Solar Farm Reflection Impacts Pilots’ Visibility

English: Solar One power plant in Mojave Deser...

English: Solar One power plant in Mojave Desert, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunny California’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has caused problems for pilots traversing the region.   Two anonymous complaints were filed in August, before the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System ever came online.  A pilot complaint stated that the intense brightness from the mirrors made it impossible to look in the direction of the plant, and an air traffic controller reported that they received complaints of reduced visibility from pilots flying over the facility every day, especially during the late morning and early afternoon.

The Mojave Desert is home to the world’s largest solar plant, and using technology known as solar thermal, these computer-controlled mirrors track sunlight and reflect it onto water filled boilers on top of towers measuring 459 feet tall.  Each mirror is 70 square feet, roughly the size of a garage door, and the facility contains around 300,000 of these mirrors.  That’s a lot of reflected light.  The sunlight gathered by the heliostats heats the water in the boilers to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, creating steam which drives turbines to create electricity.  By using sunlight to fuel these turbines, instead of fossil fuels, carbon emissions are estimated to be reduced by more than 400,000 tons annually.  The Mojave desert is an ideal location for this kind of facility, thanks to the dry air and elevation, the area receives sunlight 330-350 days per year.  The 392 MW facility covers 3,500 acres in San Bernadino County, California.  NRG Energy, Google, and CSP firm BrightSource Energy own the solar farm.

Unlike traditional solar power, Ivanpah combines thermal and solar energy power generation.  Data shows the power generated by the facility met 2.4 percent of electricity demand in California in 2013 and that number is rising.  January numbers showed the utility-scale solar photovoltaic production generated  enough to meet 2.9 percent of demand in January, proving California is quickly becoming a leader in CSP and utility-scale PV.  According to a November 2012 article in Smithsonian.com, this facility almost doubles the amount of solar power produced in the US.

During the environmental study for the project, the visibility risk for drivers on Interstate 15 and aircraft was evaluated.  This study found that pilots flying within 3,300 feet of the heliostats could experience temporary blindness and compromise safety.  BrightSource Energy, one of the site developers, has been required to develop a heliostat positioning plan within 90 days of beginning operation to monitor brightness and avoid potential hazards.

Flights between Las Vegas and Southern California fly over the area above or near the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System dozens of times each day.

NRG Energy Inc co-owns and operates the plant, and they are investigating the situation.  Company spokesman, Jeff Holland, said March 14 that they will respond in 10 days, so be on the lookout for an update from them this week.

‘Til next time,

Jessica

 

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What Do Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and the Energy Industry in America Have in Common?

They’re all going to be at the Energy Thought Summit.  What’s that?  Well, my friend, keep reading and you’ll find out.  (Maybe watch the video too.)

Energy Thought Summit (ETS) is happening this month in Austin, Texas.  On March 24th – 25th the energy industry is taking over the Paramount Theater for a two-day event that promises to be an excellent forum to discuss and debate the state and the future of energy.   This is an event I’m excited about.

ETS Launch Party

So, what was it about ETS that really sucked me in?  It wasn’t Darth Vader, Chewbacca, the Teslas car, or the game on the ETS site that is kind of addictive.  (Although neither of these hurt, at all.  Something tells me these guys like to have a good time.)  The speaker list did it.  Yes, I’m a bit of a geek and the opening keynote is Steve Wozniak…seriously, it is Steve Wozniak.  You know, the co-founder of Apple and chief scientist at Fusion-io? He helped develop the first computer I ever used!
It doesn’t stop there, though.  Envisioned and created by Zpryme, the company that brings us Smart Grid Insights, ETS has pulled together a speaker list with individuals on the cutting edge of the energy industry.  This event is geared toward the up and comers who will be leading us into the future of energy. Panels surround topics such as:

paramount-theatre-austin-texa

  • Utility Executive
  • Smart Grid Realization
  • EV
  • Game Changers
  • M2M
  • Cybersecruity
  • Big Data/Analytics
  • Utility of the Future
  • Smart Cities/Communities
  • Disruptive Technology
  • Smart Consumer/Home
  • Grid Edge Opportunities
  • Standards, Policies, and Emerging Business Models

With a goal of generating conversation around these topics, ETS has created an atmosphere of debate and discussion both offline and online.  Tickets have been released in three batches.  The initial two ticket releases have already sold out.  According to their website on March 17, 2014, only 103 tickets remained for the entire event.  So, you can still grab a ticket to this event to take part in the dialogue.  Unfortunately, I’m going to have to rely on my colleagues’ notes of the panels they attend. (So, you guys better take some excellent notes for me!  I’m just saying.)

