Australia Rides the Tide Toward a Wave Energy Future

Don’t look now, but Australia is setting itself up to ride the wave to a tidal-powered clean energy future. In a nation long known as one of the coal capitals of the world, the ocean’s potential to provide electricity without emissions gets clearer every day.

A new report from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the national scientific research entity, found the motion of the ocean could supply about 11 percent of Australia’s electricity by 2050. This power could be generated across as little as 150 kilometers of coastline, depending on the installed technology, and could be reliably forecast three days in advance.

The finding is a big deal for a nation where 80 percent of the population lives along the coast, and is equivalent to powering Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city.

Potential along Almost Every Coast

Wave-power potential is greatest along the country’s southern coastline, driven by strong winds that generate consistently large waves, but it is also notable near Australia’s eastern coast, alongside its main population centers. The study mainly cited tidal energy, but also examined the niche potential of ocean thermal power to supply local power needs along the northern Queensland coast.

Australian wave energy potential

Notable Hurdles in the Way

While ocean energy’s potential is massive and ought to be explored, the study also found significant hurdles in the way. Researchers note that ocean currents can move over time, meaning infrastructure built in one area may not always be ideal. In addition, the ocean energy industry is still working to build generator blades large and strong enough to withstand constant use and corrosive conditions.

Environmental, economic, and cultural considerations could also prove prohibitive, including impacts to marine protected areas, indigenous land rights, shipping lanes, defense, and recreation. The report also notes wave energy’s future hinges on the success of Australia’s carbon tax, which began operation this year but has been threatened with repeal by the country’s opposition political party.

Wave Energy Cresting across the Country

Even with these unknown factors looming large, the island nation is rising with the tide toward realizing its renewable energy potential. Australia recently committed $10 million to help bring two new wave energy systems to market, including the world’s biggest wave energy turbine, a 250-kilowatt (kW) full-scale pilot plant.

The world’s largest wave energy project, a 19-megawatt installation, is also expected to begin construction in 2013 off the southeastern state of Victoria. The joint public-private effort between Lockheed-Martin, Ocean Power Technologies, and the Australian government should start generating electricity in 2014 and be fully online by 2017.

Australia’s navy is also moving full-steam toward wave power. HMAS Stirling, the largest naval installation in the country, recently signed a power supply deal to secure electricity from an installation of submerged buoys off the western coast of Perth.

Like most renewable energy technologies, wave power is expected to become more affordable and cost-competitive as additional testing is completed and more projects come online. One recent estimate found wave energy will drop to $100 per megawatt-hour (MWh) by 2020 – a price on par with offshore wind.

Wave energy is still in its nascent stages, but CSIRO’s report means it could soon grow to a tidal wave in Australia’s clean energy future. “Assessing the opportunities and challenges from resource to the market is a first for ocean renewable energy,” said Ian Cresswell, the report’s director.

Wave image via Shutterstock; Australian wave energy potential image via CSIRO

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Competing projects propose $500 home Cng Fueler

Eaton Corp. and General Electric Co. are working on competing projects to develop a $500 home natural gas fueling station, a product that could entice car owners to switch to a fuel whose price has plummeted because of shale drilling.

The companies’ efforts are part of a U.S. Department of Energy push to reduce the cost of such stations, which can sell for more than $5,000, and the time it takes to refuel as a way to attract more people to drive vehicles powered by compressed natural gas.

An affordable CNG station for homes could “revolutionize” how Americans commute, Dane Boysen, director of an Energy Department program to encourage use of the fuel in vehicles, said in a statement from Cleveland, Ohio-based Eaton.

“My hope is that these advanced technologies will enable us to use our abundant domestic supply of natural gas for transportation, diversifying our nation’s fuel and refueling portfolio for the future,” he said.

CNG is selling at retail for the equivalent of about $2.09 per gallon of gasoline, according to Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the nation’s largest producers of natural gas. Monday in Tulsa, the most common price of regular-grade gasoline was $3.39 a gallon.

Eaton said its technology will tap into a home’s existing natural gas system. The company is developing the home station with the University of Minnesota, funded in part by a $3.4 million Energy Department grant. The company said it will draw on its experience installing electric-vehicle charging stations across the nation.

GE said last week that it’s working with Chart Industries Inc. and the University of Missouri to develop a fueling station. The Fairfield, Conn.-based company received a $1.8 million Energy Department grant, according to Todd Alhart, a GE spokesman.

