Environment Forum

from Photographers' Blog:

Asia’s largest solar power plant

Nicky Loh presents a series of time-lapse sequences of a solar power plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Asia's Largest Solar Power Plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

The first time lapse sequence was shot over a period of one hour at 1 frame every two seconds on a lens baby. I chose to use still photography to capture the time lapse over video as the movement of the panels was so small that a continuous one hour raw video file on the 5D MKII would have crashed my computer.

The second time lapse sequence featuring the overview of Kaohsiung City, used to illustrate a city gaining electricity, was shot over a 3 hour period, at 1 frame every 4 seconds, from inside a hotel with an overview of the city. Because the hotel room lights reflect on the glass panel of the hotel room window which I shot through, I had to sit in the dark for nearly two hours for the camera to finish snapping.

Which countries make the grade in solar power?

germanysolar

Germany is still at the top of the class when it comes to solar power, according to a new report by nonprofit Global Green USA.

The group graded 16 countries plus the state of California in terms of how much solar power they added in installations and what kind of policies they have for future development.

Germany– the world’s biggest solar power market — again got the highest grade, with an A minus.

Gaze into clean technology’s crystal ball for 2010

Clean technology investors who have suffered through 2009 can find cheer in a new report by the Cleantech Group that gives its top ten predictions for 2010.

The number one prediction: Private capital growth will recover, the research group said.

The group believes that the amount of money from global venture capital and private equity in clean technology in 2010 will surpass that in 2009 “by a healthy margin” and could be a record year. The group also is watching for major investments like Khosla Ventures’ raising $1 billion for renewable energy and clean technology funds, more capital in Asia and innovative fund strategies.

from Summit Notebook:

Enviro-boxer Britain needs to spend more on climate cure

Scientists may face an uphill battle in trying to warn the world about the looming perils of global warming, but one of Britain's top academics wouldn't trade places with the politicians tasked with negotiating a new global treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"Although the science (of climate change) is difficult and still uncertain, it's a doddle compared to the politics," said Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, Britain's science academy.

Thousands of international delegates will convene at UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December. All early indications suggest those talks, seen as critical to agreeing a successor to the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012, will be anything but a cake walk.

from Summit Notebook:

BrightSource CEO talks about building carbon-free future

John Woolard, the chief executive of solar thermal energy company BrightSource, sat down at Reuters' Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco to talk about energy efficiency, project financing and the future  of carbon-free power.

His advice: build fast!

(Editing/video by Courtney Hoffman)

A rocket man’s view of solar energy

After nearly 25 years in the computer science and aerospace industries, including a stint at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Doug Caldwell decided to pursue a career-long dream of putting his engineering skills to use for the environment. So the Southern California native left his own start-up, a company that builds cameras for spacecraft launch systems, to explore his options.

He didn’t have to look far, or for very long. Within months Caldwell had landed work on a solar power development project, recruited by an old buddy from his days launching model rockets in the desert. Perhaps more ironic is the company he ended up working for — Boeing Co.

Two years later, Caldwell, 47, is chief engineer of the project, which employs about 60 people in a $45 million endeavor to design a new type of photovoltaic solar technology for what would be a 20-megawatt power plant.

One small step for green energy, one giant leap….