‘Til next time,

Jessica

 

 

What’s Going On with America’s Gasoline?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal for changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on Friday, November 15, 2013.  The proposal attempts to find the precarious balance between encouraging growth in the biofuels sector and blending more ethanol than some engines can handle safely.

The Renewable Fuel Standard passed in 2007, and, in recent years, the production of biofuels has rapidly increased.  However, gasoline demand did not meet expectations after RFS passed.  The EPA said in a statement, “We are now at the ‘E10 blend wall,’ the point at which the E10 fuel pool is saturated with ethanol.  If gasoline demand continues to decline, as currently forecast, continuing growth in the use of ethanol will require great use of higher ethanol blends such as E15 and E85.”  EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

This proposal decreases the targets for advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel than what is laid out in the Clean Air Act.

Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 4.42.27 PM

Source: EPA

This proposal is viewed as a victory, albeit a conditional one, by refiners.  They say it doesn’t go far enough.  However, it is perceived as a step back in efforts to achieve US energy security and emissions goals by biofuels and environmental groups.

The American Petroleum Institute’s president and chief executive, Jack Gerard expresses concern for American consumers and the reality of cellulosic biofuels, while lauding the EPA’s acknowledgement of the blend wall.

“EPA has acknowledged that the blend wall is a dangerous reality and that breaching it would serious impacts on America’s fuel supply and would be harmful for American consumers.

“While the agency took a step in the right direction, more must be done to ensure Americans have the choice of ethanol-free gasoline for boats and small engines, and to bring their mandates closer to reality on cellulosic biofuels, which do not exist in commercial quantities.

“Congress must protect consumers by repealing this outdated and unworkable program once and for all.” EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association’s North American Representative, Leticia Phillips expresses her disappointment that the RFS proposal minimizes the sugarcane ethanol Brazil is prepared to export to the US, and views the decreases as a step back.

“Slashing the 2014 target for advanced biofuels would be a huge step backwards from the Obama administration’s goal of decreasing greenhouse gases and improving energy security.”

“We are surprised and disappointed that EPA’s proposal minimizes the 650-800 million gallons of sugarcane ethanol Brazil is poised to supply to the United States in 2014.” EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

Other groups weigh in on the issue as well.

Novozymes President, Americas Adam Monroe

“The Renewable Fuel Standard was signed into law to break OPEC’s effects on the nation: high oil and gasoline prices, American dollars going offshore and environmental consequences our grandchildren will endure.”

“We cannot put oil’s interests before the nation’s needs. Blending more renewable fuel means more savings for consumers at the pump.”  EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM):

“EPA’s recognition of the blendwall and the potential adverse effects on consumers is a welcome step, however greater reductions in the biofuel mandate are necessary if consumers are to avoid all the detrimental impacts of the statute.”

“EPA’s actions can only be short-term in nature and point to the need for Congress to work quickly in addressing the severely flawed and totally outdated Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

The creators of the Solar Schools project, the Natural Resources Defense Council recognizes the depth and complications inherent in the issue. “There is no denying that the bulk of today’s conventional corn ethanol carries grave risks to the climate, wildlife, waterways, and food security,” said NRDC’s Franz Matzner in a recent blog post . “It is equally true that as a nation we need low carbon, sustainable biofuels to combat climate change and break our addiction to oil.” 

“…developing sustainable, next generation biofuels is complicated.  It’s technically and economically challenging and it’s not going to happen without ongoing course corrections to ensure the explicit goal of the Renewable Fuel Standard is met—namely to move the country away from polluting fuels like gasoline and today’s corn ethanol and toward sustainable, low-carbon alternatives.” Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner

This isn’t an issue of black and white, do or do not.  When the RFS passed in 2007 it set goals for biofuel usage. (36 billion gallons of biofuel, including 22 billion gallons of non-corn biofuel) Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner.  The provisions for the EPA to make ongoing adjustments were Congress’s recognition of the obstacles that would need to be overcome to reach these goals.  No matter which side you come down on, the EPA appears to be following those directives.