The Energy Department is also funding projects including storage tanks being developed by Ford Motor Co. and United Technologies Corp. in separate efforts.

Thanks to drilling technologies to recover the natural gas from shale rock, the market price of the fuel is about 80 percent lower than four years ago. Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, natural gas rose a penny to finish the trading day at $3.09 per 1,000 cubic feet.​

This article was first published by Tulsa World.

A Mileage-Boosting, Drop-In, Plug-In Hybrid Retrofit Kit

A revolving tag-team of student researchers at Middle Tennessee State University has developed a plug-in hybrid retrofit kit for cars that bolts inside the rear-wheel hubs without requiring any changes in the brakes, suspension, or any other mechanical systems. Kits like this might not gain much of a foothold in the individual market until gas prices spike again, but they could provide vehicle fleet managers with an economical way to increase their zero-emission, electric vehicle profile and reduce their dependency on liquid fuels.

mtsu boosts mileage with hybrid retrofit kit

Electric Vehicles vs. Liquid Fuels

The days of “easy oil” are quickly fading, and petroleum is not the only liquid vehicle fuel on shaky ground. This year’s heat wave and drought has exposed a key vulnerability of conventional biofuels, which will persist until the next generation of biofuel crops emerges into commercial scale. (That new generation includes biofuel from algae as well as biofuel from waste materials or woody, drought-tolerant plants.)

In the meantime, fleet managers will have to deal with price spikes and supply issues whether they use biofuel or petroleum fuel. That makes electric vehicle conversion more attractive, particularly for fleets that travel short distances at low speeds.

The MTSU In-Wheel Hybrid Retrofit

The student team at MTSU has been working with lead researcher Dr. Charles Perry since 2008, using a 1994 Honda station wagon as their platform.

The MTSU retrofit consists of an electric motor bolted into each rear wheel, in the space between the hub and the brake. The motors are powered with a lithium-ion battery.

The high price of li-ion batteries is one significant obstacle to a cost-effective retrofit, so the idea was to cut costs by reducing the installation time and avoiding the need to tinker with other mechanical systems in the car.

You can find examples of that kind of approach among other hybrid retrofit innovators, such as an electric motor that can be bolted onto the differential developed by the company XL Hybrids.

Hybrid Retrofits and Gas Dependency

So far, the MTSU team has demonstrated that its kit can increase the gas mileage of an 18-year-old car by an impressive 50 to 100 percent!

That would seem to indicate that the best candidates for retrofits are older fleets with lousy mileage, but with the market uncertainty of both biofuel and petroleum fuel in mind, retrofits could make sense even for newer fleets with relatively good mileage.

Image: Courtesy of MTSU

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Electric Airplanes Could Fly Forever on Laser Beams

Lockheed Martin has been collaborating with a Seattle-based company called LaserMotive to “refuel” electric aircraft in flight using laser beams that charge batteries wirelessly, and the latest round of testing not only met but beat expectations. The test took place indoors but if wireless laser battery charging can prove successful in the field, it would lay the groundwork for a new generation of electric aircraft as well as vehicles and robotic systems, too.

Green Jobs for Rechargeable Robots

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of LaserMotive’s wireless system, consider the implications of wireless recharging for vehicles as well as aircraft and also for the next big thing: robots.

Robotic devices are already commonplace in factories and warehouses, and they are being eyeballed for widespread application in the health care field, too. A wireless recharging system would have obvious benefits in terms of cord-free, flexible performance, and the practical elimination of down time.

Wireless recharging could also have an impact on green jobs for robots, for example in wind turbine and solar panel maintenance where robotic devices can relieve human workers from performing routine or hazardous tasks.

Wireless Laser Charging

According to a recent article in optics.org, LaserMotive’s initial goal was to develop a laser-charging system for a cable-climbing robot, which dovetails with the green jobs angle. However, the immediate aim of Lockheed’s involvement with wireless in-flight recharging has little to do with our sparkling green future and more to do with creating an infinite-flight drone.

To that end, initial testing of the system was conducted on a Stalker UAS (unmanned aerial system), a small surveillance drone that first saw military use in 2006.

As relayed by LaserMotive President Tom Nugent, the laser power system was tested in a wind tunnel and extended the Stalker’s flight time to 48 hours, an improvement of about 2,400 percent.

The flight could have gone on longer but it was halted after the system passed its expected endurance limit, and the battery was found to have store more energy at the end of the test than it had in the beginning. The next step will be a field test outdoors.