The idea to tap solar power from the Sahara desert to provide CO2-free electricity for Europe and northern Africa has captured the public’s imagination in Germany after the Desertec Industrial Initiative was formally launched in Munich on Monday. Several German commentators compared the notion of catching the sun’s rays in the Sahara to the boldness of the U.S. space programme in the 1960s with its drive to put a man on the moon. As my colleague Christoph Steitz pointed out in his report, 12 companies took the first step towards the project that could be delivering up to 15 percent of Europe’s power by 2050.Even if it was only the start and details on how it will all work remain sketchy, the Desertec story led the news broadcasts on all the major German networks on Monday and triggered an avalanche of front-page media coverage and editorials, most favourable. Germans see Desertec as a “win-win-win” prospect. It would a) produce CO2-free energy, b) create hundreds of thousands of jobs in Europe and Africa, and c) promote better relations between countries north and south of the Mediterranean through business and trade connections similar to the way Europe grew together after World War Two. There is, of course, another point — d) it could give German companies, many of which have spent the last decade building up their know-how with solar and wind energy, a chance to take advantage of their expertise on an even larger scale.”It’s rare that I’ve been so fascinated by a news item as I have by the idea of using the hot desert as a giant socket,” wrote Bild newspaper’s venerable Franz Josef Wagner, one of Germany’s most popular columnists known for his usual biting criticism. “Desertec is for me the greatest leap for mankind since Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk. The hot desert could save humanity. This project is greener than green. Desertec is the bright future.”And Michael Miersch, in a commentary for the conservative daily Die Welt, wrote: “It seems at first glance like some sort of Jules Verne Utopia but it’s nevertheless being backed by 12 large companies that want to invest in it. Even if it falls short of the goal of delivering 15 percent of Europe’s electricity by 2050, it is nevertheless a clear start signal — it could possibly mark the beginning of the end of the oil age.”Miersch also likened Desertec to the U.S. space programme and quoted President John F. Kennedy’s rallying cry “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard.” Miersch wrote: “There is a large choir of critics. But problems are there to be solved.”Joachim Wille wrote a column in the left-leaning Frankfurter Rundschau that also compared Desertec to the Apollo programme. “It is far more than just electricity for our sockets. It represents a quantum leap forward into a new energy age.”But Andreas Heitker cautioned in a page one editorial in the Boersen-Zeitung business daily that it was far from unsure if Desertec would ever be built: “Desertec could give a boost to renewable energy in Europe but whether the 400-billion euro project turns out to be anything more than a good idea remains doubtful. It shows quite clearly, in any event, that there is still a great untapped potential for solar energy.”Hamburger Abendblatt columnist Oliver Schade said: “It makes a lot of sense to put such a major project in an area where the sun shines brighter and more often than between Flensburg and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Europe is moving in the right direction by launching a project like this. It sounds like a fairy tale — but in fact solar power plants in North Africa and Arabia could be delivering one in seven kilowatt hours that we need in Europe by the year 2050.”The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper observed that after Monday’s news conference the executives from the 12 companies that signed the memorandum of understanding were lined up, as planned, for a group picture. But before the assembled photographers could start snapping, the stage quickly filled up with political leaders who were also attending the launch. “It was a situation that was perhaps symbolic — everyone wanted to be part of it and they wouldn’t feel they were part of it if they weren’t in the picture,” wrote the Munich daily’s Thomas Fromm.There is clearly a buzz about Desertec in Germany even if the same level of enthusiasm hasn’t yet been detected in any of the other countries that might be involved. Maybe it has something to do with Germans’ yearning for sunshine and fascination with the sun in their country that is often covered by clouds? Or maybe it has something to do with companies getting a whiff of profits in the air — the sun doesn’t send any bills, after all.PHOTO: A “solucar” solar park in Sanlucar La Mayor, near Seville, November 6, 2008. The solar thermal power plant uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto the top of a 100 metre (300 foot) tower where it produces steam to drive a turbine, producing electricity. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

New ‘gold rush’ buzz hits Germany over Sahara solar

A “gold-rush-like” buzz has spread across Germany in the last week over tentative plans to invest the staggering sum of 400 billion euros to harvest solar power in the Sahara for energy users across Europe and northern Africa. Even though European and Mediterranean Union leaders have been exploring and studying for several years the idea of using concentrated solar power (CSP), the Desertec proposition suddenly captivated the public’s attention a week ago when German reinsurer Munich Re announced it had invited blue chip German companies such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and several major utilities to a July 13 meeting on the project. The 20 companies aim to sign a memorandum of understanding to found the Desertec Industrial Initiative that could be supplying 15 percent of Europe’s electricity in the decades ahead.

Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Guenter Gloser, has been the government’s point man for the project. I had the chance to talk to him about it.

Question: How did this project to turn the sun in the Sahara into electricity for Europe and north African countries get started?
Guenter Gloser: About 15 months ago Germany and France proposed including the solar plan into the list of projects for the Union for the Mediterranean. There were institutions that had already done research and we thought: ‘Why don’t we use this sun belt where there is such an abundance of sunshine as a source of renewable energy?’ Together Germany, France and Egypt put forth this solar plan as one of the six projects for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and underscored the fact that it could benefit both sides. It was not an idea where just countries north of the Mediterranean will benefit but rather those countries south of it as well as across the EU would also benefit.

Google Green Energy Czar geeks out on solar thermal

Google Green Energy Czar (real title) Bill Weihl sat down with Reuters to talk about Renewable Energy Less Than Coal – the company’s plan to make affordable clean energy. Google started off trying to green up its own computer operations and then launched this save-the-world effort, which includes some investment in renewable energy startups and the work by a Google team.

Weihl describes that work in the video below, saying that the chances of successfully creating clean energy at less than coal prices – or about 3 cents per kilowatt — had risen from long shot to roughly even odds in about three years’ time.

This is an overview of Google efforts (that’s me asking questions):

And here is Weihl giving a bit more detail of solar thermal work for you wonks (like me):

from Summit Notebook:

Kinder: wind, solar not the answer to U.S. energy needs

Rich Kinder, CEO of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, says the Obama Administration's push to develop alternative energy sources such as wind and solar are not the answer to reducing the nation's dependence on oil or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Click below to hear where Kinder thinks the U.S. should be focusing its attention.

Kinder: wind, solar not the answer from Reuters TV on Vimeo.

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