Ultimately, to achieve the goals of the RFS, the key will be expanding next generation fuels that can use a diversity of feedstocks guided by a smart set of policies that protect our biodiversity, food and feed supplies, and climate.  To hit the mark, the biofuels program must not require more consumption of a given feedstock than the environment can comfortably support.  Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner

As in most complex issues, there is no easy fix or solution.  That precarious balance has to be maintained, adjustments will have to be made, and a realistic view of the current situation is crucial.  Does this provide that balance?  Is this a step backward?  Does it go far enough?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

A Different Kind of Crowdfunding Campaign: Bringing Solar Power to Schools

Natural Resources Defense Council

Natural Resources Defense Council (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across this article on PennEnergy.com and I just had to check it out to see what the deal was.  There is an Indiegogo campaign by NRDC to launch a clean energy pilot program in schools in the United States. How awesome is that? I am a big fan of crowdfunding in general, but before today, most of the campaigns I’ve been involved with have had more of an artistic bent. You know stuff like movies, albums…stuff like that, but as soon as I read the summary for this campaign, I just had to jump in.

The sun is a source of clean energy that we never have to worry about running out, and every time we power one of our schools with solar technology, we:

  • Help the school cut its energy costs
  • Give our kids healthier air to breathe
  • Make our communities more energy independent
  • Provide hands-on learning experiences with renewable energy, sparking student interest in science and math

That’s why we’re seeing more and more people raising their hands and saying, “I want solar for my school.”

-NRDC Indiegogo campaign

Here’s the challenge though.  Schools are always trying to stretch their budgets just a little bit further and administrators and teachers are always working to squeeze a little more time into their day.  Where are they going to find the time and resources to research and develop solar power for their school?

That’s where Solar Schools comes in.  This is a program that takes ideas from programs that help simplify a complicated process by walking you through this complex, multi-step process (like TurboTax) and networking sites (like LinkedIn) to build a community and connect them with experts in the field of solar power.  Solar Schools is all about empowering communities and schools.

The first phase of the pilot program is set to roll out in January of 2014.

Through pilot projects in 3-5 communities, we aim to prove that our new social organizing tool and dynamic guide will help communities:

  • Build their solar volunteer team quickly through friend-to-friend connections.
  • Organize and track project momentum by creating a “hub” and guide for activism.
  • Empower more parents, students and teachers as leaders – creating more project “ownership” opportunities and higher levels of volunteer engagement.

-NRDC Indiegogo campaign
 

The crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo is to support the build-out of the Solar Schools platform, and help bring solar power to 3-5 schools around the United States during this first phase.

All of us know how important it is to spark an interest in the hearts of young people for math and science.  They could be the ones to to create the next big innovation in technology.  Maybe it all starts because they got to watch solar power at work at their school.

Call Thor…We May Have A Paying Gig For Him

Lightning

Lightning (Photo credit: Pete Hunt)

So, I came across this article today when I was surfing through my energy sector news.  Lightning being used to charge cell phones.  How awesome is that? Being the big geek that I am a few things crossed my mind as I was reading.

1.  Lightening Crashes by Live immediately started playing in my head. (Sound tracks are important.)

2. Holy cow, that is really awesome!

3. Thor might have a paying job now.

4. Does this mean that those guys from Stardust that catch lightning could be real one day? (Harnessing lightning is kind of like a battery…right?)

Okay, changing the geek channel here for a minute.  According to this article I read, Southampton University in the UK and Nokia have been working together to develop technology that will seriously allow you to charge your personal cell phone via lightning.  Neil Palmer, the head of the Tony Davies High Voltage Laboratory, led the team in creating artificial lighting bolts.  They channeled this artificial lightning into the smartphone battery.

“Using an alternating current, driven by a transformer, over 200,000 volts was sent across a 300mm gap, giving heat and light similar to that of a lightning bolt,” Palmer explained. “The signal was then stepped into a second controlling transformer, allowing us to charge the phone.” Scientists Charge Mobile Phone with Lightning, CNET,  October 2, 2013 9:55 AM PDT

This shows that an airborne current can be used to charge a device, according to the team leader.  This is all proof-of-concept stuff here, but I live in Oklahoma.  You may have heard that we have some pretty wicked storms.  Although I’m an iPhone girl, I would be willing to make a switch to a Nokia Lumia 925 if I can charge it with lightning.

Taking a step back to look at the larger picture.  Consider the impact of this kind of technology on an area without reliable electricity?  This really makes me want to head off on a tangent about studies that I’ve read about how huge access to energy, electricity, ect. is for developing countries, but I’ll save that for another day.  Nobody wants to steal Thor’s thunder…(I couldn’t resist.  I apologize.)

Now, considering that a car manufacturer had to place a warning on their commercial to warn consumers “do not attempt this at home” when they showed a car driving across the ocean floor…yes, they warn you not to try to charge your cell phone with lightning at home.  Please don’t let me read about anybody dancing around waving their cell phone around in the air during an electrical storm.