Wireless Laser Charging: How it Works

LaserMotive’s system shares some basic characteristics with a solar power array. Instead of sunlight, a high intensity laser beam strikes the photovoltaic cells, which then convert the light to electricity.

The beam could travel to the PV cells through a vacuum or fiber optic cable as well as through plain air.

As for the electricity needed to create the laser beam, that could be generated by conventional fossil fuels or any other source including solar power as well as wind, geothermal, hydropower or any other renewable form of energy.

Among the benefits of wireless charging is the elimination of power lines and the practical elimination of a power transmission infrastructure.

Flexibility can be layered onto the system by designing transmitters to be mobile or transportable, too.

Image: Some rights reserved by DarbyG. Back offshore

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Ball State Geothermal Project Enters Stage Two

Ball State University in Indiana has recently begun the second and final phase of what will be the largest geothermal heating and cooling system in the United States.

The project, which began in 2009, intends to replace four coal-fired boilers along with two smoke stacks. During phase one of construction, the North District Energy station was built, along with two geothermal energy fields, while connecting north-end buildings to the new system. After the first phase of construction,  almost half of the Indiana-based campus now receives heating and cooling from the new geothermal system.

Construction of the second phase will see 780 of the 1,800 remaining bore holes installed in a field on the south side of the campus. Construction of the project will carry on through the 2013-14 year, which will include a brand new District Energy Station South. The station will include 2,500 heat pump chillers, along with a hot water loop on the south side of the campus

The eventual goal is to link up 5.5 million square feet of geothermal heating and cooling across Ball State University.

The project has been a boon to supporting renewable jobs in the state of Indiana, creating 2,300 indirect and direct jobs, according to Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

Both federal and state financing helped fund the costs of the $50-million project. The US Department of Energy provided $5 million in stimulus money, while the Indian state government provided $45 million in capital funding for the project.

Increased costs of maintaining a fossil-fuel-based heating and cooling system, along with a more sustainable outlet, were some of the reasons for the switch.

“When costs began to escalate for the installation of a new fossil fuel burning boiler, the university began to evaluate other renewable energy options,” Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations, said in a statement.

“This led to the decision to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling system.”

The school expects to save $2 million in operating costs, while cutting carbon emissions on the campus by nearly 50%, thanks to the conversion to geothermal.
Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1iHat)

Easier, Cheaper Solar Panel Installation

A sure-fire way to increase investments in solar panel rooftops? Make ‘em easier to put together and cheaper to install. Many shy away from solar power because of costly labor and complicated installation, but two new products claim to put those complaints to rest.

Prefab Paneling

SOLON SOLquick arrives on site fully assembled on custom-designed shipping pallets.

Solar company Solon has rolled out a couple of photovoltaic products, including SOLfixx and patent-pending SOLquick, which the company claims arrive fully configured and can be installed solely by hand. Solon says both products are shipped directly to the designated work site and do not require staging.

SOLquick is intended for non-metal commercial roofs; SOLfixx for rooftops that can bear less weight. Both require flat roof surfaces.

Decreased Panel Weight

Solon advertises the SOLquick panels as frameless and lightweight, about 2.8 pounds per square foot. The SOLfixx is listed at 12.9 kilograms per square meter.

Once in place, SOLON’s innovative quick click U-bolt mechanically interconnects units.

The reduced weight also plays a role in easier installation — no heavy machinery is heeded to hoist and situate the solar paneling. According to Solon, the SOLquick roof can be installed in ten units per man hour, cutting the mechanical installation time by 85 percent and cutting the electrical installation time by 50 percent.

Those are some pretty huge time (and, thus, cost) savings.

Noninvasive

SOLquick is prerun with simple electrical interconnects. Electrical is connected by clicking together one unit with another.

Neither paneling system requires roof penetration in most instances. The SOLquick brochure, however, does list a caveat that roof penetration may be necessary in certain cases due to seismic activity, snow and wind loads, or due to the height of the building.Tool-free installation, lighter weight materials and snap together construction makes adding solar panels to commercial rooftops much more appealing to business owners of all stripes.

Source & Image/Caption Credits: SOLON

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Full Circle Apple’s future will not fall far from the tree.

TECHNOLOGY CENTERS
On the very same day in March, Texas announced a huge new Apple Inc. campus in Austin (notably without a quote from Apple), and Apple submitted revised plans for a new headquarters campus in its hometown of Cupertino, Calif., that would boast a Texas-sized capacity of 13,000 employees.

