system removes impurities and burns them in an auxiliary turbine, and the steam this procedure creates is used to produce even more electricity.

"No one would object to the potential impact of those facilities," Hoyt Hudson, a project manager for Chicago Clean Energy, said in a press release. "When it comes to emissions of impurities, we will be held to an even higher standard."

The Chicago Clean Energy project will be governed by strict emissions guidelines set by both state of Illinois and the federal government. For example, the plan's carbon dioxide "recapture" technology will be able to reabsorb 85 percent of estimated burnoff. The approval process for the initiative has been ongoing for the past five years, as state law requires legislation to be written and passed in order to greenlight industrial energy developments.

The proposed building site, formerly operated by Chicago LTV Steel, will undergo an extensive clean-up process to remove contaminated soil and debris. In addition to providing the Chicago area with a source of clean energy, the project may spur ecological and economic revival in the area as well.

New solar power breakthroughs may drastically reduce manufacturing cost of panels

A report from clean energy market analysis group Lux Research, Inc., published on July 17, suggests that several companies are developing new innovations in solar panel production that may drive down the costs by reducing the complexity of current manufacturing processes.

Under current practices, the procedure for making solar cells, known as metallization, involves the careful placement of energy-gathering electrodes within layers of silicon and silver. The increasing market price of the latter material, which as of today costs $27.51 per ounce, constitutes a large share of the manufacturing cost. According to Lux Research, however, advancements are being made in the industry that are aimed at changing the way solar panels are made.

"Tomorrow’s PV winners will be those companies that can reduce their production costs in $/W [dollars per watt] and maintain sustainable profit margins. Metallization is a key materials‚Äźdriven driver for higher efficiencies, reduced production costs and improved yields," Fatima Toor, the lead author of the report, said in Lux Research's press release.

A new technology currently being developed involves a double-printing machine that cuts down on silver consumption by approximately 30 percent. This new process, created by electrical tech company Applied Materials, also increases power absorption by 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent.

Researchers for Japan's national Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology are investigating ways to utilize copper as an alternative to silver in cell production. Copper, which is widely available on the global  market, has yet to be tested in a commercial-scale environment due to disappointing project results. Nickel phosphide is also being looked at as a new way of producing new solar panels, due to the compound's temperature resistance and conduction potential.

U.S. government announces national “roadmap” for clean energy development on public lands

In a bid to increase the presence of governmental funding in U.S. green energy markets, the Department of the Interior, in association with the Department of Energy (DoE), has announced the release of an environmental analysis plan intended to speed up the approval processes of clean power initiatives.

The report, entitled the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), was developed in order to systematically investigate potential renewable energy, solar power in particular, for locations on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. It designates specific areas in these states, known unofficially as "Solar Energy Zones" (SEZs), that are strategically placed to maximize community benefit while reducing any possible ecological impact.

The PEIS builds on previous efforts by the Obama administration to offer unused public property for clean power companies. According to the DoE, 17 commercial-sized projects have been given the green light since 2009.

"This blueprint for landscape-level planning is about facilitating faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on America’s public lands," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a DoE press release. "This is a key milestone in building a sustainable foundation for utility-scale solar energy development and conservation on public lands over the next two decades."

Steven Chu, the U.S. Energy Secretary, added that this initiative may lead to more infrastructure development and maintenance-based jobs, as well as a greater level of domestic power independence and security for the future.

The PEIS report identified 17 SEZs, which together constitute approximately 285,000 acres of public property. According to the DoE, an additional 19 million acres have also been marked as potentially suitable. If fully developed, the proposed clean energy infrastructure could produce 23,700 megawatts of electricity, which could power an estimated 7 million residences.

MIT researchers create novel way of capturing everyday electricity

Developers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published the results of a study on July 9 that explored the potential for small devices capable of gathering energy from external heat, natural light and room vibrations.

According to campus-based information source MITnews, research professor Anantha Chandrakasan and his team of scientists were building upon previous efforts that looked into ways to power electronics with very low levels of energy. The most recent initiative, funded in part by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), focused on a processing chip designed to capture the background power around it.

"Energy harvesting is becoming a reality," Chandrakasan told the news source. "The key here is the circuit that efficiently combines many sources of energy into one."

According to the researchers, previous technology allowed the multi-faceted absorption process to take place, but different types of energy could be captured by switching between sources, for example from sunlight to friction. The other part of the problem Chandrakasan and his team faced was the energy consumed during the process. If the device did not store more power than it spent, the project would be fruitless.

The solution lay in a dual-path design for the power chip, which dispensed with a power storage framework and instead channeled the latent energy directly into the processor it was meant to charge. While the problem of long-term capacity remains, this chip opens the door for the creation of products like outdoor sensors that rely on the environment for energy, or exterior lighting fixtures that can save homeowners on potentially high electricity bills.

Future experiments involve the enlargement of the chip and the potential use of multiple components to test the efficiency of the flow of power. While the final outcome remains to be seen, these tests could lead to sources of truly renewable energy.

New Colorado middle school awarded national status for eco-friendly design

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering the design and creation of energy-efficient buildings, has awarded Casey Middle School of Boulder, Colorado, its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum designation in honor of its new clean-power plan and building model.

"Achieving the platinum status is a thrill and an honor," Casey Middle School Principal Alison Boggs said in a statement. "It gives official recognition to what we already have seen to be true — green building creates an environment in which students and teachers thrive. We've already seen a noticeable drop in absenteeism and misconduct and our enrollment continues to grow."

