Environment Forum

Going closer to the sun for solar power

Somebody alert Capt. Kirk.

California utility PG&E and solar power company Solaren say they have inked a first-of-its-kind deal to produce renewable solar power from space satellites beginning in the year 2016.

PG&E, one of the largest electric utilities in the United Sates, says on its in-house blog, Next100, that it is seeking approval from state regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren, which it says can provide 200 megawatts of clean, renewable energy — enough to power some 140,000 California homes — over a 15 year period.

Solaren says it will generate the power using solar panels on Earth-orbiting satellites, transmit it back to Earth through a radio frequency to a recieving station in Fresno County, then convert it into electricity which would be fed into PG&E’s grid.

Though the project sounds exotic (read: expensive), PG&E says the benefit of solar energy from space is that – since the satellites are consideraby closer to the source with no clouds in the way – its 8 to 10 times greater than that on Earth and can be harnessed 24 hours a day, no matter the season back home.

Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak says on the blog that he is confident that his team, which has years of experience in the aerospace industry, can build the world’s first Space Solar Power station and deliver power to Californians from space by 2016.

from Tales from the Trail:

What is the cost of staving off climate change?

Republicans in the U.S. Congress say they know how much it is going to cost to save the world from the predicted ravages of climate change. But others say their math is way off.
 
"It would cost every family as much as $3,100 a year in additional energy costs and will drive millions of good-paying American jobs overseas," warned House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner in response to House Democrats unveiling their climate-change bill on Tuesday.
 
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell offered the same figure. "According to some estimates, this tax could cost every American household up to $3,100 a year just for doing the same things people have always done, like turning on the lights and doing laundry."
 
There's a problem, though. 
 USA/
The Republicans cite a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study as the basis for their cost estimate. But a lead author of that study complained in a letter to Boehner on Wednesday that the calculation is way off.
 
John Reilly, an economist at MIT's Sloan School of Management, said the average annual cost to U.S. families for controlling emissions of carbon and other harmful greenhouse gases is actually $340.
 
In a telephone interview with Reuters, Reilly said updates to his 2007 study that take into account some higher costs could nudge the figure up to around $440 per household per year.
 
Republicans say they simply took a $366 billion revenue estimate from a climate change bill that sputtered in Congress last year and divided by the number of U.S. households to come up with $3,100. The thinking is that the revenues would be collected in pollution permits to industries, a cost that likely could be passed on to consumers.
 
"Taking that number and saying that is the cost is just wrong," Reilly said, adding that many other calculations, including government rebates to consumers, have to be factored in.
 
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said there are no assurances yet that consumers would get rebates, which the MIT study assumed, and thus the $3,100 figure is accurate and possibly even higher.
 
"If they (Democrats) change their bill to give money back to consumers, the numbers on cost would change (downward)," Stewart said.
 
Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for Representative Edward Markey, one of Congress' leading advocates of climate control legislation, saw other possibilities.
    
If a range of energy initiatives in coming legislation is factored in -- electric vehicles, improved transmission and other alternative energy steps -- he said that would "significantly cut down the costs and some say would save people money on energy bills."

For more Reuters political news, click here

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Demonstrators for clean energy hold a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 2) 

T. Boone Pickens: What, me worry?

Billionaire T. Boone Pickens is spending $2 billion on a bunch of windmills and so far has no way to get the electricity they will produce to market. Last December he said he was a touch anxious, but on Wednesday he didn’t seem worried at all.

Pickens is pretty sure President Barack Obama will get some new power lines built to those plains in the Texas panhandle, but if need be, the oil-man-turned-renewable-energy-advocate will take his toys elsewhere.

“I’m not going to end up with 687 turbines in my garage. They are going to be sticking up spinning someplace,” he said at a San Francisco stop on his latest tour to drum up support for his plan to use wind power and natural gas-fueled vehicles to wean the Unites States from imported oil.

Don’t rain on my electric car parade

Electric car organization Plug In America revved up the inaugural festivities this past weekend with a parade of 74 plug-in vehicles in Santa Monica, California, dubbing it the “greenest procession of its kind.”

The non-profit group first applied to ride in the Presidential inaugural parade in Washington, but was not chosen. Undeterred, it took the parade west, said spokeswoman Zan Dubin Scott.

“Today we congratulate President Barack Obama, who has called for one million plug-in cars by 2015,” Paul Scott, one of the group’s co-founders, said at the parade on Saturday, taking the moment to make a “plug” for more plug-ins by 2016. “With the audacity of hope and the confidence born of years driving these cars, we’re asking Obama to accelerate his plan and make it happen three years sooner, then to boost that number to ten million plug-ins by 2016.”

How much electricity do you use in a year?

It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.

Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.

In the past year, we used as little as 4 kWh on some days (in the summer) and as much as 30 on others (in the winter) — although most days were in the 10-to-17 range. Annoyingly, the house “wasted” about 3 kWh per day when we were away on holiday — largely due to the refrigerator, which I’ll be emptying and turning off next time. The 2008 total of 5,000 kWh (which amounted to an electricity bill of about 1,000 euros) isn’t bad for four people (one rule of thumb I’ve seen is 1,500 kWh per person/year) but I’m convinced that usage could be even less (the benchmark of 1,000 kWh per person/year is considered “thrifty”).

Obama is just the facts on environment

Was that a dig at outgoing President George W. Bush? President-elect Barack Obama introduced his new environmental team and insisted his administration would focus on “the facts” as it put together policy.

“We understand the facts demand bold action,” he said.

In case listeners didn’t get the point that the new administration thinks it’s different from that of outgoing President Bush, Veep-to-be Joe Biden gave it a try.

“There is no doubt about the challenges in front of us, but there is no putting our heads in the sand, either, as in my view we have done for some time. Particularly when it comes to science — welcome doctor,” he said, looking at Energy Department Chief-to-be Dr. Steven Chu.

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