According to the results of the latest “Best and Worst States for Business” survey by Chief Executive magazine, released in May, Texas is first in the nation. California is last. But both sites are aiming to be built to last for Apple, as it looks toward new horizons even as the sun sets on the life of its late founder and technology icon Steve Jobs.

The $304-million Austin project aims to create 3,635 new jobs by 2025 at a new campus in North Austin, which appeared to have beat out Phoenix for the project. The state has offered Apple an incentive of $21 million over 10 years through the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), and other local incentives are on offer. However, as of June government officials were still awaiting final confirmation from Apple.

In California, the plan updates have continued to flow this spring from Apple to state environmental authorities and to the Cupertino City Council, whose chambers hosted Jobs in one of his last public appearances last summer.

“Apple’s growing like a weed,” he said then, explaining that his company’s core buildings now hold 2,800, but that an area work force of 12,000 had required “renting buildings — and not very good buildings either — at an ever greater radius from our campus.” The latest outgrowth for the company occurred in March 2012, when the nearby City of Sunnyvale announced that by the third quarter of this year, Apple would move approximately 400 employees into the entire 156,000-sq.-ft. (14,492-sq.-m.) second office building at the Sunnyvale Town Center redevelopment project, next door to a 500-person Nokia operation.

So, in addition to its existing campus in Cupertino, the company is planning to build Apple Campus 2, “an integrated, unified, and secure state-of-the-art office and research campus designed to serve as a model workplace for the 21st century.” Foster + Partners are the architects for the new campus. The general contractor will be a joint venture of DPR Construction and Skanska USA Building Inc.

Apple Campus 2

Apple Campus 2’s focal point is a 2.8-million-sq.-ft. (260,120-sq.-m.) ring-shaped main office building, which will consolidate 12,000 Apple employees together into one integrated workspace around an expansive courtyard.
Renderings courtesy of Apple Inc. and the City of Cupertino

A company spokesperson declined an interview request regarding the California and Texas projects. But thanks to transparent application requirements in California and Apple’s own increasingly thorough transparency efforts, some meaningful details can be gleaned from documents alone.

Apple in April filed a 270-pp. application with the state for expedited permitting for “the Project” under California’s new Jobs and Economic Improvement through Environmental Leadership Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in Sept. 2011. Among the requirements of the act is that the project exceed $100 million in investment, a milestone Apple said it would “far exceed.” Among the application’s other highlights:

> “The Project will replace and rebuild 2.66 million sq. ft. [241,540 sq. m.] of existing aging office buildings and surface parking lots on a 176-acre [71-hectare] infill site with 3.3 million sq. ft. [36,570 sq. m.] of high-performance energy- and water-efficient buildings, below-grade and structured parking, and more than 115 acres [46 hectares] of landscaped green space, nearly three times as much as before.” It’s aiming for LEED-Silver certification.

> In addition to the Project’s signature ring building, additional structures include ancillary research buildings (another 300,000 sq. ft. [27,870 sq. m.] for another 1,000 employees), a central plant, a 1,000-seat corporate auditorium, a corporate fitness center, and above- and below-grade parking. “These buildings will be integrated into the site’s newly created and expanded green space, which will be landscaped with native vegetation and approximately 6,000 trees, including orchard trees reflecting the region’s agricultural past” as an apricot orchard.

> “The Project will be entirely powered by renewable energy, which will primarily be generated on-site from fuel cells and more than 650,000 sq. ft. (60,385 sq. m.) of solar panels installed on building roofs, making the Project one of the largest corporate campus solar installations in the world.” The project is likely to deploy fuel cells made by Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy Servers, whose units are already destined for Apple’s mega-data center in North Carolina.

> “The Project will also promote alternative transit through the provision of a comprehensive Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program, an on-site Apple Transit Center, employee shuttles, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly design, and 300 on-site electric car charging stations with built-in capacity to expand. These features will place the Project at the forefront of an emerging low-carbon economy in California.”

Ken Alex, a senior policy advisor to Gov. Brown and the director of the state’s Office of Planning and Research, who used to head the state attorney general’s energy task force, says via email that the AB 900 certification process precedes the Environmental Impact Report, “so it’s still early in the review process. We are currently reviewing the energy and GHG provisions (the California Air Resources Board in particular), for compliance with the requirements of AB 900 on those issues. So far, the project seems to be doing well.”

Asked for a decision timetable, Alex says, “We are aiming to have a decision by the end of August.”