The $31 million school, finished in July 2010, incorporates a number of technologies to reduce its environmental impact. It was built along the east-west geographical position to capture as much sunlight as possible by a series of solar panels along its roof. According to green construction source Green Building News, in order to reduce the costs of the project, nearly 70 percent of materials in the old school were recycled for use in the new one. Similarly, many of the components were produced within the Boulder region.

Another way that the architects reduced energy expenditure was to create an underground parking facility beneath the school, which cut down on pavement usage on school grounds and freed up green space for the community.

Funding for the project was provided by the Boulder Valley School District, whose $296 million school revitalization bond program was authorized to begin paying for design plans back in 2007. Considerations by the GSGBC LEED committee for the designation included construction costs, energy usage and green technology inclusion.

New finance system for solar industry aims to cut costs, speed up expansion

The recent bankruptcy of Nevada-based solar panel maker business Amonix and the infamous collapse of the manufacturer Solyndra have left many, including the nation's political class, feeling pessimistic about the future of the industry. Part of the problem relates to the high costs associated with setting up companies in the clean energy, both in terms of legal representation and due diligence research.

To combat this, Sol Systems, a green technology finance corporation, has released a streamlined documentation framework designed to speed up the process that inhibits the formation of small- and medium-sized solar-based companies. According to the organization's press release, the previous standard practice involved a lengthy review period that would cost the investor thousands of dollars to conduct. Under the new system, called SolSnapshot, a weeks-long process becomes accomplishable within a few days.

"By reducing these costs through standardization, SolSnapshot provides investors and developers with an affordable fatal flaws analysis for a given project for a few thousand dollars – instead of a hundred thousand, and in a few days – instead of a few weeks,' Yuri Horwitz, Sol Systems' CEO, said in a corporate press release.

The development may be an important catalyst in the process of shifting away from large, government-sponsored initiatives to smaller operations that, up until recently, were mostly locked out of funding markets by their competitors. With the new program in place, communication and collaboration between investors and project owners can be accomplished far more easily due to the reduction in bureaucratic hurdles.

SolMarket, the finance division of Sol Systems, will serve as the framework for the new review process. According to the source, the solar project marketplace is a digital directory for technology designers to tap into a $2.5 billion venture capital market.

Solar plane prototype finishes intercontinental flight, receives honor from green energy industry

The Solar Impulse, an experimental aircraft powered by the sun and piloted by Bertrand Piccard, touched down in Tolouse, France on July 17, foregoing the final leg of its journey to Switzerland due to rough weather conditions. However, the flight demonstrated that the prototype's concept, built from lightweight carbon fibers and designed to house a single occupant, could handle the occasionally bumpy ride.

To celebrate this achievement, Soluxe Solar, a Connecticut-based company that recognizes innovative developments in the clean energy field, awarded the group behind the Solar Impulse with its "Solar Flare" accreditation.

"The ability of the Solar Impulse to make this journey without fuel has tremendous, far reaching implications on the future of solar flight and what could now be possible," Soluxe Solar CEO Jeffrey Mayer said in a press release. "It is a significant achievement from a technological and environmental perspective and we felt the perfect honoree for this week's Solar Flare."

The next step for the Solar Impulse team is the creation of a new aircraft designed to circumnavigate the world. With the current model, HB-SIA, nearing the completion of its journey, engineers have been working on the HB-SIB since 2011. Improvements, according to the plane's website, include a larger cabin, increased storage capacity and moisture protection that will enable the craft to operate during rainstorms.

However, a recent incident at the Solar Impulse facility on July 5 involving a cracked wing spar rendered the prototype temporarily unusable. The original global flight planned for 2014 has been pushed back to 2015, following the assumed completion of successive stress tests.

The company expressed optimism on its website despite the accident, citing "stimulating brainstorming sessions" that followed soon after. As of now, engineers for the Solar Impulse project have returned to the workshop, doing their best to get this exciting project back off the ground.

Brazilian engineers create first “green ATM”

While an automated teller machine (ATM) is not the first place you'd think to find ways to reduce environmental impact, industrial designers from Brazil have created a design for one that combines eco-friendly construction materials with zero-emission energy sources.

The design company, Edra Equipamentos, plans to build a freestanding structure that will replace traditional ATMs while still offering the same level of convenience that draws people to use them. Known as the Contemporary Bank Project, the plan calls for a number of different methods to cut down on energy costs.

On the top of the structure is an array of photovoltaic solar panels that provide power to the lighting units inside, as well as the actual hardware of the ATM itself. However, this electricity does not go towards an air conditioning unit to keep it cool. Instead, the windows are layered with a special "Solatube" solution that, according to contemporary technology magazine Gizmag, cuts out more than 80 percent of infrared light.

Other features of the Contemporary Bank Project include the recycled materials used in its construction, with the bulk of it coming from reused plastic and various plants like oilseeds. The design includes an optional rain-catcher installation that could conceivably hold plants that would further reduce heat absorption and help reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the air. While minor, the latter inclusion would certainly boost its eco-friendly credentials. The architects behind the project also positioned a handicapped access ramp and an automatic door to ensure that no one can be denied usage.

While it's unclear as to when this project will become a reality, the source reports that Edra Equipamentos is engaged in negotiations with several large financial organizations, and is currently lobbying them to replace existing ATMs with the Contemporary Bank Project design. With luck, people may soon see this "green money source" at their local bank.