A recent New York Times piece on Apple’s tax planning explored the company’s Braeburn Capital subsidiary, conveniently based in Reno, Nev., where the state levies no corporate income tax and where Apple processes its profits. The article also called into question whether Apple was paying its fair share in California. But the company is still Cupertino’s largest taxpayer, paying some $8 million in local property taxes.

Steve Jobs Memorial

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at a celebration of Steve Jobs’ life on Oct. 19, 2011, held at Apple’s current HQ.
Photo courtesy of Apple Inc., © 2011, All rights reserved

Getting There

Apple has already been successful with the TDM program used at its nearby corporate headquarters campus at 1 Infinite Loop. The program has resulted in a rate of employee trips in single-occupancy vehicles of 72 percent in the morning peak hour and 68 percent in the evening peak hour, well below the average of 82.6 percent for other workplaces in Cupertino. Among the program’s features:

> Coach shuttle service for Apple employees to and from multiple locations in the Bay Area;

> Coach shuttle service to public transit stations for Caltrain, Altamonte Commuter Express, and Valley Transportation Authority;

> Commute website with transit and shuttle information and carpool matching and bike route matching services;

> $100/month transit subsidy per employee;

> $20/month bike subsidy for bicycle commuters who do not use local transit;  bicycle racks, pumps, lockers, and showers available at the campus; and a bicycle sharing program;

> On-site services that reduce the need for midday errands.

The campus is ahead of its time in more ways than one. Senate Bill 375 requires that each metropolitan planning organization in the state prepare a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) as part of a regional transportation plan (RTP). However, the Bay Area’s SCS will not come into effect until 2013. The greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target for the SCS requires a reduction of per-capita CO2 emissions from cars and light-duty trucks by 7 percent by 2020 and by 15 percent by 2035 (compared to a 2005 baseline).

“Not only is the Project consistent with these targets, it will serve as a model for how the Bay Area can achieve them,” says Apple, citing its non-drive-alone commute rate of 30 percent or more and its provision for the 300 EV charging stations.

The Payoff

Apple estimates that construction alone will generate 22,967 person years of employment, which will translate into 9,187 full-time construction jobs over a 30- to 36-month construction period.

According to a supporting document filed by the DPR/Skanska JV, median hourly union wages associated with some of the job classifications most prevalent on the project site include $44.18 for a construction laborer, $78.48 for an electrician and $81.14 for a sheet metal worker. Cupertino’s median household income from 2006 to 2010 was $120,201, nearly twice the figure for the state as a whole.

“As for permanent jobs, Apple is currently the second largest technology employer in Silicon Valley, with approximately 13,000 full-time employees based in Cupertino,” says the application. “The Project will enable Apple to locate an additional 6,000 to 10,000 permanent employees in Cupertino by 2015. For every one new Apple job, an additional 1.5 jobs are created within Santa Clara County as a result of expenditures by Apple and by Apple employees.”

Even as the state application makes its way forward, the company is seeking more than a dozen approvals and entitlements from the city, including right-of-way transfers, zoning amendments, and utility relocation and easement agreements. Apple anticipates commencing construction immediately after approval and expects construction to be completed by the fall of 2015.

And for those already wondering, there is a Phase 2: “Phase 2 includes programmatic approval of an additional 300,000 sq. ft. [27,870 sq. m.] of development capacity for up to 1,200 employees that could occur anywhere on the Apple Campus 2 property, providing limited flexibility to address future operational or business needs,” says Apple.

We’re iHome

The land Apple acquired has distinct ties to the teenage invention needs of founder Steve Jobs, as he related in his speech to the city council last summer.

“This land is kind of special to me,” he said. “When I was 13, Hewlett and Packard were my idols, and I called up Bill Hewlett because he lived in Palo Alto and there were no unlisted phone numbers in the phone book … He picked up the phone and I talked to him. I asked him if he’d give me some spare parts for something I was building called a frequency counter. He did, but he also gave me something more important, a summer job at Hewlett Packard, at the division that built frequency counters.”

At the same time, HP bought property in Cupertino for their new computer systems building — the same property that Apple just bought from HP as the latter company has been shrinking its footprint.

Apple’s aim is to enlarge its footprint at the same time it shrinks the carbon footprint of the site. Even with a 20-percent increase in building space, the company aims to go from roughly an 80/20 split between building/pavement and landscaping to its exact opposite.

“I think the overall feeling of the place is going to be a zillion times better than it is right now with all the asphalt,” said Jobs. “We want to take the space and, in many cases, make it smaller.”